The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

A Five-Point Victory in a Solid Red District Isn’t Exactly a Great Sign

Making the click-through worthwhile: A bit of good news for Republicans in an Arizona special election (and I do mean just a bit); an ugly comment from a Republican Senate candidate; and a look at what worries Americans about China — and why they’re right to be worried.

Republicans Finally Win One . . . Where They’re Supposed to Win

Finally, it’s not all doom and gloom for Republicans in special elections.

Republican Debbie Lesko has defeated Democrat Hiral Tipirneni in the election to fill a vacant congressional seat that spans the West Valley, but her relatively narrow victory margin Tuesday will do little to calm Republicans nervous about the midterm races.

Unofficial results from early balloting show Lesko comfortably ahead of Tipirneni, her Democratic opponent, though well short of the lopsided results when President Donald Trump and former Republican Rep. Trent Franks carried the district two years ago.

One of the reasons you haven’t heard as much about this special election was that this district scores R+13 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index, and Trump carried it 58 percent to 37 percent. Democrats didn’t bother to run anyone against incumbent Trent Franks in 2014 or 2016. A five-point or so victory by Lesko is underperforming the historical norm.

A smart Republican strategist pointed out to me yesterday that while there are plenty of reasons for GOP pessimism about the midterm elections, most of the recent special elections that have gone badly for the GOP have represented a fight between a Democratic base that showed up and a Republican base that just didn’t. The GOP base should show up in the November general elections . . .

Right?

One point worth observing is that most Democratic candidates will have no financial constraints in this cycle. Many on the right enjoyed scoffing at unsuccessful Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff last year, but it’s worth noting that this little-known fresh-faced guy running in a difficult district raised almost $30 million. The Democrats’ grassroots donors are spitting out money like a slot machine.

The irony is that Republicans have a slew of races where they have good shots to win, as long as their candidates have the resources, particularly in the Senate. But a lot of them are running in states where there isn’t an extensive assemblage of deep-pocketed GOP donors. A candidate such as Kevin Cramer in North Dakota has a great shot at winning — if he’s not $3.5 million behind Heidi Heitkamp. In a normal set of circumstances, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill would be considered toast — except she’s got about $9 million more in her campaign fund than Republican state attorney general Josh Hawley. Ditto Jon Tester, who’s got $6 million more than his best-funded challenger, former state judge Russell Fagg. Even in West Virginia, Joe Manchin has about $4 million more than either Evan Jenkins or Patrick Morrissey. (Don Blankenship is self-funding, but he’s starting to sink in the polls, and let’s face it, you would rather not nominate a candidate whose résumé features, “spent a year in jail following the deadly 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch Mine.” More on Don Blankenship below. (As this Republican strategist joked, “Jenkins will have the easiest time winning over the votes of West Virginia Democrats . . . because he was a Democrat until about ten minutes ago.” Jenkins switched parties in 2013.)

There aren’t teeming throngs of wealthy Republicans in North Dakota, Missouri, Montana, or West Virginia.

When Does a U.S. Citizen Become Merely ‘A Wealthy Chinaperson’?

Just what is GOP Senate candidate Don Blankenship getting at in this statement?

On Monday, responding to the attack ads, Mr. Blankenship brought up Mr. McConnell’s marriage to Elaine Chao, the secretary of transportation, and questioned whether the majority leader faced a conflict of interest in foreign relations. Ms. Chao’s father is “a wealthy Chinaperson,” Mr. Blankenship said, speaking on a West Virginia radio show, adding, “And there’s a lot of connections to some of the brass, if you will, in China.”

First things first: James Chao is a legal immigrant and American citizen. Labeling him with the term “Chinaperson” is a weird combination of politically correct and xenophobic. (Elaine Chao’s account of her father’s life and journey to America can be found here and here.) The U.S. Customs and Immigration Service literally gave him the “Outstanding American by Choice” award in April 2008. In 2004, he won the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. He’s an adjunct professor and trustee at Saint John’s University; four of his daughters went to Harvard Business School. If he’s not American, who is? It’s hard to believe that calling Chao “a wealthy Chinaperson” isn’t mean to suggest that on some level, he’s not really American.

Just where does Blankenship see this conflict of interest? That any senator married to a Chinese immigrant can’t possibly be tough enough on China? Or that McConnell can’t be trusted because of who he married?

Speaking of China . . .

Does China Frighten Americans? Why Wouldn’t It?

From a much-discussed article in the New York Times, contending Trump voters are more driven by fears of what the future will bring than grievances about what’s happened in the past:

On the threat posed by China, voters hardly moved between 2012 and 2016, but while they perceived both presidential candidates as being to their left in 2012, they found Mr. Trump as having moved just to their right by 2016, again placing them closer to the Republican candidate than the Democratic one.

The article talks about the issue in the context of an economic threat and trade, but I wonder if Americans are starting to see China as a more full-spectrum threat. You don’t have to be a foreign-policy wonk to recognize that China’s building up its military. Their military spending in 2020 is projected to be about twice what it was in 2010, with a lot of that money pumped into cutting-edge drone research and developing its own stealth aircraft.

You don’t have to be a naval-warfare expert to see that China is putting a lot of resources into  expanding its ability to project power further out into the Pacific . . .

In recent years, China has undertaken drastic efforts to dredge and reclaim thousands of square feet in the South China Sea. Its construction of artificial islands and infrastructure, such as runways, support buildings, loading piers, and possible satellite communication antennas, has prompted its neighbors and the United States to question whether they are strictly for civilian purposes, as claimed by the government. China’s land development has profound security implications. The potential to deploy aircraft, missiles, and missile defense systems to any of its constructed islands vastly boosts China’s power projection, extending its operational range south and east by as much as 1,000 kilometers (620 miles).

Or to notice China’s building military bases quite far from home:

China’s construction of a military outpost in Djibouti is just the first of what will likely be an ongoing expansion in friendly foreign ports around the world to support distant deployments, a new Pentagon report concludes, predicting that Pakistan may be another potential location.

China can’t make it any clearer: It intends to be a global superpower at least on par with us and it probably aims to be stronger. The Chinese will have a military that is larger in manpower and increasingly comparable in technological advantages. It’s hard to believe that a world with China throwing its weight around wouldn’t be worse for Americans and for just about everyone outside of Beijing’s rulers.

The Times article notes, “While economic anxiety did not explain Mr. Trump’s appeal, Dr. Mutz found reason instead to credit those whose thinking changed in ways that reflected a growing sense of racial or global threat.”

But . . . there is a growing sense of global threat; this isn’t just paranoia among backwater hicks. Maybe our extensive trade ties keep China’s aggressive instincts in check, maybe they don’t. People have been speculating about China attempting a takeover of Taiwan for decades and it hasn’t happened, so maybe it never will happen. Or maybe someday China’s rulers think that it’s time to show the world who’s really in charge, and they start demonstrating that arsenal they’ve accumulated.

ADDENDA: Over on the home page, I ask you to help out with National Review’s Spring Webathon. I know, you hate being asked, we hate asking, but we wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t necessary.

Tomorrow’s Jolt might feature an extensive mock draft if I find the time to look at the needs for every team. Or maybe it will just do the top ten picks.

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