More Trump Antics and a 2016 Senate Roundup

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 41-

December 7, 2015
This week:

  • The end of Obamacare?
  • Trump still on top, but Trumpy as ever
  • Early look at 2016 Senate races


Reconciliation: Congress will send President Obama a reconciliation bill that repeals Obamacare. Obama will veto it. But this serves as a dry run for what can be done next year if there’s a Republican president.

Because the Senate works in part by precedent, a ruling by the parliamentarian that such a bill fits the rules of reconciliation will be complicated to override next year in the event that it happens again.

The more important consideration, however, might be that Obamacare is doing quite badly and repeal — or at least a major overhaul — is looking much less unlikely than it was six months ago. The expected exit of United Health from the Obamacare exchanges is a real milestone — an indication of panic over the law. The company projected losses on the exchanges of $450 million in 2015 and 2016 combined. This astounding figure is the result of structural problems with the law. As its critics predicted, it has given birth to a dysfunctional exchange marketplace that attracts the sick and repels the healthy.

President 2016

Trump: Donald Trump delivered a strange speech last Thursday to the Republican Jewish Coalition in which he invoked multiple stereotypes about Jews and money.

It was truly bizarre — the sort of thing politicians know not to do. This particular goof comes at an especially bad time, after discussions in the media (fair or unfair) about whether Trump is a fascist.

Like all other Trump incidents so far, this one is unlikely to kill Trump’s candidacy. But it does raise questions about how he would behave as a general election candidate. Mitt Romney was pilloried for his gaffe-after-gaffe campaign in 2012. He repeatedly stepped on his own primary victories by saying something stupid the following day. Trump seems even more like a potential gaffe machine — or more properly, an offense machine.

The general electorate is sure to be far less forgiving of Trump’s Trumpy antics than Republican primary voters have been so far.

Senate 2016

With calendar 2015 drawing to a close, here’s a quick look at a few of the races that will determine control of the U.S. Senate. Republicans are on the defensive in 2016, forced to defend their many victories from the 2010 cycle.

Florida: Here’s an open-seat race that hasn’t really shaped up much at all — nor does it have to, given Florida’s late primary.

Republicans will have at least three candidates to choose from — including the Club for Growth-backed Rep. Ron DeSantis, establishment-favored Rep. David Jolly, and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

Democrats are currently looking at a primary between the more electable Rep. Patrick Murphy and the likely unelectable Rep. Alan Grayson, which could be further complicated if redistricting pushes Rep. Gwen Graham to run for her father’s old seat. If Graham gets in, she might shoot to the top, or it could end up splitting the sane vote and helping Grayson.

Illinois: Sen. Mark Kirk, R, used to win tough races for breakfast back when he held his old Democratic-leaning suburban Chicago House district. And he narrowly upset a close Obama friend to win his Senate seat in 2012. But the Navy veteran and recent stroke survivor is likely going to face a much tougher opponent for his statewide re-election this year — Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D, an Iraq War vet and double amputee who has experience both winning and losing in high-stakes elections.

Before entering Congress and before serving in the Obama administration, Duckworth lost a close race against Rep. Peter Roskam, R, in what was then another competitive suburban district west of Chicago. She is considered the favorite in a Democratic primary that also includes state Sen. Napoleon Harris and Andrea Zopp, former president of the Urban League, as those two will likely split the black vote. In a general election in a presidential year, she has to be considered the favorite against the incumbent Kirk.

However, don’t make the mistake of assuming that Illinois will vote as heavily Democratic in 2016 as it did when Barack Obama was on the ballot. The current to-do over the Chicago police shooting could also test the loyalty of many reliable Democratic voters in black neighborhoods of the city.

Indiana: The Hoosier State naturally favors the GOP, even with an open seat. But as the 2012 victory of Sen. Joe Donnelly, D, demonstrates, that isn’t necessarily a sure thing. Democrats are likely to nominate former Rep. Baron Hill. The Republican race is shaping up to be a classic grassroots conservative-versus-moneyed establishment battle between Reps. Marlin Stutzman of Fort Wayne and Todd Young of the state’s Cincinnati corner. Young is probably the easier one to elect, but conservatives might be willing to take a chance.

Nevada: This open-seat race to replace retiring Sen. Harry Reid, D, is a must-win for Republicans, who have precious few pickup opportunities this cycle. It could also be considered a bellwether, because it pits two strong candidates against each other in a competitive state.

Photo by Gage Skidmore
Photo by Gage Skidmore

The GOP put their best foot forward by recruiting suburban Vegas-area U.S. Rep. Joe Heck to run. He seems to have cleared the primary field, despite some chatter about Sharron Angle, the 2010 loser, making a go at it again. Heck can win against the near-certain Democratic Nominee, former Attorney General Catherine Cortez-Masto. He has held down an important swingy district now since 2010.

Republicans have not had great success in Nevada lately, but it is worth remembering that Sen. Dean Heller, R, managed to win a tight race in 2012, despite Obama’s success higher up on the ticket. As the party showed again in 2014 (thanks mostly to low Democratic turnout), the Republican Party in this state is only mostly dead, not all dead.

New Hampshire: The race between Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R, and Gov. Maggie Hassan, D, promises to be another bellwether, and it’s likely that more will be spent on this race per voter than anywhere else. Two of the state’s most popular politicians will face off in the expensive Boston media market. Ayotte begins with a slight edge in the polls.

Pennsylvania: When Republican former Rep. and former Club for Growth president Pat Toomey won his Senate seat narrowly in 2010 over a strong opponent, a lot of people wrote him off as a one-termer. But the consensus view at this point remains that Toomey is a favorite for re-election, as surprising as that might seem. What some see as his apostasy on gun control in the emotional aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting — he co-sponsored a measure on requiring background checks on a few more purchases — others will chalk up to clever positioning. Toomey has already won the backing of a few soft Democratic fundraisers as a direct result of that, and he leads the early polls.

Pat Toomey CPAC
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Even so, if he wins, it will be a close race, not a blowout. Toomey will not have an easy or comfortable victory — the recent Democratic sweep in the state Supreme Court races underscores the grassroots power of the state’s unions. Think of Rick Santorum’s successful re-election in 2000 as a model.

One major reason Toomey is looking strong is that Democrats lost their strongest potential candidate — Attorney General Kathleen Kane — to a major scandal that has resulted in her disbarment and could soon see her turned out of office.

As a result, they have a competitive primary that pits Toomey’s 2010 opponent, former Rep. Joe Sestak, D, against Katie McGinty, who ran for governor in 2014 and got less than 8 percent in the Democratic primary. Having gone on to become chief of staff to Gov. Tom Wolf, McGinty now has the backing of the party establishment. Many Democrats never forgave Sestak for challenging and defeating the party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter in 2010.

Wisconsin: In 2010, Ron Johnson came out of nowhere to defeat Sen. Russ Feingold, D, a hero of progressives. Feingold ultimately became the victim of Johnson’s personal funding of his race and a national mood very hostile toward Obama and Obamacare.

This year’s race features a rematch. And this time around, the national mood that put Johnson over the top in 2010 hasn’t developed — at least not yet. Johnson trails by large margins in every recent poll. Given presidential turnout, it may not be enough to spend and organize well once again — Johnson might be unable to win without some major national problem for Democrats. Examples: A massive breakdown in Obamacare, continued Obama failure against ISIS combined with more terrorist attacks; or perhaps something that cannot be foreseen at this point.

Johnson remains the most vulnerable incumbent senator of either party. Feingold is the early favorite to reclaim the seat.