Now We're Going To Catch All You Little Fockers

Saturday Max Boot played Captain Obvious in a Washington Post OpEd, Trump is drowning in scandal. He can’t focus on Syria. Is that lucky for us? For the Syrians? Like many of us, the bombing raid on Syria is seen strictly as a Wag The Dog moment the regime decided toes if they could pull off.

It tells you something about the chaos engulfing the Trump administration that the U.S. airstrikes on Syria had to jostle for public attention with the voluminous news of the president’s scandals.

Friday began with President Trump labeling his former FBI director “an untruthful slime ball.” He was responding to James B. Comey’s new book, which calls Trump an “unethical” man “untethered to truth.” Such invective, both from and against a former FBI director, is unprecedented. But then it’s also groundbreaking for a former FBI director to say, as he did in an interview released Friday: “I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don’t know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It’s possible, but I don’t know.”

The purported “pee tape” Comey was referencing is an unconfirmed portion of the “Steele dossier” on links between Trump and the Kremlin. The dossier-- a summary of intelligence gathered by former British spy Christopher Steele for Trump opponents, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign-- received some further validation Friday from a McClatchy report that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has evidence that Trump’s private lawyer, Michael Cohen, visited the Czech Republic in the summer of 2016, just as Steele had indicated. Cohen has strongly denied he made the trip.

Friday also brought news that Cohen is under criminal investigation by the Justice Department for a litany of offenses. That same day, the deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee resigned after the disclosure that he had paid $1.6 million in hush money to a former mistress, a Playboy playmate, whom he had impregnated. The broker of the hush money was none other than Cohen. Later Friday, the Justice Department’s inspector general released a scathing report about Comey’s former No. 2, Andrew McCabe. Trump, who knows a thing or two about lying, crowed “He LIED! LIED! LIED!” and blamed the “made up” collusion probe on a “den of thieves and lowlifes” at the FBI-- which reports to him.

It is hard to imagine how Trump can do his job-- for example, approving military strikes on Syria-- while drowning in this rising tide of scandal. There is an old tradition, more honored in theory than fact, that issues of national security are kept separate from domestic politics, but Trump is utterly incapable of making any such distinction. For him, everything is political-- and all politics is personal.

Last Monday, while Trump was meeting with his generals and Cabinet members to plot strategy against Syria, he got sidetracked with a disturbing tirade against the FBI and the Justice Department for raiding Cohen’s office-- which he called a “real disgrace” and an “attack on what we all stand for.” The new national security adviser, John Bolton, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff sat ashen-faced as Trump unloaded on the career professionals of the Justice Department and FBI who, just like the armed forces, are pledged to defend the country against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Yet somehow dispassionate foreign policy analysts are supposed to put all this to the side and comment on the Syria strikes as if they were being undertaken by a president in his right mind. Okay, I’ll play along, if only briefly.

The airstrikes were the bare minimum that the United States could do to punish Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad for his use of chemical weapons. But it’s unlikely that they will dissuade him from future atrocities, any more than the previous “pinprick” airstrike in April 2017 did. Trump, who is oblivious to history and irony, actually boasted “Mission Accomplished!” But that triumphalist claim is even less likely to be vindicated than it was when President George W. Bush spoke beneath a giant “Mission Accomplished” banner on an aircraft carrier on May 1, 2003. Just as Bush had no Iraq plan in the spring of 2003, so today Trump has no Syria plan. In all likelihood, he will resume pressuring the Pentagon to withdraw U.S. troops, thus abandoning our Kurdish allies and handing a major victory to Assad and his Iranian and Russian backers.

But it’s hard to imagine that Trump, who in the best of times has the attention span of a hyperactive 8-year-old, can focus on strategy for Syria amid the far more pressing threats that he faces from an ever-expanding criminal investigation. If the United States had a parliamentary government, Congress could pass a motion of “no confidence,” thus allowing Trump to devote 100 percent of his attention to fighting the multiplying charges against him without the distractions of running the government. Instead, we must hope that the institutions of the U.S. government are strong enough to function more or less on autopilot while Trump is consumed by the wages of his own sins.

Boot doesn't get into what this is going to mean for candidates in the quickly approaching midterm elections. Democrats are counting on it meaning exactly what Trump's behavior has meant for candidates in the string of special elections that have seen mammoth swings away from the GOP. Oklahoma, one of the reddest states in America, has had 8 special elections since Trump occupied the White House. The average swing towards Democratic candidates has been 32 points. Another very red state, Missouri has had 9 special elections-- resulting in a 17.9 swing towards the Democrats. South Carolina has similar results-- 7 special elections and an average swing of 17.6 towards the Democrats. How about in a purple state? New Hampshire had 11 special elections and the average swing towards the Democrats has been 17.7 points. Another purple state, Iowa, was had 4 special elections-- with a 26.2% swing towards the Dems. Before Gov. Scott Walker announced he was suspending special elections-- since overturned by the judiciary-- Wisconsin had had 2 specials and the average swing away from the GOP was an astronomical 27.2 points.

Yesterday NBC News and the Wall Street Journal released a poll that shows why: Democratic enthusiasm... and lack of enthusiam from the GOP. Last Tuesday, Florida's 31st state Senate district had a special election to fill a very blue seat and everyone expected the Democrat to win. But it was much worse for the GOP than anyone expected. Democratic voter enthusiasm was sky high, while GOP desire to get to the polls flagged. The Palm Beach County special saw Democrat Lori Berman crush Republican Tami Donnally by a massive 74.8% to 25.2%, the highest share of the vote received by any Florida Democrat in at least a decade. The swing away from Trump in the 2016 presidential vote was very significant. In 2016 Hillary beat Trump 61.38% to 36.31%. Trump lost the 31st by around 25 points but onTuesday Donnally, the vice chair of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, lost by nearly 50%. Now that's a swing that screams "blue wave!" Donnally, in a prelude to November: "I’m disappointed more Republicans didn’t come out to vote. And I don’t know why."

The poll shows that the enthusiam gap Donnally was whining about is a nationwide gap-- "an advantage in intensity for Democrats." The poll shows a 7-point advantage for Democrats in congressional preference-- 47% of voters wanting a Democratic-controlled Congress and 40 % preferring a GOP-controlled Congress. That isn't such a big gap, but what is is the enthusiasm gap-- 66% of Democrats expressing a high level of interest (either a “9” or “10” on a 10-point scale) in November’s elections, versus 49% for Republicans. And among these high-interest voters, Democrats lead Republicans in congressional preference by 21 points, 57% to 36%. That's the death knell for Republicans in swing districts.

That this election is going to be a referendum on Trump, as it has been in special elections, is going to be catastrophic for Republican candidates, even well-funded incumbents. 40% of poll respondents said their November votes will be a message that more Democrats are needed to check and balance Trump and his enablers in the Republican-controlled Congress. (28% said that more Republicans are needed to help Trump pass his agenda.) Among independents who are registered to vote 27% wanted to send a message that checks and balances to Trump and congressional Republicans will help them decide how to vote, while among that same group, just 14% said they want Republicans to win so that they can help Trump and GOP leaders pass the Republican agenda.

This isn't going to matter in districts with overwhelming Republican majorities where the GOP doesn't need independent voters, like AL-04 (where Trump beat Hillary 80.4% to 17.4%), FL-01 (where Trump beat Hillary 67.5% to 28.2%), GA-09 (where Trump beat Hillary 77.8% to 19.3%), GA-14 (where Trump beat Hillary 75.0% to 22.1%), KY-05 (where Trump beat Hillary 79.6% to 17.5%), NE-03 (where Trump beat Hillary 74.9% to 20.0%), OK-03 (where Trump beat Hillary 73.6% to 20.9%), TN-01 (where Trump beat Hillary 76.7% to 19.7%) or TX-13 (where Trump beat Hillary 79.9% to 16.9%). In districts where independent voters decide elections though, Republicans are going to be wiped out. That's why so many Republicans, from Paul Ryan (WI-01), Darrell Issa (CA-49), Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) and Lamar Smith (TX-21) to Ryan Costello (PA-06), Pat Meehan (PA-07). Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) and Dave Trott (MI-11) are dropping out and retiring early. Expect more to follow.

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