Welcome to the inaugural edition of Midterm Matters – my new blog as a Visiting Fellow at USSC.
Every Monday, I'll dive behind the headlines with some insights and things to watch as America prepares to vote in the midterm elections on November 6.
1. Hurricanes can be potent politically, too
The emergency, rescue and recovery crews do heroic work, but sometimes there are failures: Katrina in 2005, especially in New Orleans, and the two hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico last year. President George W. Bush was held responsible for the rescue and recovery failures in New Orleans – he was seen as not competent – and it became a metaphor for the last years of his presidency. In the 2006 midterms, a year after Katrina, he lost control of both houses of Congress.
President Trump is to go to North Carolina later this week; how he is received will be a mini-referendum on his hurricane crisis management. If he faces frustration and anger, it will hurt Republicans at the polls next month. In Puerto Rico, with a loss of life from Maria roughly equal to the death toll from 9/11, not only are islanders angry, but approximately 75,000 Puerto Ricans have relocated to Florida. As Americans, they can vote of course – in Florida. This may have long term implications for 2020, but it could also affect the Senate race in Florida, where the very formidable former governor, Rick Scott, is taking the fight aggressively against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, who to date has not looked especially dynamic. Nelson may be rescued by those Puerto Ricans who fled Maria’s aftermath and now call Florida home.
2. After the Manafort plea deal
On the issue of collusion – or more properly, a conspiracy to engage with a foreign power to interfere with the presidential election of 2016, which is a crime – the remaining piece of the Mueller probe puzzle to solve is the degree to which Americans conspired and worked with Russia.
The Russians in the GRU who directed the interference in the campaign have been indicted, along with those who worked the social media or "information warfare" campaign. So, were there Americans who worked with the Russians? With all the principals (Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen, George Papadopoulous) who were central to the Trump campaign having now pleaded guilty – all the key senior campaign officials except for Trump family members – those cooperating with Mueller are in a position to confirm or deny whether any such collusion with the Russians occurred, and if so, whether Trump knew about it and condoned it.
This suggests we may be close to the end of the Mueller probe.
It does not make sense – it never does. Trump will likely get US$1.6 billion – not $5 billion – for "The Wall", his biggest priority. That is the deal cut by the leaders in both the House and Senate. If Trump takes it, no drama. If he gags on it – and that will turn on the reaction of the Steve Bannon-Stephen Miller-Fox News siren song to the base – the country could have a shutdown crisis a month before the midterm elections. That would be very reminiscent of the economic crisis that gripped the nation in October 2008 as markets crashed. President Obama won a crushing victory that November. The party that controls Congress and the White House wears any budget crisis.
4. This week’s cautionary tale
What is it with politicians who can’t get food right? George H. W. Bush was fascinated by the supermarket scanner. Never seen it before. That rendered him out of touch to all supermarket shoppers, and he lost re-election in 1992. Now comes Cynthia Nixon, running for the Democratic nomination for governor of New Yawk, going to Zabar’s on the Upper West Side, proximate to the High Holy Days, and ordering… a cinnamon raisin bagel with nova and a shmear and some capers. Vey iz mir! Andrew Cuomo carried Manhattan with 57.5 per cent of the vote. She got cream-cheesed.