NOTUS: Democrats Say Georgia Looks Bleak for Biden. Can North Carolina Save Him?

I spoke to Alex Roarty for the inaugural story of his upstart outlet NOTUS, the newsroom of the Albritton Journalism Institute. We discussed Dem fears of a Georgia snapback, and the possibility of the Biden campaign seeking to expand the map to North Carolina as an alternative electoral path.

“Hillary went searching in 2016 for her multiple paths, and in some ways, let her guard down on what should have been their wall,” said Liam Donovan, a veteran GOP strategist.

“The tension here is, as the president’s standing looks shaky, what is your inclination? Is it to double down on the places where he won in 2020? Or is it to find creative ways to lean into the emerging Democratic coalition?”

Read the full piece here, and subscribe at NOTUS.org.

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POLITICO Mag: The GOP Brain Trust on Why the Party Lost So Big

I was asked by POLITICO Magazine to contribute a snap reaction to the off-year election results, and what Republicans can take away from the experience. It’s a good variety of perspectives, though I think I’m the only one who went the realpolitik route.

Read the full piece here.

My take:

Democrats had a strong night on Tuesday across the board, a morale-boosting affair that will sooth concerns over the increasingly shaky Presidential polling. While the results largely lined up with survey data, Republicans failed to live up to outsized expectations predicated on expanding from their 2021 success, which now registers as a blip in retrospect. The unmistakable pattern of the Trump era is that of Democrats becoming the party that excels in low turnout elections, while GOP fortunes are increasingly tied to low propensity voters who only tune into national elections.

What this off-year success can’t assuage — and at some level serves to exacerbate — is the creeping sense that, despite a favorable environment and galvanizing issue matrix, the growing public malaise surrounding President Biden leaves him singularly vulnerable to defeat. For the time being, voters are telling pollsters that they’d even prefer former President Trump, despite his own immense baggage and unpopularity. Age, inflation, and disaffection among key voter groups all have taken their toll, and an overwhelming share of Democrats profess to want someone new as their nominee, even if they can’t agree who that should be.

As we hurtle toward the primary season, Republicans continue to wrestle with the same paradox that has gripped them since that fateful ride down the escalator — Donald Trump is at once the cause of and solution to all of the party’s problems. If he behaves himself, acts rationally, and keeps the attention on Biden and his myriad issues, Trump could maintain his current advantage, turning out unlikely voters without turning off the persuadable habitual voters who decide elections. Of course, that’s not who Donald Trump is, and a campaign punctuated by high-profile courtroom drama will place him front and center in voters’ lives in a way we haven’t experienced in nearly three years. So long as Trump is the presumptive nominee, no lead is safe, even as Biden’s manifest weakness makes the race a true toss-up. If they’re not prepared to move on from the former president — and the base is clearly inclined to double down — Republicans have to harness Trump’s red state strength and capitalize on a favorable Senate map, where wins in West Virginia, Montana and Ohio would ensure control of at least one lever of power for years to come.

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NYT: Trump’s Rivals Battle Each Other, and His Aura of Inevitability, as Next Debate Approaches

I spoke with Maggie Haberman for her New York Times piece with Shane Goldmacher on the inability (or unwillingness) of Donald Trump’s GOP opponents to break out of a 2016 redux.

The primary is obviously not over, despite the Trump team’s attempt to brand it as the race for “first place loser.” Polls often shift late. No votes have been cast. 

Yet Mr. Trump’s fractured opposition, and the persistent focus on one of them emerging as the leading “Trump alternative,” echo the dynamics of his first run in 2016, when his rivals spent millions of dollars on ads attacking each other while he marched to the nomination.

“At least that was a viable strategy then,” said Sarah Isgur, who was a top adviser to Carly Fiorina’s presidential campaign that year. “Because at least if you knocked out everyone, you could have beaten Trump. That’s not true this time. Even if you got a one-on-one race, I don’t see the math.”

Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist, said Mr. Trump’s rivals appeared to be mindlessly repeating the mistakes of the past. “Despite what has amounted to a rerun, Trump’s challengers seem determined not to try anything new at all,” he said.

Read the full piece here.

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NYT: Matt Gaetz Created a Win-Win Situation for Himself

I wrote a piece for the New York Times today breaking down Republicans’ three week demolition derby, what, if anything, the election of Mike Johnson solved (beyond a personnel problem of their own making), and the ongoing streak of win-win propositions engineered by the chaos caucus.

The upshot:

Taking a cue from Mr. Gaetz, the hard-liners have decided to take the win, at least for the time being. There are early signs that Mr. Johnson may be treated with a level of political grace not afforded to other hopefuls. Asked about a potential stopgap spending measure, the House Freedom Caucus chairman, Scott Perry, acknowledged as much to CNN’s Manu Raju. “It’s a different situation now. There was a trust factor with leadership last time,” Mr. Perry said. “I think you’re going to see a different viewpoint now.”

To the extent Mr. Johnson does find himself quickly in hot water, he can simply blame McCarthy and promise better outcomes in next year’s fiscal negotiations. But the underlying dynamics remain the same, as does the balance of power. While a narrow House majority offers negotiating leverage at the margin, anything that can become law must go through a Democratic-controlled Senate and be signed by President Biden. No hard-line tactics or clever strategies can compensate for the fact that Republicans need to win more elections to carry out their agenda.

Which is all to say that the continuing functioning of government requires the same leadership behavior that felled Mr. McCarthy and that as long as the wing of the party that precipitated this month’s bedlam maintains de facto veto power over the speaker and his ability to bring legislation to the floor, the incentives remain the same.

High-stakes tests are rapidly approaching, with a deadline on government funding and decisions about Ukraine and Israel aid, among other supplemental requests. Whatever happens, it will take bipartisan cooperation. And as long as modest bipartisan outcomes are enough to paralyze the legislative branch for weeks at a time, stability remains at the mercy of nihilist whims.

I hope you’ll read the whole thing (unlocked link here) and let me know what you think. We discussed all this and more at length on this week’s episode of The Lobby Shop.

So where do we go from here?

Speaker Johnson comes in with more goodwill, credibility, and room to maneuver than we might have guessed three weeks ago simply by virtue of how the process played out. And that may be good enough to get him through the mid-November deadline unscathed.

But at some point there will come a need to do long term (and supplemental) funding, so eventually these issues will come to a head. Whatever becomes law will happen with significant Democratic support by definition, and beyond changing who sits in the big chair it’s not clear why the Problem Causers will look more kindly on bipartisan apostasy more kindly when it’s coming from a bona fide conservative.

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NYT: Republicans Grapple With Being Speakerless, but Effectively Leaderless, Too

I spoke to Mike Bender of the New York Times for his piece on the politics of the ongoing Speaker vacuum.

The eight Republicans who voted to oust Mr. McCarthy, for example, are likely to face no backlash for plunging the party into disarray. As their message is amplified across conservative media, they’re more likely to see their political stars rise, with a boost in fund-raising and attention.

“What’s happening is you have people who don’t want to be led, but also want to engineer a situation where they can be betrayed and use that to rail against leadership,” said Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist and former National Republican Senatorial Committee aide.

Read the full piece here.

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