Politics & Policy

We’re about Five Weeks Away from the Next Big Omen for the 2018 Midterms

The next big political race on the horizon arrives March 13, when voters in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district go to the polls to replace former Representative Tim Murphy.

Fifty-nine-year-old GOP state legislator Rick Saccone faces against Democrat Conor Lamb, a 33-year-old former federal prosecutor and Marine veteran, and Republicans are more than a little nervous and going all out: “Republicans were outspending Democrats on TV by a ratio of nearly 5-to-1. The GOP push will only intensify: The Republican National Committee is set to invest about $1 million, much of it on digital, field and other get-out-the-vote activities.

This is the southwest corner of the state, including a portion of the southern suburbs of Pittsburgh. Under the current district lines — soon to be redrawn by the state supreme court — the district scores an R+11 and Trump won by 20 points. Murphy represented the region since 2003. By most standards, this ought to be a safe seat for Republicans . . . but one poll in January put Saccone up by twelve points, while another put him up by only three points.

After the mess of Election Day 2017 in New Jersey and Virginia, the debacle in Alabama, and various other Democratic wins in special elections, Republicans are learning the hard way not to take anything for granted.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC endorsed by House Republican leadership, today released its third television ad in the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, titled, “Out Of Touch.” The ad, part of CLF’s $1.7 million buy, slams Lamb for echoing Nancy Pelosi’s arguments while arguing against the recently-passed tax cuts.

Announcer: A $2,900-dollar middle-class tax cut for our community. Now businesses are giving workers raises and bonuses and creating jobs. Yet Nancy Pelosi and Conor Lamb are still opposing your tax cut. Lamb called it a complete betrayal. And Pelosi said . . . 

Nancy Pelosi: This is Armageddon.

Announcer: Middle-class tax cuts. Bonuses? Pay raises?

Pelosi: Crumbs. So pathetic.

Announcer: Pelosi and Lamb . . . Too out of touch. Too many taxes.

In early January, CLF opened two field offices in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district with 50 full-time door knockers, aiming to make 250,000 voter contacts in door-to-door efforts by Election Day in March.

Because we tend to over-interpret special elections, by Saint Patrick’s Day, a lot of pundits will cite this race and insist that the GOP tax cut is either a magic shield that will protect their majority or a political loser that can’t even save Republican candidates in once heavily pro-Trump districts. The stakes aren’t quite that high, but a Lamb victory, with the GOP going all-out, would indeed be a serious rattle in the engine heading into 2018.

Literal Marching Orders

Are you ready for a . . . different kind of parade later this year in Washington?

President Trump’s vision of soldiers marching and tanks rolling down the boulevards of Washington is moving closer to reality in the Pentagon and White House, where officials say they have begun to plan a grand military parade later this year showcasing the might of America’s armed forces.

Trump has long mused publicly and privately about wanting such a parade, but a Jan. 18 meeting between Trump and top generals in the Pentagon’s tank — a room reserved for top-secret discussions — marked a tipping point, according to two officials briefed on the planning.

Surrounded by the military’s highest-ranking officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Trump’s seemingly abstract desire for a parade was suddenly heard as a presidential directive, the officials said.

Shows of military strength are not typical in the United States — and they don’t come cheap. The cost of shipping Abrams tanks and high-tech hardware to Washington could run in the millions, and military officials said it was unclear how they would pay for it.

A White House official familiar with the planning described the discussions as “brainstorming” and said nothing was settled. “Right now, there’s really no meat on the bones,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.

David French: “In the more than 16 years since 9/11 our military has 1) Toppled the Taliban. 2) Toppled Saddam. 3) Defeated the follow-on AQI insurgency. 4) Defeated the ISIS caliphate in Iraq and Syria. 5) Endured years of grinding deployments while fighting with honor. I’m fine with a parade.”

The politics of this are pretty sharp; by proposing the idea, Trump ensures some of his critics will instinctively publicly oppose the idea. The historically ignorant will insist it’s unprecedented — apparently 1991 is long forgotten ancient history — and some paranoid types will insist the sight of American soldiers marching down American streets is too reminiscent of a military dictatorship, even though occupying forces usually don’t wave and smile as ticker-tape runs down. (Does this country even make ticker-tape any more? I figure in 1991 they had a steady supply of long strands of dot-matrix printer paper edges with holes in them. Right now half my readership is thinking, “oh, I remember tearing those off!” and the other half is asking, “what is Jim babbling about?”) You can see the Fox News chyrons now: LIBERALS OPPOSE PARADE FOR MILITARY. Some of Trump’s more idiotic critics may very well protest the parade.

The Post article above notes that the parade could occur this November 11, to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, and that does seem like an occasion worth marking on a grand scale – and an anniversary worth considering, as we contemplate coming years with potential conflict among great powers and the modern use of poison and gas as weapons of war.

Having said all that, I just . . . feel like we’ve got bigger fish to fry.

I’m sure our men and women in uniform appreciate applause and cheers, but they probably could use a raise, better benefits, and all the equipment, spare parts, and training they can get. As we speak, the House and Senate are still hammering out a deal to keep the government open and hopefully give defense spending a boost.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee yesterday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis was characteristically blunt: “It is not lost on me that as I testify before you this morning, we are again on the verge of a government shutdown or, at best, another damaging continuing resolution. I regret that without sustained, predictable appropriations, my presence here today wastes your time, because no strategy can survive without the funding necessary to resource it.”

Mattis said the Pentagon was seeking new investment in “space and cyber, nuclear deterrent forces, missile defense, advanced autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, and professional military education to provide our high-quality troops what they need to win.” That is not small, quick, or cheap.

All of this is occurring while the U.S. Treasury Department announced they expect to borrow close to $1 trillion this fiscal year and more than $1 trillion in the next two years. Some folks will instinctively blame the recently passed tax cuts, but the amount of money coming in through taxes has consistently hit new records in past years, even adjusted for inflation. For example, from October to December, the U.S. government took in $769 billion, the highest in any three-month span in history. That still left the federal government with a deficit of approximately $225 billion.

A Dastardly NFL Betrayal That Belongs in Game of Thrones

Oof. My sympathies to the Kevoians, Tony Katz, and all Morning Jolt readers who are fans of the Indianapolis Colts, as their team is suddenly abandoned by the man they expected to become their next head coach, three weeks after an agreement was reached. Sometimes the National Football League is just . . . Shakespearean.

Josh McDaniels just ditched the Indianapolis Colts at the altar.

Five weeks after the end of the regular season and six days into the month of February, the Colts find themselves in unprecedented NFL territory: Spurned by the man they’d announced just hours earlier would become their next head coach.

So much for Wednesday’s introductory news conference.

So much for marrying McDaniels’ offensive mind with franchise quarterback Andrew Luck.

So much for the contract agreement the Colts had come to with New England’s longtime offensive coordinator.

In a stunning move Tuesday night, McDaniels informed the Colts he has decided not to become head coach, instead choosing to remain with the Patriots, a league source confirmed.

Even more awkwardly, three assistant coaches already signed with the Colts with the expectation that they would be working under McDaniels. Whoops.

Indianapolis Star columnist Greg Doyel probably has the right attitude:

As for the Colts, they have a second chance to get this right, and how many times can you rectify a grievous error before the error does actual damage? In the long run, the franchise will be better with someone else, anyone else, as head coach. That’s not easy to see right now, I know it, but if McDaniels can be this destructive, this selfish, this fraudulent in three weeks as de facto head coach of the Colts, imagine how much damage he would have done here in three years.

As many in the sports world are speculating, this is almost certainly a sign that Josh McDaniels expects to be the next head coach of the New England Patriots when Bill Belichick retires, and probably a sign that Belichick’s retirement is coming sooner rather than later. Most of the New England fan base is still wondering why Belichick benched cornerback Malcolm Butler for the biggest game of the season, with little to no warning. Butler had no injury and had played almost 98 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps this year. He contends that the post-game rumors are false and that he did not miss curfew or otherwise behave in any manner detrimental to the team.

The discipline issue would at least explain the decision a little. Imagine you’re Belichick. You’re 65 and you have five Super Bowl rings as a head coach and two as a defensive coordinator. You’ve built and maintained “the Patriot Way.” You’ve instilled a sense of consummate professionalism, discipline, attention to detail, and unsentimental replacement of players once their skills are on the decline. “Do your job.” Everyone around you from Tom Brady to the ball boy knows exactly what their duties are. (COUGHdeflationCOUGH) If you’re not the most respected man in professional football, you probably ought to be.

If after all that, key players are still behaving recklessly in the days before the Super Bowl . . . maybe you start to think you’ve had enough of the job.

ADDENDA: Congratulations to Elon Musk and Space X for creating the album cover for every “Greatest Hits” collection of every 80s band.

“Orbital Commute” would make a good band name.

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