Monday, December 11, 2017

BTRTN Alabama U.S. Senate Special Election Prediction: Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Tom with the BTRTN prediction for – and perspective on – the Alabama special election.

Roy Moore may defeat Doug Jones in the U.S. Senate Special Election tomorrow in Alabama – read on for our forecast below.  But make no mistake about it, win or lose, this race is a disaster for the GOP. 

Let’s review the bidding on one of the most sensational and consequential Senate races in history, and then close with our prediction.


The race came about when President Trump appointed Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to be his Attorney General.  That appointment has been consequential in and of itself, as Sessions has been a human lightning rod for All Things Russia in the Trump administration.  Session neglected to divulge meetings with Russian officials under direct questioning as part of his confirmation hearings.  He was forced to recuse himself from oversight of the FBI investigation of Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election.  His number two, Rod Rosenstein, thus was empowered to name Robert Mueller Special Counsel in the aftermath of Trump’s firing of James Comey. 

When the guilty plea of Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulus was announced in November, pictures surfaced of Papadopoulus, Trump and Sessions in a meeting involving, of all things, proposed overtures to Russia.  Sessions had “forgotten” that meeting, too, though he ultimately remembered vetoing the proposed overtures.

Through all of this, Trump has publicly humiliated Sessions on numerous occasions, bemoaning Sessions’ recusal, directing him to be tougher on Hillary Clinton, and generally attempting to force him to step down, a public shaming effort that has failed.

As harrowing as this has all been, the race to succeed Sessions has been, incredibly, even more controversial, and with even more twists and turns.


When Sessions resigned from the Senate, GOP Governor Robert Bentley named state Attorney General Luther Strange as interim Senator and announced that a special election would be held in June, 2018.  Bentley was forced to resign his office in April when it became known that he had tried to cover up an affair with an aide, a charge that, while reprehensible, seems almost quaint in retrospect.  The special election was ultimately postponed until December, with a primary set for August.

Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, along with Representative Mo Brooks (who gained brief fame for his valiant performance during the shooting of Steve Scalise) and seven others challenged Strange in the GOP primary.  Moore had a long history of incendiary comments (many of them homophobic and anti-Muslim) and was twice suspended from the bench for failing to follow the Constitution, first for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the courthouse, and then for refusing to allow same sex marriages in Alabama after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized such unions across the country.

While Moore has been sensationally controversial, his positions were popular among a subset of Alabamans, and he finished second to Strange in the GOP primary, thereby forcing a run-off election in September.  Mitch McConnell backed Strange (the “establishment” choice) and convinced Donald Trump to do the same, which he did, though clearly reluctantly.  But Moore exposed their lack of sway with Alabama GOP voters, and won convincingly over Strange, by a 55/45 margin.

Meanwhile, the Democrats found a genuinely credible challenger, prosecutor Doug Jones, who reopened and successfully prosecuted the notorious Birmingham church bombing case from 1963, in which four African-American girls were killed, a landmark moment in the civil rights movement.  Jones was challenged by seven Democrats in the August primary, including the iconically-named Robert Kennedy, Jr., who is not related to the dynastic clan in any way.  Jones easily defeated Kennedy and the others, 66/18/16, setting up the showdown with Moore.


This has been a far closer race than in should have been from the start.  Sessions had run unchallenged in 2014 (that is, no Democrat chose to challenge him for reelection); Senator Richard Shelby won 64/36 in 2016; and Donald Trump carried the state 62/34, and his +28 margin was among his largest.  In short, the Democrats had no business being anywhere close to an upset in this deep-red state, but in post-primary polls, Moore led Jones, on average, by only 9 points.  The Democratic National Committee debated how strongly to back Jones; burned by close losses in 2017 special elections in House districts also vacated by Trump appointees, notably Georgia’s 6th district, the DNC was not inclined to suffer another agonizing defeat.  There are no moral victories in politics, and subsequent events indicated there is not much morality in politics either.

This already dramatic and surprising race took its most fateful turn on November 9, just over a month before the election, when the Washington Post reported in a carefully researched story that an Alabama women accused Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was 14-years old.  Eight more women ultimately came forward publicly to accuse Moore of various forms of sexual assault, harassment or unwanted pursuit, all when they were teenagers and Moore was a powerful state prosecutor in his early 30’s.

The GOP establishment immediately fled from Moore, led by Mitch McConnell, who vowed that he “believed the women.”  The RNC stopped funding Moore, and many prominent Republicans pulled their endorsements.  Nevertheless, Moore refused to exit the race.  The polls initially showed an abrupt decline in support for Moore, making the race neck-and-neck and even slightly favoring Jones.  However, as the weeks passed, Moore’s support found its bottom and more recently has rebounded.

Following the charges, Mitch McConnell looked for alternatives to Moore (who could not be removed from the ballot even if he quit), from write-ins to challenge him directly in the election (including none other than Jeff Sessions), to not seating Moore if he won or expelling him if he was seated.  But as the tide turned, McConnell fell back to a position of letting Alabama voters make up their own minds, and vowing to put the matter before the Senate Ethics Committee if Moore won.

In this same timeframe, three members of Congress, Senator Al Franken of Minnesota (D) and Representatives John Conyers (Michigan – D) and Trent Franks (Texas- R) have resigned due to various accusations of sexual harassment.  This, of course, now frames the Moore case (and, as Franken points, out, Trump himself) against an emerging set of standards for keeping one’s job, a standard that is veering toward zero tolerance for such transgressions.

Donald Trump, who never withdrew support for Moore, initially preferred the “allow the voters of Alabama to make their own decision” construct.  But on November 21 he offered support for Moore, which was soon followed by a full-throated endorsement in a phone call to Moore on December 4, a campaign-style speech that supported Moore in nearby Pensacola in the Florida panhandle on December 9, and Trump now is making robo-calls for Moore in the last few days. The RNC, in full sheep-mode, has now restored funding to the Moore campaign.


Despite Moore’s growing chances of winning, there is no way for the GOP to come out ahead on December 12. 

“Heads I win”:  If Doug Jones wins, the GOP majority in the Senate narrows to 51-49, meaning they can only afford one defection on any given piece of legislation.  At this point, there are many candidates for that one defection on any given issue:  John McCain, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowsky, Rand Paul and others make the “herding cats” phenomenon to get to 50 votes a Rubik’s cube exercise indeed for McConnell.

Even the tax bill could come undone in this scenario.  A reconciled bill has to go back through both Houses again, and recall that the Senate passed their version 51-49 with Bob Corker defecting and Luther Strange on board.  This time around, if Doug Jones wins, that would presumably make it 50/50, and now Susan Collins is in play because her deal (she was willing to eliminate the Obamacare mandate if Congress passed companion legislation to bolster Obamacare in various ways) has no support in the House.  McConnell and Ryan have to find a way to satisfy either Collins or Corker without losing the House or a different Senator.

The other option is for the House to simply pass the Senate bill, which would obviate the need for another Senate vote.  This is how Obamacare got passed in 2009, after Republican Scott Brown replaced the deceased Ted Kennedy, robbing Harry Reid and Obama of their 60-vote supermajority.  The Democratic controlled House simply passed the Senate version of Obamacare.

The problem this time around is that the House Freedom Caucus hates aspects of the Senate bill.

“Tails You Lose”:  If Moore wins, then immediately the Democrats will bang the drum very loudly for his ouster, correctly using Franken as a parallel (and while Franken’s accusations are terrible, he has never been accused of molesting a minor).  The Senate will be thrown into an oxygen-sucking Ethics investigation while the Democrats continue to roar.  Furthermore, Roy Moore will become the face of the GOP, and every GOP candidate in the midterms will be saddled with ads featuring Roy Moore, complete with all his hideous quotes and all of the horrific charges.  Finally, Moore himself is hardly a reliable GOP vote for McConnell, which is why McConnell favored Strange in the first place.  Moore is more like Rand Paul in that respect, and he certainly has absolutely zero allegiance to McConnell.


The chart below neatly captures the polling inflection points in the race.  Moore was solidly ahead (though not by prototypical deep-red Alabama standards) before the allegations, as stated on average by 9 points.  The race was a dead-heat in the aftermath of the accusations for the month of November.  Come December, the tide has shifted again, and Moore has recaptured roughly a third of his former lead, though it is still close, at +3 points on average.  (It is worth noting that the two latest polls hardly help clarify where the race stands; FOX News has Jones up by +10, while Emerson has Moore up by +9.)

Alabama Senate

All close races come down to turnout on some level, and this race, with its peculiar dynamics, is subject to even greater uncertainly than most.  The turnout will likely hinge on two factors:  1)  will the African-American vote come out for Jones? and,  2)  and will enough disgusted Republicans (and there are some) simply stay at home?

A third factor:  the venerated Senator Shelby, the senior politician in the state, has told his fellow Republicans that he cannot vote for Moore, nor can he vote for a Democrat, nor can he sit it out; instead he is going to write-in a GOP candidate, who he has refused to name at this point.  Perhaps he will persuade others to do the same.

As for us:

BTRTN predicts that Roy Moore will become the Senator of Alabama, beating Doug Jones by +2 points, 49% to 47%.  Write-in candidates will garner the remaining 4% of the vote.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

BTRTN SaturData Review: Trump Approval Immutable Despite Wild Week

Tom with the “SaturData Review,” which updates key political indicators and highlights other pertinent info from the week.

Even Donald Trump’s strongest supporters would agree that the Trump presidency is a roller coaster, the temperamental counterpoint to the “No Drama” Obama administration.  There are the record number of “breaking news” alerts, the cacophony of tweets, the unceasing efforts to discredit Hillary Clinton, overturn the Obama legacy, declare war on countless enemies and discredit the media.  There are major stories every day competing for attention, many manufactured by Trump, to be sure, to deflect attention from difficult story lines. 

And yet through it all, there is one constant, one apparently unshakable pillar, one immutable truth, and that is that week in, week out, 40% of the country approves of Donald Trump’s job performance.  Trump started off with a 48% approval rating, roughly mirroring his 46% voting percentage in the general election, and it dropped down steadily until it hit 40% in June.  And since then it has been like a dirge – 40, 40, 40, occasionally dropping in a series of minor chords at 39, 39, 39.  It is a terrible approval rating, yet it occupies a kind of middle zone – 40% is not (nearly) good enough for reelection, but not (nearly) bad enough for the GOP to jump ship, since that overall 40% means that roughly 75% - 80% of Republicans – that is, the overwhelming majority of them – remain with Trump.

This week alone, the airwaves were rocked by the aftermath of Michael Flynn’s guilty plea, the resignations of Al Franken, John Conyers and Trent Franks, and Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would now recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move our embassy there (eventually) from Tel Aviv.  Each was a stunning development in and of itself, and each is also a portent of major storms to come as the Russia investigation, the sexual impropriety/harassment/assault scandals and Middle East peace prospects all escalated into new phases, with more guilty pleas, resignations and perhaps violence to come. 

One struggles to think of a moment when a standing Administration, the U.S. Congress and peace prospects around the globe were simultaneously more fraught with peril.  Think of Watergate, Vietnam (the analogy here being North Korea) and, say, the Profumo affair all occurring simultaneously – is it too much to imagine that we are on the precipice of such a scenario?

And yet, the numbers are what they are, with Trump supporters and detractors dug in, staring across a Grand Canyon-esque divide, incapable of defection, immune to new information.  We had yet another week where an incredible amount happened and nothing changed at all.

SaturData Review
Jan 2017   Post-Inaug.
Wk ending   Dec 2
Wk ending   Dec 9
Chng vs. Prior Week
Change vs. Jan 2017
Trump Approval
0 pp
-8 pp
Trump Disapproval
0 pp
+12 pp
Trump Net Approval
+4 pp
-16 pp
-16 pp
0 pp
-20 pp

Generic Ballot Dem - Rep
D + 6
D + 6
D + 6
0 pp
0 pp

Unemployment Rate
Consumer Confidence
Price of Gas
Most recent GDP

The economic news continued to be solid, with little change in the key indicators, and the Trumpometer still at +20% versus Trump’s Inauguration Day (meaning, on average, five key economic indicators are up 20% versus their level back then, as detailed in the chart).  Yesterday’s new jobs report showed continued strong hiring (+228,000 jobs) and no change in the 4.1% unemployment rate.

Next week comes the verdict (if you will) on Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate special election in Alabama.  A Moore win is a strong possibility, at this juncture, but this race is still very close and by no means decided.  The keys will be if Democratic candidate Doug Jones manages to fire up the African-American vote, and enough disenchanted Republicans sit it out. 

The polls do show a modest shift from Jones +2 (on average) in the period immediately following the sexual assault accusations to Moore +3 in the last two weeks.  But the polls have bounced around quite a bit; not every pollsters is reputable; and the margins either way are razor thin.  This is anyone’s election right now.

Alabama Senate
Nov 9 - 20
Nov 24 - Dec 4

This week Moore received a full-throated endorsement from Trump in the form of a supportive phone call, and Trump made a major speech across the border in Florida that urged Alabama voters to go to the polls on Moore’s behalf.  Al Franken appears to have been the only public figure to note that of the three accused men, only he, Franken, has been forced to leave his post.  There has not been a single public voice demanding that Trump step down, and there are indications that the GOP establishment, bowing meekly to Trump, will not attempt to expel Moore from the Senate if he wins.  One can only hope that the Democrats will speak up as loudly to demand Moore’s ouster – as they did for Franken, and as they have, thus far, failed to do for Trump.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Let's Play "Two Truths and a Lie" with Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Hey, how many folks out there are sick and tired of paying the salary of Sarah Huckabee Sanders just so she can turn around and relentlessly lie to our faces? Steve suggests that we play a popular party game to find out just how deceitful the White House Press Secretary really is.

There’s a great party game called “Two Truths and a Lie,” in which participants tell two facts about themselves and one complete falsehood. The other players try to guess which of the three statements is the lie. The winning strategy is one of diversion – shrewd players reveal two facts that seem wholly unfathomable, and then concoct one very plausible but completely false statement. One encounters some astonishing truths (“I was once the only eyewitness to a murder”) and ingenious lies that seem just unusual enough to be believable (“I only spoke German until the age of three”). It is an entertaining and engaging party game, particularly as an ice-breaker among people who are newly acquainted.

What better game to symbolize the state of our national dialog in the age of Trump?  Play the game! Hone your skills! The best liar wins! And if you are the best liar of all, well, you can become President of the United States!

Here’s some free advice: don’t ever get yourself into a game of “Two Truths and a Lie” with White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. That’s not because she is so talented at being deceptive. She is actually terrible at being deceptive, as she does not seem to feel that there is any particular virtue in lying well. It is because she would have a problem with the rules, which require contestants to come up with two statements that are actually true in their entirety.

Ever dour, pompous, and oozing disdain for the lame stream media seated before her in the White House Press Room, Ms. Sanders handles the incoming razor sharp shrapnel from the press corps with the indifferent aplomb of a Stanley Cup goalie. Appearing world-weary and heavily wearing the patience of a saint on her sleeve, she listens to reporters impassively, clearly assessing whether any given question can be dismissed, evaded, muddled, protested, or – in an ideal world – quickly turned as evidence of the obvious biases and false narratives of the elite liberal press. In these moments, she instantly raises herself fully in her mantle of victimhood, raging at the “boldness” of those who would accuse her or the Obfuscator-in-Chief of factual inaccuracy. 

Most often, however, she fields the serious questions of seasoned journalists by hurtling through an opaque, bewildering one sentence answer, which ends with her instantly calling on the next reporter for a new question, leaving the first reporter stammering "wha? huh? but you didn't..."

Sarah Huckabee Sanders is so relentless and brazen in her delivery of alternative facts that she makes one pine for the goofy meltdowns of Sean Spicer, whose discomfort in lying in the service of the President was so apparent that one actually expected his nose to spontaneously elongate in mid-deceit. In contrast, Ms. Sanders is preternaturally capable of appearing angry and frustrated when her non-answers and outright falsehoods are judged wanting by the press corp.

Last month there was a legendary exchange in which Sanders was challenged by a reporter to explain Donald Trump’s inaccurate statement that the United States was “the highest-taxed nation in the world.”

Sanders: “We are the highest taxed corporate tax in the developed economy. That’s a fact.”
Reporter Trey Yingst: “But that’s not what the president said.”
Sanders: “That’s what he’s talking about. We are the highest taxed corporate nation.”
Reporter: “But that’s not what he said. He said we’re the highest taxed nation in the world.”
Sanders: “The highest taxed corporate nation. Seems pretty consistent to me. Sorry, we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.”

Agree to disagree? Try that the next time a cop nails you with his radar gun for going 45 mph in a school zone. “Officer, I am quite sure I was going 25. Sorry, we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.”

All of which brings us to Ms. Sanders’ defense of Donald Trump as he dealt with the allegations of sexual impropriety by Roy Moore and Al Franken. Trump has been playing a dangerous game of selective condemnation, tweeting ridiculing comments about Franken while accepting Moore’s assertions of innocence. Bubbling forth from this acrid brine was the stench of his own sexual harassment scandals, exhumed in the renewed focus on the Access Hollywood tape and the sixteen women who have accused him of sexually predatory behavior.

How do you navigate this mine field of potentially devastating Presidential missteps if you are the White House Press Secretary?

To find out, we’re going to play “Two Truths and a Lie” with Sarah Huckabee Sanders. In our game, Sarah will attempt to defend Donald Trump by telling two truths and one lie about the situation.

And you, as the tax paying citizen who pays her salary, will be forced to guess which two of the three claims are true, and which one is the lie… just like the reporters in the White House briefing room do every day.

Ready? Here goes….

#1.  After Donald Trump ridiculed Senator Al Franken for sexual misconduct, Ms. Sanders was asked to draw the distinction between Franken’s actions and the sixteen women who have made similar allegations against the President. “I think in one case specifically, Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing, and the President hasn’t,” Sanders noted. “I think that’s a very clear distinction.”

#2.  In the wake of Trump's endorsement of Alabama Senate candidate and accused child-molester Roy Moore, Sanders was asked about recent reports that Donald Trump now believes that the famous Access Hollywood tape was a fake, and the ongoing issue of the allegations of sexual harassment against Trump.  “The President addressed this,” Ms. Sanders said. “This was litigated and certainly answered during the election by the overwhelming support for the President and the fact that he is sitting here in the Oval Office today.”

#3.  Shortly after her appointment to the role of White House Press Secretary, Ms. Sanders was asked about her commitment in her role as White House Press Secretary to always tell the truth. "I don't think it's appropriate to lie from the podium or any other place," she replied.

O.K., contestants! Which one is the lie and which two are the truth?

Let’s start with Ms. Sander’s first statement about the “distinction” between Trump and Franken. Well, there’s simply no arguing that she is telling the truth when she says that there is a huge distinction between the person who admits to and apologizes for sexual harassment, and the person who denies it in the face of startling similar accusations from sixteen different women. Sure, it’s infuriating that she is condemning Senator Franken for accepting responsibility for his action and giving her boss a pass because he has branding sixteen women as liars. But you have to concede that this one is a “truth,” right?

Uh, no.

Trump actually did admit to sexually predatory behavior in the Access Hollywood tape. Here is the relevant passage:

Trump: “Yeah, that’s her. With the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Bush: “Whatever you want.”
Trump: “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Note the phrasing in the first quoted paragraph: “I just start kissing them.” This is not hypothetical musing. It is reporting on actions previously taken. “I just start kissing them.”

Not only did Trump admit in the video to sexually predatory behavior, he further admitted that the video was real, issuing a formal apology in the midst of the campaign.

So, Sarah, we are forced to conclude that your very first statement is your “lie.” That means the other two must be true, right?

Let’s examine the second statement. Surely there is truth to it: whatever you want to say about the despicable misogynistic language on the Access Hollywood video, Americans knew about it when they elected Donald Trump President.  Well, you may not like it, but Sarah Huckabee Sanders certainly is telling you the truth on this one.

Not so fast.

The accusations that Donald Trump had committed sexually predatory behavior made by sixteen women were never “litigated” during the campaign. There were no trials, no sworn testimony, no juries, and no proclamations of innocence. The validity of the Access Hollywood tape was never contested by Donald Trump during the campaign. Indeed, at the time, he issued a formal apology for its content.

Nothing was “litigated.”

Or did Sarah Huckabee Sanders intend to imply that the people of the United States officially pardoned Donald Trump for sexual harassment when they elected him President? Was she saying that now that he is President, none of those accusations matter?

So, contestants, clearly there has been some misunderstanding or confusion, because in this game of “Two Truths and a Lie,” Sarah as already told two lies, and we only have one statement left.

Geez, where does that leave us? Surely, her third statement must be true: "I don't think it's appropriate to lie from the podium or any other place."

On Thursday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was aggressively questioned about President Trump’s bizarre decision to re-tweet videos from a right-wing extremist group based in the United Kingdom.  The videos purported to show violent crimes committed by Muslims, but the videos had never been substantiated and, in one case, has already proven to be phony. Ms. Sanders took to the view that trafficking in phony videos was perfectly fair because Donald Trump was simply trying to illustrate a broader threat that was indeed real. Here is the actual quote from Sarah Huckabee Sanders:

“Whether it's a real video, the threat is real. His goal is to promote strong border security and strong national security.”

It’s time to pause and take a deep breath. In this miraculous sentence, Ms. Sanders has actually said out loud that lies in the service of an alleged "greater purpose" are legitimate. The ends justify the means.  There are, one is left to conclude, situations in which Sarah Huckabee Sanders believes that it is “appropriate to lie from the podium.”

Yep. The third one is a lie, too.

But you were warned.

We told you right up front never to play “Two Truths and a Lie” with Sarah Huckabee Sanders. We noted that it is not because she is so talented at being deceptive, and the clumsiness, carelessness, and arrogance of the examples we provide here are proof. She is actually terrible at being deceptive, as she sees no reason to expel the extra effort it might take to lie well.

We told you not to play this game with her because she would have a problem with the rules, which require contestants to come up with two statements that are actually true in their entirety. This is apparently far outside her skill set.

You, the American taxpayer, are paying this woman to lie brazenly, effortlessly, and relentlessly to your face. There is none of Sean Spicer’s fitful, manic, Catholic guilt about with lying. And, note well, there is none of Anthony Scaramucci’s smarmy self-destructive stupidity. This woman misleads with cool, conscious calculation.

No, in Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Donald Trump has found the perfect voice to convey his fact-free fantasy presidency. He has found the perfect voice that will deceive as frequently, as effortlessly, as purposefully, as casually, and as ruthlessly as he does.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders has no voice of her own. She has shamelessly traded her voice for Donald Trump’s in a witch’s bargain for power and stature in a morally bankrupt White House.

Two truths and a lie?

The only truth you need to know to deal with Sarah Huckabee Sanders is to understand that she would never tell you two truths.

“Come on you poor unfortunate soul
Go ahead
Make your choice
I'm a very busy woman and I haven't got all day
It won't cost much
Just your voice!”

--“Poor Unfortunate Souls”
Sung by Ursula in “The Little Mermaid.”

The author gives credit for the inspiration for this post to Davy Gardner, writer of a hysterical podcast entitled “Two Truths and a Lie” that was aired recently on “The Truth Podcast.” Listen to it here at