ANALYSIS — Last week, the National Republican Congressional Committee released a web video entitled “Better Off Now.” According to NRCC communications director Matt Gorman, who was quoted in the accompanying press release, “November comes down to one question: Are Americans better off now than they were two years ago?” That might be what Republicans want, but it is not likely to be voters’ sole motivation as they cast their ballots.
According to Gorman, voters will “keep Republicans in the majority.” The economy certainly is good, and there is no reason to believe that will change before November.
Unemployment is down. Economic growth and consumer confidence are up. Even wages are starting to show some gains. But if the economy and the public’s satisfaction with it automatically translated into strong presidential approval numbers and gains for the president’s party, Donald Trump’s job approval would be well over 50 percent and House Republicans would be poised to gain seats.
That’s obviously not the case.
Republicans are going to lose House seats — likely two dozen or more — and Trump’s job approval sits in the 38 to 42 percent range, a reflection of his controversial presidency, style and character.
Although it is true that a bad economy is always fatal for the president’s party, a healthy economy doesn’t always translate into success for the party controlling the White House.
Plus, Trump’s agenda guarantees strong opposition from the left, which is now energized. More importantly, his style and behavior in office have cost him support among college-educated whites primarily because — rightly or wrongly — they see him as vulgar, untruthful, petty, mean-spirited, narcissistic and more interested in his own interests than in the country’s.
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But there is another reason why the upbeat economic news isn’t boosting the president’s numbers: The public’s attention has turned elsewhere because most people are not nearly as worried about the economy as they once were.
If you think there is a touch of irony in this, you are correct.
The good economic numbers have allowed voters to turn their focus elsewhere, to issues that don’t benefit the Republicans as much as GOP strategists — and the NRCC — would like.
But don’t take my word for it.
Here is what the Pew Research Center concluded in January about the public’s priorities.
“The public’s improving economic outlook is reflected in its policy agenda for President Trump and Congress in the coming year. Economic issues — improving the job situation, strengthening the economy and reducing the budget deficit — are viewed as less important policy priorities than they were just a few years ago.“Other issues, which had been less prominent public priorities in the past, have grown in importance. The share of Americans saying that protecting the environment should be a top policy priority has increased 18 percentage points since 2010 (from 44% to 62%), and seven points in the past year alone.“Also in the past year, the shares saying that improving the nation’s transportation system and dealing with drug addiction should be top priorities have increased 13 points each (both from 36% to 49%).”
And there is more evidence. In the June NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted by Hart Research Associates and Public Opinion Strategies (Question No. 11) registered voters were given a handful of issues and asked to select two that they thought “will be the most important factor in deciding your vote.”
The most frequent response was “health care,” followed closely by “the economy and jobs,” “guns,” “taxes and spending” and “immigration.”
Two things stand out.
First, health care, not the economy, was the top response.
And second, no single response got even a quarter of all the responses as the top issue.
If the economy were poor, “the economy and jobs” would stand out dramatically as the top issue of concern. But because the economy is good, registered voters had a variety of concerns.
Finally, a third survey — this one at the district level — confirms the national numbers from Pew and NBC News/Wall Street Journal.
Take a Sept. 5-9 Monmouth University poll of Pennsylvania’s 7th District, a competitive, redrawn Lehigh Valley (Allentown) seat.
The top issue of the 401 voters questioned? Health care (30 percent), followed by immigration (21 percent). Job creation came in third (14 percent), followed by a resurgent “gun control” (13 percent).
Republicans from the White House to the Capitol can and should run on the economy since it is the best issue they have.
Voters who like the president can and will cite jobs, economic growth and the economy to explain their vote. But a majority of midterm voters are likely to view the election as about other things, from guns and health care to the president’s deep character flaws.
James Carville was correct in 1992 when he argued that Democrats should focus on “the economy, stupid.”
The United States had just passed through a short-lived but significant recession in 1990-91, and voters were worried about rising unemployment and weak economic growth. But that’s not the case today.
It is now apparent that Trump and the GOP will be punished in November in spite of the generally good economy, which is why I suggest modifying Carville’s comment to “It’s the economy, stupid — except when it isn’t.”
And it isn’t this year, because the economy is not a problem, which gives a majority of Americans the freedom to have other things on their minds. And many of those things have to do with Trump’s personal behavior, performance in office and broader agenda.
Police arrested a man Monday after he walked onstage and interrupted GOP Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah at a debate with Democratic opponent Shireen Ghorbani.
Law enforcement arrested Corbin Cox McMillen and charged him with disorderly conduct and interrupting a political meeting, a Class B misdemeanor, for leaning into Stewart’s microphone during his closing statement and loudly stating a conspiracy theory about a connection between vaccines and autism, according to KUTV in Utah.
The interruption came at the end of the debate held at Dixie State University in Utah’s 2nd District.
“Vaccines cause autism,” said the man, who wore a loose white button-down tucked into khaki pants as he bent at the waist over Stewart’s podium. “Autism is caused by vaccines.”
Dixie State University police quickly rushed onstage and arrested McMillen as the debate moderator apologized to the flustered congressman.
“All right, I guess he got my closing statement, is that right?” Stewart joked.
During the debate, Stewart criticized Trump for imposing harsh tariffs on countries and organizations like China, Canada and the European Union as part of his escalating trade war with them, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Some of the president’s tweets are “indefensible,” the congressman said.
But the economy is humming, he said, and Trump’s tax code overhaul deserves credit.
“Because of that tax reform we have the strongest economy we’ve had since I’ve been alive,” Stewart said.
Ghorbani shot back that the tax cuts benefit large corporations and the already wealthy.
The candidates touched on a number of environmental, economic and foreign policy-related topics.
Most experts do not expect the 2nd District, which encompasses the largest geographical swath of the four districts in Utah, to be competitive.
Stewart is seeking a fourth term there. He defeated his 2016 Democratic challenger by 28 points. President Donald Trump carried the district by 14 points over Hillary Clinton.
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Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said Monday he would testify to give his side of the story of an alleged 1982 incident when a California professor says he sexually assaulted her.
“This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes—to her or to anyone,” Kavanaugh said in a statement released by the White House.
“Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday. I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity.”
Earlier Monday, the accuser’s attorney said she would testify in public about the charges.
Christine Blasey Ford, 51, says she thought Kavanaugh might “inadvertently kill” her during a party while they were high school students after he and a friend corralled her in a bedroom and the Supreme Court nominee pinned her to a bed and groped her over a one-piece bathing suit.
Kavanaugh denies the allegation.
Attorney Debra Katz says Ford would testify in a public hearing but has yet to hear from the Judiciary Committee. That decision would be made by Chairman Charles E. Grassley R-Iowa. On Sunday, after the Washington Post published an article with Ford’s first public description of the alleged incident, Grassley questioned how Democratic members handled a confidential letter from Katz detailing her side of the story but also said he would gather more information.
President Donald Trump’s pick for a pivotal spot on the Supreme Court already put the Senate at the confluence of the nation’s contentious political and legal movements. But a woman’s allegation of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh — dating back decades to when he was a teenager — heaps cultural importance as well on what senators do at this moment.
Senators, particularly Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Republicans who have relentlessly insisted on a confirmation vote this month, now have to decide what to do amid a “Me Too” movement that has exposed how these types of allegations have been hidden, mishandled or simply ignored by powerful men in the past.
The Senate is a slow-moving institution often stuck in its traditions, and it is still criticized for the way Anita Hill's sexual harassment allegation against Justice Clarence Thomas was handled in 1991. McConnell, now in his sixth term, has called the Supreme Court appointments under Trump the most important part of his Senate legacy.
The Judiciary Committee is set to vote on Kavanaugh on Thursday afternoon.
The clock is ticking, and the pressure is fierce.
Hill’s allegation remained controversial even 25 years later, when it became the subject of an HBO series. Now, Christine Blasey Ford, a California college professor, has come forward publicly — after initially requesting anonymity — to describe the attack in detail to The Washington Post in an article published Sunday.
“When Anita Hill came forward to share her experiences of sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas, she was treated as though she were the one accused of wrongdoing,” Vanita Gupta, president and chief executive officer of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said. “The Senate and the media have a responsibility to learn from the lessons of the past.”
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee initially responded through a written statement that raised questions about the timing of the allegation and the motives of Democrats, who had already opposed Kavanaugh because they expect him to side with Republicans on issues such as abortion, LGBT rights, affirmative action and more.
It appeared committee Republicans — 11 men — weren’t interested in reopening the confirmation hearing or delaying a vote.
That was echoed in conservative circles. “If the GOP does not stand up to this character assassination attempt on Kavanaugh, every judicial nominee moving forward is going to suffer last minute sexual assault allegations,” conservative pundit Erick Erickson wrote Sunday on Twitter.
But that changed Sunday afternoon. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a consistent voice in support of Kavanaugh, was the first committee Republican to take a different approach.
“If Ms. Ford wishes to provide information to the committee, I would gladly listen to what she has to say and compare that against all other information we have received about Judge Kavanaugh,” Graham said in a news release. “If the committee is to hear from Ms. Ford it should be done immediately so the process can continue as scheduled.”
Then Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., also a committee member, told The Post that the vote should be delayed. “For me, we can’t vote until we hear more," Flake told a Post reporter.
Kavanaugh has denied the allegation — as Thomas did in 1991 — which frames the issue into the divisive question of whether to believe the accuser or the accused.
Hill, who also initially did not want to come forward publicly, had her confidential statement to the committee made public in 1991 just before a final confirmation vote for Thomas on the Senate floor. The Judiciary Committee reopened the confirmation hearings to hear from Hill, and some of the same criticisms of her from that time appeared Sunday on social media.
Hill criticized the all-male Senate panel in an open letter at the end of 1997 book, “Speaking Truth to Power,” and the National Women’s Law Center quoted from it Sunday after The Post published the Ford allegation.
“Neither the issue of harassment nor the nomination was served by a presumption of my untruthfulness or a process skewed in favor of whoever was able and willing to engage in the dirtiest political ‘gamesmanship,’ ” Hill wrote in her book.
Congress has tried to police itself, a sign of the momentum the “Me Too” movement has generated this year as women come forward to expose years of sexual misconduct in the movie and television industries, politics, media and other workplaces.
The House passed a bill in February that would crack down on sexual harassment on Capitol Hill and update the onerous process for employees to report harassment and discrimination. The Senate passed its own version in May. Negotiations have stalled on the measures. The election of Trump has left the Republican Party open to criticism. During the campaign, women said Trump sexually harassed or assaulted them years ago. In response, Trump threatened to sue them.
The Democratic caucus, with 49 votes, is powerless to stop Kavanaugh without the help of Republicans — a fact that only ratchets up the pressure for Republicans. Because the majority party can speed Kavanaugh through the confirmation process, it is now up to Republican senators to decide whether Ford's allegation will pump the brakes.
Committee Democrats — led by ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California — have already called for a delay. In 1993, in the wake of the Hill hearings, Feinstein and Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois became the first women to serve on the committee.
Much of the political pressure will fall on Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both moderate Republicans who were already in the conversation as possible Republican “no” votes because of their views on the importance of access to abortion and health care.
If they appear to waiver, Republicans might slow down the process. Neither had issued a statement as of Sunday night.