The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 34 – This week:
- Kobach triumphant
- Kansas and Alaska, two strange three-way races for governor
- It’s not Pawlenty’s party anymore
We got no answer to the big question last week — guilty or not guilty — but a set of questions from the jury in Paul Manafort’s criminal trial created a minor panic in Washington. So nervous was the prosecution that it passed word on to CNN that Mueller had far more evidence against him for the separate, upcoming trial he will face in Washington D.C.
It was nearly an admission that an acquittal was in the works for the special counsel’s first criminal trial.
There’s no reason to presume this is the case. But if there is an acquittal, the political consequences will be immediate. Trump’s team will be positively crowing, and Mueller’s investigation reeling. President Trump will surely tweet in all caps. And people will begin to question why Mueller staked so much on a case that he could just as easily have referred to any U.S. attorney, considering the apparent obvious nature of the offenses.
Why, they will ask, was Mueller focusing on crimes that pertain to events and allegations that mostly predate and seemingly have nothing to do with the 2016 election at all, rather than going after evidence of collusion with Russia?
There is a reason, but it’s very hard to tell right now whether it’s a good reason. First of all, we can guess with some confidence what is not going to happen. It is just fanciful to think that Manafort, having gotten this far into his trial, will turn soon and offer to cooperate against….well, whom? Trump himself? It’s hard to imagine what Manafort might have on others regarding collusion with Russia, considering that he was probably the most Russia-connected person involved in the Trump campaign by a long way.
It’s more reasonable to look at the one charge that coincides with the primary campaign timeline. That provides a potential, as yet undetermined Russia link. Despite allegedly using fake documents in his application (a federal crime), Manafort was approved for a $16 million dollar loan that he should have been denied. The bank official who intervened in order to get him the money may have been trying to buy access to Trump — Manafort could not deliver on the cabinet position he wanted.
If Manafort was offering to sell access to Trump, there could be a Russian connection there. But by design, any evidence about that is being kept from the jury in Alexandria. Russia was never mentioned at trial, by the agreement of both sides.
Importantly, though, that doesn’t mean Mueller lacks evidence on some kind of collusion with Russia by somebody. It’s just that it almost certainly won’t touch the president himself.
In any case, watch carefully.
With former Sheriff Joe Arpaio failing to catch fire but also drawing off enough of the anti-establishment vote, Rep. Martha McSally, R, is very likely to prevail and win the nomination over former state Sen. Kelli Ward in next week’s Senate primary. Late efforts by NRSC Chairman Cory Gardner have failed to persuade President Trump to endorse McSally and get it over with.
With a heavily anti-Republican mood in the air, the nominee will face an uphill battle against Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Synema. McSally runs best against Synema, but she has trailed (albeit narrowly in recent days) in every poll taken of a general election matchup between the two.
Recall that Arizona is one of the states where President Trump seriously underperformed in 2016, winning but by a very modest four-point margin against Hillary Clinton. This seat and that of Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada are the two that Senate Republicans are most likely to lose.
Republicans will choose Tuesday between state Sen. Mike Dunleavy and former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell as their nominee to reclaim the governor’s office in Alaska from the incumbent, independent Bill Walker. On the Democratic side, former Sen. Mark Begich is trying to make a political comeback. Whomever Republicans choose (Dunleavy is said to be the favorite), a weird three-way race in which they have a slight advantage is nearly an inevitability.
Speaking of strange three-way races…
Well, first things first. When a primary election is this close, can there be any doubt that each individual element in the race ended in victory? Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded defeat in this primary after falling roughly 200 votes behind Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and it’s impossible to deny that President Trump’s last-minute endorsement of the controversial Kobach sealed the deal.
Kobach, whom Trump had at one point eyed for an immigration enforcement-related position in the administration, now faces a strange three-way race against Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly and well-moneyed businessman and unsuccessful 2014 independent Senate candidate Greg Orman.
Orman talks a big game about stealing votes from Kobach, but he is much more likely to prevent Kelly from getting the votes of moderate Republicans who would otherwise support her over Kobach. This means that if Kobach can find a reasonable floor of support that is close to 50 percent, he has a path to victory. In that event, a serious game-changer — such as one of his opponents dropping out of the race — might be required if anyone is to stop him.
Kobach has been widely panned by the establishment in D.C. for issuing unrealistic and alarmist claims about voter fraud. But as unpalatable as Kobach is to that elite set, he has not proven unpopular in Kansas.
For those who have decided that all voter integrity measures are merely veiled racism, the last attempt to turn him into the issue in Kansas was a big flop. Liberal-leaning media outlets both big and small, in addition to election pundits wrongly believed to be prescient about elections, made a big bet and predicted or hinted at a coming a victory over Kobach by his 2014 Democratic opponent, former Republican Jean Schodorf. The result? Kobach finished that race with 60 percent amid unusually high turnout, winning by nearly the same margin he’d gotten in 2010.
Granted, a governor’s race is a much higher-profile affair. But Donald Trump won 57 percent of the vote in Kansas two years ago. Democrats, who failed even to oust the nation’s most unpopular Republican governor in 2014, really have their work cut out for them.
What a disappointing comeback attempt for former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Despite being heavily favored in last week’s primary, he lost his primary to Hennepin County (Minneapolis) Commissioner Jeff Johnson by nearly nine points.
Pawlenty, once viewed as a natural presidential candidate for the GOP, performed badly in urban, metro and rural areas throughout the state. Both candidates had a similar message, and both had, at some point, harshly criticized but voted for Trump in 2016. But it is Johnson who will go on into the fight against Democratic Rep. Tim Walz this fall, as they seek control of the state government.
If nothing else, it’s a sign that the Republican Party has turned a page. In the Trump era, the voters simply refused to crown a prominent Bush-era conservative.
Although not interesting for partisan reasons, this race suddenly became one to watch when uber-wealthy conservative donor Foster Friess jumped late into the Republican primary, spending a $550,000 (that’s a lot in Wyoming) on television ads alone.
The field is crowded at the top. The only poll, taken this month, shows Friess, Treasurer Mark Gordon, attorney Harriet Hageman and business executive Sam Galeotos clustered near the top, with no one getting as high as 30 percent.