The Briefing, Vol. V, Issue 23 – This week:
- Paris withdrawal a big nothingburger
- Georgia-6 election tight in the final stretch
- Don’t laugh: Dems consider bringing back Jerry Springer in Ohio
Forget Paris: There’s no shortage of controversies that could upend Donald Trump’s presidency — look to James Comey’s testimony later this week, which Trump may not move to block.
But this is going to come as a disappointment to a lot of Democrats: The decision to drop out of president Obama’s non-binding Paris climate accord really isn’t going to hurt him. And in fact, it probably won’t make any noticeable difference to anyone.
For one thing, this is something Trump basically promised to do. It wasn’t as central to his campaign as, say, the building of the southern border wall, but a retreat on the aggressive environmental policy that Republicans came to all the “War on Coal” was basically right up there, and probably central to the magnitude of his victories in many of the Appalachian counties that Democrats once dominated.
The other issue is that national polls showing robust support for the agreement are highly misleading. Ask respondents if they know anything about what’s actually in the agreement, and the results are sure to be amusing. But more importantly, voters have repeatedly demonstrated that even if they say they care about climate change or the environment, they don’t care nearly care enough to base their vote on it. Support for green policies is a mile wide and less than half an inch deep, as Tom Steyer found out the hard way after spending $74 million in 2014 and winning basically no important races.
In a sense, the Paris accord was just the right policy: It basically did nothing concrete, but it created the impression that leaders were doing something. That’s essentially what people want, an environmental policy that doesn’t affect their bottom line. But the danger of leaving such a non-binding agreement in effect is that it would only take one liberal judge hearing a citizen lawsuit to decide that it had some kind of binding legal effect to throw entire industries into chaos. The conservative voices in Trump’s ear prevailed over the more liberal ones (his family in particular) in convincing him to scrap it.
Ultimately, the argument about sovereignty, the constitutionality of non-ratified treaties, and an executive that negotiates on behalf of the interests of people in “Pittsburgh, not Paris” will prove a mild positive for Trump, and have little real effect on any federal environmental policy. In that sense, there’s really no downside to withdrawing from the agreement.
Indeed, there’s another point to be made here: The agreement committed the U.S. on paper to reduce carbon emissions to 26 percent below 2005 levels. As of last year, the nation was nearly halfway to that goal before it had even started.
The U.S. economy has become a lot greener and less carbon intensive in the last ten years, not because of any regulatory action, but because of fracking and the rise of cheap natural gas as a practical source of electricity. Consider that the U.S. accidentally met the Kyoto emissions goals without ratifying that late 1990s treaty or implementing any new policies to meet its standards. As the U.S. economy gradually becomes less coal-intensive due to market forces, further cost-free progress in that direction is likely anyway. The withdrawal from Paris won’t do much to change that either way.
Georgia-6: The decision by Democrat Jon Ossoff to skip a CNN debate at the Atlanta press club next week ahead of the June 20 runoff marks a strange late twist in the special House election runoff to replace Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. Ossoff had accepted the invitation earlier, which comes from a friendly if not Democratic-leaning outlet.
The two candidates will engage in two debates this coming week on local television, so he can’t quite completely be accused of ducking. But such a national forum would seem like a sensible one for a candidate with so much national fundraising support. His refusal comes as an apparent confirmation of what most polls suggest: That he is trying to protect a very a small lead at this late stage and would just as soon not allow any more opportunities than possible for his Republican opponent, former Secretary of State Karen Handel, to flip the script. It might also seem unwise to him to participate in a forum where there will likely be many Trump-focused questions — his strategy has been to keep his own message local rather than hammering on Trump, while allowing the national outside groups spending millions on the race to do their own advertising specifically framing him as a protest candidate against Trump. It serves as a reminder that, just as Republicans face something of a tightrope walk around Trump’s low popularity numbers, so do Democrats. For now, their candidates may do better to focus on local issues without going out of their way to rouse his most fervent supporters with an explicitly anti-Trump campaign.
It may not matter much either way, as early voting is already massive This race is and remains Democrats’ best hope yet to snag a GOP seat and demonstrate Republican weakness ahead of next year’s midterms. A Democratic loss here, following earlier losses in Montana and Kansas and a likely loss in South Carolina on the same day, would essentially send them back to the drawing board.
Immense resources have already been sunk into this race, beginning with the $10 million that Ossoff himself has raised. The DCCC tossed an additional $640,000 on the bonfire over the weekend; the House Majority PAC $100,000; Planned Parenthood an extra $180,000; multiple labor unions have organizers in the field on Ossoff’s behalf. Meanwhile, the NRCC continues to throw similar amounts into the race against him, including more than half a million in media buys in the last six days.
Virginia: Former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, the dark horse progressive candidate in the Democratic race, now has an excellent shot at winning the nomination for governor in next Tuesday’s primary over Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam. On the Republican side, former RNC Chairman and 2014 Senate nominee Ed Gillespie remains a lock.
Illinois: The long shadow of former governor and current federal prisoner Rod Blagojevich has touched Democratic hopeful J.B. Pritzker. The Chicago Tribune last week unearthed wiretapped conversations between the two from late 2008, when the FBI investigation of Blago was heating up, leading months later to his impeachment and removal from office, and a year after that to his conviction on corruption charges. The conversations don’t necessarily suggest Pritzker behaved unethically, but he did recommend that Blagojevich appoint himself as state treasurer if the position opened up (it ultimately did not), and also that he hold out for a position in the Obama administration before following Obama’s wishes and appointing Valerie Jarrett to Obama’s old Senate seat. Jarrett and the prominent Pritzker family seem to have a long-running feud, as the White House advisor tried to prevent J.B.’s sister, Penny, from being appointed as Obama’s Secretary of Commerce.
For his part, Blagojevich was extremely sour on Obama in their discussions (“this f–ing Obama,” he called the then-president-elect) for running on what he considered to be his own accomplishments. Republicans in Illinois don’t have much going for them these days, but a campaign that resurrects Blago’s political ghost would be one of the few things that could really break their way.
Ohio: If Democrats have a successful 2018, it won’t just be in the U.S. House: They will also need to make up their deficit in the states, and that’s where governor’s races especially come in.
Republicans have just enjoyed two very successful midterm elections in a row. And they managed to elect many governors in 2010 who are only just now coming up on the end of their second terms. That leaves a number of slots in key states open for the taking, including key swing states such as Florida, Ohio, and Michigan.
But if Democrats’ idea of competing for Ohio’s governorship is to get trash talk show host and former Cincinnati Mayor Jerry Springer into the race, it puts the question to everything they’re doing right now as a party.
Republicans already have a crowded and well-qualified field of conventional candidates for the post. To be sure, unconventional candidates (Springer would definitely count as one of these) will be taken more seriously in 2018 after Donald Trump’s success. But the idea that Springer is being considered as some sort of deus ex machina in a field of low-profile Democratic candidates (the most prominent is arguably either the current mayor of Dayton or a former congresswoman drawn out in redistricting) is merely a sign that the state party’s bench in the Buckeye State is hopelessly weak.
Ohio Democrats have previously produced some major national political stars, including astronaut John Glenn and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau head Richard Cordray. But they aren’t making any positive national news at the moment, and will be clinging to their last statewide elected office when Sen. Sherrod Brown faces re-election next year.
Donald Trump’s crushing eight-point victory in what has traditionally been a presidential swing state might herald a return to the pre-2006 era in Ohio politics in which Democrats simply aren’t as competitive as they once were.