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“It’s Anybody’s Guess Right Now”: How Low Can The Congressional GOP Go In November?

A big part of the angst Republicans are expressing over Donald Trump’s presidential nomination is the fear that he’ll doom GOP candidates down ballot. In part, that reflects the reality that ticket-splitting has been declining steadily in recent presidential years. The GOP’s Senate majority is fragile because of a particularly bad landscape. But now even the 59-seat margin Paul Ryan commands in the House could be in peril, though that’s a more remote contingency.

Ace House-watcher David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report has a new analysis at FiveThirtyEight that weighs the odds of a Democratic takeover pretty carefully. The GOP majority in the House is entrenched, he explains, by factors that have little to do with the popularity of the two parties:

Democratic voters have never been more concentrated in big urban areas than they are now. In 2012, President Obama won by 126 electoral votes while carrying just 22 percent of America’s counties — even fewer than losing Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis’s 26 percent in 1988. That means Democrats are wasting more votes than ever in safe congressional districts they already hold …

 Republicans’ astounding state legislative gains in the 2010 midterms — the year before the decennial redistricting cycle — allowed them to redraw four times as many congressional districts as Democrats in 2011 and 2012, stretching their geographical edge even further. As a result, in 2012, Democrats won 51 percent of all major-party votes cast for House candidates but just 47 percent of all seats.

A third thumb on the scales for House Republicans is that Democrats did not anticipate the possibility of a presidential landslide, and thus did not recruit top-flight candidates in some districts that now look vulnerable. With candidate-qualifying windows having passed in 79 percent of districts, it’s too late to do anything about that in much of the country.

All in all, Wasserman estimates, Democrats would need something like an eight-point national popular-vote margin to put themselves into a position to achieve the 30-net-seat gains necessary to retake the House. That’s hardly unprecedented since Democrats matched that margin in 2006 and exceeded it (with 10.6 percent) in 2008 (the much-ballyhooed Republican landslides of 2010 and 2014 were based on 6.8 percent and 5.8 percent House popular-vote margins, respectively). And current polls certainly indicate that a win by that sort of margin at the top of the ticket by Hillary Clinton is entirely feasible. But Wasserman’s own ratings for Cook show only 26 Republican-held seats — along with seven Democratic seats — being competitive. A “wave” election would require that additional seats come into play. There’s also an argument that if the presidential race gets out of hand for Republicans, they could make an implicit or explicit “checks and balances” argument in congressional races. That is supposedly how the losing presidential party minimized down-ballot losses in the landslide years of 1972 and 1984. It’s unclear that would happen again in this straight-ticket-voting era, but it’s not inconceivable.

The Senate’s a different situation. Of the 34 seats up this November, Republicans are defending 24 and can only afford to lose 3 and hang on to control if Democrats retain the White House and thus the vice-president’s tie-breaking Senate vote. Seven Republican seats are in states Obama carried twice (no Democratic seats are in states carried by McCain or Romney). Looking at the races more closely, Cook’s ratings show seven Republican-held seats in competitive races, with just two among the Democratic-held seats. A Democratic wave could make several other Republicans vulnerable. And none of the factors that give Republicans an advantage in keeping control of the House are relevant to Senate races.

If anyone’s going to be privately hoping something disastrous happens to the Trump candidacy before he’s nominated in Cleveland, it should be Mitch McConnell. But for Paul Ryan, the time to panic likely won’t arise, if at all, before the leaves begin to turn.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, June 21, 2016

June 23, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Down Ballot Candidates, GOP | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“All Hell Would Break Loose”: The GOP Still Has One Last Option For Dumping Donald Trump As Its Nominee

After several weeks of sunny weather for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign this spring, marked by the rapid surrender of his intra-party opponents and strong general-election poll numbers against Hillary Clinton, Republicans are again in semi-panic over his behavior. The backlash to Trump’s racially tinged comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel, and the putative nominee’s apparent inability to back away from them, has the senior leaders of the party unable to defend him. South Carolina senator and former presidential candidate Lindsey Graham, quite recently the quintessential Trump disparager who was reconciling himself to the mogul’s candidacy, is now sounding a new alarm and urging fellow Republicans to withdraw their endorsements: “This is the most un-American thing from a politician since Joe McCarthy,” he told the Times. “If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it. There’ll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.” Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell has offered the candidate a terse directive: “Get on message.”

So is there actually some mechanism whereby Republicans could dump Trump if the panic spreads or the “putative nominee” freaks out and starts blaming his troubles on a conspiracy between ISIS and the Cisco Kid?

Well, yes, there is a nuclear option — but it still has to be considered very unlikely. Approximately one-third of the delegations to the Republican National Convention will be bound to primary or caucus winners by state election laws. For the rest of them, however, the “binding” is by national party rules, and ultimately the rules of every Republican convention are made and can be unmade by the convention itself. So, in theory, convention delegates could vote to unbind themselves (or at least those not bound by state election laws) before the first presidential ballot and throw the nomination open again. If you recall that a significant number of “Trump delegates” are not personally loyal to the wiggy dude to begin with, you could see how a revolt could gain traction under very precise — and unlikely — circumstances.

There are two internal GOP conditions that would need to be present before the nuclear option could ever come into play. The first would be a widespread abandonment of Trump by the very party opinion-leaders who have been climbing aboard his bandwagon in the last few weeks — a mass exodus on the “off-ramp” Graham is talking about. The second and more important development would be a radical change in the rank-and-file sentiment — which was strongly evident long before Trump appeared to have nailed down the nomination — opposing any kind of “coup” against the primary results.

Regardless of what Lindsey Graham and other fair-weather friends of Donald Trump think, neither of these things is going to happen unless there is first a sudden, sickening downward lurch in Trump’s general-election poll numbers. I doubt anything other than 20 points or so — and with it a renewed fear of a down-ballot disaster for the GOP — would get the dump-Trump bandwagon rolling. At that point, all hell could break loose, and Cleveland could be wild and crazy fun after all.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, June 7, 2016

June 9, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Establishment, Republican National Convention | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“A Presidential Candidate Who Is Mentally Unhinged”: What’s Going On In The Republican Party Right Now Is Shocking

Would it surprise you to hear that Donald Trump said something shocking yesterday? Probably not. But here’s the latest. On a conference call with supporters, someone asked the presumptive Republican nominee about a memo issued by his campaign staff asking surrogates to stop talking about the Trump University lawsuit. Here was his response:

“Take that order and throw it the hell out,” Trump said…

“Are there any other stupid letters that were sent to you folks?” Trump said. “That’s one of the reasons I want to have this call, because you guys are getting sometimes stupid information from people that aren’t so smart.”…

A clearly irritated Trump told his supporters to attack journalists who ask questions about the lawsuit and his comments about the judge.

“The people asking the questions—those are the racists,” Trump said. “I would go at ’em.”

It couldn’t be any clearer that Republicans are about to nominate a presidential candidate who is mentally unhinged. He blasts his own campaign staff (meager as it is) as stupid and suggests that reporters who questions his racist statements are – by definition – racist.

Anyone who has been paying attention has known this about Donald Trump for a long time. And so the more interesting question is about how Republican leaders are reacting. We saw last week how Paul Ryan donned the cloak of denial by claiming that Trump’s racism came out of left field. The ever-crass Mitch McConnell summed it up with: “I think the party of Lincoln wants to win the White House.” Perhaps the most unhinged response to an unhinged candidate came from Mike Huckabee. In reference to the Republican establishment’s concerns about Trump, he said this:

“And they’re getting what they justly deserve, they’re getting spanked,” he continued. “And they need to be happy they’re only getting spanked and not executed, because there is seething rage out in the country for those who have fought to help some of these guys get elected, and they get there and they surrender to Obama and people are sick of it. And I think that’s why we’ve seen the spirit of this election, and frankly Donald Trump gives me great comfort. I tell people, ‘I don’t have any hesitation going out there and genuinely supporting Donald Trump.’”

In a time when Republicans weren’t so busy defending a candidate like Trump, suggesting that their party’s leadership should be grateful for getting spanked rather than executed would qualify as a completely outrageous statement. But such are the days of Republicans in the era of Donald Trump.

Beyond that, we are actually witnessing things like Senate Republicans having to reassure our global allies that – if elected – Trump wouldn’t actually do what he’s said he would do, and other leaders attempting to assure voters in this country that constitutional limits (including the possibility of impeachment) would halt his authoritarian tendencies.

I say all of this because it is important that we retain our shock at these events. It is bad enough that in about a month the Republicans are set to formally nominate Donald Trump as their presidential candidate. But it is even more dangerous if we begin to normalize this as political discourse. Explaining away racism as acceptable in an attempt to win, talk of executing politicians, and authoritarian tendencies are simply unacceptable in a democratic republic. So let’s be honest…that is exactly what is happening in the Republican Party right now.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 7, 2016

June 7, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Journalists, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Matter Of Urgent National Interest”: Senate Republicans Get Back to Work…Grilling Facebook

Oh, this is rich.

The US Senate Commerce Committee—which has jurisdiction over media issues, consumer protection issues, and internet communication—has sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg requesting answers to questions it has on its trending topics section. The letter comes after Gizmodo on Monday reported on allegations by one former news curator, who worked for Facebook as a contractor, that the curation team routinely suppressed or blacklisted topics of interest to conservatives. That report also included allegations from several former curators that they used an “injection tool” to add or bump stories onto the trending module.

If I was Zuckerberg, I’d be tempted to consider some spicy language with which to suggest what Sen. John Thune and his Republican friends on the Commerce Committee might consider doing with their questions. Either that or tell them that I’d answer the questions as soon as the same ones were posed to Fox News. I certainly wouldn’t be able to stop myself from pointing out that it was Republicans who insisted on the revocation of the Fairness Doctrine.

It is truly amazing to watch this Party that constantly extols the virtue of “freedom” and their love of the Constitution (First Amendment anyone?) feign outrage that social media isn’t under their control.

Then there’s this:

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) slammed Thune for launching the probe.

“The Republican Senate refuses to hold hearings on Judge Garland, refuses to fund the President’s request for Zika aid and takes the most days off of any Senate since 1956, but thinks Facebook hearings are a matter of urgent national interest,” Adam Jentleson wrote in an email.

“The taxpayers who pay Republican senators’ salaries probably want their money back.”

In 2014, when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised that he’d get the Senate working harder again, I don’t think this is what voters had in mind.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 10, 2016

May 11, 2016 Posted by | Facebook, John Thune, Senate Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Boehner Won’t Vote For Cruz”: ‘I Have Never Worked With A More Miserable Son Of A Bitch In My Life’

Former Speaker of the House John Boehner made news last night when he made an appearance at Stanford University.

“You can call me boner, beaner, jackass, happy to answer to almost anything,” said former Speaker of the House John Boehner as he took the stage at CEMEX Auditorium on Wednesday evening. Boehner joined David M. Kennedy, faculty director and history professor emeritus, in a talk hosted by Stanford in Government (SIG) and the Stanford Speakers Bureau.

Naturally, the discussion focused on Boehner’s time at the helm of the House of Representatives, but they also discussed his view of the presidential race.

Segueing into the topic, Kennedy asked Boehner to be frank given that the event was not being broadcasted, and the former Speaker responded in kind. When specifically asked his opinions on Ted Cruz, Boehner made a face, drawing laughter from the crowd.

“Lucifer in the flesh,” the former speaker said. “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

Boehner went on to say that he’s “texting buddies” with Donald Trump, has played a lot of golf with him over the years, and that, although he doesn’t agree with all his policy proposals, he would vote for him in November. However, he bluntly said that he would not vote for Ted Cruz.

During his time as Speaker, Boehner struggled to deal with the non-reality-based Freedom Caucus rump of his party, and Sen. Ted Cruz played a big role in egging that faction on. This explains most of the animosity that Boehner is nursing now. But it would be a mistake to see Boehner as very grounded in reality himself, because he easily slips into the most submental conspiratorial gibberish.

On Clinton, Boehner’s reviews were more mixed. Early in the talk, the speaker impersonated Clinton, saying “Oh I’m a woman, vote for me,” to a negative crowd reaction. Later, he added that he had known Clinton for 25 years and finds her to be very accomplished and smart.

Boehner also speculated about surprises that could come closer to the Democratic National Convention if Hillary Clinton’s emails became a larger scandal.

“Don’t be shocked … if two weeks before the convention, here comes Joe Biden parachuting in and Barack Obama fanning the flames to make it all happen,” Boehner said.

At least in theory, the president could use his influence over the Justice Department and the Intelligence Community to turn Clinton’s email server issue into a crippling liability right before the Democratic convention in Philadelphia. He might then, in typical Frank Underwood style, orchestrate things so that Joe Biden could “parachute in” and act as the party’s savior.

But, despite Boehner’s previous seat in the highest corridors of power where he might have gleaned animosities that are invisible to the rest of us, there isn’t the slightest outward sign that President Obama is displeased to see Clinton emerge as his likely successor. The president has remained ostensibly neutral during the primaries, but he quietly got his message out that he preferred Clinton to Sanders, and that was reflected in (among other things) how the black community voted in the South and elsewhere.

It could be that the president actually would prefer Biden to Clinton, but to suggest that he would misuse his powers to sabotage Clinton at this late date in order to secure the presidency for his friend Biden is heat-fevered lunacy as far as I am concerned.

Boehner is supposed to be the sane one, and yet he’s just as infected as the rest of them.

Still, the fact that he wouldn’t vote for Cruz is a canary in the coal mine. Consider that during part of Boehner’s speakership his partner was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And McConnell stated publicly just before the New York primary that he was still hoping for a brokered convention that could stop Trump. The most obvious beneficiary of a brokered convention would be Ted Cruz.

This is the definition of a fractured party.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 28, 2016

May 1, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, John Boehner, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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