Donald Trump Picks a 2018 Senate Candidate to Join His Cabinet

The DSCC should send Donald Trump a thank-you card. From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The courtship of Ryan Zinke began months before the end of the presidential race. A Republican congressman from Montana and a former Navy SEAL commander, Mr. Zinke was approached over the summer by Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, about running for the Senate in 2018.

To Mr. McConnell, Mr. Zinke (pronounced ZIN-kee) was an ideal candidate to defeat Senator Jon Tester, a two-term Democrat, and bolster the Republicans’ slender majority.

Then President-elect Donald J. Trump intervened.

Mr. McConnell learned early this week that Mr. Trump had grown interested in Mr. Zinke to be secretary of the interior. Mr. McConnell quickly contacted both Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, in an effort to head off the appointment, according to multiple Republican officials familiar with the calls.

Mr. Trump’s defiant selection of Mr. Zinke, 55, dismayed Republicans in the capital and raised suspicions about how reliable an ally he will be for the party. Even as Mr. Trump has installed party stalwarts in a few cabinet departments, he has repeatedly shrugged off the requests of Republicans who have asked for help reinforcing their power in Congress.

And having flouted the party establishment throughout the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump now appears determined to go his own way in office, guided by personal chemistry and the opinions of his family members.

Based on these political dynamics, Zinke will probably sail through his confirmation hearing without breaking a sweat. If he is confirmed, that means that Montana governor Steve Bullock will have to call a special election to fill the seat, which represents the entire state in the House of Representatives.

Zinke was just re-elected to his seat 56-40, in a state that Donald Trump won by 21 points but also re-elected Democrat Steve Bullock by 4. Democrats have won in state and federal races in Montana, so this House race should be seen as winnable by the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Montana Democratic Party.  This race gives Democrats an opportunity to test message and strategy ahead of Jon Tester’s re-election run in 2018, and will likely be their first attempt at winning a congressional race since the November election.

The Montana Democratic Party flagged a story about Whitefish resident and white nationalist leader Richard Spencer saying he was “very seriously” considering running for the Republican nomination. In a separate story by The Missoulian, Montana Democratic Party executive director Nancy Keenan issued a statement saying, “To be clear, Richard Spencer’s views are not Montanans’ views. We’ve called on the Montana GOP to denounce this kind of racism in their party this year and we will continue to hold Republicans accountable for this fear-mongering behavior as we move toward a special election to fill this U.S. House seat.” Montana Republican Party chairman Jeff Essmann is quoted in the same story saying, “In most corners of Montana, a Spencer candidacy would be viewed skeptically.”

The candidates who will run in the special election will be chosen by their respective state parties rather than through a normal primary process. Because of this, Republicans can probably breathe a sigh of relief in that this scenario virtually guarantees Spencer will not get the nomination.  After the experience of 2012 where Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock cost the Senate GOP two races it should have won because they said outrageous and controversial comments which torpedoed their campaigns, Republicans have learned their lesson. On the other hand, Donald Trump just got elected president in spite of the many outrageous and controversial comments he made before and during the campaign.  Perhaps some Republican candidates will try emulating that tactic to win an election in the future.

Senate Democrats Catch Two Lucky Breaks

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is probably breathing a sigh of relief  after getting two bits of good news today.

First: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), who was being considered for the Secretary of Energy position in the Trump Administration, announced that he would be remaining in the Senate.  Former Texas governor Rick Perry wound up getting the top job in the government agency he wanted to eliminate as a 2012 presidential candidate but couldn’t name. (Here’s video of the infamous “Oops” moment which derailed his candidacy.)

Second: Donald Trump chose Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) for Secretary of Interior. Zinke, a former Navy SEAL who just finished his first term in the House of Representatives, was considered a serious challenger for Montana Democratic senator Jon Tester’s 2018 reelection campaign.  Political observers weighed in on this development via Twitter:

The Senate Democrats’ Rough 2018 Cycle

These are the senators up for re-election in 2018 – in the case of many Democrats, they are the ones who got elected by riding Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election coattails.

  • Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
  • John Barrasso (R-WY)
  • Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
  • Ben Cardin (D-MD)
  • Tom Carper (D-DE)
  • Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
  • Bob Casey (D-PA)
  • Bob Corker (R-TN)
  • Ted Cruz (R-TX)
  • Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
  • Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
  • Deb Fischer (R-NE)
  • Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
  • Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY)
  • Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  • Dean Heller (R-NV)
  • Martin Heinrich (D-NM)
  • Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
  • Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
  • Tim Kaine (D-VA)
  • Angus King (I-ME)
  • Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
  • Joe Manchin (D-WV)
  • Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
  • Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
  • Chris Murphy (D-CT)
  • Bill Nelson (D-FL)
  • Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
  • Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
  • Jon Tester (D-MT)
  • Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
  • Roger Wicker (R-MS)

Most of these seats are generally safe for the incumbent or the incumbent party. The problem for Democrats is they will be defending more seats this cycle (23, and two independents in Maine and Vermont) than the Republicans (8).  Republicans will likely have a 52-48 majority in the Senate for the next two years (pending on the outcome of the Louisiana Senate runoff election scheduled for December).  If Democrats are to retake the Senate, they need a net gain of 3 seats. This is going to be very difficult because many of them represent states won by Donald Trump (red is solid Republican, purple is swing state, blue is solid Democrat):

  • Baldwin
  • Brown
  • Casey
  • Heitkamp
  • Manchin
  • McCaskill
  • Nelson
  • Stabenow
  • Tester

Heitkamp, Manchin, McCaskill and Tester are particularly vulnerable because of the states they represent, so out of self-preservation they may vote for Trump nominees and legislation to save face back home.  The other states are traditionally Democratic, but given that Trump won them in 2016 and that Democrats tend to have less reliable turnout for midterm elections, they can’t take anything for granted.

On the other hand, the Democrats’ best opportunities for a pickup are in purple or purple-leaning states:

  • Flake
  • Heller

Arizona has historically been a safely Republican state, but Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton here 49-45, probably a closer margin than state Republicans would like. Nevada Democrats – led by the Harry Reid political machine – ran the table and won every race in the state. If Democrats recruit a solid candidate and the Reid machine can put together another performance like they did in 2016, Heller could be their biggest chance for a pickup opportunity.

A lot can happen in two years. The political dynamics, such as the state of the economy, will determine which party benefits. Historically, the party in the White House tends to lose congressional seats during the midterm elections. But right now, two years out, it’s looking difficult for Senate Democrats.