Swing State Pres

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Why Mitch McConnell Wants Roy Moore to Step Down in Alabama

Tom takes a look at the Alabama stakes through Mitch McConnell’s eyes.

Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are once again at loggerheads, this time over the upcoming, wildly controversial U.S. Senate special election in Alabama.  The widely known backdrop:  GOP candidate Roy Moore is, at this point, more toxic than a SuperFund site, saddled with very public homophobic and anti-Muslim views, a history of Constitution-defying behavior that was disturbing enough to get him thrown off the Alabama Supreme Court, and, of course, enough Alabama women charging him with various forms of sexual deviancy, from teen-lust to outright assault, to field a baseball team.

Donald Trump has decided to stand with Roy Moore and leave it to the voters in Alabama to decide his fate in the December election.  Mitch McConnell and virtually all of the so-called Washington GOP (and Democratic) establishment, have called for Moore to step down so that an alternative GOP candidate can wage a credible write-in campaign.  (Moore cannot be removed from the ballot even if he quit the race and ceased campaigning.)

The conventional wisdom is that McConnell simply has a higher ethical standard than Trump.  McConnell has been known to be tough on Senators with ethical lapses, and he does not want Moore on his team because of the “brand” damage to the Senate and the GOP.  Trump, on the other hand, sees a soulmate in Moore; Trump himself is a controversial crusader with an even longer list of sexual assault accusers – almost enough (16) indeed, for two baseball teams.  Trump cites Moore’s denial of bad behavior as proof of his innocence, which is certainly a novel legal theory, and one he himself has of course employed, apparently successfully, since he sits in the Oval Office today despite those many accusations (and a certain audio tape).

But actually each man’s motives and private logic are almost certainly more a political calculation than a litmus test of their standards of morality.  And in this case, Trump is the one playing checkers (or even tic-tac-toe), while McConnell is playing chess.

Trump, with his simplistic view of the world, thinks that an unrepentant Moore candidacy is the best path toward maintaining 52 GOP votes in the Senate.  Trump has learned the hard way that every vote matters, that the Democrats will vote as a bloc against him, and he cannot count on the votes of a number of GOP Senators who have little to no loyalty to him as it is:  John McCain, Jeff Flake, Susan Collins, Bob Corker, Lisa Murkowski and, depending on the issue, quite a few others (Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Bob Portman and on and on).  A victory in Alabama by Democrat Doug Jones means that at the starting line for any legislation, the GOP can afford only one defector, not the current two.  Trump wants some legislative victories and his vision extends as far as the next few days, weeks or maybe months.  He thinks a Moore win would help him with some 2018 wins.

McConnell, on the other hand, is playing the “long game” and has a more sophisticated view.  Sure he’s concerned about the GOP brand in the Senate, and about winning close votes in 2018, but he has a far more prosaic and practical concern:  losing the Senate in 2018.

How is that possible?  Doesn’t the GOP have an impregnable map?  They have the ingoing 52/48 advantage; 10 potentially vulnerable Democratic seats up for grabs in states that Trump won in 2016; and only eight GOP Senators up for reelection, six of whom won in 2012 (when they last ran) by +17 points or more in their solid red states.  What could be a more solid bet than the GOP maintaining control?

But a clear-eyed McConnell sees it this way:  the political landscape is already fraught for the GOP.  Trump himself is wildly unpopular – well over half the country “disapproves” of him.  The “generic ballot” shows the country prefers an unnamed Democratic candidate over a Republican one by a whopping +9 points.  Congress itself, under GOP control, has an abysmal approval rating (in the 15% range). 

This environment alone makes it more than possible that the Dems could successfully defend all 10 of their vulnerable seats, plus pick off Arizona and Nevada, which are the two states that the GOP won by only single digits in 2012 (Arizona +4 and Nevada +1) – and both of those incumbents are very weak, with Flake of Arizona already announcing his plans not to run again, and Dean Heller of Nevada having a 39% (or lower in some polls) approval rating in his state.  If Jeff Sessions was still in the Senate, McConnell could still squeak by with a 50/50 “majority” (with Mike Pence on hand to be the tie-breaker).

But add a winning Roy Moore election into this morass and the picture becomes even more alarming.  The Senate would immediately be plunged into a public battle to expel Moore, complete with Ethics Committee hearings, daily headlines recounting the sordid charges against Moore, and perhaps further corroborating evidence or more accusations.  This would certainly deflect attention from the GOP agenda (even if they were united on one), further brand the party as the party of Bannon and Moore, and further divide the party into its already splintered factions.  And, if the Senate succeeded is ousting Moore, they would face the outrage of their own base, who could claim, with validity, that the will of the voters of Alabama, who voted with their eyes wide open, had been denied by the evil and hated Washington GOP establishment.

Donor money would dry up in a flash.  No winning legislation could get accomplished (including the tax bill if the GOP is unable to get one to Trump before the Alabama election).  The GOP would limp along until Election Day 2018, unable to craft a winning story.

In this scenario, McConnell would give up on reclaiming any of the Democrat’s 10 vulnerable seats and probably concede that Arizona and New Mexico would be flipped.  Thus he can’t lose another race, or else he is no longer Senate Majority Leader.

So the entire focus would be on protecting those last six races, the six presumed solid seats: Mississippi (Wicker), Nebraska (Fischer), Tennessee (Corker), Texas (Cruz), Utah (Hatch) and Wyoming (Barasso).

He probably thinks Wyoming is completely safe, where Tom Barasso won by +54 in 2012 and Trump by +46 in 2016.

Utah is probably safe as well, although someone might challenge Orrin Hatch from the right.  But Hatch won in 2012 by +35 and Trump won by +18.

It starts to get a little dicey with Mississippi and Nebraska.  Steve Bannon already has his sights set on Roger Wicker of Mississippi, an establishment GOP who won by “only” +17 in 2012, a margin that could make him vulnerable in 2018.  And if Wicker lost the primary to an even more right-wing candidate, there is a risk of Bannon coming up with another Moore, or Todd Akin, or Christine O’Connell or Sharron Angle, all of whom failed to win easy GOP pickings in 2010 or 2012 Senate races.  As for Nebraska, incumbent Deb Fischer won by only +16 in 2012, another margin that could narrow considerably in 2018.

And who knows what will happen in Tennessee?  Trump antagonist Bob Corker is not running for reelection, and the new candidate could be another too-far-to-the-right nutcase.  Representative Marsha Blackburn has already announced she is running for the seat, and she is certainly to the right of Corker.

That leads us to Texas and Senator Ted Cruz.  Cruz would seem pretty solid with his 52% approval rating, deep conservative policies, and national profile. But Cruz also won by “only” +17 in 2012, and Texas demographics are changing rapidly and relentlessly.  It was one of the very few states where Donald Trump, though a winner by +9, ran behind Mitt Romney in 2012, who won by +16.  Combine that narrowing margin with the GOP‘s current rancid stew and you just might have Texas in play in 2018.

But we’re not quite done.  Because if Roy Moore is elected, and Mitch McConnell succeeds in ousting him from the Senate, there is one more election to contend with, and it would be a special election, special in so many ways.

It would be in….Alabama.  Yes, the very state that started this whole calculus would need a Senator.  Now, first an interim would be appointed by the Governor, and then a special election date set. And who knows what would happen.  But there is one thing I am pretty sure of.  There is no way to prevent Roy Moore from running again – or prevent an angry and defiant Alabama from sending to him Washington, DC once again.

And that is why Mitch McConnell does not want Roy Moore in the Senate.  Because he can’t be certain he could ever get Moore out, and in the meantime Moore could blow up the GOP.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

BTRTN SaturData Review: Trump's Moore Embrace Not Hurting Him - Yet

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

This was arguably the quietest week in the Trump presidency, as the post-Weinstein carnage continued into the Thanksgiving break.  The most notable event was Trump’s all-but-endorsement of Roy Moore, a rather shocking split from the entire national GOP establishment, which has by and large pulled all endorsements and support, and called for Moore to step down.  Trump, on the other hand, concluded the GOP Senate margin was too slim to abandon the accused child abuser.  This continued Trump’s embrace of an issue (he attacked Al Franken) that one would think he should avoid, given his own sordid groping history.  He even hinted that he might campaign for Moore as Election Day approaches (December 12).

But if Trump detractors were hoping his embrace of Moore would be the catalyst for a long-awaited material drop in his approval rating, they were disappointed yet again.  His approval rating was basically unchanged (actually ticking up a point), and staggered along as usual at the abysmal 40% level, with a “net negative” of -16 percentage points (the difference between his approval and disapproval ratings).  We will see if that continues if Trump actually embraces Moore on the campaign trail.

The economic news, though, continued to be solid, with another market uptick and a slight drop in gas prices.  Thus the Trumpometer remains +15% versus Trump’s Inauguration Day (meaning, on average, five key economic indicators are up 15% versus their level back then, as detailed in the chart below).

SaturData Review
Jan 2018   Post-Inaug.
Wk ending   Nov 18
Wk ending   Nov 25
Change vs. Last Week
Change vs. January
Trump Approval
48%
39%
40%
+1 pp
-8 pp
Trump Disapproval
44%
57%
56%
- 1 pp
+12 pp
Trump Net Approval
+4 pp
-18 pp
-16 pp
+2 pp
-20 pp






Generic Ballot Dem - Rep
47/41 = +6
40/33 = +7
40/31 = +9
+2 pp
+3 pp






Trumpometer
0%
+15%
+15%
0%
+15%
Unemployment Rate
4.7
4.1
4.1
0%
+11%
Consumer Confidence
114
126
126
0%
+11%
Price of Gas
2.44
2.71
2.67
1%
-7%
Dow-Jones
19,732
23,358
23,558
1%
+18%
Most recent GDP
2.1
3.0
3.0
0%
+43%

As for Moore, there was only one new poll in his Senate race with Democrat Doug Jones, and it showed him clinging to a 2-point lead.  However, this was an 8-point move in Jones’ direction versus the last poll by this particular pollster, a week ago, so it is clear the momentum is moving to Jones.  The average of all the polls since the assault stories broke show Jones up by +2.    

Alabama Senate
Pre-Allegations
Post-Allegations
Moore (R)
49
45
Jones (D)
40
47
Margin
9
-2






As for the Trump presidency, his approval rating since January indicates a slow slide from 48% down to 40%, and it has been steady in the 39%/40% range since July, frustrating both his supporters, looking for a positive catalyst, and his detractors, who cannot believe the unceasing onslaught of bad news (Russia links, North Korea, legislative failures, executive orders overturned by the courts, any number of ludicrous tweets, and now, the embrace of Moore) have not provided a long-awaited further downward push.

The first year drop is not unusual.  What is unusual, as you can see by looking at Bush 43’s and Obama’s approval charts below, is how low Trump’s approval rating has been versus his predecessors.  Bush 43 essentially mirrored Trump’s first-year downward trend, only at a level that was 10 points higher.  He began in the near-60% range and dropped to 50% when 9/11 occurred, providing a huge upward surge as the country unified around Bush’s inspiring initial “bullhorn” performance. 

Bush’s presidency was an electrocardiogram, with three major upward spikes for 9/11, the beginning of the Iraq War and the death of Saddam Hussein, punctuating a persistent seven-year long freefall that reasserted itself after the spikes to new depths.



Obama showed the same pattern, only he started in the even loftier near-70% range, twenty points higher than Trump, before sinking to the 50% level in his first 12 months.  Consistent with his “No Drama” demeanor, Obama had the steadiest approval ratings of any President since measurements began, once they fell off the initial high and settled into the 40% to 50% range.  Essentially he enjoyed only three minor upsurges that each pushed him back over 50%:  one a modest bump for the killing of Osama Bin Laden; the next for his reelection; and finally the third, which was a sharp rise in his last year as the unseemly Trump-Clinton race to succeed him unfolded, and Obama shined in comparison to the two least popular candidates of modern times.

 


It is worth noting that the Trump Administration, for all of its controversies, has not experienced a true catalyst as yet, a clear win or a unifying disaster.  But this much is clear – Trump needs one, because unlike Bush and Obama, he cannot get re-elected at his static level of 40% approval.  Those ten- and twenty- point differentials enjoyed by his predecessors at the starts of their presidencies cushioned their falls, kept them at the 50% level at the time they had to face the electorate again.  And that made all the difference.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

BTRTN SaturData Review: Roy Moore's Crimson Slide

We introduce a new weekly feature, the “SaturData Review,” which updates key political indicators and highlights other pertinent info from the week.

Donald Trump took a rare detour from the spotlight this week, as the news was dominated primarily by the Roy Moore and Al Franken fiascos.  Second billing was split between the House, in passing its version of a tax cut bill, and Jeff Sessions, who seemed to be everywhere – offering dubious testimony on Capitol Hill, surfacing as one of the many bad options to keep Moore out of the Senate (as a potential write-in), and trying to pacify Trump in his call for a special counsel investigation into various Clinton-related matters.

While the post-Weinstein era ripped through politics, Trump’s approval rating remained below the 40% mark with his “net” still at a whopping -22; the Democrats continued to hold an enormous advantage in the “generic ballot” (in the wake of a very successful off-off-year Election Day); and leading economic indicators remained strong, with the "Trumpometer" still showing that these indicators are, on average, 15% better than on the day of Trump's Inauguration.

SaturData Review
Week ending Nov 18
Week ending Nov 11
Change
Trump Approval
39%
39%
0 pp
Trump Disapproval
57%
57%
0 pp
Trump Net Approval
-22 pp
-22 pp
0 pp




Generic Ballot Dem - Rep
44/34 = 10
44/33 = 11
-1 pp




Trumpometer
+15%
+15%
0%
Unemployment Rate
4.1
4.1
0%
Consumer Confidence
126
126
0%
Price of Gas
2.71
2.67
1%
Dow-Jones
23,358
23,377
0%
Most recent GDP (quarterly)
3.0
3.0
0%















The economic news is a plus for Trump, but the rest of the scoreboard is a disaster for the GOP with the mid-terms a year away.  For the GOP to hold onto the House, they will have to overcome anemic ratings, and hope the economy hangs on, while passing a tax “reform” bill that offers no long-term tax relief for the middle class, strips 13 million Americans of their health insurance, fills the coffers of corporate America, adds $1.5 trillion to the deficit, and is not backed by an economic forecast – by anyone -- that says that deficit bite will be offset through incremental GDP growth.  Whew!

So the standard tracking information was largely unchanged.  But there was one big piece of data that did change this week, and it is Roy Moore’s standing in Alabama.  Never a terribly strong candidate, Moore’s prospects for victory in the special election for the Senate seat vacated last January by, yes, Jeff Sessions, plummeted in the wake of scandal.  There are now nine women who have come forward with various charges against Moore, ranging from extreme creepiness to outright sexual assault on a minor, all occurring when they were teenagers and he was a 30+ year old serial-teen-dater. 

This is still a close race, but the trajectory of the race after the revelations is unmistakable.  Moore swiftly lost a 9-point lead (on average) and the race is now basically a dead heat, with evidence that Democratic candidate Doug Jones’ slim margin will increase in time.  

Alabama Senate
Pre-Allegations
Post-Allegations
Moore
49
45
Jones
40
47
Margin
9
-2






The GOP at the state level is standing behind Moore, but the national party has thrown him under the bus, and is looking at every conceivable option to prevent him from ever serving.  Mitch McConnell is showing creativity not seen since, well, the health care debacle (one idea that is under review: asking Luther Strange, who replaced Sessions as the interim Senator, to resign, now, so that a different special election can occur).  

The implications of a Jones win are massive, from posing a huge risk to the GOP Senate’s ability to pass their version of the tax cut (or a conference version that reconciles their bill, if one passes, with the House version), to holding onto the Senate in 2018, which had seemed a given.  The Dems now have a path to a majority, and while it may be a very difficult one, that is an upgrade from the near impossible odds they faced before Moore imploded.

As for Trump, he came back into view at week’s end with a full-scale attack on Franken, while avoiding any mention of Moore.  This, of course, is having the predictable effect of reopening the door on Trump’s own rampant history of sexual assault, and giving new life to the infamous Access Hollywood tapes.  Trump avoided the worst when these revelations first came up in the campaign, but in the post-Weinstein era, can he escape again?  We’ll see what next week brings.