The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

What Will It Take to Return the House to Red?

(Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Happy Thanksgiving! May all of your travels be safe and your traffic struggles be bearable. This is the last Morning Jolt until Monday.

Making the click-through worthwhile: a debate about whether capping the state and local-tax deduction was worth it to Republicans, how much it contributed to the GOP’s troubles in the suburbs, and how tough it will be to win back the House; Nancy Pelosi enjoys a bit of Fudge; and a bit of referendum-election fraud out in California.

How Tough Will It Be for Republicans to Win Back the House?

Over on the Corner, Reihan makes the argument that Republicans capping the state and local tax deduction at $10,000 in the 2017 tax cut was worth it: “By limiting the tax subsidy for high-tax jurisdictions, it nudges voters at the state and local level to press for more sensible and sustainable policies and to reject fiscal profligacy, as we’ll see in the years to come.”

Andrew Stuttaford writes that the move “gave the impression that the GOP was ‘punishing’ blue states, and, more specifically, their more affluent urban and suburban residents. This constituency has been slipping away from the GOP for some time for a mix of social and cultural reasons. Many of those who stuck with the party did so because they at least trusted Republicans to defend them from the IRS. Capping the SALT deduction was a breach of that trust.”

Morally or on economic principle, capping SALT may have been the right move, but boy, did it come at a steep political price. There were a lot of right-leaning people in the suburbs who voted for Trump and who probably expected a significant tax cut from Republican-controlled government, and if the SALT cap didn’t eliminate their tax cut, it probably significantly reduced it. As I observed last year . . .

The county that ranks ninth in the nation in deductions for state and local taxes is Morris County, New Jersey, with $11,440. Trump won that county, 49 percent to 45 percent.  Not too far from there is Monmouth County, where Trump won, 52 percent to 43 percent. The average return there deducts $9,105.

Trump lost his home state of New York overall by a wide margin, but won several counties in the suburbs of New York City. He won Suffolk County on Long Island 51 percent to 46 percent; the average taxpayer there deducts $8,096. Trump won Putnam County, north of the city, 55 percent to 39 percent; the average taxpayer deducts even more, $8,855.

This month, Democrats won the district that includes Morris County for the first time since 1985. If you look at the districts with highly taxed suburbs represented by Republicans heading into this year — the districts of Leonard Lance and Tom MacArthur in New Jersey, John Faso and Dan Donovan in New York, two suburban districts in Illinois, four GOP House seats in Orange County, Calif. — that’s where the Democrats flipped seats. The SALT deduction wasn’t the only reason that the GOP lost those seats, but it certainly didn’t help.

Add up the seats Republicans lost in New York, New Jersey, California, and Illinois, and you get 14 seats; if Republicans had held those seats, they would be at 213 seats right now instead of 199 — just five away from keeping control.

There are a bunch of seats that Democrats won in 2018 that Republicans could pretty easily win back in 2020 with a better candidate, better effort, a less lopsided fundraising battle, better coordination, etcetera. Start with traditionally conservative, GOP-leaning places such as Oklahoma’s fifth district representing Oklahoma City and South Carolina’s first district, representing the Charleston suburbs and the coast.

Then move on to the “jump ball” races, where just a little bit more GOP turnout could have kept the seat red. Mia Love lost by a couple hundred votes in Utah’s fourth district. In New Mexico’s second district, Democrat Xochitl Torres Small won by about 3,000 votes. In Maine’s second district, Bruce Polquin only lost because of the state’s new “ranked votes” system that put him down by about 3,000. In Georgia’s sixth district, Karen Handel lost by . . . once again, about 3,000 votes. Down in south Florida’s 26th district, Representative Carlos Curbelo lost by about 4,000.

In other words, a couple thousand more votes here and there and Republicans could be back in the majority, if they weren’t getting slaughtered in those once-red districts of blue states. Some of that is SALT, and some of that is probably the Republican party’s image under Trump. Still, one wonders, if the cap limit had been set higher, at $15,000 or $20,000, would Republican losses in those suburbs have been as bad?

Oh, Fudge! Looks Like Nancy Pelosi Will Be the Next Speaker of the House

In the meantime, Nancy Pelosi appears to be enjoying a very smooth ride to becoming the next speaker.

Rep. Marcia Fudge endorsed Nancy Pelosi for House speaker on Tuesday, just days after openly mulling a challenge to the California Democrat, providing a significant boost to Pelosi’s quest to regain the gavel.

Fudge’s endorsement is a significant blow to efforts by more than a dozen current and incoming Democrats to oust Pelosi, who has ruled over the caucus for the past 16 years. Fudge’s backing leaves the anti-Pelosi faction without a potential challenger against the longtime Democratic leader.

They’re doing a version of Kirsten Sinema’s maneuver. Pledge that you won’t support the current Democratic leader then shrug and nod along when no challenger to that leader emerges.

‘Officer, I Wasn’t Paying for a Signature, I Was Paying for His Autograph!’

“Voter fraud!” should not be the rallying cry of every Republican candidate bitter about a defeat. But the world has bad people in it, people who do try to cheat the system and who are willing to break the law to do it. The city of Los Angeles caught another bunch yesterday.

A forged signature swapped for $1 — or sometimes a cigarette.

The crude exchange played out hundreds of times on L.A.’s skid row during the 2016 election cycle and again this year, prosecutors said Tuesday as they announced criminal charges against nine people accused in a fraud scheme.

Using cash and cigarettes as lures, the defendants approached homeless people on skid row and asked them to forge signatures on state ballot measure petitions and voter registration forms, the district attorney’s office said. The defendants — some of whom were scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday — face several criminal charges, including circulating a petition with fake names, voter fraud and registering a fictitious person.

State officials said petition signature scams aren’t widespread in California, but Joseph said they do pop up from time to time on skid row. People hired to help qualify initiatives for the ballot are often paid per signature collected, typically $1 to $2, but officials said a recent slew of proposed ballot initiatives had pushed the rate as high as $6 a signature. It is illegal for the collectors, however, to pay people for signatures.

Mind you, this is not casting multiple ballots in the name of another person; this is merely collecting signatures to get a referendum on the ballot. To get a referendum on the ballot, supporters need to collect a number of signatures equal to 5 percent of the most recent gubernatorial election turnout. That meant that this cycle, supporters of a referendum or initiative needed 365,880 signatures.

ADDENDA: Forget all of those idiotic “How to talk to your totally un-woke uncle” articles and just try to enjoy the presence of your friends and family this Thanksgiving. As I said in yesterday’s edition of the Three Martini Lunch podcast, “I know everyone is upset, I know everyone is angry, passionate, and heated, but Thanksgiving traditionally marks the beginning of the holiday season. It is time to unite everyone, to gather everyone from Grandma and Grandpa to the little kids, and come together and watch the greatest Christmas movie of all time: Die Hard.”

Today’s Three Martini Lunch podcast will feature what Greg Corombos and I are thankful for, and Friday’s edition includes our Black Friday shopping list for the likes of Jim Acosta and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

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