Monday, October 21, 2019

Last Call For Trump State TV

As Greg Sargent discusses, FOX News is Trump State TV and his personal propaganda network, and if it was shut down, America would be a much nicer place.

A new study just out from the Public Religion Research Institute sheds light on this dynamic in a remarkable way: It shows that rank-and-file Republicans who watch Fox are far more loyal to Trump than those who do not.

The poll, which surveyed more than 2,000 Americans, finds that an astonishing 55 percent of Republicans who watch Fox News as their primary news source say there is almost nothing Trump could do to lose their approval. By contrast, only 29 percent of Republicans who don’t cite Fox as their primary source say this.

What’s more, 98 percent of Fox-citing Republicans oppose impeaching and removing Trump -- opposition that’s “essentially unanimous,” as PRRI puts it. By contrast, 90 percent of non-Fox-citing Republicans oppose impeaching and removing him --
which is overwhelmingly high, but suggests that among this group, at least, Trump could suffer losses on the margins as the inquiry turns up worse revelations.

And here’s another real doozy: In response to my inquiry, PRRI tells me that 71 percent of Fox-citing Republicans strongly approve of Trump, while only 39 percent of non-Fox-citing Republicans strongly approve of him.

“The numbers show that Republicans who watch Fox News tend to be much more pro-Trump,” Natalie Jackson, the research director for PRRI, told me. “Fox seems to be a powerful vehicle for Trump support.”

Of Republicans overall, 44 percent say Fox is their primary source -- meaning we’re talking about a very large chunk of the GOP base. “What Fox is putting out there is really impacting Republicans’ opinions,” Jackson said.

On impeachment, Fox News figures have put out nonstop disinformation. They regularly claim the inquiry is invalid absent a full House vote (which is baseless); that Trump did nothing wrong in the Ukraine scandal (he pressured a foreign leader to help him rig our election by investigating potential opponent Joe Biden); that the whistleblower has been discredited (his complaint perfectly anticipated what Trump actually did); and that Biden did the same or worse (which is based on a fabricated narrative).

It’s difficult to say whether Republicans watch Fox because they’re already in lockstep with Trump, or whether they’re inclined that way because of what Fox tells them. But these things seem to reinforce one another -- and that may prove a significant factor in keeping GOP lawmakers in line behind him.

“His core constituency seems to be these Fox-watching Republicans,” Jackson told me, adding that such strong numbers among those voters mean that “Republicans in Congress are going to be less likely to turn against Trump.”

Of course, some GOP lawmakers will remain behind Trump because they actively approve of his efforts in this matter. But this is probably related to the Fox effect as well. Trump has adopted the unabashed posture that demanding the sham investigation of Biden is the affirmatively correct thing to do under the circumstances, and some GOP lawmakers are with him on this.

Fox is pushing similar messages -- Trump is absolutely within his authority to call for an investigation of Biden, the truly corrupt figure in this situation; Trump is the real victim here (of the “deep state”). This hermetically sealed off universe has created a space in which Republicans are backing Trump because he’s only done right.

It's a wonder that impeachment has gotten this far, frankly.  Nixon never would have resigned if FOX had been around, and Trump has used it to build an army of racist assholes to keep him in power.

Orange Meltdown, Con't

Donald Trump finally found the one criminal, unconstitutional, impeachable act the GOP couldn't enable him on: naming his own Doral resort in Florida as the site for next year's G-7 summit on Thursday.  The move blew up in his face so badly that he abandoned it Saturday night.  The Washington Post:

Trump blamed his G-7 reversal on critics, saying on Twitter that his decision to scrap plans for a summit at the Doral club was “based on both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility.”

But behind closed doors, several aides and allies said, Trump changed his mind in response to pressure and frustration from his own party.

In the month since Democrats announced their impeachment inquiry, Republicans have struggled to offer a coherent response. With no White House war room, GOP lawmakers have seized on process-related responses.

At the same time, they’re being asked to defend the president’s erratic approach to policymaking, including his abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. troops and abandon Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria. That announcement was roundly condemned by Republicans, including some of his staunchest defenders. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), in a rare public rebuke of Trump, wrote a withering op-ed in The Washington Post on Friday, just days after 129 House Republicans backed a resolution criticizing the president’s move.

Trump’s decision to host next year’s G-7 meeting at his private golf club only increased the anxiety among GOP lawmakers, some of whom have grown weary of having to develop new talking points almost daily.

Privately, and occasionally in public, several Republicans said they were not prepared to defend the president from charges that he was engaged in self-dealing on the G-7 site selection.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) said Friday that Trump should avoid even the appearance of impropriety that comes with holding a global summit at his private property. “I think that would be better if he would not use his hotel for this kind of stuff,” he said.

Rooney, who announced his retirement the day after his comments, also said he was considering backing Trump’s impeachment over his handling of Ukraine policy.

Trump has been closely watching Republicans and their comments about impeachment, according to one administration official. The president was told repeatedly his G-7 decision made it more difficult to keep Senate Republicans in a unified front against impeachment proceedings, the official said. Before he changed course, Trump had waved off concerns from advisers who said hosting world leaders at his club would not play well.

The NY Times confirmed the story as well, and the speed at which both papers had these insider accounts by Sunday night tells you just how serious this is.

By late Saturday afternoon, Mr. Trump had made his decision, but he waited to announce the reversal until that night in two tweets that were separated by a break he took to watch the opening of Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News program.

“I thought I was doing something very good for our country by using Trump National Doral, in Miami, for hosting the G-7 leaders,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter before again promoting the resort’s amenities. “But, as usual, the Hostile Media & their Democrat Partners went CRAZY!”

Mr. Trump added, “Therefore, based on both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility, we will no longer consider Trump National Doral, Miami, as the Host Site for the G-7 in 2020.”

Mr. Trump suggested as a possibility Camp David, the rustic, official presidential retreat that Mr. Mulvaney had denigrated as an option when he announced the choice of Doral. But Mr. Mulvaney said the president was candid in his disappointment.

The president’s reaction “out in the tweet was real,” Mr. Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday.” “The president isn’t one for holding back his feelings and his emotions about something. He was honestly surprised at the level of pushback.”

Mr. Trump’s unhappiness may also extend to Mr. Mulvaney, who at his Thursday news conference — whose intended subject was the summit hotel choice — essentially acknowledged that the president had a quid pro quo in mind in discussions with Ukrainian officials.

But advisers to Mr. Trump were stunned. The president has frequently expressed unhappiness with Mr. Mulvaney to others, and he recently reached out to Nick Ayers, a former aide to Vice President Mike Pence, to see if he had interest in returning, according to two people close to the president. Mr. Ayers is unlikely to return to Washington, but the conversation speaks to Mr. Trump’s mindset at a time when he is being urged by some advisers to make a change, and several people close to the president said Mr. Mulvaney did not help himself in the past week.

Mr. Mulvaney conceded on Fox News that this was all avoidable. “It’s not lost on me that if we made the decision on Thursday” not to proceed with the Doral, “we wouldn’t have had the news conference on Thursday regarding everything else, but that’s fine,” Mr. Mulvaney said. At another point, he acknowledged his press briefing was not “perfect.”

Other than that unfortunate press conference, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

We've reached the point now where we know that there is a limit to how many Republicans will follow Trump over the cliff.  It took nearly three years and a brazenly impeachable crime committed on live television in order to do it, but there is a limit.  It's the first actual glimmer of hope in a long time, frankly.

Up until now, there was no bottom to the depths of which the GOP would sink to cover for Trump.  Now?  We've found it.  It's covered in rhinoceros crap and under 75 feet of hydrochloric acid, but the bottom is there.

And if there's a bottom, it means that maybe we can finally get rid of the asshole.  Will Bunch:

My rough estimate is that it will ultimately take the involvement of about 50 GOP members of Congress to turn things around and bring this national nightmare to its rightful climax. Right now, a narrow majority of Americans support the president’s impeachment and removal from office, but a real sense of justice and momentum would come from gaining a sliver of Republican votes for impeachment in the House — maybe 30 or so.

Those 30 votes would mean a solid majority for charging Trump — say 260-175 or so — but more importantly that would certainly persuade some Senate Republicans to support removal. How many? If every Democrat backed Trump’s ouster, it would still take 20 Republican senators to reach the necessary 67 votes. That would mean the group that’s so far made only measured critiques of our unworthy president (Romney, Sasse, Murkowski) would need to team up with the politically vulnerable in 2020 (Collins, Ernst, etc.) to oppose the president. But only 66 votes out of 100 and Trump can coolly put the smoking gun back in its holster and strut down Fifth Avenue knowing he got away with it.

There's a theory that if enough GOP senators abstain on the final vote to convict, that the remaining Democrats could be enough to get a two-thirds vote.

This rule could become relevant in a variety of ways. The most significant is the number of Republicans actually required to “jump the fence,” as Democrats hope. Twenty Republicans is a tall order: Even for Republicans who are shielded from reelection in 2020, a vote to convict Trump is obviously hazardous. If a few Republicans didn’t appear, that would reduce the number of Republicans required to vote with Democrats.

There’s also a more stark scenario. Recently, former Senator Jeff Flake speculated that at least 30 Republican senators would cast their vote for impeachment against Trump—but only if it were held on a secret ballot. (Flake went further, suggesting the number might be as high as 35.)

But suppose those 30 senators were seeking a way, as Flake suggested, to remove Trump while avoiding the rage of his base. They might boycott the proceedings—or, when the big day of the vote arrived, mysteriously not show up. With 70 members now present, the number of senators required to convict Trump is no longer 67. It’s 47: exactly the number of seats Democrats and independents currently hold in the Senate

It's the longest of shots.  But at this point, it's better than the zero chance of Trump's removal that I would have told you existed even a few weeks ago.

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

Trump may be running rampant on 2020 Democratic hopefuls with millions in online disinformation ads, but it's coming at the direct expense of House and Senate races.  Any Republican not named Trump is facing extinction in 2020 and both sides know it.  In the House, the GOP has already given up trying to take the chamber back, and even grouchy scold Josh Kraushaar is admitting that Dems can take back the Senate in 2020.

Four Republican senators were outraised by their Democratic challengers in the third fundraising quarter, with three of them representing battleground states (Iowa, Maine, and Arizona) that Republicans will need to win to maintain power. And in North Carolina, Sen. Thom Tillis raised only $1.2 million, an underwhelming sum for a senator facing a credible primary threat and an expensive general election ahead. All four swing-state senators also are viewed unfavorably by their constituents according to new quarterly Morning Consult polling, underscoring the sudden shift in support away from Republicans. 
In Iowa, Sen. Joni Ernst failed even to hit the million-dollar mark in fundraising, a financial baseline of sorts for senators running for reelection. She was outraised by a Democratic outsider, businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, who raised $1.1 million despite facing a contested Democratic primary and refusing donations from corporate PACs. 
As her fundraising has slowed, Ernst’s support back home has also declined. The Morning Consult tracking poll found Ernst with an underwater job-approval rating of 39/43, with more independents viewing her unfavorably than favorably. That’s a shift from her net-positive job approval over the spring, which stood at 42/38. 
Donald Trump comfortably carried her state in 2016, but since then, Iowa farmers have taken a serious hit from the president’s trade war. Both Gallup and Morning Consult have found his support sinking in the state, with a March Des Moines Register poll showing even 28 percent of Iowa Republicans believing the tariffs have hurt the state’s agribusiness. 
These are all major red flags suggesting Iowa is a much bigger battleground than Republicans anticipated at the beginning of the year. 
The GOP’s outlook in Arizona and North Carolina is also looking gloomier. Both Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona and Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina are facing nuisance primary challengers, which makes it harder for the incumbents to consolidate their base. But the more they try to protect their right flank, the tougher it becomes to win over the suburban moderates who decide races in these swing states. 
McSally, who lost last year’s election before being appointed to her seat, trailed Democratic challenger Mark Kelly by 5 points, 46 to 41 percent, in a poll taken in August. She’s been outraised in all three of the fundraising quarters by significant margins—an unusual disadvantage for a sitting senator. She already lags Kelly in campaign cash by nearly $4 million
Tillis holds the lowest approval rating (33 percent) of any sitting senator, according to the Morning Consult survey. A Democratic poll conducted in September found him trailing his little-known Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham, 45 to 43 percent. But before he even faces Cunningham, he’ll have to get past self-funded businessman Garland Tucker in the primary. Tucker has poured $1.2 million of his own money into the campaign—around the same amount Tillis raised in the last three months. Tucker has already been using that money on anti-Tillis campaign ads, forcing the senator to respond in kind. 
Cunningham wasn’t the Democrats’ top recruit, but this race is turning more into a referendum on Tillis. If Cunningham wins the nomination and runs a competent race, Tillis will face major hurdles in winning a second term.
In Maine, a race that Republicans consider the nation’s biggest bellwether, Sen. Susan Collins is suddenly facing a real fight. State House Speaker Sara Gideon raised a whopping $3.2 million in the third quarter, outpacing Collins by more than $1 million. More significantly, Collins’ once-golden image back home has continued to slip, according to the Morning Consult numbers. Her popularity has hit an all-time low in the tracking survey, down to 43/49 job approval. 
Collins has already gone up with an early advertisement, a sign that her team recognizes this race will be the toughest campaign that the senator has faced. 
Here’s the big picture: If Trump doesn’t win a second term, Democrats need to net only three seats to win back the majority. Assuming they can’t hang onto Sen. Doug Jones’ seat in ruby-red Alabama (but hold Sen. Gary Peters’ seat in traditionally blue Michigan), the magic number is four. And when you add Sen. Cory Gardner’s tough race in Colorado to the toss-up list, they’ve got five promising opportunities to defeat Republican senators.

In other words, Dems are in a prime position to flip the Senate now.  Collins, Tillis, Ernst, McSally and Gardner are all in real, real trouble, and defending Trump to the end as they have may very well be their end as well.

I know I'm acting snakebit on Trump's reelection chances, as underestimating the Democratic party's chances to snatch defeat away from the jaws of victory remains the surest way to end up with a second Trump term, especially if there's a third party spoiler that takes 2-4% of the anti-Trump vote away.

But no matter who the Democratic candidate is, nothing will get done as long as Mitch McConnell remains majority leader, and I'm glad to see the Dems taking flipping the Senate seriously.


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