May 17, 2021
This week: The Briefing, Vol IX, Issue 20:
- Gavin Newsom’s ‘Big Bribe’
- Cheney-Stefanik fight is a big deal if you work in the Beltway media
- Virginia Republicans go with Youngkin for governor
Cheney-Stefanik: The race for the House Republicans’ number three House leadership position has never drawn so much attention from the media. Although the defeat of non-stop Trump critic Rep. Liz Cheney certainly illustrates the continued influence of former President Trump in the national Republican Party, it is probably being overestimated as a story.
It is indeed significant that House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy abandoned Cheney and supported her ouster, helping Elise Stefanik win the position. Then again, this is an inside-baseball Washington story, probably not the sort of thing that drives a national political campaign.
Who was the House Republican Conference Chair in 2015? Any guesses? If you knew this, you are a hopeless political junkie. If you even know that former Vice President Mike Pence briefly served in the position before leaving in 2009 to become governor of Indiana, then you know more about internal House politics than 99% of the population.
Stefanik’s criticism of Cheney for “looking backwards” in constantly harping about Trump is probably a good distillation of how the party will handle negative Trump-related controversy during the 2022 election cycle. The message: “It happened and never-Trumpers just need to get over it.”
Meanwhile, the most consequential outcome to all this is that Cheney will now face the fight of her life in a multi-way Republican primary for her seat in Wyoming. Republican messaging (the Conference Chair’s responsibility) will probably not change much, but Stefanik will be closer to becoming her party’s House leader someday, and obviously all thoughts of entering next year’s New York governor’s race went out the window.
California: When COVID hit, California legislators panicked and did what they normally do by default — they immediately responded with large tax hikes. This has hastened Californians’ emigration to other states, but that wasn’t the only effect. The panic over state government insolvency due to COVID, it turned out, had been unwarranted all along. A year later, boosted by a tech industry that was temporarily immobile and simultaneously thriving on the pandemic, the state ended up reaping a massive windfall of tax dollars.
As a result, Gov. Gavin Newsom is now in a position to pay “The Big Bribe.” Facing a recall election and potentially angry voters, and even still retaining hopes of running for president someday, Newsom is pulling out all the stops to spend down the state’s surplus on a variety of goodies and save his job.
California was hit especially hard by politicians’ repeated, often arbitrary imposition of lockdowns every time the coronavirus case rate went up a bit.
Virginia: Virginia Republicans’ unusual “unassembled convention” nominated former Carlyle Group executive Glenn Youngkin for governor. He is most likely to face former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Prior to Youngkin’s nomination, polls showed McAuliffe with a large lead over all comers, albeit at only 47 percent support. But that will surely tighten up quickly as year one of the Biden administration progresses and Youngkin’s name gets out into wider circulation.
Between his apparent natural talent for politics and his quarter-billion-dollar personal fortune, political insiders view Youngkin as the strongest Republican candidate and someone with a very realistic chance of winning.
Also, former Republican Rep. Denver Riggleman, perhaps still bitter over his 2020 primary election loss, had been threatening to run as an independent and foul up Republican chances. He has now stated that he probably will not run, whereas he would have been more likely to do so if state Sen. Amanda Chase or businessman Pete Snyder has been given the nod.
Michigan: Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s story doesn’t add up, and it’s starting to hurt her. She is becoming more vulnerable thanks to her $30,000 private plane flight to Florida in March, funded by the non-profit she had established to fund her transition as governor.
At a time when she was publicly demanding that other people not travel to visit family, she took a Gulfstream G280 to see her father in Florida. She only reimbursed the organization a meager $855 for the spring break trip to visit and care for her father who was supposedly ailing — but maybe not ailing badly enough that he hasn’t been seen zipping around Lansing later this spring in his Tesla.
The use of non-profit funds for a personal trip (caring for her father would have been personal, no matter what else it is) might be illegal. It is at least embarrassing for a sitting governor to be caught in multiple lies at once.
New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo just keeps digging his hole deeper. On his alleged sexual harassment of many women, he says, “If I just made you feel uncomfortable, that is not harassment. That’s you feeling uncomfortable.” That whole business about believing women kind of goes out the window when you’re a Democratic politician. This is especially true of Cuomo, whose party rivals remain too chicken to act decisively and remove him from office. Although New York is a one-party state, these Democrats are likely imperiling their grip on Albany by enabling Cuomo.
Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin and former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino are the most formidable Republicans in the race so far.
Ohio: Former Rep. Jim Renacci is talking about challenging incumbent Mike DeWine for the Republican nomination. Renacci, who came surprisingly close (47 percent) in the Buckeye State’s sleeper 2018 Senate race against Sherrod Brown, is taking advice from former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale. Parscale is making something of a comeback in politics after his late personal meltdown in the 2020 campaign resulted in his demotion.
National Journal recently ran a column about DeWine’s precarious position, straddling the pro-Trump and pro-Liz Cheney camps of the national Republican Party. But that may be a case of Washington making its own inside baseball into the story. The reality is that DeWine has a much more immediate problem in his own state’s political scene.
Although DeWine’s allies in the state Republican Party maintain that he would survive a primary challenge, he is unpopular among Republicans for what critics say has been an excessively strict COVID response and his failed attempts to move gun control legislation, among other things. Renacci has made an especially big deal out of the gun issue. In general, DeWine’s relations with the Republican-dominated state legislature have been extremely fraught, as it has gone out of its way to defund his budget priorities.
Pennsylvania: Former Hazleton Mayor and U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R, has announced he is running for governor. Barletta, whose immigration-focused political career perhaps embodied Trumpian politics before Trump, was no Trump as a candidate. He flopped terribly in the 2018 Senate race against Sen. Bob Casey, Jr., receiving only 43% of the vote. For now, he faces Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale in the primary. But a candidate people are watching is former U.S. Attorney William McSwain, who has expressed interest. Rep. Mike Kelly, R, who represents Erie, has also expressed interest.
Missouri: Republicans offered a last-minute bill that would force an August runoff in the state’s extremely crowded GOP Senate primary next year if no one gets a majority. Although such a runoff would surely help sort out what is looking like a mess, the bill came at the very end of the state legislative session, too late for any practical action. The bill is viewed as a thinly veiled attempt to prevent former Gov. Eric Greitens from running away with the nomination over a split field. Greitens was forced to resign from the governorship under a cloud of scandal.
The Republicans’ one saving grace in this race is that Democrats have yet to field a candidate with any sort of street cred — a factor that is probably encouraging so many Republicans to run.