With Sen. Lamar Alexander‘s (R-TN) Thursday primary win, every GOP Senate incumbent has successfully navigated an increasingly treacherous primary landscape. So what, if anything, should we take away from a cycle that saw five of them dip, unusually, under 60% in those nominating contests?
— First of all, the data: Those five sub-60% GOP showings equal the number from both parties in 2010, a tumultuous anti-incumbent year. There’s simply been a sharp uptick in competitive Republican primaries in the last three elections. The House, which gives us more data, shows this well. The number of GOP incumbents running essentially unopposed has fallen from around 80% to a little over 50%, while the number getting under 60% or 70% has climbed. In 2014, 1-in-5 House Republican incumbents got less than 70% in their primaries, and more than 1-in-10 got less than 60%.
— Of course, elections exist to crown a winner, and you can’t argue with Senate Republicans’ perfect record this year. In the House, there’s ample evidence that weaker-than-usual primary results can bring stronger challengers out of the woodwork, which seems to have happened to Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) this year, for example. The six-year Senate cycle makes that more difficult.
— There’s no question that the environment is riper for challengers now, though, starting with fundraising. An entire anti-incumbent fundraising apparatus now exists to push challengers closer even to popular incumbents like Alexander (though the return on investment may not be as high). That money may simply ensure some level of competition no matter what. But it’s a reality the establishment has to handle, not an excuse, and it’s tempting to wonder whether there are more viable 2016 and 2018 challengers out there who have watched some current GOP challengers with fatal flaws get around 40%, and think, “I could do better.”
In turn, that raises another question: What’s the overlap between the type of challengers who have in the past succumbed to inside pressure not to challenge Alexander et al, and the type of challengers the GOP anti-incumbent financial industry will support? We may find out in 2016 and beyond. For now, though, Senate Republicans have managed to achieve their first electoral objective of the year.— Scott Bland
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As the Russia investigation heats up, "the role of Marc E. Kasowitz, the president’s longtime New York lawyer, will be significantly reduced. Mr. Trump liked Mr. Kasowitz’s blunt, aggressive style, but he was not a natural fit in the delicate, politically charged criminal investigation. The veteran Washington defense lawyer John Dowd will take the lead in representing Mr. Trump for the Russia inquiry."
President Trump's attorneys are "actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work." They plan to argued that Mueller is going outside the scope of his investigation, in inquiring into Trump's finances. They're also playing small ball, highlighting "donations to Democrats by some of" Mueller's team, and "an allegation that Mueller and Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia had a dispute over membership fees when Mueller resigned as a member in 2011." Trump is said to be incensed that Mueller may see his tax returns, and has been asking about his power to pardon his family members.
In addition to ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Robert Mueller's team is also "examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe. FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said. The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort."
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is "is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates", including "Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008."
"A Senate bill to gut Obamacare would increase the number of uninsured people by 32 million and double premiums on Obamacare's exchanges by 2026, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The analysis is of a bill that passed Congress in 2015 that would repeal Obamacare's taxes and some of the mandates. Republicans intend to leave Obamacare in place for two years while a replacement is crafted and implemented."