Good Friday Morning! It’s been a year since Donald Trump was elected President, which means its time for our first elections since Trump’s victory. New Jersey and Virginia both held off-year elections for Governor and a slew of down-ballot races. I’ll dig into the results and project into 2018.
Next up are two stories that are important but not getting enough play: 1) The looming VRA deadline for federal employees in temporary positions that remain unfilled by the Trump administration, and 2) Saudi Arabia positioning itself for war. Links to follow.
I don’t plan on writing about it because it’s a story developing as a write this, but the Washington Post’s bombshell report about Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore molesting a 14-year-old girl is the most significant campaign bombshell I’ve ever seen. Here’s the even more unfortunate tell this is likely a true story: Moore doesn’t deny it, his statement dissembles. What I mean is that he attacks the messengers, not the message. He says, “if any of these allegations were true, they would have been made public long before now.” That’s not a denial, it shifts the burden of proof back on the victims and asks the reader/listener to imply the women are liars, but Moore never says he’s innocent. That’s classic Clintonian dissembling, which means there’s likely truth in the allegations.
New this week at the Conservative Institute
In the wake of the mass shooting at a church in Sutherland, Texas, I noticed a disheartening trend. Anti-gun activists are attacking anyone who offered up prayers for the families and community affected. The attacks went so far actually to attack the faith of those killed. This piece is a defense of prayer in the wake of mass shootings and tragedies in general. Unfortunately, the growing trend of launching atheistic attacks after these disasters doesn’t seem to be decreasing.
The VA and NJ Elections: A storm brewing for Republicans
There’s no way to sugarcoat what happened to Republicans: they were crushed in every way imaginable. Virginia, in particular, was a wave election for Democrats. New Jersey was a blowout, where Christ Christie’s immense unpopularity combined with his wholesale embrace of Trump sunk any chances Republicans had in the state.
In Virginia, the polls were wrong. Entering the race, Democrat Ralph Northam had a roughly 3 point average lead in the Real Clear Politics poll average. He ended up winning by 9 points in a state Hilary Clinton won by 5 points. That type of swing was well outside the margin of error for polls. The 2016 polls, which were off slightly in Trump’s favor, were far more accurate.
The results confirm that election fundamentals still exist, hold sway over elections, and matter for prediction purposes. If you combine these fundamentals with Donald Trump’s unpopularity, you get the conditions for a Democratic wave election in 2018. Democrats have to be considered favorites to retake the House, which would give us Speaker Pelosi once again.
Here’s how we know it was a wave election, Republicans nearly lost control of the Virginia House of Delegates, after holding a super-majority lead. They lost 15 seats in the election with a Democratic Governor and Lt. Governor in charge. Virginian Republicans believed they had built an unassailable lead through redistricting/gerrymandering efforts. But as Sean Trende astutely observed, the map moved out from under the GOP.
Here’s what we see right now: Democrats are racking up victories in House districts that Hilary Clinton won or was within 1-2 points from winning against Donald Trump. Every pickup in the House of Delegates reflected Democrats regaining ground in places where Clinton made waves.
If you’re projecting this forward into 2018, you have to look at House districts where Clinton either won or was competitive. Sean Trende’s analysis:
Democrats flipped a number of newly Democratic-leaning districts, and the top of the ticket ran a bit ahead of Clinton. Should this comfort Republicans? Probably not. There are 23 Republicans in Congress who presently occupy districts Clinton won, which would leave Democrats just one seat short of what they need to win a majority if they flip next year. There are 32 Republicans in seats Clinton either won or lost by fewer than two points. That would give Democrats a majority just shy of where they wound up in 2006. In other words, the House of Representatives is very much in play for Democrats, unless something changes at the national level.
It is possible for Democrats to pull off a 2006-like wave election where they retake the House or come just shy of it. Hilary Clinton is not on the ballot, and everything is a referendum on Trump. Voting for Trumpism when his approval ratings are abysmal and he’s unable to come up with a plan in Congress gives no one any reason to vote.
There are two central questions both parties will have to answer in 2018 and 2020. First, can Republicans do the opposite of what happened in Virginia? There are about a dozen seats that Trump won that Democrats hold. Can the GOP win seats held by Democrats where Trump won? If so, they can offset the losses by winning new seats. If not, they’re looking at a future bloodbath, on par with what happened to Democrats with Obama. If they can’t hold, they will lose, like Democrats did, around 1,000 seats in State and Federal government.
Second, will Trump’s Democratic voters stick with him in 2018? He was able to win the Midwest through about 100,000 strategically placed voters across the Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota. FiveThirtyEight profiled them in a great piece. These people voted for Obama twice, and now Trump. Can Democrats win these voters back? Can Trump hold his coalition together?
These are the great unknowns that will help decide 2018 and 2020.
A looming crisis in the federal government
November 16th is a crucial deadline for the federal government. According to the Federal Vacancy Reform Act of 1998, 300 days after a President is sworn in, people who are serving in an acting capacity in an agency lose much of their authority, meaning they lack the power to perform their duties. The VRA is supposed to help provide a stopgap until Presidents get their nominees through the Senate.
Trump’s administration continues to leave these positions unfilled:
The impact on federal operations is potentially significant. Of 610 key agency positions tracked by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and the Washington Post, the White House has won Senate confirmation of 173. The White House has submitted another 169 nominations to the Senate and announced seven others that await official nominations. But Trump has offered no nomination for 261 positions.
A separate tally compiled by the academic-run White House Transition Project, which uses a different selection of key jobs (980 appointed positions and 221 critical leadership slots), confirms the unusually high number of vacancies.
What does all this mean for these agencies? Two things: First, it could mean anyone remaining in their job after the 300 days could be ineligible to hold the office anymore. Because the temporary period has ended, the person doesn’t have a claim to that job or its authority anymore.
Second, blowing by the deadline, as the Trump administration is doing, will open agencies up to more lawsuits. If an acting agency head makes a decision that adversely impacts a person, they could sue to overrule the agency’s decision because the decision was made without Constitutional or statutory authority:
After 300 days without a nominee “the office would be designated vacant, for purposes of the Vacancies Act, and only the head of the agency would be able to perform the functions and duties of that vacant office,” wrote CRS legal analyst Valerie Brannon in a legal advisory obtained by Federation of American Scientists secrecy blogger Steven Aftergood. “If an office designated vacant under this provision is that of the agency head, it appears that no one can temporarily perform the functions and duties of that office under the Vacancies Act,” it said. “If the acting officer remains in office and attempts to perform a non-delegable function or duty—one that a statute or regulation expressly assigns to that office—that action will ‘have no force or effect.’ ”
Recent Supreme Court case law, notably the Noel Canning vs. NLRB case, reigned in the President’s powers to appoint people outside of the Senate confirmation process. It’s unlikely the Roberts court would allow any person to stay beyond their statutory obligations. DOJ guidance from 1999 on the VRA further suggests that the President cannot just go on with other acting heads of the agency to avoid Senate confirmation.
In a nutshell, the agencies and positions Trump is leaving empty have a week left of legal authority. Otherwise, people will either have to leave or start issuing decisions without legal weight.
Saudi Arabia: Preparing for war?
Saudi Arabia is going through some huge changes right now. First off, one of the House of Saud’s Princes is cleaning house, arresting many other princes, family members, and government officials in “government corruption” purge. In the process, he’s managed to take control of the entire government, including all military, secret service, and police forces.
While all this purging is taking place, the prince is also repositioning Saudi Arabia into a more defensive/war-like stance with Iran and other neighbors. The Saudi’s have ordered their citizens to leave Yemen and Lebanon. Furthermore, the Saudi’s have accused those two countries and Iran of committing acts of war against them.
All of these moves have entirely reshaped the leadership of Saudi Arabia just at the point it’s bringing itself into a confrontation with Iran. The movements match similar Saudi behavior towards Yemen in the past, which led to military action.
No one has an idea of what’s happening right now because Saudi Arabia has so dramatically changed its leadership. While past behavior, it’s not dispositive in this case.
The other country to keep an eye on is Israel. Like Saudi Arabia, they have an interest in ensuring Iran never achieves nuclear capabilities. You have to ask what role, if any, Israel could be playing here to help take out a regional foe that wants to eradicate both Israelis and Saudis via nukes or terrorism. For now, both parties are quiet on if they’re working together, which probably means they are collaborating.
If Israel is helping the Saudi’s, then the next question becomes: how much does the US know, and to what extent are we involved in this shift in Saudi stance? It would be hard to envision Donald Trump being against the Israeli’s and Saudi’s working together to harm Iran.
The Jerusalem Post suggests that the Saudi’s could be creating a clean path for Israeli aircraft to launch preemptive strikes against Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
Whatever the goal, the region just became considerably more unstable, and it bears watching.
Best links of the week
Kiev Is Buzzing About the Manafort Indictment: Ukrainian prosecutors hope to unravel the former Trump aide’s activities on behalf of a corrupt former leader. But their own government just wants it all to go away. – David Stern, Politico Magazine
100 Years of Communism—and 100 Million Dead: The Bolshevik plague that began in Russia was the greatest catastrophe in human history. – David Satter, The Wall Street Journal
Good News: House Republicans Restore the Adoption Tax Credit to the Tax Reform Bill – David French, National Review
Saving Roy Moore Isn’t Worth It – Jonah Goldberg, National Review
Facing facts about Tuesday’s big backlash – John Podhoretz, The New York Post
Feminist attacks on Taylor Swift reveal something very ugly about the movement – Katie Yoder, The Washington Post
The One County In America That Voted In A Landslide For Both Trump And Obama: And what it can tell us about 2018 and beyond. – David Wasserman, FiveThirtyEight
Satire piece of the week
LOS ANGELES—In the wake of numerous sexual misconduct allegations against prominent figures in Hollywood, the entire film industry will reportedly be replaced by 40,000 Christopher Plummers, sources said Friday. “Going forward, veteran actor Christopher Plummer will write, direct, and star in every movie we make and is currently working with us to reshoot hundreds of features already in production,” said studio executive Christopher Plummer, adding that the entire history of film would eventually be altered with Christopher Plummers swapped in for the roles and also feature revised credits to reflect the fact that Christopher Plummers performed every behind-the-scenes task.
Thanks for reading!