Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Last Call For The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

Larry Sabato's University of Virginia crew at Sabato's Crystal Ball moves 17 House races towards the Democratic side this week, including two local competitive GOP seats into the Toss-Up column: Steve Chabot in OH-1 (Cincinnati) and Andy Barr in KY-6 (Lexington/Frankfort), and that's enough for predictions that the Democrats will retake the House this fall.

So what’s changed? Why do we now tilt the House to the Democrats? 
Well, part of the reason is simply this: In actuality, not much has changed throughout the cycle. That, in and of itself, is a problem for Republicans. 
Election Day is getting closer, and the president’s approval rating is still largely stuck in the low 40s, a big red warning sign that has bedeviled the party of similarly-situated presidents in past midterms. The Housegeneric ballot, which has generally been at around a Democratic lead of between six to eight points, is at the higher end of that range right now. But more importantly for the House battle, for most of this election cycle the generic ballot has shown a consistent Democratic lead that suggests a very competitive battle for the majority. A high number of open seats — the highest number of any postwar election save 1992 — give Democrats many more targets than the GOP (Republicans are defending 41 seats without an incumbent, while Democrats are defending only 22). 
Special elections at the state and federal level, sometimes a helpful gauge of what is to come in the midterm, have generally shown Democrats improving on Hillary Clinton’s district-level performance, often drastically. Democrats seem very likely to improve on Clinton’s margin once again in a special election in OH-12 on Aug. 7, the last House special before the midterm, although by how much is a question (an update on OH-12, a race we now call a Toss-up, is included at the bottom of this article). 
There are also the specifics of this particular election. The second-quarter (April through June) House fundraising reports came out last week, and the results are alarming for Republicans. It’s not that GOP fundraising, in total, was bad: Many vulnerable incumbents had very solid quarters. Rather, it’s that Democratic fundraising was extraordinary, with dozens of Democratic candidates turning in blockbuster quarters and outraising their GOP opponents. Money isn’t everything, but one expects incumbents to have a clear financial edge on their opponents, and it’s not clear that some current GOP members will have even that with several months of buckraking to go before the Nov. 6 election. 
Put it all together, and the Democrats now look like soft favorites to win a House majority with a little more than 100 days to go. The usual caveats apply: There is time for things to change, and the Democrats capturing the majority is not a slam dunk. We recently were discussing the House map with a source who recited reams of positive indicators and data for Democrats. After hearing those, we suggested that, based on what this person was saying, the Democrats should win the House with seats to spare. The source then said it will come down to just a few seats either way. By the way, such a close outcome — a House where the majority party has 220-225 seats or even less (218 is the number required for a bare majority) — remains a distinct possibility, and the presence of so many competitive House seats in California, where the vote count takes weeks to finalize, could delay the final House outcome.

I could have told this six months ago, but they have a point that nothing has gotten any better for the GOP at all.  Dems looked like better than even odds to retake the House back in January, and they still look like they will now, the issue is we're in late July instead of late January, and the GOP is running out of time.

As far as those local races go, they are solid toss-ups now in places the GOP has to win, and that means they are in real trouble, especially Steve Chabot.

The sheer weight of the Democratic fundraising advantage is a factor in some of these moves. For instance, Reps. Steve Chabot (R, OH-1) and Mike Bishop (R, MI-8) hold districts that Trump won by about a half-dozen points apiece. They have had relatively easy elections over the past couple of cycles (Chabot has been in the House since 1995, with an interruption in service from 2009-2011, while Bishop was first elected in 2014), but they face two seemingly high-quality Democratic challengers, Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval (D) and Elissa Slotkin (D), an Obama-era Defense Department official. Pureval raised more than double what Chabot raised last quarter and is approaching the long-time incumbent’s cash-on-hand total, while Slotkin has been crushing Bishop in fundraising so badly that she holds a $2.2 million to $1.7 million cash on hand advantage, an unusual edge for a challenger to hold on an incumbent. Both districts have above-average college graduation rates, often a predictor of Trump skepticism that could have down-ballot repercussions.

Andy Barr is also in dire straits.

Two other Toss-ups come in Appalachia. In the Lexington-based district held by Rep. Andy Barr (R, KY-6),[1] former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath (D) turned heads by upsetting Lexington Mayor Jim Gray (D) in a May primary. McGrath’s victory prompted us to hesitate moving this historically competitive district to Toss-up — Gray was more of a proven commodity — but Democrats argue McGrath is leading and Republicans concede this will be a hard race. Across the border in West Virginia, state Sen. Richard Ojeda (D) has become something of a folk hero in Coal Country and is locked in a close race with state Del. Carol Miller (R) in an open seat contest for WV-3.

McGrath and Pureval can win, as can several other Dems in November.  Let's keep that in mind and close out the final 100 days strong.

The Pendejo Beanfield War, Con't

As predicted, Trump's trade war with China is already wrecking American farmers to the point where the White House has essentially admitted defeat and is preparing a $12 billion farm subsidy bailout package using Dust Bowl-era programs to get around Congress.

The White House plans to announce it is extending $12 billion in emergency aid to farmers caught in the midst of President Trump’s escalating trade war, two people briefed on the plan said, the latest sign that growing tensions between the United States and other countries will not end soon. 
An announcement could come as soon as Tuesday. 
Farm groups have complained that moves by China and other countries in response to Trump’s protectionist trade stance this year could cost them billions of dollars, spooking Republicans who fear a political and economic blowback to Trump’s approach. 
The White House has searched for months for a way to provide emergency assistance to farmers without backing down on Trump’s trade agenda, and the new program will extend roughly $12 billion through three different mechanisms run by the Department of Agriculture. 
The funds will come through direct assistance, a food purchase and distribution program, and a trade promotion program. 
It will rely in part on a Depression-era program called the Commodity Credit Corporation, which is a division of the Agriculture Department that was created in 1933 to offer a financial backstop for farmers.

Will the rest of America get billions in bailouts after Trump tariffs add 25% inflation to the cost of cars, washing machines, groceries, farm equipment, TVs, and more?  What about coal miners?  What about auto workers?  What about steel foundry workers?  Who else gets a bailout in Trumpland?

We're about to find out.  It took less than six weeks from Trump to go from "Trade wars are easy to win!" to "Here's some money to make you forget about how I destroyed your export industry."

More of these, I suspect, are coming.

Lordy, There Are Tapes, And Transcripts, And Audio

Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen just ruined Donald Trump's week by releasing audio of one of the taped conversations he had with Trump to his favorite network, CNN.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump is heard on tape discussing with his attorney Michael Cohen how they would buy the rights to a Playboy model's story about an alleged affair Trump had with her years earlier, according to the audio recording of the conversation aired exclusively on CNN's "Cuomo Prime Time." 
The recording offers the public a glimpse at the confidential discussions between Trump and Cohen, and it confirms the man who now occupies the Oval Office had contemporaneous knowledge of a proposal to buy the rights to the story of Karen McDougal, a woman who has alleged she had an extramarital affair with Trump about a decade ago
Cohen told Trump about his plans to set up a company and finance the purchase of the rights from American Media, which publishes the National Enquirer. The recording captures what appears to be a routine business conversation of several matters on their agenda. The audio is muddled and the meaning of Trump's use of the word "cash" is disputed by the two sides. 
"I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David," Cohen said in the recording, likely a reference to American Media head David Pecker. 
When financing comes up again later in the conversation, Trump interrupts Cohen asking, "What financing?" according to the recording. When Cohen tells Trump, "We'll have to pay," Trump is heard saying "pay with cash" but the audio is muddled and it's unclear whether he suggests paying with cash or not paying. Cohen says, "no, no" but it is not clear what is said next.

Aaron Blake at the Washington Post has the transcripts of the tape, and they're pretty eye-opening, particularly the passages CNN reference in the above story.

Here’s where Cohen first broaches what appears to be buying the rights to McDougal’s story – though he doesn’t actually mention her, the National Enquirer or its publisher, American Media Inc. A couple observations:

1) He talks about it as if Trump is already at least somewhat familiar with the whole thing – suggesting they had spoken about it before.

2) He speaks in somewhat coded language – about “info” and “our friend, David.”

3) “David” would seem to refer to David Pecker, the chairman and CEO of AMI who had previously purchased the rights to McDougal’s story. McDougal and former AMI employees have accused Pecker of buying the story so he could decline to run it and protect his friend, Trump – a practice known as “catch and kill.”

4) It’s worth asking precisely what Cohen means by “all of that info.” Neither he nor Trump specifically refers to McDougal, so it’s not clear what info is part of the proposed transaction.

5) Cohen talks about opening up a company for the transaction – which tracks with his approach to the Stormy Daniels hush money.

Then Trump utters "[don't] pay with cash" a bit later when Cohen says "Well, we'll have to pay him something".  That "don't" is 100% subjective, because the White House says it's there and the Washington Post says it's not clear.  (If you're still believing the White House at this point, there's nothing I can do for you.) 

This is the key part of the recording. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani has contended that the tape is “exculpatory” because it features Trump saying the payment should be made by check and not cash – and therefore suggests Trump wasn’t trying to hide anything. (The rights for the story were never ultimately purchased.)

It’s not clear from the tape, though, whether Trump says “Don’t pay with cash” or something besides “don’t.”

Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis suggested on CNN shortly after the tape went public that Trump’s allusion to paying with cash shows his nefarious motives.

“The only people who use cash are drug dealers and mobsters,” Davis said.

A lawyer for the Trump Organization, Alan Futerfas, told The Post that Trump was talking about “cash” not as in untraceable money, but as an alternative to Cohen’s allusion to “financing” – or a loan.

“The notion that they were discussing using a bag of cash or green currency is ridiculous,” Futerfas said.

Yeah, because Cohen had just mentioned 60 seconds earlier about setting up a front company to handle the payment, but it somehow exonerates Trump because he doesn't want to pay with cash.  Trump's state news is too busy attacking Cohen for all this, of course.  The "don't" is meaningless compared to Cohen previously saying he's going to set up a shell corporation to hide the payment, guys.  This is gaslighting 101.

Side note: I still find it hysterical that Cohen's lawyer is Lanny Davis, who is basically the Michael Cohen of the Democratic party set. They truly deserve each other.

But lordy, there are tapes.  Oh, are there ever tapes.  And according to Lanny, more releases are coming.

I'd say this won't end well for Trump, but then again it's not like America gave a damn about his tacit admission to serial and criminal sexual assault on the Access Hollywood tape (that was blasted off the front page in under an hour by our Russian WikiLeaks friends and their DNC email leaks).

We'll see.


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