Once Again, The GOP Is Trump’s Party

The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 25- This week:

  • Trump-Kim meeting gets good marks, but also carries risks
  • It’s Trump’s party, part 72
  • ‘Air Claire’ strikes again

Singapore Summit: President Trump’s Singapore meeting with Kim Jong Un raised many concerns because of the vague promises the North Korean dictator made.

In many quarters, the media have been hostile to the visit. And those concerned about potentially legitimizing Kim are not limited to leftists nor to die-hard never-Trumpers.

Still, it turns out that Americans took away from the meeting a surprisingly, even overwhelmingly positive impression. According to a poll released over the weekend by Politico and Morning Consult, 54 percent of Americans view the summit as a success. That includes 48 percent of independents and 38 percent of Democrats. Only 24 percent overall believe it was unsuccessful.

So for now, from a purely political perspective, the meeting with North Korea’s dictator was a smart move for Trump.

But it doesn’t come without one very, very large risk.

Typically, the public has held sitting presidents harmless for the unpredictable and bellicose behavior of the Kim family. Even if there have been robust criticisms of one president or another’s dealings with North Korea, no one would blame American leaders for North Korea’s constant missile launches and other provocations.

But in meeting with Kim and asserting such a rapport between himself and the dictator, Trump may have just owned whatever comes next out of North Korea. Assuming Kim plans to avoid confrontation — or even that his promises of denuclearization are genuine — that’s fine. But if something bad does happen, Trump has put himself in a position where he’s sure to take blame.

For the moment, Trump’s job approval is as strong as it ever has been. The last three polls have him with a net negative rating in the single digits, and his approval rating as high as 47 percent, nine points higher than it was when he was elected.

He’s just fine, unless there’s another North Korean provocation, in which case Trump really has set himself up to take the blame.

Senate 2018

Florida: Republican Gov. Rick Scott continues to plow under incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson with additional TV spending. Scott is making himself so ubiquitous that his campaign even cut a Spanish-language TV ad just to mark the beginning of the soccer World Cup — it doesn’t even mention the campaign, Nelson, or the Senate.

That may seem wasteful, but Scott would really love to exploit Nelson’s relative weakness, as Florida Democrats go, with the state’s Hispanic voters. Nelson’s lack of engagement with that key voter demographic in the Sunshine State has been noticed, and in a poll out earlier this month, he’s already trailing Scott, 48 to 45 percent. Scott has never performed especially well with Florida’s Hispanics even in victory, but this contest against Nelson offers his best opportunity yet to win their votes.

This is looking increasingly like one of the more flippable seats of the 2018 cycle.

Missouri: Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has often been accused of being an out-of-touch millionaire who doesn’t understand the views or beliefs of her constituents. And so to counteract this, in late May, she made a big point of taking a three-day RV tour of her state, during which she met with people in various Missouri cities.

But in what is sure to be one of the most hilarious unforced errors of the 2018 cycle, it turns out that she wasn’t riding in the RV most of the time — she was flying from stop to stop in the private plane that had caused her campaign so much trouble during her 2012 re-election race.

The Washington Free Beacon used crowd-sourced flight data to discover this. It also uncovered that McCaskill’s campaign had requested that the FAA not broadcast her plane’s activity on the internet, perhaps out of fear that a story like this one would be told.

McCaskill finally admitted to flying in the plane. Her complaints that a “broken door” on the RV was driving her crazy also play right into the hands of her detractors. (Don’t we all jump into our planes when we experience a peevish broken door?)

President Trump made a point of slamming her personally, as did her opponent, Attorney General Josh Hawley.

Montana: Senate Democrats are just worried enough about Sen. Jon Tester, D, that Harry Reid’s Senate Majority PAC has come to his defense with an early $600,000 ad buy. The ad plays up Republican nominee Matt Rosendale’s Maryland roots. It accuses him of buying a “trophy ranch” in Montana and trying to shift public lands to developers.

Tester’s fear is that Trump will take a prominent role in the race, to his detriment. Montana, a state with much deeper labor roots than its conservative neighbors, went very heavily for Trump in 2016. And so this kind of attack on Rosendale is the perfect kind. It slams him as not just rich but also as precisely the sort of wealthy outsider who doesn’t respect Montana ways.

There’s no saying whether it actually sticks, but it’s a smart attack, as likely as any other to work.

Virginia: The National Republican Senatorial Committee is cutting its losses, promising to put no resources put behind Prince William County Supervisor Cory Stewart in his challenge of Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine. Stewart’s passionate defense of Confederate monuments extended during his gubernatorial run to the point of promising to dictate to localities that they must keep their statues, even if the local community didn’t want them.

It’s a fairly simple equation: The national GOP senses an opportunity to gain Senate seats, and perhaps even to hold on to the House. Even if Trump is happy to offer a supportive tweet, the rest  of Republicans in D.C. still differentiate themselves at some level. They do not want to get bogged down in a campaign about slavery and the Civil War.

For the party leaders, it’s as simple as that. But this doesn’t mean everyone is going to be happy with the decision.

House 2018

It’s still Trump’s party: With the defeat of Republican Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina in last week’s primary, President Trump has once again sealed his leadership of the Republican Party.

The less impressive fact is that Trump probably managed to defeat Sanford with a single last-minute tweet. Given that Sanford lost by only about 2,600 votes, it may well have made the difference.

But the more important fact is that Sanford, given his personal history, by all rights should have been kept out of office from the start. Yet despite all the Christian conservatives and South Carolina establishment Republicans and others who would have loved to see Sanford toppled before this, it took the Trump phenomenon to topple him. It took an unabashed Trumpian campaign like that of Katie Arrington.

Sanford couldn’t be toppled by anyone until a Trump-friendly primary opponent came along. And she beat him despite spending only one-eighth of what he spent.

That says all you really need to know about the power behind the movement Trump started on the Right.

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