Republicans Forced to Choose Between Women and Their Conservative Base

This article by Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur does a good job summing up the self-created dilemma Republicans find themselves in five weeks before Election Day:

The growing furor over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination has Republicans trapped between their conservative base and the female voters who’ll be pivotal to deciding control of Congress in November.

President Donald Trump and his conservative allies are rallying behind Kavanaugh, calling allegations of sexual misconduct brought by two women a Democratic smear campaign intent on blocking his confirmation to the high court. But they’re doing so amid a widening gender gap that has women increasingly breaking toward Democrats six weeks before the midterm elections.

“The Republicans are in a pickle because the base — Christian right and Federalist Society types — are demanding this seat, but the party is losing support with the critical suburban females who want to hear Dr. Ford out,” said Dan Eberhart, a major Republican donor and chief executive officer of the oil drilling-services company Canary, LLC. He was referring to Christine Blasey Ford, a California college professor, who alleges Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they both were in high school.

Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seem hell-bent on pressing forward with the nomination, having scheduled a committee vote for Friday, one day after the hearing with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. There are no indications as of this writing on Wednesday morning that Kavanaugh himself intends to withdraw, or of the White House intending to do so. The key will be reaction to the hearing on Thursday.

If Kavanaugh stumbles during his testimony or Ford manages to convince other senators (Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Bob Corker) of the validity of her allegations, the nomination is sunk. It would be doubtful that McConnell would go through with a full vote on the Kavanaugh nomination if the math isn’t there, lest he risk another embarrassment like John McCain’s dramatic thumbs down vote which torpedoed health care repeal.

If Kavanaugh withdraws or fails to get a majority of the vote in the Senate, the repercussions on Senate Republicans could be serious – depressed base voter turnout in a year they had a favorable map could mean that endangered Democrats in Indiana or North Dakota survive, while traditionally Republican-held seats in Arizona, Tennessee and Texas could be flipped by the Democrats. If the Republicans lose control of the Senate, they lose the ability to confirm President Trump’s executive branch and judicial nominees for the final two years of his first term.

Given this dynamic, Republicans have no choice but to go all-in on Kavanaugh, even though he has the worst poll numbers of any Supreme Court nominee in history and the sexual assault allegations will turn off female voters.  Unless more accusers come forward, the hearing on Thursday will be the determining factor in whether Kavanaugh gets on the Supreme Court or not.

Internal GOP Poll: 61 Percent Think Trump Tax Cuts Benefit Large Corporations and the Wealthy

Republicans have lost the messaging war on President Trump’s tax cuts, according to an internal poll commissioned by the Republican National Committee obtained by Bloomberg. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which slashed corporate tax rates, reduced individual rates, and eliminated or capped deductions, is considered by political observers and journalists as the signature legislative achievement of Donald Trump’s presidency so far.

One graph in the study includes the blunt header, “We’ve lost the messaging battle on the issue.” Data from the survey shows that most respondents think the law benefits “large corporations and rich Americans” over “middle class families” by a 61-30 margin. However, overall approval of the bill remains closely divided, 44-45.  This is close to the RealClearPolitics polling average measuring support for the bill: 39-42.

The two main arguments Republicans were expected to make in the home stretch of the campaign season this fall were the tax cuts and President Trump’s judicial nominees. Based on this internal poll as well as the recent allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, it would appear that the two central arguments for continued Republican control of Congress are tainted at best.

If the tax cuts are polling this poorly in an internal Republican-commissioned poll less than two months before the election, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to reverse public opinion in the final six weeks of the campaign.

Why the Paul Manafort Deal Matters

Perhaps the biggest and longest simmering development in the Robert Mueller investigation was Paul Manafort’s decision to plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors, after seemingly fighting the charges tooth and nail for months. President Trump points out that Manafort only worked for his presidential campaign for a few months, but those few months were a key stretch of the campaign during which Trump secured the Republican nomination and fought off a potential contested convention in Cleveland.

Keeping in mind that Mueller’s investigation is a leak-proof black box to everyone on the outside, it can be This development can go in all sorts of different directions, some of which don’t involve Donald Trump or his campaign.

I. The Trump Tower Meeting

Paul Manafort was one of three Trump campaign officials (along with Don Jr. and Jared Kushner) who met with Natalia Veselnitskaya and her entourage of Russians at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016.

Manafort’s deal means that Mueller now has a cooperating witness who was in the room. It was already known that Manafort took notes on his iPhone during the meeting, but now he can elaborate as to their meaning and how the conversation went. One of the central outstanding questions in this episode that Manafort would presumably be able to answer is what advance knowledge – if any – did then-candidate Donald Trump have about this meeting, and who told him about it? Did anyone else in the campaign have knowledge about this?

Jared Kushner was already interviewed by Mueller’s team and congressional investigators.  Don Jr. was interviewed by congressional investigators, but not by Mueller’s team.

If anyone misled or lied to the FBI or congressional investigators about the Trump Tower meeting, Manafort’s testimony would probably be key evidence in potential perjury or obstruction of justice charges. (Keep in mind that the Senate Judiciary Committee has already released its transcript and written statements of Trump and Kushner’s testimony, so there is already a public record of what they’ve written or said under oath) If Mueller indicts Kushner or Don Jr, that would significantly raise the stakes legally and politically.

II. Manafort’s Work for Pro-Putin Political Parties and Politicians

Beyond anyone in the upper echelons of the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort as a witness is probably most valuable to Robert Mueller for potentially implicating Russian oligarchs or politicians. Given his longstanding ties and contacts throughout the region, if any of them were involved in the Russian attacks on the American election, and if any of them were coordinating or in communication with the Trump campaign, the odds are it would have been done with Manafort as the point of contact.

III. Changes to the RNC Platform

Beyond the Trump Tower meeting, perhaps no event during the campaign itself has generated more questions than the change to the Republican Party platform to soften its language on assistance to Ukraine. Manafort was still campaign chairman at the time, so if there was anything devious behind this, he theoretically would have been in a position to know.

IV. Obstruction of Justice by President Trump

The New York Times reported last March that President Trump’s then-attorney John Dowd floated the idea of presidential pardons with attorneys representing Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. If Manafort can testify or prove that these pardons were being dangled in implicit or explicit exchange for his silence during Mueller’s investigation, this would probably be a significant piece of evidence for obstruction of justice by the president and his attorney. It’s also worth noting that Mueller and his team have apparently taken steps to pardon-proof their deal with Manafort.

V. Details of His Lobbying Schemes

Mueller has already outsourced this part of his investigation to the Southern District of New York, and all evidence would indicate they are taking it very seriously.  Among the major names to get sucked into this angle of the story: Democratic superlobbyist Tony Podesta, former Republican Rep. Vin Weber, and former Obama White House Counsel Greg Craig. Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates hired all of them between 2012 and 2014 in some capacity or another in an effort to bolster the image of the then-pro-Russian government of Ukraine. If SDNY needs Manafort or Gates’s testimony to build their criminal cases against Podesta, Weber or Craig, they will have to give it. (Remember, Gates had already cut his own deal with Mueller months ago and was the prosecution’s star witness in Paul Manafort’s criminal trial in Virginia)

VI. Manafort’s Business Partnership with Roger Stone

Once upon a time, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone were business partners at Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly Public Affairs Co., a political consulting firm that worked on Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign and went on to lobby on behalf of countries and organizations with sketchy human rights records – Nigeria, Kenya, the Philippines, and the Angolan rebel group UNITA, according to a 1992 report by the Center for Public Integrity, for which they received $3.3 million. The firm ranked fourth on the Center’s list of lobbying firms that received the most money from what it calls “The Torturers’ Lobby” for the 1991-1992 period.  Manafort was responsible for overseeing the firm’s foreign clients. Stone would go on to become a political adviser in Donald Trump’s orbit, and Manafort would eventually be hired as Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman to hold off a potential contested nominating convention.  Mueller is widely believed to be circling Roger Stone, who has openly said he expects to be indicted.  If Mueller needs potential evidence or back story on Stone going as far back as the 1980s, Manafort would have to provide it.

Keep an eye on Mueller’s court filings as his team continues to build its respective case(s), especially after the midterm elections.

Obama Aide’s Book Blurs Lines Between Memoir, Comedy and Political Analysis

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Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump
Dan Pfeiffer
Twelve Books

This November will mark the ten-year anniversary of Barack Obama’s election.  Though he has only been out of office for almost nineteen months and is a relatively young ex-president at the age of 57, most Democrats would probably say that Donald Trump’s presidency feels like Obama has been gone much longer.  Without a clear leader in the Democratic Party and a general feeling of goodwill and nostalgia for his presidency, former Obama aides and cabinet members have been gradually writing and publishing books with their own take on the 44th president.  The latest to do so is his former communications director Dan Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer stays away from the traditional political memoir format in his tome, as opposed to works released by other Obama administration alumni like David Axelrod, Timothy Geithner, Leon Panetta or Ben Rhodes. Rather, his book melds a combination of a memoir of his life in politics, a personal post-mortem of the 2016 election, and an effort to make the connections in the political progression that led the American electorate to veer wildly from electing Barack Obama to electing Donald Trump.  Obviously, he does so through the prism of a Democratic political operative and with the benefit of hindsight almost 18 months after the presidential election.

The underlying thread connecting both Obama and Trump is the shifting media landscape due in no small part to the evolution of the Internet, social media, and means of communication, which both men excelled at, though Democrats would argue that Trump uses them for more nefarious purposes – his tweets, pushing conspiracy theories, and creating an information bubble that is difficult for independent outside sources to penetrate. (Pfeiffer describes Twitter as “a performance-enhancing drug for politics,” and compares it to using meth because of its addictive nature.)

Anyone who has listened to Pfeiffer on an episode of the Pod Save America podcast which he helped launch with three fellow Obama alums knows he can be foul-mouthed in his humor and political commentary, particularly when engaged in commentary with one of his co-hosts.  While reading the text, it’s easy to imagine hearing him saying these things during an episode of the show. Though he is an openly partisan Democrat, he is not a propagandist or an apologist in his writing or his commentary. He does critique mistakes and offers differences of opinion about Obama personally, the administration he served in, and the Democratic Party as a whole.

One of the more illuminating parts of the text is how Pfeiffer and the campaign coped with conspiracy theories about Obama as the years progressed. In the early days it was forwarded chain emails alleging he was a secret Muslim, later on it was the full-blown birtherism that Donald Trump used to launch his political career.  This culminates in Pfeiffer’s back story behind writing the jokes for the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner during which Obama infamously roasted Trump, an episode that some have speculated was a factor in his decision to run for president and his personal animus toward Obama.

One of the most amusing episodes in the book which Pfeiffer dedicates an entire chapter to is the time he split his pants in the Oval Office, and his frantic attempts to fix them before being called again to accompany the president to a press conference. There is also the scary account of him nearly having a stroke because of the toll the long hours and stress was taking on him physically, caused by a combination of a blood vessel in his brain and high blood pressure.

Readers who study presidential history and are looking for a bombshell revelation or profound insight about the Obama presidency will be disappointed, and are better served by more traditional Washington insider memoirs or books by historians and journalists.  However, some of the most intriguing parts of the text are the ones Pfeiffer hints at but does not elaborate on.  This specifically refers to his many experiences with candidate and president Barack Obama over the years, in which rather than giving up the goods himself, he defers to his former boss to let him tell his own story in his own words, presumably his upcoming presidential memoir. (Michelle Obama’s memoir is scheduled for a November release after the midterm elections.)

Even the stories he does tell about his personal memories of Obama shed some personal light on the former president: how Obama told him he was running for president, behind the scenes decision-making on the campaign and in the White House, relationship and marriage advice, Obama’s reaction to a long-winded question from Kanye West during an A-list fundraiser, and a rare example of Obama losing his temper when he walked into the White House communications office and delivered what Pfeiffer describes as “a twenty-minute, not entirely family-friendly rant about the opposition party.” This is the kind of story that probably would have leaked instantly in the Trump White House, but managed to remain secret until well after Obama left office.

Until Obama’s book is published, we are left to speculate about what other stories Pfeiffer might be alluding to. However, because of the timing, it is also worth noting the dramatically different reaction Pfeiffer’s book got compared to the critical and political reaction to memoirs by Trump administration alumni Sean Spicer and Omarosa Manigault-Newman.  (For historical context, the only memoir really critical of the 44th president written by a former Obama cabinet official so far was Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, but even he didn’t take the burning down the house approach to it that Manigault-Newman did. It’s inconceivable to imagine an aide in any other administration surreptitiously record private conversations inside the White House Situation Room or a phone call with the President of the United States and release at least some of those recordings.)

One thing worth noting: Pfeiffer buried a lot of his jokes in the footnotes at the bottom of the page throughout the text.  This gives the book a feel – intentionally or not – of Pfeiffer breaking the fourth wall like Zack Morris or Frank Underwood.

Is Pfeiffer’s tome Obama nostalgia? No, though most Democrats say they miss him every day. It’s a different take and a different style from the usual Washington insider memoir, arguably for the better. Pfeiffer had a unique vantage point to witness the Obama presidency, but he wisely tells the story in his own voice, rather than make it into a more scholarly text. Perhaps most importantly, what Pfeiffer does in his book is an honest attempt at answering the basic question that has bedeviled the country since Election Night 2016: how did we get here?

October Surprise Watch: Robert Mueller, Michael Cohen and Allen Weisselberg

The most significant scoop in the past few days broke on CNN on Thursday night: according to sources, Michael Cohen is alleging that then-candidate Donald Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in which Russians were offering damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, authorized the meeting, and Cohen is willing to tell this to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The significance of this bit of information is that, if it can be verified by other witnesses, documents, or other methods, might not be the smoking gun for collusion but would be a hugely consequential piece of evidence that contradicts much of the existing defense that has been offered by President Trump and others close to him. Why? Look at this tweet from House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff:

Schiff’s timeline leaves out a lot of events (there’s only so much you can do with 280 characters), but the basic implication of his sequence of events is correct: Donald Trump’s alleged advance knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting changes everything we thought we knew at the time, as well as everything he said and did after the meeting: every time he said “No collusion,” every time he tried to float another suspect for the DNC hacks, the time he called for Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, his decision to fire Jim Comey, Donald Jr’s testimony to the congressional committees investigating Russian election interference…  all of those events and comments become suspicious with the benefit of hindsight. If prosecutors can prove this advance knowledge, it could also have a significant impact on Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation into the president.

Curiously, the Trump legal team’s defense hasn’t been to deny the allegation, but to attack Michael Cohen’s credibility as a potential witness for the government. (President Trump denied the story in a Friday morning tweetstorm.) Of course, what Giuliani does not address in that barb is the fact that Donald Trump hired Michael Cohen to work for him, and to take care of sensitive and unsavory matters like paying off Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to effectively buy their silence during the 2016 election.

Besides the president, the person who is possibly most at risk from this revelation is Donald Trump Jr. based on the released transcript of his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September of 2017.  Note this exchange on page 29, which he said to the committee under oath that would directly contradict what Cohen is alleging:

Don Jr Transcript

Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell have both alleged that witnesses lied during their testimony to the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee, though it is not clear if either of them have spoken of the president’s son in this context. If the Democrats win control of the House in November, this explosive issue could be revisited in the new year, culminating in possible prosecutions. In the meantime, the controversy could wind up sidelining Donald Trump Jr. as a surrogate campaigning and fundraising for Republicans for midterms.

As far as the other people who were present for the Trump Tower meeting, we don’t know what – if anything – Jared Kushner may have said about it.  Paul Manafort’s criminal trial in Virginia begins next week, so there may be a chance of this subject coming up.

This is coming up in the context of the special master allowing access to more evidence seized by federal agents during the raids on Michael Cohen’s home, office and hotel room last April, although it is not clear in what context this allegation surfaced. Now that prosecutors have access to at least some of the evidence, it would be fair to assume that they are that much closer to getting an indictment against Cohen.

If this information about the Trump Tower meeting surfaced as part of the evidence collected for the investigation handled by the Southern District of New York, then it becomes highly relevant to Robert Mueller’s separate and more expansive investigation. In other words, the two legal storylines are beginning to converge over this one hugely explosive issue.  Lanny Davis – who provided CNN the audio recording of the Trump-Cohen phone call – denied that the leak came from Cohen’s end.

Perhaps the most consequential and ultimately dangerous revelation of the Trump-Cohen recording is Cohen’s mentioning of Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer.  The Wall Street Journal reported that Weisselberg has been called to testify as a witness before the grand jury that is hearing the Southern District of New York’s criminal case against Cohen. According to experts, Weisselberg, who was first hired as an accountant by Donald Trump’s father in the 1970s, has intimate knowledge of the family and organization’s finances, including the president ’s net worth.  To paraphrase a cliché being used by Trumpologists on television networks, Weisselberg is a man who knows where the bodies are buried. And now, he will have to answer questions about the president and the company’s finances under oath.

Youth Voter Registration Surges in Aftermath of Parkland Shooting

vote-button

Young voters historically tend to be one of the least reliable demographic groups when it comes to turning out to vote regularly in elections. However, there is preliminary evidence to indicate this year’s election will be an exception to the rule. Survivors of the Parkland shooting have been vocally active in gun control and voter registration efforts during the past seven months, and their efforts might be starting to show results, according to findings from the Democratic-aligned data firm TargetSmart. Based on a review of voter registration data for 18-29 year-olds in 39 states, the organization found:

  • The share of youth voter registrants nationwide has increased by 2.16 percent since February 14, 2018 – the date of the Parkland shooting.
  • How that surge in youth voter registration breaks down states that have key elections this November:
    • Arizona: +8.16 points
    • California: +3.37 points
    • Florida: +7.99 points
    • Indiana: +9.87 points
    • Minnesota: +4.68 points
    • Montana: +3.81 points
    • Nevada: +6.62 points
    • New York: +10.7 points
    • Ohio: +5.95 points
    • Pennsylvania: +16.14 points
    • Tennessee: +3.82
    • Texas: +0.12
    • Virginia: +10.49
    • Wisconsin: +5.64
  • In contrast, youth voter registration dropped in only four states and the District of Columbia.
    • District of Columbia: -2.99
    • Iowa: -0.3
    • South Dakota: -1.4
    • West Virginia: -11.52
    • Wyoming: -7.1

The numbers for competitive swing states like Arizona, Florida, Nevada and Pennsylvania are particularly stunning. New York and Virginia are safely Democratic states for their statewide candidates on the ballot this year, though the real beneficiaries of that increased turnout might be downballot Democratic candidates and ballot initiatives. In a close election, the slightest margin could make all the difference.

Another data point worth keeping in mind: according to the U.S. Census, only 46.1 percent of 18- to -29-year-olds voted in the 2016 election, but this group reported a 1.1 percent increase in turnout from 2012.  According to exit polls, Hillary Clinton won this age group 55-37. Why is this important? Because if TargetSmart’s 2.16 percent nationwide calculation is correct, it means that youth voter turnout increase in 2018 may double what it was two years ago.

In summary, if this data is correct and more young people are registering to vote, it means that Democrats are expanding their base of voters, which was a crucial element to Barack Obama’s political success in 2008 and 2012.