The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 13

The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 13

This week:

  • New Trump advisors Bolton, Kudlow come from more conventional conservative backgrounds
  • Rauner narrowly survives his primary
  • Democrats expand their list of House targets

The Briefing wishes you a Happy Easter in advance of this coming weekend’s celebration.


President Trump’s choice of John Bolton as his new National Security Advisor takes his administration to a place where most Republicans would have liked to see it from day one. One could say something similar about his choice of Larry Kudlow as his economic advisor.

Bolton’s deep distrust of Putin and of the Russians’ intentions is well known, and was often expressed in the form of criticisms of the previous administration. Even though Bolton’s worldview seems to cut against Trump’s personal instincts on the subject of Russia, there is a chance that Trump will actually listen to him.

Likewise, with Kudlow, there is a chance that Trump will allow his new advisor’s free-trade instincts to influence the way Trump’s economic policy is run from here out. Although Trump is likely to retain his skepticism and love of tariffs, Kudlow’s views can be reconciled with his own by combining a mostly free-trade ethic with a security-based mission to combat increasingly aggressive international Chinese mercantilism.

Senate 2018

Missouri: A minor matter, to be sure, but Hillary Clinton’s comments on why she lost — because so many “backward” people voted against her — has Democrats on the defensive. Most significantly, endangered Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, D, felt a need to go right after her with unsparing criticism. She is giving Democrats their own opportunity for a Sister Souljah moment, an amusing development considering the origin of that term.

Mississippi: With Sen. Thad Cochran’s resignation, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has appointed Agriculture Secretary Cindy Hyde-Smith, R, to his Senate seat. She is the primary obstacle to Chris McDaniel’s four-year campaign to enter the U.S. Senate. He said he was “troubled” to hear of the appointment, which he characterized as the establishment appointment of a Republican in Name Only, especially given Hyde-Smith’s relatively recent conversion from the Democratic Party to the Republicans — although that isn’t actually too unusual for Mississippi, where Republicans have only become the dominant party within the last five to ten years.

Governor 2018

Illinois: Gov. Bruce Rauner, R, just barely survived a spirited conservative challenge by Jeanne Ives. Having upset his party’s base one time too many, he goes into this November’s election with a sky-high disapproval rating and a huge disadvantage against Democrat J.B. Pritzker, the establishment candidate and brother of President Obama’s commerce secretary Penny Pritzker.

Although Rauner has immense resources to fund his own campaign, he is vulnerable both personally and by virtue of being a Republican governor in Trump’s first midterm.

House 2018

Democrats’ chances of retaking the House remain excellent, as before, even if the picture is more mixed in the Senate.

Their plans for a House takeover begin, of course, with the relatively small handful of Republican-held seats in districts that Hillary Clinton won. But after Democrat Conor Lamb’s victory two weeks ago in a seat that Trump carried by 20 points, Democrats are expanding the map — and they’re smart to do so.

The particular seat that Lamb won won’t even exist in November, thanks to court-ordered redistricting. But that’s beside the point. The point is, if a seat like that one is available to Democrats, how many other seats like it could they win?

Part of the Democrats’ strategy will have to include recruiting candidates like Lamb — conservative enough at least in tone to win in such districts. Whether the Democratic base has the restraint to tolerate this remains to be seen. Democrats only just avoided unseating the moderate Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., last Tuesday, in a primary that pitted him against a far-left challenger. Lipinski had the advantage as an incumbent, but as some of the Texas primaries showed, left-wing candidates have much better chances in open races to take on Republican incumbents.

Republicans, of course, have their own ideas about House pickups. Note, for example, this piece on Minnesota’s Iron Range-based 8th District, which will be an open seat this year.

And there are some indications — at least momentary — that House Republicans’ situation is not as bleak as it perhaps seems. The latest FOX News generic ballot poll shows a mere five-point lead for Democrats, for example, down from a 15-point lead.

But such polling probably only offers false hope. It should not be relied upon, especially not against the indications present in the recent election results in Pennsylvania.

Republicans should be running scared, taking their cue from other elections for state legislative offices that have similarly demonstrated that Democratic voters are eager and ready to turn out compared to their Republican counterparts. Republican turnout has been somewhat tepid and unimpressive in all of the special election races so far, including the ones that Republicans have won.