The ‘Year of Paranoia’ for male politicians in 2018
by RUSS STEWART
Politics is not a profession or a vocation for the fainthearted. It involves the pursuit, acquisition and maintenance of power. And the men who play the game are usually alpha males, which is defined astronomically as being the brightest star in the constellation – not a beta, gamma or delta.
It is not uncommon for alpha male politicians to leave a trail of dumped, disgruntled, divorced and terminated former significant others, spouses and/or employees and staffers. Alpha male politicians are not particularly sensitive. And when it comes to personal relationships, alpha males tend to be domineering and obnoxious, and invariably offensive to somebody, somewhere, sometime in their life.
In the current paranoid political environment, a vindictive ex-girlfriend, a spouse or fired employee can potentially destroy any candidate at any time. Sexual harassment is a serious allegation, but now, even an allegation, even decades past, even if unsubstantiated or patently false, that hints at some sexual indiscretion, is now politically fatal.
Republican Roy Moore’s Dec. 12 loss for Alabama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat was not a repudiation of President Trump, as Alabama is an overwhelmingly Republican and conservative state. Trump won 1,318,255-729,547, a thumping margin of 588,708 votes, with Hillary Clinton getting 34.4 percent to Trump’s 62.1 percent. It is among the most Republican states in the nation, with not a single Democratic statewide officeholder until Dec. 12.
Democrat Doug Jones defeated Moore 671,151-650,436, a margin of 20,715, with 22,819 write-ins for other Republicans. The clear message was that voters are intolerant of flawed candidates, and that female voters are especially intolerant of men behaving badly. Also, the black vote turned out heavily in Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile, where an anti-Trump message got them energized.
In an election which had national implications, as it cut the Republicans’ Senate majority to 51-49, had massive Democratic expenditures, and had humongous national media coverage which portrayed Moore as a villainous sexual harasser and misfit, voter turnout declined from 2,047,802 in 2016 to 1,344,406 in 2017, a 34 percent drop. That is normal for elections in non-presidential years, such as 2018, but for a special election with only one office on the ballot, turnout was abnormally high. Democrats crow that Moore got 667,819 fewer votes than Trump, and Jones only 58,396 fewer votes than Clinton, meaning that the Democratic base is "energized." But the more plausible explanation is that 450,000 Trump voters didn’t vote, and about 200,000 voted for Jones.
Virginia’s governor’s election in November adds credence to this theory. The once-conservative state has grown markedly more liberal and Democratic in recent decades, due largely to the massive growth of the northern Virginia suburbs across from Washington, D.C., which have filled with federal government employees whose political predilections are liberal, and, coupled with a growing black population around Richmond, Norfolk and Southside Virginia, have made the state reliably Democratic. The Clinton-Kaine ticket, with the state’s senator for vice-president, won 1,981,473-1,769,443 in 2016, a margin of 212,030 votes in a turnout of 3,750,916. In 2017, Democratic lieutenant governor Ralph Northam beat Republican Ed Gillespie 1,405,041-1,173,326, in a turnout of 2,578,367, a margin of 231,715 – only slightly higher than Clinton’s 2016 spread.
Northam did not run an anti-Trump campaign, a concept that will not work on a state level. He simply focused on turning out the Democratic base. Gillespie’s campaign tried to motivate the conservative base by hyping crime and immigration issues, and he failed. In contests for the Virginia House, Republicans lost more than 20 seats, all in districts where Clinton won in 2016 or came close, and most in suburban areas. What is clear is that "independent" voters who broke for Clinton in 2016 are breaking against the Republicans. If that trend persists in 2018, it will be disastrous for the Republicans.
Further, any sexual harassment" backlash will fall most heavily on Republicans, as they have more men as candidates. When Minnesota’s Al Franken, and former "Saturday Night Live" writer and performer, had an offensive photograph taken before he was elected senator posted, he was pressured to resign. His replacement is a woman, Tina Smith. Congressman John Conyers of Michigan was also forced to resign over sexual harassment accusations, and Republicans Trent Franks and Blake Farenthold, both subjects of accusations, are also retiring.
Traditionally, mid-term elections break against the party holding the presidency, but there have been exceptions, such as in 2002. After Sept. 11, George Bush’s popularity was peaking, not declining. Republicans actually won seats. But other presidents – in 1966, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1994, 2010 and 2014 – saw their party get clobbered. At present, Trump’s popularity is definitely not peaking, even though the economy is booming, the stock market is up 25 percent since his election, and mortgage rates are down to 2.5 percent.
If Trump is to govern effectively during the last 2 years of his term, Republicans will have to retain their senate majority, which theoretically should not be difficult. Of the 32 senators up for election in 2018 (plus a special election in Minnesota), 25 are Democrats, and only eight are Republicans. Nevertheless, the 2018 environment looks almost rosy for the Democrats, largely because they have a multitude of women as candidates, and if any accusations of sexual harassment arise, it will be difficult for those candidates to get elected.
ARIZONA: Incumbent Jeff Flake (R), who has been outspokenly critical of the president, managed to alienate the party base and is retiring amid horrid poll numbers. Two congresswomen, Martha McSally (R), a former Air Force combat pilot, and Kyrsten Sinema (D) are running, and the race is a toss-up. Given senator John McCain’s brain cancer, it is likely that the 2018 loser will be well positioned for McCain’s seat at some future date.
NEVADA: Dean Heller (R) won an open seat in 2012 over a Democratic congresswoman by 11,576 votes, and faces Jacky Rosen in 2018. Nevada, with a surging Hispanic population, is trending Democratic, and elected a female Democrat as senator in 2016 by 26,231 votes, while Clinton won by 27,202 votes. Heller is definitely at risk.
MISSOURI: Trump won by 587,442 votes, and incumbent Claire McCaskill (D) has been politically blessed, winning an upset in the Democratic year of 2006, and then getting re-elected in 2012 when her anti-abortion Republican opponent made an ill-advised comment connecting rape and "God’s will." She won by 427,966 votes. She faces Josh Hawley, the state attorney general.
INDIANA: Joe Donnelly (D) is an accidental senator in a state where Vice-President Mike Pence, the former governor, is immensely popular. In fact, he might be president by Nov. 2018, or at some date prior to 2020. Donnelly won in 2012 by 147,560 votes because his Republican opponent made a stupid remark about rape and abortion. In 2016, Republicans swept every statewide office, and have a 7-2 congressional edge, and Trump-Pence won by 524,160 votes. Republican congressmen Luke Messer and Todd Rokita are seeking the senate nomination. Either should be able to beat Donnelly.
TENNESSEE: Bob Corker (R), the foreign affairs committee chairman and persistent Trump critic, is quitting. Trump won by 652,230 votes. Democrats have fielded popular former governor Phil Bredesen, and Republican have a primary between congresswoman Marsha Blackburn and former congressman Stephen Fincher. Republicans could have an all-female ticket, as congresswoman Diane Black is running for governor. If Tennessee goes Democratic, it will be a nationwide Republican bloodbath.
NEW YORK: Bring back the Kennedys? Rumors persist that Caroline Kennedy, the former ambassador to Japan during the Obama Administration, may run against incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand, who is preparing to run for president in 2020.
NEW JERSEY: Incumbent Robert Menendez’ 11-week trial for an 18-count indictment for bribery and corruption ended in a November mistrial. Lisa McCormick is opposing him in the Democratic primary. New Jersey voters, who are very tolerant, probably figure "What the heck? If he ain’t in jail, let’s keep him in the U.S. Senate."
FLORIDA: Bill Nelson (D) has been kicking around Florida politics since 1978, losing some and winning some. He won tough senate races against Republican congressmen in 2000, 2006 and 2012, the last by 1,065,184 votes. Trump won by 112,911 votes. Governor Rick Scott (R), who acquitted himself well during the Hurricane Katrina situation, is readying to run, and has the personal wealth to self-fund up to $5 million. In a Nelson-Scott race, the governor wins.
WISCONSIN: Tammy Baldwin (D) beat a former Republican governor by 166,978 votes in 2012, but has not distinguished herself. Trump won by 22,748 votes, and Governor Scott Walker will be on the ballot in 2018. The Republican senate candidate will be Leah Vukmir, a woman who has a 50/50 shot at winning.
OHIO: In an upset, Trump won Ohio by 446,841 votes. In 2012 Barack Obama won by 166,277 votes, and Sherrod Brown was re-elected senator by 227,978 over Josh Mandel (R), the state treasurer. They’re back for a 2018 rematch, with Brown favored.
TEXAS: Few Republicans are more hated by Democrats than Ted Cruz. But Cruz will win a second term in 2018, and will definitely be in the 2020 presidential mix.
2018 will be a nationalized, not a localized election. It will be all about Trump.