Getting Some Perspective on Republicans’ Election Woes

by Jim Geraghty

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why Democrats will find Virginia is easier to win than lots of other parts of the country; a completely unnecessary Republican primary fight gains momentum; Roy Moore holds on to a lead in the Alabama Senate special election; and Congressional Republicans contemplate a brand-destroying mistake.

The Big Unresolved Question for 2018: Can Democrats Win in Trump Counties?

Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley, of University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato’s ”Crystal Ball,” lay out all of the extremely ominous signs for Republicans in Tuesday’s elections, but then add some key caveats:

The silver lining for Republicans in Tuesday night’s results is that Gillespie actually improved on his own showing in his 2014 Senate challenge to Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Cuccinelli’s 2013 performance in western Virginia, a red-trending area (as noted above). Gillespie didn’t quite match Trump there, though, but remember that Democrats have to defend a lot of turf in dark red areas, such as Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D) Senate seat in West Virginia, the only state that is classified 100% Appalachian by the federal government and a state Trump won by 42 points. Manchin will have incumbency in his favor, but it is possible that he and other red state Senate Democrats could fall to Republicans even in a great Democratic national environment because of the way that places like Appalachia are changing. Many parts of the United States look like Appalachian western Virginia — rural, white, blue collar, and supportive of Trump.

Virginia Democrats were able to make huge gains in the state House of Delegates by effectively winning only Clinton-won seats (they only won a single Trump-won seat, and it was a marginal one at that). Democrats cannot get to a House of Representatives majority exclusively through Clinton-won seats. They need to net 24 seats next year to win the House, and there are only 23 Republicans in Clinton-won seats. It’s also impractical to think Democrats could flip all 23 of these seats: Many of them are held by skilled incumbents. So Democrats will need to win some Trump-won territory to capture the House — the median U.S. House seat, the 218th most Democrats and Republican seat by presidential performance, is Rep. Scott Taylor’s (D, VA-2) Hampton Roads-based district, which Trump won by 3.4 points, which makes it more than five points more Democratic than the nation (because Clinton won the national popular vote by about 2.1 points). This is a long way of saying that the national House playing field is more Republican-leaning, at least on paper, than the Virginia House of Delegates slate was. So, as we usually advise, don’t over-interpret and over-project these results, impressive though they are for the Democrats.

Another big question: Are the suburbs in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and other key states different than the ones in Virginia? Sure, Loudon, Prince William, and Fairfax have lots of federal government workers, but is the political culture that different? (I’m getting a little irked hearing people dismiss Virginia’s seven most northeastern counties with comments like, “eh, they’re all federal workers.” Democrat Gerry Connolly’s 11th Congressional District, which includes parts of Fairfax and Prince William Counties, has 74,346 federal employees and retirees as of 2014. That’s a lot! But that’s also just 10 percent of the district’s population as a whole. And in 2010, Connolly survived by less than 1,000 votes.)

If the mood in the suburbs of other states is about the same as it was in Virginia on Tuesday, Republicans are in serious trouble.

Notice that Northam, who few considered to be a particularly exceptional candidate, enjoyed unbelievable Democratic turnout. The Democratic campaign committees and campaigns may not have to worry about funding problems or organizational blunders in 2018. Donald Trump is their get-out-the-vote program.

“You can’t explain what happened without starting with the backdrop that is the long shadow that Donald Trump cast over the election,” Quentin Kidd, a Christopher Newport University political science professor, said. “That explains in my mind probably 300,000 to 325,000 voters that may not have shown up yesterday to vote had it not been by them being energized by the 2016 election.”

That would be about 12 percent of the people who voted Tuesday. As Kidd puts it, “It wasn’t that Republicans didn’t show up, it’s that Democrats showed up in overwhelming numbers.” It is very tough to win when the other side is mobilizing close to 100 percent of their potential voters.

Just How Many Incumbent Republicans Deserve Primary Challenges?

You know what will exacerbate Republicans’ problems? Messy primary fights, urged by a former Trump advisor, against a GOP senator who’s voted with the White House 94 percent of the time, like Wyoming’s John Barrasso.

Republican megadonor Foster Friess was busy writing checks to GOP candidates, contemplating the future of health care, and getting coffee with liberals for his campaign to “restore civility” in politics last month, when he got an unexpected call from President Trump adviser and provocateur Steve Bannon.

“I get this call, ‘Foster would you consider running against [Wyoming Sen. John] Barrasso?’ And I said, ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Steve Bannon?’ Because we’re pretty much strangers, it kind of struck me as how did he even get my name or my number?”

Friess, a multimillionaire investor, is now launching a “listening tour” to help him decide whether he should challenge Barrasso — his “personal friend” and “hero” — in a GOP primary, he told BuzzFeed News in a 90-minute, wide-ranging interview this week.

Insisting his decision won’t have much to do with Bannon or Barrasso, the 77-year-old who has financed and advised GOP presidential candidates and groups for years is becoming more overtly involved in politics, following a wave of wealthy businessmen, including Trump, taking an interest in elected office.

I met Friess a little while back, and think well of him. But just what changes in the U.S. Senate if voters replace Barrasso with Friess? (Keep in mind that if elected, Friess would face reelection in 2024 at age 84.) 

To give credit where it’s due, another one of Bannon’s preferred candidates, Roy Moore, hasn’t blown the special Senate election in Alabama yet.

A poll commissioned by Raycom News Network released Wednesday found that Republican Roy Moore is continuing to hold a significant lead over Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama’s Senate race.

Conducted by Mobile-based Strategy Research, the poll said that Moore had 51 percent of support to 40 percent for Jones. And 9 percent of poll participants declared themselves undecided.

Of course, Republicans usually win about 65 percent of the vote in Senate races in Alabama.

Why Would Republicans Ever Adopt This Idea?

Then again, if Republicans aren’t willing to pull out all the stops to promote adoption, why do we have them? Our David French points out a ridiculous facet of the GOP tax plan:

 . . . A $13,570 non-refundable credit that phases out for truly high-income families. It doesn’t cost the government much — according to the Tax Policy Center, the so-called “tax expenditure” (forgone revenue) from the credit totaled $300 million in 2015 — but it makes adoption affordable for thousands of families. I know. It helped my family immensely when we adopted. It’s helped other adoptive families we know. It can be the financial difference that makes adoption possible. And the newly released Republican tax-reform plan would abolish it entirely.

 . . . As things now stand, though, this Republican Congress may well end up funding Planned Parenthood while abolishing the adoption tax credit. That’s intolerable. Not even President Obama went that far. For a brief time during the Obama administration, the adoption credit was fully refundable. What did the IRS do? It deluged adoptive families with audits. Allegedly concerned with fraud, in one year it audited a staggering 69 percent of returns that claimed the credit. A 2011 GAO report indicated that the IRS “had not found any fraudulent adoption tax credit claims.”

If Republicans are dumb enough to get rid of the adoption tax credit, they’ll deserve to lose control of Congress.

ADDENDA: Caleb Howe asked my opinion, and a few others’, about the argument that “Never Trump” Republicans cost Gillespie victory on Tuesday. If by “Never Trump” he means Evan McMullin and Bill Kristol, etcetera, no, they simply don’t influence enough voters. (Remember, Gillespie lost by about 232,000 votes.) If you define “Never Trump” much more broadly to include people who have voted Republican in the past and who are skeptical, critical, or just plain disappointed in the Trump presidency so far, you’re dealing with a much more sizable demographic, and part of the reason Republicans up and down the ticket got nuked in the suburbs Tuesday.

The Morning Jolt

By Jim Geraghty