Good Friday Morning! Last week I wrote a retrospective review of 2017, predictions that were right and wrong, and lessons learned. This week I’m looking ahead to pinpoint dates and storylines that will shape the new year. I did this exercise last year, and it was quite prescient in finding storylines before they happened. As always with this administration, news cycles are dramatically short, so we can only fill in the broad contours of the year because there’s no telling where we’ll end up with all the smaller news cycles.
New this week at the Conservative Institute
This piece covers the protests in Iran and why the United States needs to push policies that support protesters. Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and any cover or support they’re getting from sympathetic western journalists is wrong. The column lays out some basic strategies the US can employ towards supporting the protestors.
A Look Forward to 2018 and What to Expect
I’m going to break this down into three sections for clarity’s sake: Unresolved 2017 storylines carrying over into the new year, new storylines, and finally, things that I do and don’t believe will happen. Also like my previous version, I’m basing part of my predictions off some of the excellent observations of Washington Post journalist James Hohmann’s “The Daily 202” email newsletter. He wrote a series of 100 questions that will define the new year. I’ll dig into some of those and add some of my own.
Unresolved storylines from 2017
The Mueller Russia Probe
Without question, the number one story/scandal entering the new year is Robert Mueller’s Russia tampering investigation. You could make arguments for other issues and stories being more decisive, but nothing else will dominate the year, and the midterm elections, quite like this investigation.
The conventional wisdom in Washington DC is that Mueller won’t let the investigation run for the entire year. Similar to James Comey, he’ll want the probe wrapped up before the midterm elections so he can avoid saying his investigation helped one party over the other. The expectation is that you can presume some form of finality by the summer or before the elections. I think there’s some truth to that logic. But I also believe there’s a chance the investigation goes longer than expected, primarily because the legal system can be slower than anyone anticipates.
If we do get a final report from Mueller, I’m not expecting fireworks. I’m presuming a Comey-like statement, similar to Clinton’s email scandal. There should be plenty of evidence to prosecute people like Manafort, Flynn, and the rest, but I don’t anticipate it touching Trump. The looming question is if it affects Jared Kushner or one of the Trump sons. I suspect Kushner is in Mueller’s crosshairs, but I’ve yet to see anything connecting the probe to Trump.
Another date to watch: May 1st. That’s when James Comey publishes his tell-all book. Like any book, you can expect early copies and excerpts to get released early to create buzz. Depending on what is in it, you can anticipate the book to drive the news for at least a week or two. If it’s damning, it could push Mueller to investigate further, though I’d be surprised if it deviated considerably from Comey’s public testimony.
Congress has some big tasks ahead of it
There’s no escaping the storm awaiting Congress as it returns from Christmas break. There are multiple first of the year deadlines facing them. In the first three months alone, Congress has to deal with the following hot-button issues:
- Avert a government shutdown before January 19th. Congress passed a temporary patch to keep things open until January 19th, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they did that again. But eventually, they have to pass something that keeps the government funded for the rest of the year.
- Decide if they’ll touch DACA in an election year as they promised
- Decide if they’ll keep CHIP, the government insurance assistance program for children, funded.
- And overhaul immigration like McConnell claimed by the end of January.
And, to top it off, Trump’s State of the Union address falls on January 30th, where I’m 99.9% sure he’s going to ask for a massive infrastructure spending plan like he’s been wanting for some time. Which means after slashing taxes, Republicans will have to decide on whether they’ll vote with the President on a massive spending plan (I suspect they will, which will be the final nail in the coffin for deficit hawks).
The reality of the situation is that they’ll have to do most of this before the summer because the entire House will be focused their election chances, in a year where Democrats are expecting a wave election. All of the above legislative issues were punted to 2018, and eventually, you have to deal with some of these problems.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned Obamacare repeal. That’s because I don’t expect anyone in the House or Senate to touch the subject this year. A full-scale repeal and replacement of Obamacare requires support from the Democratic Party. And Democrats have no incentive to help Republicans on that task in a year when they’re expecting to retake the House. Obamacare will live and make it to 2019.
The Small Stories We Never Resolved or Answered
Three stories were discussed a lot, but never resolved:
- The threat of a nuclear North Korea. There’s a lot of talk, but no action. Does the bluster continue?
- Racial tensions after Charlottesville. America hasn’t dealt with race tensions since the events in Virgina. Every year has brought some evil event that inflames tensions again.
- The Las Vegas shooting. We never learned the shooter’s motives or an official story of what happened. At this point, it’s beyond a strange tale and venturing into the absurd. The number of conspiracy theories are ridiculous but underline a key point: we need to know what happened. Congressional Democrats tried pushing the gun control narrative in the wake of an event they can’t even explain. Las Vegas remains unexplained.
I don’t know how the United States will deal with these issues moving forward, but I’m praying it’s better than it was in 2017.
New Storylines to Expect in 2018
The 2018 Midterm Elections
The significant storyline of the year is also the most obvious: the midterm elections. Everything politically will build itself around a narrative of how something helps or hurts one of the parties in the midterms. The American media enjoys the horserace / sports-pre-game mentality of an election year. So you can expect increasing coverage of the midterms and more ads.
Here are some things to watch for: 1) Retirements, especially for the next month. That tells us whether or not Republicans believe this wave is survivable. 2) Trump’s approval ratings rising or sinking. He probably needs to hit around 43% approval to give Republicans a fighting chance. 3) How the 2020 Democratic field positions itself. Perry Bacon Jr. has an excellent piece at FiveThirtyEight measuring how liberal politicians are positioning themselves via legislative votes to oppose Trump. If fighting Trump is popular, they’ll use those congressional votes as a messaging tool in 2018.
Electoral fundamentals point to Democrats having a baseline ability to win somewhere between 30-40 seats in the House. If they underperform 40 seats, it’s a weak wave election. And while the huge number of people signing up to run for office as Democrats suggests high engagement, Democrats have a funding crisis right now. So while they’ll have the candidates, they may not be able to fund many candidates, which could hamper their prospects. It’s an interesting divide between the activist and donor classes in the Democratic Party.
I’m predicting a wave election in the house with Republicans losing at least 40 seats, and losing broad support in suburban districts. The Senate is a toss-up right now. Trump needs to improve his approval ratings quickly.
Culture wars continue to rule the day
As I said above, I believe we’ll see continuing fights over race. Nothing has changed since the Charlottesville rallies to suggest we’ll avoid another bout of unrest. Along with that, the Supreme Court is expected rule on the Masterpiece Cake baker case, where a gay couple is suing to force a baker to violate his religious beliefs.
Rumors are swirling again, in the legal world, that this could be Anthony Kennedy’s last year on the bench. And he could be the one to write the Masterpiece opinion. I’m expecting that decision later in the spring term, likely one of the last cases released. And if Kennedy does retire, that will bring ideological makeup of the Court front and center once again.
Finally, I’m expecting Trump to continue his public Twitter feuds with random celebrities, news organizations, politicians, and others. We know he’ll have words to say about Comey when his book comes out on May 1st. We know Trump will have plenty to say about former aide Omarosa when she releases her tell-all. Add those on top of other books getting published, plus his new feud with Steve Bannon and you have plenty of fodder for the President.
None of the culture war boiling points will die down in 2018. The stage is already set for more hot spots to erupt.
Things that won’t happen in 2018
- Trump will not be impeached in 2018. Democrats don’t have the numbers and Republicans wouldn’t open the impeachment process in an election year, it’d be electoral suicide.
- The 25th Amendment will not impeach Trump. It’s en vogue right now among Democrats to talk about the President’s mental health, say that it’s slipping, and talk excitedly about how the 25th Amendment could remove Trump from office. It’s not going to happen. It’s all a fever dream by people out of touch with reality.
- Nuclear war will not break out. Launching nuclear weapons is very serious and sobering, and no one wins in the end. North Korea depends on its nuclear program to survive. Launching those weapons ends their regime.
- Trump will not resign.
- Immigration reform.
- Obamacare repeal.
Things that could happen in 2018
- Israeli strike of Iran in some way. Iran is a direct nuclear threat to Israel. If the Iranian regime collapses or goes into disarray, don’t be surprised to see a joint military operation where Israel and Saudi Arabia neuter Iran’s program. It would draw condemnation from the international community, but would also likely stabilize the region.
- Cryptocurrencies continue to grow, and real solutions using blockchain are discovered. Bitcoin will be the headliner, but other cryptocurrencies will be the real story. Examples are Ripple (market cap of more than $100 billion) and Ethereum. I think this is true even if there’s a large-scale collapse in cryptocurrency prices. Blockchain technology is real and capable of solving problems. Similar to the dot-com bubble burst, that didn’t disprove the internet as a viable technology, only that companies were overvalued. We’re watching a similar bubble now. (full disclosure, I do have some small investment in cryptocurrencies).
Best links of the web
Donald Trump Evicted Elizabeth Warren from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – Ronald Rubin, The Weekly Standard
“OH MY GOD, THIS IS SO F—ED UP”: INSIDE SILICON VALLEY’S SECRETIVE, ORGIASTIC DARK SIDE: Some of the most powerful men in Silicon Valley are regulars at exclusive, drug-fueled, sex-laced parties—gatherings they describe not as scandalous, or even secret, but as a bold, unconventional lifestyle choice. Yet, while the guys get laid, the women get screwed. In an adaptation from her new book, Brotopia, Emily Chang exposes the tired and toxic dynamic at play. – Emily Chang, Vanity Fair
Poland Refuses to Read from the Eurocrats’ Script – Michael Brendan Dougherty
100 Years. 100 Million Lives. Think Twice. – Laura M. Nicolae, The Harvard Crimson
Jeremy Corbyn was paid by an Iranian state TV station that was complicit in the forced confession of a tortured journalist – http://www.businessinsider.de/jeremy-corbyn-paid-iran-press-tv-tortured-journalist-2016-6?r=UK&IR=TAdam Payne, Business Insider
It’s Time to Decriminalize Marijuana – David French, National Review
The Rise and Precipitous Fall of Steve Bannon – Jonah Goldberg, National Review
Breitbart News Board Considers Dumping Bannon. They’d Be Fools Not To Do So. – Ben Shapiro, The Daily Wire
Why Things Have Gotten So Weird – Jonah Goldberg, National Review
Why latest Trump ‘bombshells’ may be too good to be true – John Podhoretz, The New York Post
More Iran Nonsense From the New York Times: Understanding the regime’s narrative. – Sohrab Ahmari, Commentary Magazine
Satire piece of the week
INDIANAPOLIS, IN—A scheduled speech on global warming and climate change was cancelled by Al Gore after a severe deep freeze resulting in record cold temperature conditions swept across the country.
The man who suggested the northern polar ice cap could be completely gone by 2013 stated he regretfully had to cancel as many people were snowed in or unable to make the speech thanks to freezing, unsafe road conditions.
Thanks for reading!