The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 24
To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso
- Which party is drunk, and which is ugly?
- Matt Bevin is hanging in there;
- McCollum could change the race in #FLSEN.
Outlook: Arguably the most famous story about Winston Churchill’s wit pertains to an exchange he had with an outspoken Labour MP named Bessie Braddock. She berated him for being intoxicated: “Winston, you are drunk,” she said. “And what’s more, you are disgustingly drunk.”
Churchill’s immortal reply: “My dear, you are ugly, and what’s more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober, and you will still be disgustingly ugly.”
There is some controversy as to whether this exchange actually occurred as described here, but either way it is now one of Churchill’s most famous quotations. It also describes the state of the two parties in U.S. politics at this moment.
On the Republican side, the polls suggest that primary voters are seriously flirting with the idea of nominating Donald Trump — a candidate far less knowledgeable than Ben Carson, much wackier (especially for his history of outspoken birtherism) than Sarah Palin, and no more conservative than Rudy Giuliani (with an even worse personal life). This despite the fact that Republican voters have an unprecedented variety of serious candidates to choose from — they run the ideological gamut and many of them can boast of serious accomplishments.
The main reason for Trump’s appeal? His style. People find bluntness to be rare and refreshing. (His disparaging comments about Mexicans — not just about immigration — have also riled up a less savory crowd that does not normally participate in Republican politics. But the polls demonstrate that this cannot be more than a small minority of Trump’s support.)
On the Democratic side, there has been only one candidate worth mentioning so far, and she is taking on water. It’s not just that she has old baggage and lacks basic candidate skills. She has also created very serious legal and ethical problems for herself just recently, and has earned the distrust of a majority of voters early on.
The latest wrinkle in her email scandal: The unsecured private email system with which she conducted all government business as secretary of State (in violation of Obama administration directives, federal regulations, and State Department policy) contained still-classified intelligence from five different agencies….that we know of so far. Her emails contain “potentially hundreds” of such secrets. The State Department has thousands more emails to sift through still. This despite Hillary Clinton‘s statements to the contrary — that she sent no classified information.
Yet Democrats, whose non-presidential electoral performance has suffered badly in the Obama era, have produced no alternative candidates worth considering….or so it has seemed.
And then this past weekend? A Joe Biden to the rescue trial balloon, unleashed in the pages of the New York Times. The Biden Blast includes a top-front news story on Sunday and a sympathetic Maureen Dowd column. This sort of coverage doesn’t happen by accident — it’s the result of political operatives making the pitch, and persuading political reporters and columnists that they have a real scoop. Their motivation is to get the bandwagon rolling. If it gets rolling, it is a reflection of both Biden’s level of support in the Obama wing of the institutional party and broader concerns about Clinton within the Democratic rank and file.
The situation must have many Democratic primary voters feeling queasy. Joe Biden as the party’s knight in shining armor is an interesting idea, in the sense of being a profoundly depressing one.
Which returns us to Winston Churchill’s drunkenness. The Republican Party would at least like to think it is suffering a temporary malady that time and exposure to the candidates will heal — tomorrow, the voters will be sober. That process begins this week with Thursday’s GOP primary debate. Success for Donald Trump means keeping things as they are right now, with himself the focus of the conversation, serving as the blunt voice of reason versus the career politicians’ prevarication.
Success for the others in the debate means highlighting his deep ignorance of the issues he is so quick to spout off about. (If Rick Perry makes it into the tenth and final debate slot, he can be counted on as the most likely to attack Trump directly.) If the Trump sensation proves longer-lasting, then the task will eventually become one of exploiting his failure (so far at least) to build or run a campaign that adheres to known best practices. Trump is also a candidate who appeals to people that do not have a history of political participation, and the fields of Iowa are littered with the carcasses of such candidates from previous cycles.
Democrats’ problems, at least in this cycle, may be deeper. Their candidates are — as Churchill might put it — disgustingly ugly. Clinton, who is universally known to the electorate, is posting miserable numbers in the swing states, and her campaign has felt a need to start buying ads now instead of waiting until November as originally planned. Biden is a less baggage-laden alternative, but certainly not the ideal candidate to defend the presidency after eight years of Obama. Democrats’ fortunes with their candidates are thus less likely to change than Trump’s strange attraction is to vanish.
Kentucky: Businessman Matt Bevin, R, still trails in this race in the latest poll, but it’s interesting to see he’s beating expectations. The latest Bluegrass poll has him down against Attorney General Jack Conway, D, by just 45 to 42 percent — an earlier version of this same poll, conducted in May by Survey USA, had Conway nearing 50 percent and Bevin down by 11 points.
Bevin won the primary by perfectly handling a very nasty, personal fight between his two rivals for the GOP nomination earlier this year. He’s neither the ideal nor the expected Republican candidate. Kentucky is still a Democratic state on the local level. And Bevin faces a tough environment, given the popularity of retiring Gov. Steve Beshear, D.
For all that, it’s still a pretty close race, perhaps even winnable for Bevin. It will be a chance to test just how Red Kentucky has become.
Florida: Conservative Rep. Jeff Miller, R, whose interest in this race was always a bit of a head-scratcher, opted out last week and announced he will not run. That portends less splitting of the conservative vote with others — especially Rep. Ron DeSantis, R, who has the backing of the Club for Growth. But the bigger news is the possibility that former Attorney General Bill McCollum, R, might throw his hat in the ring as soon as September. (Florida has a very late primary, so candidates can afford to dither.)
McCollum, as some have pointed out, has a history of losing elections in Florida. He lost the primary for governor to Rick Scott in 2010. He lost the 2004 Senate primary to Mel Martinez, R, and he lost the state’s other Senate seat to Democrat Bill Nelson in 2000, even as George W. Bush carried the state by the skin of his teeth.
Still, McCollum is a former statewide official and a member of Congress for two decades. He won a statewide election in the difficult 2006 midterm year. He would not be the most conservative candidate in the race, but he’s no slouch (his 91 percent ACU rating dates back to another era, but it reflects a lengthy time in Congress). It is not unthinkable that conservatives could rally around him to block out someone more liberal — probably Rep. David Jolly, R, should his campaign take off.
Were he to run, McCollum would be entering a fragmented field in which all the candidates so far are relatively unknown outside their own regions of the state. He would become the frontrunner instantly just based on name recognition.
McCollum has not made his intentions clear just yet, but he gave this cryptic quote to a Florida newspaper: “Those who have looked at it professionally definitely think there is a path forward.” This suggests he’s already had more than a few discussions with consultants, and they’re egging him on. Don’t be surprised when he enters the race.
Indiana: It comes as a surprise to no one that Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R, received the Club for Growth endorsement in the open-seat race to replace retiring Sen. Dan Coats, R. So far, his strongest opposition seems likely to come from the cash-rich campaign of Rep. Todd Young, R.