The Briefing, Vol. V, Issue 38
- Trump’s deal with Dems — who wins?
- Whose deal was better for conservatives? Ryan’s or Schumer’s?
- Are moderate House Republicans jumping ship?
Dances with Democrats: What is one to make of the mighty #Resistance to President Trump, given that Democrats are now cutting deals with him and it’s the Republicans in Congress who are being left out in the cold?
This is a strange moment for Trump’s presidency, and one that you could even say some anti-Trump conservatives predicted. Ted Cruz was arguing during the New Hampshire primary in 2016 that Trump would get to Washington and cut deals with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, and this is just what he did last week.
Then again, the Democratic deal that Trump took might actually be better for conservatives than what the GOP leadership had in mind. Republicans and conservatives are certainly not all agreed on this point, but it cannot be dismissed lightly. House Speaker Paul Ryan was bargaining for an 18-month deal on the debt ceiling, holding the fight over borrowing and spending until after next year’s Midterm election. By March 2019, anything could have happened. It’s possible Republicans will have even lost control of Congress by then.
Ryan’s long-term deal would have blocked conservatives from ever having a chance to use the debt ceiling fight as leverage to demand spending reforms, something they’ve been hoping to do for years. Thanks to the Democrats’ deal, they will now have just such an opportunity in three months’ time. Republican leadership, meanwhile, doesn’t have the luxury of avoiding such a fight until the 116th Congress.
Sed cui bono? Democrats, however, seem to think they will be the ones to benefit from the coming debt ceiling showdown. And they will, if enough Republicans in Congress go along with them. A few temporary alliances with Trump might be all Democrats need to kill his agenda and cripple his presidency.
Then again, if Democrats are planning to use the threat of a default on the national debt to their advantage, Trump can do the same thing. What happens, for example, if Democrats have to choose between funding his wall and forcing a default? How far are they willing to go, especially after all their 2013 rhetoric about how the debt limit is sacrosanct and off-limits for politics? If they do bring the nation to the brink of a default some time around Christmas, how much blame will they actually forced to swallow as the midterm election year begins?
Which of course brings us to the consideration with which we are always particularly concerned. What does this mean for the parties in electoral terms? Will Republicans benefit in some places from having distance from Trump? Will Democrats benefit in some places from working with him? Surely, in both cases, yes. And the reverse also has to be true — that some Republicans will lose if they try to distance themselves from Trump, and some Democrats will suffer the wrath of their progressive base if they even treat him like he’s actually the president.
As we learned in 2016, there’s no one right answer when it comes to the effect Trump has on the voters. There are several right answers, depending on which state and which district you’re talking about.
Democrats still enjoy only a modest single-digit lead in generic ballot polling at this point, with all recent polls testing registered (rather than likely) voters. They have all the advantages of a midterm election, but Trump is too unpredictable And Trump’s administration, unpopular as he is, has gotten rave reviews on all sides for its handling of what’s been a very challenging hurricane season. He could get a bump, and his party might (or might not) benefit from it.
There should be, at this point, a vague sense that Democrats will gain ground in 2018, at least in the House. But anyone who says they know more than that is surely bluffing.
Republican retirements: One of the things party leaders work hard to prevent each cycle is retirements. Yes, everyone has to retire (or die) someday, naturally, but you never want it to happen in a year and in a seat where it makes the loss of a seat more likely.
There have been two recently announced GOP House retirements that might perhaps suggest a bit of trouble for Republicans. This past week, the retirement came in Pennsylvania-15, where Rep. Charlie Dent, R, called it quits.
Dent, a moderate, has taken several shots at Trump for various reasons over the last few months, and it’s possible he just feels vulnerable. He is leaving open a 52 percent Trump district that has a long history of swingy behavior between the two parties. Note that this Allentown seat is the one Sen. Pat Toomey once held.
The other potentially concerning new retirement is that of Rep. Dave Reichert in Washington-8. Reichert, the much-admired former sheriff who captured the Green River Killer, is also a moderate. For many years, he held down a far more Democratic district than the one he currently represents. Even so, his current Suburban Seattle seat is definitely winnable for Democrats — Hillary Clinton carried it with 48 percent of the vote. They will have a much easier time winning it as an open seat than they would against a popular longtime incumbent.
Moderate Republicans who hold swing-y districts are always the last ones you want to see quit in a tough year. That’s because it is never as easy for a newcomer to hold a potentially tricky seat like the ones these two both represent.
Between Reichert, Dent, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., there is at least a small early movement by Republican moderates to take the occasion to bail out of the House ahead of a challenging midterm.
Nothing yet to be too alarmed about, but if a few more of these retirements crop up, it could be a sign of tough times ahead for the GOP.