Mueller’s appearance backfires

The Briefing, Vol. VII, Issue 28

This week:

  • Mueller testimony backfires on Democrats
  • Republicans’ socialism strategy
  • House GOP retirements: Not bad so far

President 2020

Warren’s foray into economic forecasting: “Warning lights are flashing. Whether it’s this year or next year, the odds of another economic downturn are high and growing.”

This line and the associated argument, from a recent Medium post by Elizabeth Warren, at least gives Democrats something to say about the economy. But there’s a problem with candidates making such predictions — if the predictions don’t come true, then the candidates look pretty dumb. And this one is likely to fit that category.

Warren’s pessimism was widely panned by experts for being wrong on the underlying facts about the economy’s current condition. The issue here is that there’s not much point in stretching the truth to make, for example, current household debt levels or the inverted yield curve seem like bigger problems than they actually are. The timeline of Warren’s prediction is simply too short for such a deception to work. One can always argue that an economy is rotten on the inside, but one cannot, by merely exaggerating facts, pretend the nation into an economic crisis.

Mueller ‘disaster’: “As political theater, the Democrats’ decision to put former Special Counsel Robert Mueller under oath was a catastrophe.”

So writes Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. His assessment, coming from an undeniably liberal perspective, is essentially the same as that of President Trump himself, who called the Mueller show a “disaster.” Pretty much everyone in Washington concurred with this assessment, including those unwilling to say so out loud. 

When Mueller testified before Congress last week, he seemed evasive at some times and confused by the questions at others. Either way, what had been a long-awaited (at least for Democrats) event for this summer ended with a disappointed grimace and a shrug of the shoulders. 

Democrats have only themselves to blame for building up Mueller and the alleged conspiracy he was charged with rooting out. Mueller’s competence issues aside, it turns out that he really meant it when he said he would only testify to what was already written in his report. And it also turns out he meant it when his report came up empty in terms of evidence that Russia had worked with Trump’s campaign or that Russian propaganda had in any serious way swayed the outcome of the 2016 election.

Mueller reiterated that his investigation had not found evidence of a conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government, and that the investigation was not “curtailed or stopped or hindered” by the White House. This leaves to the imagination only a purely academic debate over whether Trump’s habitual intemperate tweets about Mueller, his investigation and the witnesses he questioned can be cited as evidence of attempted obstruction of justice. The question has already been meaningfully answered insofar as it pertains to prosecution. That isn’t going to happen.

That would pretty much settle everything, except that there remain questions about how the Russia probe began. Here, in response to most of the Republican questioning, Mueller had nothing to say. 

But Democrats had built up Mueller’s testimony as something that would surely bring on impeachment, or at least a surge of support for it. And so they pressed with lines of questioning about Russian interference in the 2016 election. And in the end, their plan came to nothing, as just a tiny handful of House Democrats added their names to the rolls of those calling for impeachment. 

This points to the way the 2020 election will be run on the Left. Democrats are actually trying to keep hope alive among the left-wing base that Vladimir Putin stole the election and handed it over to Trump. This kooky conspiracy theory lives on as the creation mythology of the Democratic Party’s 2020 push to unseat Trump. 

GOP’s anti-socialism campaign: Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are hoping that, as in 1968, the Democrats’ socialist Left will undermine the party’s appeal to reasonable, normal people. 

Republicans, seeking to reclaim a House majority, wish to make use of “the Squad” — the three or four socialistic Democratic House members who, up until last week, were making themselves useful in this regard by publicly denouncing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s racism and sexism. 

The basic idea is that, with Trump’s re-election uncertain, the donors who have fled his party can at least hedge their bets against a communist revolution by re-engaging and helping fund a Republican takeover of the U.S. House. And indeed, so far the NRCC is pulling in donations at a pace that it never did after losing the House majority in 2006.

This is great for Republicans seeking to unify the more Trump-wary and Trump-friendly elements within their party — to unite and keep the political Right engaged. But a positive outcome in the House seems unlikely, at least from a historical perspective. The U.S. House hasn’t changed parties in any presidential election since 1932, and it hasn’t changed in favor of an incumbent seeking re-election at any point since the Civil War.

As for the Senate, continued Republican control seems much more like a realistic goal, as we’ve noted previously. Democrats need a net gain of at least three seats (four if Trump wins) to take control, and they start off very likely to lose a seat in Alabama. If Trump wins, a Republican Senate ensures that his judges can keep getting confirmed at a rapid clip. Assuming Trump loses, a GOP Senate limits what Democrats can do. From the perspective of a wealthy and Trump-averse donor, this is an acceptable outcome.

House 2020

GOP Retirements: One of the warning signs for a congressional party is that it experiences a rash of retirements in vulnerable seats. This is exactly what happened to Republicans in 2018. 

So far, however, 2020 looks better. The retirements seem to be coming in places where Republican victory is more likely. Reps. Martha Roby, Ala., Pete Olson, Tex., and Paul MItchell, Mich., all announced their retirements last week. Add these to the already-announced departures of Reps. Susan Brooks, Ind., and Rob Woodall, Ga., and there is just one (Woodall’s) or maybe two districts out of these where Democrats will be competitive. If House Republicans are to face a problem in this respect, it hasn’t shown itself just yet.

North Carolina-9: A new Democratic poll shows Democrat Dan McCready neck-and-neck with Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop, 46 to 46 percent, in the September race for the vacant ninth district. 

House Republicans would obviously love their comeback from their 2018 drubbing to begin with this September 10 election.