Iowa and New Hampshire are the opening battlegrounds of presidential nominating contests. This year, they have something else in common: dysfunction surrounding the state-level Republican Party.
— In Iowa, the state party is led by Ron Paul acolytes, who have clashed with the more-pragmatic wing of the party, headed by Gov. Terry Branstad. Two county GOP chairs have called for party chair A.J. Spiker‘s resignation, as has longtime Branstad ally David Kochel. Branstad himself has swatted at the state GOP repeatedly, and some Republicans are planning an effort to install new party leaders next year. In New Hampshire, GOP chairwoman Jennifer Horn is already losing her executive director, who started six months ago.
— At the same time, Republicans have struggled to land quality candidates in winnable races in both states. In Iowa, where President Obama‘s approval rating is weak, the GOP has a crowded but unremarkable group of candidates. There’s a growing likelihood the nominee will be determined by a convention of activists. In New Hampshire, no Republican has stepped forward to challenge Gov. Maggie Hassan, while Sen. Jeanne Shaheen‘s little-known challenger doesn’t seem ready for primetime. A long line of qualified Republican candidates have passed on both Granite State races.
— Problems within a state party can cause major headaches during presidential races, as Republicans learned in Nevada in 2012. Lingering problems within these state parties means the traditional powerbrokers will have less influence over the nominating fights, boosting the odds for a grassroots-powered underdog, like Rand Paul.
Over the next few years, presidential contenders will find reasons to visit Iowa and New Hampshire. At the same time, their aides will keep a wary eye on the drama within the state parties.
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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."