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Thursday, September 13, 2018


Beltway Belshazzar

by Tom Sullivan

Belshazzar's Feast by Rembrandt. Public domain.

There are no reports of disembodied hands writing on White House walls. Perhaps they would have to be writing on television screens with sharpies to attract notice. Nonetheless, the message from pollsters is sinking in at the White House and among the Republican congress that they have been weighed and found wanting.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is already lowering expectations for his party's performance in the fall elections, saying only, “I hope when the smoke clears, we’ll still have a majority,” meaning in the Senate. Conventional wisdom has long suggested the GOP's prospects for holding the House are slim to none. The Washington Post records one Republican strategist's assessment of his team's fall campaign as a "shipwreck."

The GOP is rushing financial aid to Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas whose Republican seat was once thought safe. Now Cruz is under threat from a surging Beto O'Roarke who has awakened a Democratic Party somnolent in Texas for what seems a generation. The sitting president who dubbed Cruz "Lyin' Ted" now boasts he's planning a rally to support him in the largest Texas-sized venue he can find.

The Post also reports that in conservative Indiana, where incumbent Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly looked vulnerable, he has opened up a slight lead against his GOP challenger Mike Braun. Real Clear Politics' polling average shows Donnelly up 3.8 points.

In West Virginia, incumbent Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin enjoys a lead nearly 5 points wider than Donnelly's.

Belshazzar himself isn't helping much. His numbers continue to sag, writes Paul Waldman at Plum Line:

Trump’s popularity is falling, just at the worst time. A round of recent polls has shown Trump’s approval dipping below 40 percent: Quinnipiac at 38, CNN at 36, NPR-Marist at 39. There are many possible contributing factors, such as the multiple former Trump aides headed to jail, the ongoing Russia investigation, the growing realization that Trump hasn’t in fact drained the swamp, and the revelations of behind-the-scenes chaos in the White House. Every point that Trump falls is another push away from Republicans in the fall.
Trump's trade wars are not playing so well in the Midwest where Trump did so well in November 2016. Farmers and automakers are uneasy:
"Every way we are looking at the data, the same general pattern is emerging," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll. "The Midwest is an area that is getting restless about what they hoped was going to occur and what they feel is not occurring."
Jennifer Rubin observes that should Democrats take control of the House in January, they had best have an agenda ready to go even if Senate Republicans retain the numbers to sustain a Trump veto. If Democrats regain the Senate, they might start by passing Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s anti-corruption bill, among others Rubin lists. She may be premature about the Senate, but Vox reports House Democrats are already ahead of her:
One specific legislative package has emerged, largely crafted and sponsored by the chair of the Democracy Reform Task Force, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD). The agenda — recently formalized by a House resolution — is designed to rein in the influence of money and lobbying in Washington, expand voting rights in the United States, and increase public financing of campaigns. Democrats are prepping a final version of a bill to be ready to go if they are in charge by January 2019.

“I think it needs to be [first], and I’m sure it will be a top priority of ours,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “I’m hoping that it’s the first or second bill this fall. It’s just that important.”
Restoring faith in government needs to be a top priority, but so does delivering gains people feel in their daily lives: stabilizing the health care exchanges, raising the minimum wage, securing their jobs, etc. House Democrats will have the majority's power to begin doing their own writing on the White House walls by exercising investigative powers. But they if they hope to retain power, they need to deliver for constituents. And quickly. The lobster boat crew may not be representative of Maine, but they're not ignorant. They're busy. It's easy for us political geeks to forget. If Democrats and progressives want their full attention, they have to materially improve working people's lives.

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For The Win 2018 is ready for download. Request a copy of my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.