The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 8

The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 8

This week:

  • Early sign Republicans’ tax reform message is working
  • The Mueller indictment: A letdown for Dems so far
  • Cramer back into #NDSen race

Trump approval: Republicans’ fortunes in 2018 will inevitably be tied closely to President Trump’s approval rating. And so Republicans are taking some small hope from last week’s Morning Consult poll, which shows Trump’s approval tied with his disapproval at 41 percent. It’s a bit of an outlier compared to other polls, but the trend in this poll since the last one is positive for Republicans, and they hope to find more evidence of progress.

So is the generic ballot result, which Republicans lead by one point. And perhaps more important than these unreliable results denoting absolute values of public support is the evidence the poll contains that the GOP message on the tax reform bill is getting through.

The poll shows that since December, Republicans have gone from trailing Democrats on the issue of the economy to leading Democrats on that same issue by 11 points.

Whether this will prove enough to stave off what already looks like a Democratic tsunami is hard to say. But whether or not it’s sufficient, it’s a necessary condition for Republican survival, and so they have to be happy to see their message on this issue hitting home.

Mueller indictment: The biggest news last week was the special counsel’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals who were part of the Internet Research Agency troll farm, for participating in an organized conspiracy to affect the 2016 presidential election. The charges include wire fraud and bank fraud, the theft of at least six Americans’ identities, and conspiracy to defraud the United States by interfering with government functions.

President Trump is far too sanguine in believing (and tweeting out) that this indictment actually exonerates him. Yet the fact is is that even if it doesn’t disprove the Trump-Russia conspiracy theories, it also lends no new credence to any of them. Just assuming for the sake of argument that Putin actually swung the election to Trump (which he surely didn’t), the Russians would have had absolutely no reason to involve Trump in their plans anyway. In fact, involving him would have created dangerous vulnerabilities for them. Does anyone seriously believe that Trump instructed or acceded to Russian plans to steal Americans’ identities? To engage in illegal banking activities? The most plausible charge to lay at Trump’s feet, though still extremely doubtful, is that he could have been aware of or encouraged efforts to deceive various government agencies. But here again, there is nothing pointing to Trump’s involvement in a standard Russian disinformation operation and no reason to assume he would have to be involved to make it happen.

The thin straw that the Trump-Russia truthers must cling to is Trump’s extremely unsavory public rhetoric in Putin’s favor, but the fact is, there’s nothing illegal about that, and voters didn’t even view it as disqualifying when they elected him.

What’s more, the conclusions drawn by the prosecutors are not especially surprising. The Russian government spent good money on a highly organized effort to influence American public opinion. They spread propaganda designed to sow racial division, to promote Bernie Sanders, and finally to promote Trump. They interfered in the 2016 election as they probably have in every American election since Stalin, if not earlier. It could be a very long time before the archives open up that tell Americans the full story of how much their modern political and social institutions were shaped through Soviet meddling.

In any event, this new Red Scare is good for riling up the Democratic base. But it probably isn’t worth much as far as votes go. Trump is unpopular for his own reasons, but talk of “treason” and the like will only turn off voters.

Besides, even though Democrats wrap their newfound and heretofore lacking concern about Russia in the flag, it’s really just political. They had no interest in the Russian threat until they had something to gain from it. They are very eager to make hay of this now because the Russians most certainly did take action on Trump’ behalf. But they had no interest in the Russia threat before November 9, 2016.

The Obama administration’s acquiescent policy toward Moscow helped lead up to this moment. It included not only the loss of eastern Ukraine and the Crimea, and perhaps worst of all the placement of Russia in charge of Syrian chemical disarmament — which, by the way, did not actually result in Syria’s chemical disarmament, as we now know. And Russia’s geopolitical strategy also benefited from his Iran nuclear deal, it bears mentioning. Russia now opposes any effort on Trump’s part to alter the terms of the deal.

Again, this matters little from a political perspective, but it gives some desperately needed perspective to liberals’ claims to the moral high ground.

House 2018

Pennsylvania-18: A new poll shows Republican Rick Saccone with a narrow three-point lead over Democrat Conor Lamb in what really ought to be a solidly Republican district. This could end up being a very narrow hold in a low-turnout race, much like all the other closely contested House special elections so far.

But one of the more interesting features of the race has been Lamb’s willingness to abandon Democratic gun control policy at just the moment when embracing it might work in his favor.

Credit Lamb for making a bona fide effort to reach the very sort of culturally conservative voter who abandoned Democrats in 2016. But to the extent that liberals cast the most votes and give the most money in the party, it will be interesting to see where Lamb ends up.

Election Day is March 13. President Trump had an event scheduled there before the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which has been postponed.

Senate 2018

North Dakota: Rep. Kevin Cramer’s decision to jump back into this Senate race offers a ray of hope for Republicans. It had become obvious that in his absence, there would be a non-entity Republican nominee facing Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D. Against any credible opponent, Heitkamp could find herself in deep trouble even in a highly Democratic year.

Tennessee: Bob Corker, who had previously announced his retirement, is now talking about rescinding his retirement and getting back into a re-election race. But Washington’s establishment does not seem that eager to defend his position. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, long known as both a more conservative politician and less antagonistic toward Trump, had much earlier thrown her hat in the ring. She not only had almost $5 million in cash on hand as of the last reporting period, but she also has the backing of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

This may seem surprising, but it really isn’t. Corker went further than any other Republican in denouncing Trump. Much further than Mitt Romney, even. McConnell wants, to the extent possible, to stay friendly with the president. He would certainly defeat his own purpose were he to get behind Corker at this point.

Utah: It’s official now, Mitt Romney is a candidate for Senate, and in the absence of a viable alternative he is the candidate with President Trump’s blessing.

There won’t be much to say about whether he can win — it would require an epic scandal to keep him out of the Senate. Still, it will be very interesting to see what sort of posture Romney takes toward Trump, both during the campaign and . If he becomes a confrontational Bob Corker or Jeff Flake type, or mostly cooperates with Trump like other former opponents Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.