Bloom Briefing 34: A 2018 Renaissance

On this Martin Luther King Day, greetings from a reinitiation of The Bloom Briefing. During the autumn, life, as it is often wont, got in the way of regular writing. I hope in this new iteration of the Bloom Briefing, to write with near-weekly regularity (though I may miss some weeks here and there). It may often be composed more of interesting and provocative links than my own commentary, but I’ll begin the year by offering my perspective on the three biggest political stories I’m paying attention to: Mueller-Trump and what happens to Trump's presidency; the unfortunately-already-beginning 2020 presidential campaign; the 2018 mid-term elections.

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What Happens with the Mueller Investigation? Will/Can Trump Run Again in 2020?

Trump’s first term in office can end in one of seven ways. 1) He dies. 2) He is impeached. 3) He resigns. 4) Pence and the Cabinet invoke the 25th amendment. 5) He decides not to run again. 6) He decides to run again and loses the Republican nomination. 7) He decides to run again and loses the general election.

The outcome of the Mueller investigation will influence the likelihood of several of these possibilities. I still think there’s a not inconsequential probability that Mueller obtains indubitable evidence that the Trump campaign had some kind of agreement with the Russians – we’ll call this the “active collusion” scenario. In such a scenario, the probability of Trump resigning or being impeached likely goes up. There are Republicans in the Senate (McCain, Graham, Flake, Corker, Sasse, Collins, Murkowski, and even Rubio) who may be on board with impeachment if Mueller can demonstrate active collision.

The more likely outcome of the Mueller investigation, it seems (though, admittedly, we don’t know that much about what the investigation is turning), is probably clear and compelling evidence of financial misdeeds. A recent BuzzFeed News investigation found that over 20% of condos sold at Trump-owned or Trump-branded properties were purchased in all-cash transactions by anonymous buyers. These, it points out, are the kinds of deals through which money is laundered.

We know that Trump had significant business dealings with Russia. We know that he didn’t want his tax returns to be made public. We know Mueller has his financial records. We know Mueller went after Manafort for money laundering. Mueller finding evidence of Trump laundering money doesn’t seem like a stretch. The question is whether Republicans, even in the event that Mueller can demonstrate that Trump or the Trump Organization had clearly illegal financial transactions, would accede to the demands of justice, and prosecute Trump for the uncovered crimes.

Who’s running for president in 2020?

This year should provide some better information as to who is really running for president in 2020. (Here are some handy things to look out for.) There are certainly going to be many established Democratic politicians, the likeliest candidates right now being a group of seven senators: Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Corey Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Sherrod Brown, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders.

There are surprisingly few governors being talked about as potential candidates: John Hickenlooper from Colorado and Andrew Cuomo from New York are the obvious candidates, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see others run. Outgoing Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, sitting California governor Jerry Brown and potentially others.

Then there are the other politicians. Certainly some House Democrats will run. Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan and Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro have gotten a fair bit of press lately, but many others without the national name recognition yet may enter the race. California Attorney General and former Congressman Xavier Becerra has long been talked about as a potential presidential candidate. Bill DeBlasio has been to Iowa, something without obvious relation to his role as New York City Mayor. Two or more former Obama Administration secretaries, including DNC Chair Tom Perez, who was strongly considered for vice presidential candidate under Hillary Clinton in 2016, and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro (Joaquin’s brother), may well also run.

Then, of course, there are the celebrities who may use their independent wealth to fund a campaign. Mark Zuckerberg has also been to Iowa recently. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or Mark Cuban or some other billionaire decide to run. The most intriguing and new possibility is Oprah Winfrey, who gave a speech to accept a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes last week that was as good an introduction to oneself as a political figure as I can imagine. If you haven’t watched the speech yet, you should, and you should watch to the end.

I am sure there are many other potential Democratic candidates I haven't named, but there is also the question of whether any serious Republican challenge to Trump emerges. Will the Republicans resigning from Congress (see below for more on that) work with some of the more outspoken anti-Trump Republican governors (e.g., John Kasich) to run a challenger to Trump in the Republican primary.

What Happens with the 2018 Mid-Term Elections?

2018 is a big year for elections. One-third of Senate seats are up for election, as is, of course, the entire House of Representatives. Additionally, there are many important state and local elections as well. Will the elections be fair and free? Will Trump manufacture a crisis that creates uncertainty and suppresses the vote? Will millions of black and brown voters be disenfranchised through voter purges and unnecessary long lines? Assuming to tyrannical chicanery (which, sadly, remains an ‘if’), here are some preliminary thoughts on the elections.

Despite a climate that is overwhelmingly favorable for Democrats, it may be difficult for them to make gains in the Senate. Of the 34 seats to be contested in 2018, only eight are currently occupied by Republicans. Of course, if Democrats can win a Senate seat in Alabama, they can compete everywhere, but holding on to 26 seats, including in Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, and West Virginia will be a challenge, and that “difficult” list doesn’t include seats in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Maine, and Florida.

The best “pickup” opportunities for Democrats are in Arizona and Nevada. In Arizona, Jeff Flake announced he wouldn’t be running again several months ago, in part because he can’t stand Trump and probably in part because he would struggle to get reelected. A possible Republican Joe Arpaio nomination (he announced his candidacy this week) could drive up turnout on the left in a state that Trump won by less than 4% of the vote. In Nevada, Dean Heller’s flip-flop-flip-flop-flip on whether or not to support various Affordable Care Act repeals will likely land him in hot water in a state where Democrats have an impressive get-out-the-vote operation.

The Democrats also probably have very outside shots at Tennessee and Texas. Tennessee is quite similar to Arizona, where much like Jeff Flake, Bob Corker announced he wouldn’t seek reelection. If Democrats can recruit a good candidate to run, Tennessee may be in play. So, too, may Texas, where Ted Cruz is up for reelection. Cruz has managed to keep a relatively low profile nationally in the last year, but he is hated by the left, and if Democrats can recruit a good candidate there (one of the Castro brothers?), the campaign against Cruz will get significant funding and national attention. Texas, remember, is a state Trump carried by a margin of less than 10%.

Complicating matters further is Mitt Romney running to replace Orrin Hatch in Utah, where Hatch has announced he won’t seek reelection. Romney has been one of the most vocal conservative critics of Trump, and Utah is a state where Trump is unusually unpopular, indicating it might be a state where an anti-Trump Republican could get elected. Would Romney sometimes vote with the 49 Democrats in the Senate? If so, the number of pickups required for Democrats to impede the most odious parts of Trump’s agenda would be reduced by one.

At the moment, the House actually looks like the easier chamber to flip. A wave of Republicans have announced retirements in recent months, and the generic ballot, a poll used to measure the relative strength of the two parties, currently estimates Democrats have a 10-point advantage. This article from 538 may be helpful making sense of how to turn generic ballot polling into estimates for how many seats Democrats would pick up. Another such article (from Larry Sabato’s “Crystal Ball”) suggests Democrats need a 4-point margin in the national House vote to produce the 1-seat majority necessary to retake control of the House.

Additional Reading:

At the height of the #MeToo movement, a woman created a Google Doc to allow women to anonymously post about men in media they found dangerous. On the verge of having her identity revealed without her consent, she penned an excellent article at The Cut explaining why she created the document.

In November, Adam Serwer wrote a magnificent feature story for the Atlantic about race and politics in contemporary America and her recent past. As a teaser: “The specific dissonance of Trumpism—advocacy for discriminatory, even cruel, policies combined with vehement denials that such policies are racially motivated—provides the emotional core of its appeal. It is the most recent manifestation of a contradiction as old as the United States, a society founded by slaveholders on the principle that all men are created equal.”

At Politico, Mark Oppenheimer wrote a fascinating story on three young activists driving Alaska’s leftward shift.

David Leonhardt and Ian Prasad Philbrick have pulled together a list of Trump’s various instances of racism all in one place. It is a quite useful list in the event you find yourself in need of evidence to convince someone of what should be a non-controversial statement of fact: Trump is a racist.

At the New Yorker, Timothy Keller wonders whether Evangelicalism can survive Trump (and Roy Moore).

Last fall, the Cincinnati Enquirer published a feature report on the heroin epidemic. It chronicles an entire week in the region’s heroin news.