Stranger Things in Alabama

by Jim Geraghty

Making the click-through worthwhile: Trying to figure out just what’s wrong with Senator Luther Strange, the Republicans prep for the fight on tax cuts, the legacy of German chancellor Angela Merkel takes a dark turn, and the underwhelming Star Trek: Discovery.

The Moore-Strange Race Cannot Get Any More. . . Strange

Happy primary day, Alabama Republicans. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

So what exactly is the argument against the incumbent, Senator Luther Strange? What has he done in office to make Alabama Republicans decide they need a change?

He’s voted in agreement with President Trump’s position about 92 percent of the time. He disagreed on imposing sanctions on Russia, a vote where only 2 senators voted “no.” He voted against the 2017 fiscal year appropriations bill, declaring, “Planned Parenthood and sanctuary cities will continue to receive federal funding, while our nation’s aging military arsenal will still have to keep tightening its belt.” (The Senate passed it anyway, 79 to 18.)

Perhaps the fairest gripe is Strange’s flip-flop on the filibuster. In April, Strange wrote a letter to McConnell and Chuck Schumer, urging they “preserve existing rules, practices and traditions as they pertain to the rights of Members to engage in extended debate on legislation before the United States Senate.”

Earlier this month — as the primary race was heating up — Strange changed his mind: ”I respectfully withdraw my signature from the aforementioned letter and instead make a declaration that it is necessary for Republican Senate Leadership to work to change the filibuster rule, as President Trump as requested, and give the American people’s Senators the opportunity to debate on any legislation that can receive a simple majority vote.”

I occasionally hear, “Strange is McConnell’s guy!” But it shouldn’t surprise anyone that McConnell has a closer relationship with the senator he’s worked with for the past six months than Roy Moore. And of course McConnell is going to support keeping the incumbent in office; that’s how a majority leader ensures he still has a majority! Incumbent Republicans support other incumbent Republicans; complaining about that is like complaining about the rain.

During their moderator-free debate, Moore suggested that McConnell is somehow manipulating the president to abandon his agenda:

“The problem is President Trump’s being cut off in his office,” Moore said. “He’s being redirected by people like McConnell who do not support his agenda, who will not support his agenda in the future. I think we need to go back and look at these things. And look at what’s going on. This is the most unbelievable race I have ever been in.”

(Have you noticed how little Trump is held accountable for his own decisions? It’s always some bad outside influence that somehow Jedi mind-tricked Trump into making a decision against his own interest and agenda: McConnell, Paul Ryan, Jared Kushner, Ivanka . . .  Where does the buck stop, again?)

Is it just that Roy Moore has a better flair for the dramatic?

Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore drew a handgun from his pocket during a campaign rally on Monday as he made a final push to sway voters ahead of the state’s Republican runoff for U.S. Senate on Tuesday.

Moore — who’s vying for the Republican Senate nomination against the incumbent, Sen. Luther Strange — pulled the gun out in an effort to convince voters that he believes in the Second Amendment, or the right to bear arms.

“It’s been very hard for my wife and myself to wither two, nearly three months of negative ads that we couldn’t answer with money because we didn’t have it. Ads that were completely false. That I don’t believe in the Second Amendment,” Moore, a former chief justice, moments before he pulled out the handgun.

The good news is, his finger is not on the trigger. Remember, everyone:

Always treat all guns as if they are loaded.

Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to kill.

Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target (and you are prepared to shoot).

Be sure of your target and what is beyond it or behind it.

If Alabama Republicans genuinely believe that Moore is “conservative” and Strange isn’t, it confirms the notion that “conservative” no longer measures ideology, policy positions, philosophy or ideas. It’s all about attitude and style now.

Would a Roy Moore victory mean trouble for other Senate incumbents? Maybe, but these circumstances may not be easily replicated: Roy Moore is much better known than a lot of Senate primary challengers, and the runoff law helps him a lot.

“There are those who think that the potential success of Moore’s candidacy could be a jumping off point for insurgent challengers to sitting GOP senators in 2018,” said Geoffrey Skelley, associated editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which is produced at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“However, each race will have its own idiosyncrasies and different candidates with certain strengths and weaknesses,” said Skelley. “A Moore win will galvanize insurgent forces in the GOP, but it wouldn’t necessarily guarantee the start of something bigger.”

He noted that 2018 races in Nevada and Arizona will likely feature insurgent candidates facing incumbents who have been critical of Trump. Neither of those states, however, have primary runoffs and only a plurality is needed to win.

“Funny enough, additional candidates in states like Arizona and Nevada might help the GOP incumbents by fragmenting the anti-incumbent vote,” he said.

Ask Lindsey Graham. Every Senate incumbent prefers three to six primary rivals instead of just one.

Enough Repeal-and-Replace Disappointment. On to Tax Cuts!

Who’s ready for a big argument about tax cuts?

This week’s planned release of a unified GOP blueprint from the Senate, the House and the Trump administration marks the beginning of a race to a tax overhaul that will likely take months to complete. The plan will call for driving down the corporate tax rate into the low 20% range, from 35%, according to a person familiar with the discussions. It will also likely include a doubling of the standard deduction that would benefit many individual filers, lower individual rates, fewer tax brackets and sharply reduced rates for “pass-through” business owners who pay tax on business income through their individual returns.

The tax rates laid out in the plan will present achievable guideposts that could shift as tax bills move through the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee, the person said.

Republicans also have said they want to eliminate the estate tax, repeal the alternative minimum tax, expand write-offs for business investments and reduce taxes on U.S. corporate foreign profits.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, if you add up the sum of all the taxes Republicans want to cut, you get $5 trillion over a decade, but Republicans budgeted for $1.5 trillion over a decade in their latest budget resolution, aiming to keep the annual deficits manageable. You may see these tax cuts phased in over time, instead of going into effect immediately.

Merkel’s Legacy in Germany Gets Murkier and Messier

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen no doubt has deep admiration for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But his “she will be remembered as one of the great German leaders” conclusion is discordant with the opening paragraphs:

The enduring image of an election that saw Merkel win a fourth term as chancellor will not be her drawn face during the televised post-vote debate. It will be an exultant Alexander Gauland, a leading politician of the extremist Alternative for Germany (or AfD) party, vowing to “take back our country and our Volk!”

 . . . The arrival in Parliament, for the first time in decades, of about 94 members of a party that flirts with neo-Nazism, expresses pride in the Wehrmacht soldiers of World War II, and hails once more the German Volk constitutes a shattering of the accepted political contours of the Republic. There will be a before and an after.

Germany will be angrier and more turbulent. Taboos have fallen. The forces taking down mainstream parties in Western democracies are well known by now. They are fear of the future, of immigrants, of Islam and of terrorism; and anger at impunity, inequality and the arrogance of a globalized elite. Germany was not immune to them.

This reminds me of the insistence by some commentators on the Left that Obama was a remarkably successful, healing, inspiring, ground-breaking, near-ideal president . . .  whose country inexplicably turned ignorant, angry, racist and extremist on his watch.

ADDENDA: CBS is attempting to launch a new streaming service with the show Star Trek: Discovery. The pilot aired Sunday, the first time a Star Trek program appeared on a major television network since 1969. (Sorry, Voyager, I said a major television network and the short-lived UPN doesn’t count.) The rest of the episodes only available with a subscription to the new streaming service. Creating a good television series pilot is hard enough; this one faced a supreme degree of difficulty: offer a first hour so thrilling and intriguing that people would pay extra to see the second hour that resolves the cliffhanger.

I didn’t subscribe; that first hour was awful.

The protagonist felt like a grab-bag of tropes and clichés: traumatic memories of murdered parents, raised by Vulcans, trying to live up to the high expectations of a stern mentor/father figure, impulsive, but fighting the impulse for revenge against the Klingons. The Science Officer might as well have been named “Kvetching Worrywart” and was insufferable. The captain and first officer kept stepping off the bridge to have confrontations or heart-to-hearts. (This could have been played for laughs if the rest of the crew heard them yelling through the wall. Fox’s Star Trek parody show, The Orville, would have done something like that.) One of the revelations of the first hour is that the Vulcans figured out how to reach peace with the Klingons by relentlessly preemptively attacking them until the Klingons were willing to negotiate, which is . . .  either really bold storytelling, or just ignoring everything else Star Trek has shown about Vulcans since the beginning.

Is it possible we were wrong about Kathryn Jean Lopez’s “Star Trek ban” in the Corner all along?

The Morning Jolt

By Jim Geraghty