Wednesday, September 27, 2017


You may be thinking that Republican Party intraparty feuding is excellent news for Democrats. I'm not so sure.

Robert Costa of The Washington Post writes:
The stunning defeat of President Trump’s chosen Senate candidate in Alabama on Tuesday amounted to a political lightning strike — setting the stage for a worsening Republican civil war that could have profound effects on next year’s midterm elections and undermine Trump’s clout with his core voters.

The GOP primary victory by conservative firebrand Roy Moore over Sen. Luther Strange could also produce a stampede of Republican retirements in the coming months and an energized swarm of challengers.

It marked yet another humiliation for the Washington-based Republican establishment, particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose allies pumped millions of dollars into the race to prop up Strange and reassure his colleagues that they could survive the Trump era....

For Democrats, the prospect of further retirements and revived GOP infighting has sparked talk of competing for Senate seats previously thought out of play.
Could Democrats win formerly safe seats? Could Democrats win this seat? I don't see it. Alabama is a blood-red state -- Trump beat Hillary Clinton 63%-35%. And Trump has now endorsed Moore (and deleted his pro-Strange tweets).

Will there be a "stampede of Republican retirements"? Well, here's one:
The tremors began before the polls closed in Alabama. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced on Tuesday afternoon that he would not seek reelection in 2018, dogged by complaints from conservatives in his state over his criticism of Trump.
The supposed opportunity for Democrats is that Republicans might nominate extreme, unelectable candidates. Costa quotes disillusioned right-winger Charlie Sykes:
“It’s an acid flashback to 2010,” said Charlie Sykes, a former conservative talk-radio host, referring to the year when seasoned GOP figures lost Senate primaries across the country as incendiary conservatives charged forward.

“It’s almost as if there is a compulsion in the party to nominate the most ‘out there’ candidate just to show you can, with no concern about what that means for the rest of the party,” Sykes said. “Republicans — and that means Trump, too — have unleashed something they can’t control.”
But in 2010, Republicans took back the House and made significant gains in the Senate, even though, yes, they could have won even more seats if they hadn't nominated the likes of Christine O'Donnell and Ken Buck.

Republicans won big in 2010 because their voters were fired up -- understandably, because the GOP was the out party and GOP voters wanted to win again. That's what's supposed to happen to Democrats in 2018 -- but the frustrations of Trump voters, who think they're not getting big wins because Democrats and establishment Republicans are obstructing them, might inspire a big Republican turnout that could partially neutralize the likely big Democratic turnout. If insurgent Republicans run as outsiders, and incumbents survive by tacking farther and farther to the right like insurgents, the GOP might not suffer the turnout dropoff that plagued Democrats in 2010 and 2014.

At this point, I don't know if any candidate could be too extreme for conservative (and even moderately conservative) voters, especially given the fact that most Republicans who are up for reelection to the Senate are in solidly red states, and most House Republicans are in carefully gerrymandered red districts.

Costa notes that the usual suspects are helping to drive this insurgency:
Hard-line challengers to Senate Republicans seized on the fall of Strange ... as a sign of how the clamor of anti-establishment forces like Breitbart News — chaired by former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon — could empower them....

“I was with Bannon last night, talking it through, and what’s happened in Alabama increases the likelihood that I jump in,” said Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R), who is considering challenging Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), speaking Tuesday before polls closed. “It’s a race that has repercussions across the country.” ...

Bannon seems ready to yank open that door, huddling in recent days with Republicans mulling primary campaigns. Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green, who had been considering a Corker challenge, was with Bannon in Alabama. The Mercer family — Bannon’s billionaire backers — have been in touch with these contenders as well and McDaniel said they have encouraged him to run.

When asked about rumors that the Mercers and other donors have pledged more than $1 million to McDaniel, he replied, “It may be more.”
A few notes on these possible Bannon/Mercer challengers: Chris McDaniel has reportedly spoken at two events sponsored by the secessionist Sons of Confederate Veterans, and he sends out campaign emails depicting the Confederate flag draped over the state of Mississippi. Mark Green was Trump's pick for Army secretary until he withdrew his name for consideration after Christianist, anti-Muslim, and anti-LGBT remarks he once made were revealed:
Controversy surrounding Green's anti-LGBTQ record gained traction when advocacy group GLAAD unearthed audio from Green's appearance on the online radio show “Hotwash With CJ and Alex” in 2016. In it, Green seems to compare transgender people to ISIS militants.

“The government exists to honor those people who live honorable who do good things — to reward people who behave well and to crush evil,” Green said in the interview. “So that means as a state senator, my responsibility very clearly in Romans 13 is to create an environment where people who do right are rewarded and the people who do wrong are crushed. Evil is crushed. So I’m going to protect women in their bathrooms, and I’m going to protect our state against potential infiltration from the Syrian ISIS people in the refugee program.”
Hey, didn't you think the thrice-divored, ex-Hollywood, seemingly party-hearty Bannon was too much of a libertine to be allying himself with the likes of Mark Green and Roy Moore? Weren't we being told that the Trump insurgency was, among other things, a rejection of the old Bible-thumping far right? Well, so much for that.

It's possible that what happened yesterday in Alabama will turn out to be an isolated event and a warning shot -- like Dave Brat's victory over Eric Cantor in 2014, it might inspire GOP incumbents to fight harder to retain their seats, and compel the GOP establishment to redouble its efforts to save those insurgents. Brat's win was the high point for insurgents in 2014; the establishment won most intraparty battles after that.

It's also possible that Democrats will win seats in purple states and districts because GOP candidates are too extreme, while extremists win elsewhere. So the GOP congressional delegation might become smaller but more extreme.

We'll see.

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