Does Putin Matter?

The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 30 – This week:

  • Climate change and civil lawsuits — more on how a post-Kennedy court could change America
  • Russia is not the political silver bullet Dems are looking for
  • Brian Kemp snags Trump’s endorsement, heads toward unexpected win in the Georgia primary

From Russia with Love:

The outrage du jour last week was President Trump’s seemingly obsequious behavior

Trump and Putin in Helsinki

toward Russian President Vladimir Putin. The obvious reality in Washington is, it looks quite bad, both to Republicans who criticized Barack Obama for his obeisance and to Democrats who have it in for Trump no matter what.

The less obvious reality, at least to some people, is that this issue has very little public appeal. That is to say, it is barely if at all interesting to anyone outside the Beltway.

The polling shows that people generally disapproved of Trump’s performance, but look any deeper and the idea that it matters to them, or that there’s any agreement as to why Trump did badly, kind of falls apart. The Washington Post’s poll, for example, found even as 50 percent of voters disapproved of Trump’s handling of the summit, 50 percent of voters also thought Trump “didn’t go far enough” or was “about right” in his level of support for Putin. (Yes, you read that right.) If that’s not enough, then note that the same poll shows that 50 percent believe that U.S. leadership has either “gotten stronger” or “remained the same” under Trump.

Meanwhile, Trump’s approval rating just hit an all-time high of 45 percent in the NBC/WSJ poll. The main reason seems to be that he is consolidating more of the remaining support from Republicans he had not won over in the first place. And that poll, too, shows that most Americans (65 percent) disagree with Trump on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and that a majority (51 percent) disapprove of the state of U.S.-Russian relations.

The  numbers here all point to the same idea — this is not the political issue Democrats are looking for in their question to take Trump down.

Supreme Court:

The retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy threatens to turn Trump’s presidency from a fascinating spectacle into a historic moment that shapes the next five decades of American history.

Trump, just two years into office, will appoint two new justices to the high court — the same number as both Barack Obama and George W. Bush in eight years. And he could easily make two more appointments in just a single four-year term, or up to four more in a two-term presidency. Given the immense power the court has come to possess, the results could be monumental.

We’ve spent the last few weeks looking at a couple of key decisions that could be reversed by Kennedy’s replacement with a conservative justice. There are many others we could hit but will not. But we would be especially remiss if we failed to mention Massachusetts v. EPA.

This ruling had tremendous political consequences in giving liberals the slack they needed to hang themselves. It helped the process of their alienating solid Democratic Appalachia and ultimately turning West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania into Trump states in 2016.

Those results will not be reversed any time soon, but the decision itself could be.

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that EPA not only can but must regulate carbon dioxide, on the grounds that it was harming coastal states by failing to do so.

At the time, the court’s conservatives wanted to deny Massachusetts standing in the case altogether. They disparaged the Bay State’s allegations of harm as entirely speculative — which is to say, no one knows how much if at all EPA’s inaction was affecting or would affect rising sea levels. In addition, Justice Scalia argued in his dissent that the law placed the agency under no specific obligation to make a rule about carbon pollution in any timely fashion, even if all parties agreed that carbon is a pollutant.

Still, the liberals prevailed, with Kennedy’s help, in using the courts to impose climate policy where Congress refused to do so. Now the tables might be turned, and the result could well be that America enters the low-carbon and post-carbon age with only market forces (such as those making coal a cost-ineffective fuel compared to lower-carbon natural gas) as its guide.

Environmentalists are deeply afraid that Kavanaugh’s addition to the court will set them back in this regard. They are reportedly even discussing trying to prevent global warming-related cases from reaching the Supreme Court if he is confirmed. Kavanaugh is best known on this topic for disparaging the idea that global warming is “a blank check” for government action.


Finally, there are other areas where precedents likely won’t be changed, but will probably be shored up. For example, there are various issues regarding federal preemption — for example, whether common-law suits can be brought in state courts against the makers of drugs or medical devices or automobiles, given that the safety of these products is federally regulated.

There are also issues regarding class action lawsuits, and whether any old group of people, no matter how large and diverse, can be identified by trial lawyers and presented in court as a true class for a mega-lawsuit.

It should also be noted that the recent rash of “public nuisance” lawsuits going after everyone from gun to paint to chemical manufacturers, and now even oil companies, remains as frivolous as before. But these trends tend to change over time and with favorable venue-shopping (just look at California), so that what seemed crazy before suddenly seems normal. And the Left’s victories in such cases usually come only after many years of trying. A Supreme Court bolstered by new, young conservative justices is better situated to resist such fads until they have gone well out of style.

If unions and the abortion Left are two legs of the stool by which the Democratic Party is funded, trial lawyers represent the third leg. On these issues, the replacement of Kennedy by a liberal could have thrown Democrats a bit of a lifeline in hard times. Kavanaugh, if he is confirmed, is expected to preserve the status quo on issues like these.

Governor 2018


Holy cow, did this race change fast. By the time President Trump got behind Secretary of State Brian Kemp, his rival in the GOP primary, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, had already suffered a severe reversal of fortune. Kemp is now likely to win Tuesday’s primary, thanks in large part to recordings of Cagle that were released, demonstrating his cynicism and insincerity on a variety of topics.

Many Republicans believe Kemp will lose the general election — and if the danger really is so great, then his campaign will present a true test of Georgia’s political future and its willingness to go back to the Democrats it used to support before 2002. However, it must be noted that this is no fait accompli. Both Kemp and Cagle enjoy a narrow lead over Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams in a recent local media poll. Both President Trump and VP Mike Pence have shown they are willing to get involved in this one, and they may well have to.

Senate 2018

New Jersey:

Yeah, this is a bit of a surprise. But maybe not that much. Democratic Sen. Bob

Robert Menendez
(Photo by Glyn Lowe)

Menendez’s numbers are terrible, in no small part because of his indictment and trial. Despite his acquittal, the amount of sleaze evident in his well remunerated (in terms of gifts) relationship with convicted multi-million-dollar fraudster Salomon Melgen is too much for a lot of people to handle, even in New Jersey.

Where does that put Republican nominee Bob Hugin? In the polls, it seems to put him quite close. In April, he was down by more than 20 points. In May, he was down by four. In July, he is down by two , at least according to one recent survey.

But it’s really not that simple. It’s one thing to get Jersey-ites to hate Menendez, but it’s a whole other ballgame getting them to vote for a Republican for Senate, something they haven’t done in 46 years. And if things go really badly, as Doug Forrester learned long ago in his race against Robert Torricelli, the Democrats aren’t above breaking the state’s election laws to put someone new on the ballot.

Hugin seems quite committed to the race, having recently thrown $15 million of his own money into it. But it will take more than commitment to put a race like this one on the radar, especially in President Trump’s first midterm.


It has been a long, slow slog, but the needle seems to have moved in state Sen. Leah Vukmir’s direction in the GOP primary. Whereas Republican convert and veteran Kevin Nicholson seemed to have the upper hand before, the latest Marquette Poll has her narrowly taking a lead with very good timing ahead of the August 14 primary. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D, however, is a very strong favorite to win re-election.