The Most Important New Hampshire Special Election You Haven’t Heard About

Next week, a special election for one of New Hampshire’s 24 state senate districts will be held.  The district, District 16, formerly held by a Democrat won’t change the partisan makeup of the chamber.  Republicans will hold a 14-10 majority even if they fail to gain the seat.  But, the district’s results will tell us much about Republicans can expect to spare in districts that intersect with Obama/Trump “pivot” counties next year.

Now, for some background.  The district had a GOP Senator representing it since 1970.  Until last year when then candidate Scott McGilvray won the open seat by two points.  The district voted for Hillary Clinton by .3 percent at the same time.  McGilvray is leaving the seat and former state senator David Boutin is vying for his old seat against Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh.

New Hampshire is an interesting state.  From the 70’s to the 90’s the “Live free or die” state was a Republican bastion.  But, since 1992 the state has backed Democratic Presidential candidates in every election except 2000.

Since the 90s an equilibrium in power at the state level has occurred.  Democrats, until last year, held the Governorship for all of two years in the last twenty (meaning they have won nine of the last 11 gubernatorial elections).  Yet, short of 2007-2010 the GOP has held at least one chamber of the legislature.  Now, for the first time in the state’s history its federal delegation is completely made up of Democrats while all the levers of power in the state are held by Republicans.

Legislative special elections this year have not gotten nearly as much attention as Congressional contests.  So far, this year, 34 special legislative elections have been held.  Republicans flipped a conservative seat in Louisiana while Democrats have flipped a swing New Hampshire house seat, a blue-collar formerly Republican assembly district in NY state and two suburban districts in Oklahoma.  Unsurprisingly, while Democrats have so far outrun Clinton in legislative special elections they have done best in Oklahoma (run by an unpopular GOP Governor) and flipped swingy districts in NY and NH.  Republicans have held easily seats in Connecticut where the Democratic controlled legislature and Governor cannot even agree on a simple budget.

These results suggest state dynamics matter more than Trump’s popularity.  However, such a proposition will be seriously tested in this near dead even district.  It will be hard for Republicans to ignore the results of this election if a popular, former state senator loses the seat.  If Boutin wins, a pro-union Republican, it would indicate smart GOP incumbents can weather the Trump backlash.  But, if he loses, and GOP turnout is depressed, Republicans will need to start acknowledging unless things change in DC they will be in serious trouble.

Democrats are undoubtedly more excited about this contest than Republicans.  The GOP will still strongly control the chamber regardless of the result and Boutin would not help the party advance some of its goals such as right to work legislation.  Democrats also view many down-ballot contests such as these as precursors to 2018.  State Republicans want to win this but may find enthusiasm is lacking due to Trump and the opposition he has inspired.

In the end, whatever happens next Tuesday won’t change much in Granite state politics.  Or the nation’s.  But it could be a precursor to a big shake-up at the federal level next year.

 

 

 

https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2013/10/11/gerrymandering_isnt_to_blame_for_dc_impasse_120300.html

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Democrats Still Lack Ideas

It is one of the biggest refrains of Democratic complains about Republicans during the era of Trump; obstruction works!  Republicans tried to block everything he did, never brought ideas to the table and were rewarded at the ballot box. Twice!  Why can’t we do the same?

Well, I can think of a few reasons why.  Obama’s agenda was politically toxic, he pursued an agenda unrelated to the major issue of the time (the economy) and he ignored any ideas Republicans threw out.  He also ignored the political makeup of his Congressional coalition as he sought to ram healthcare down Americans throats.  The result has been a loss of over 1,000 legislative seats, dozens of Congressional seats and 12 Senate seats. The party’s bench in many states has been decimated to the point they are running political neophytes in the majority of swing states and districts held by Republican incumbents next year.

Democrats, with Trump now in the White House, believe they can harness the power of the “Resistance” and the “Rising American Electorate” by adopting the GOP strategy of the last eight years.  One problem.  While Trump might be personally unpopular and the GOP’s health care plan is not viewed favorably (though topline poll numbers do not tell the whole story), Trump’s agenda is not.

Just look at Trump’s travel ban.  Last week, a Politico/Morning Consult poll found 60 percent of voters approved of Trump’s plan.  A solid majority, 56 percent, of Independents, and even 41 percent of Democrats agreed with the plan.

Maybe this is because Democrats lack ideas on how to deal with the threat.  For example, when we have witnessed terrorist attacks, whether here at home, or witnessed them abroad, the refrain from the Left is we cannot allow ourselves to be terrorized.  Comforting.  But hardly a solution.  Likewise, Bernie Sanders blaming terrorism on global warming hardly offers s solution to Americans who do not want to be killed.

You could argue the ban was crafted sloppily.  You’d be right.  The original rollout was terrible.  The revised ban even had notable flaws though its rollout was much, much smoother.  Yet, compared to arguments global warming causes terrorism it at least seems realistic.

The same dynamic is playing out on immigration.  Building a “big, beautiful wall,” is largely impractical.  But, that said, at least it brings attention to a major problem for border states and towns.

Democrats, on the other hand, talk a lot about compassion and the need to be accepting and progressive.  I can even agree with that sentiment.  But, those are not ideas.  They are feelings.  They do nothing to address the fact states have to spend billions on healthcare to educate and provide healthcare for these individuals.  Every nation on Earth defends its borders.  Why can’t we?

Part of the problem is Democrats know that espousing such a view is an electoral death-knell.  Democrats can’t say they don’t want to enforce immigration laws but they communicate it subtly through inaction.  This wins them an election every now and again but made their grasp on the White House incredibly fragile as Trump showed.

On healthcare and trade Democrats spend an inordinate amount of time calling out Republicans for wanting people to “die” but refusing to make changes to the ACA.  Democrats commonly lash out at big business and banks for having an unfair advantage but then solicit millions in donations and continue to give them favorable conditions through laws and trade agreements to the detriment of Joe and Jane.

It’s common for the party out of power to wander in the wilderness and try to find an appealing new message.  But, the party is increasingly split between big government, populists and identity politick progressives that are pulling the party in different directions.

In this light it is easy to see why party elders (largely part of the identity politick cult) have made the party’s core message “We are not Trump.”  That is fine and all but it does nothing to craft an appealing message, address the issues of the economy, terrorism, or health care, and puts the party at a disadvantage in understanding why the party is so locked out of power.

It’s interesting that when Democrats had a chance to recognize Trump’s appealing message last week they went in the opposite direction.  Speaking in Poland last week, Trump defended Western values and liberals went nuts.  The New York Times and Washington Post both put out articles calling it insensitive and tone-deaf.  Not to be outdone, Vox called it racist.

The Democratic message of today is one of pure opposition.  But the assumption the GOP ran on nothing in 2010 and 2014 is a farce.  Republicans ran on policies of deregulation and lower taxes.  They ran on limiting abortion and slowing destabilizing cultural change.

Democrats are not running on anything similar.  They’re essentially coddling the “resistance” to stay angry at everything Trump does.  This makes the party’s poll numbers look good but they also looked good in 2016.  We know how that turned out.

Democrats need to do more than posturing and virtue signaling.  They actually need to put out some policy ideas.  Better yet, simply signaling they sympathize and understand the problems of Americans outside urban and suburban oases on the coasts would be a good start.

According to a Hill report, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee unveiled its latest proposed bumper stickers for the midterm.  One that was widely mocked read, “Democrats 2018: I mean, have you seen the other guys?”

Yes, apparently voters have.  They seem to like them considering how utterly irrelevant the party is in dozens of states across the country.  In states dominated by Democrats, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois and Oregon, to name a few, legislators have so paid off political interests (read: public unions) they are facing daunting billion dollar pension crises.  If Illinois and Oregon are any indication, Democrats don’t have the will or knowledge to address these issues.  Funny, how in the state I live in (Idaho), dominated by Republicans, has one of the healthiest pension systems in the nation (PERSI).

Democrats seem to think outright opposition, laughing at Trump and stoking their base will be enough to win big next November.  Maybe so.  But, right now, even soft Republicans and reluctant Trump backers are sticking with him (see Kansas, Montana, South Carolina and Georgia’s special election results).  Additionally, when Trump’s policies poll well because Democrats lack one voters might be saying, yet again, they are willing to support the party and the guy willing to confront the issues they face everyday.

 

 

Data Did Not Catch Trump’s Rise: Might It Be Underestimating Republicans

Fresh off another humbling loss in GA-6, Democrats are left wondering what happened that their star pupil, Jon Ossoff, was defeated by a bumbling, Planned Parenthood hating Republican (I’m only being a little fececious here).

They point to the fact the district was historically Republican, that it took an all out effort by the GOP to win, and that national factors doomed Ossoff in the end.  But, worse, despite a majority of not just public but internal polls showing Ossoff ahead until the end the party now has to question the validity of its own data.

Public pollsters have widely acknowledge they have struggled to address their woes.  These struggles were laid bare in 2012 when national polls underestimate Obama’s victory by almost four points.  In 2014, the polls were off by so much in Democrats favor they might have swung a key Senate race or two to the left.  But after missing the mark in Kentucky’s 2015 gubernatorial contest the worst blow came in 2016.

Pollsters utterly blew the 2016 election.  Though the average of national polls were off only by about two percent, in the swing states of Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and the not so swing state of Texas they were massively off they were off by margins of 5+ percent on average.  To put this in contest, not a single poll in Pennsylvania or Wisconsin showed Trump ahead after June.

But the worse news was Democrats own data analytics team the Clinton camp spent millions on being significantly off.  The coalition they expected to show up was supplanted by the white working class collectively showing a middle finger to their ancestral political roots.

Supposedly, Democrats, just as public pollsters have, revamped their ways.  They tailored new techniques to target harder to reach downscale, white or immigrant voters.  These new techniques supposedly have heralded a new Democratic resurgence and the Congressional GOP’s weakness in the era of Trump.

Some of this is simple math in reality.  Republicans have a 24 seat edge in Congress but Clinton won 23 districts held by a Republican.  By default, some of these districts like VA-10 in Northern Virginia would be vulnerable.

The problem is GA-6 was supposed to be the ultimate test case.  The DCCC and Ossoff campaign spent almost $2 million on focus groups, testing messages.  They also spent millions on polling.  Their internals showed them ahead.  Public polls until the last day of the race showed Ossoff ahead or tied.  They even showed him with a massive lead in the early vote (which never panned out).

Worse, Democrats and public pollsters were visibly shocked that so many Republicans and Independents came out for Handel.  Their surveys failed to capture a dynamic GOP pollsters and focus groups did, Pelosi is toxic for Democrats.  Instead, the Ossoff campaign’s internals showed them ahead up to Election Day.  Handel and the GOP’s lack of return surveys showing her ahead supposedly was proof she would lose.

Yet, just as they did in 2016, in the closing days of the race, the Republican leaning Trafalgar Group came out with a survey closest to the actual result in the race (Handel up two points and wins by four).

The question has to be asked if public and Democratic pollsters are this flummoxed about recent results might their analysis and expectations about GOP weakness be wrong?  The obvious answer is you bet.

Much of the political analysis whether it be from data aggregate FiveThirtyEight, the Cook Report, or Realclearpolitics is based on past results in midterms.  However, it gives little credence to the fact Republicans ran ahead of Trump in many purple states and districts.

Certainly, midterms have not been historically kind to the party in power, but we have never had a President like Trump before.  Last year, Republicans showed they could tailor their brand to the unique needs/dynamic of their districts.  They did and it worked!  Midterms might be a different animal Presidential elections but let’s keep in mind two things.  First, Trump lost many suburban, educated Clinton districts by big margins (VA-10 and CO-6 being obvious examples).  Second, Republicans have not suffered a series of retirements in these swing districts as would be expected if the party thought it was going to lose big.

The lack of solid results from data raises questions about what to expect next year, especially as it pertains to the suburban, educated districts in the Sunbelt and Southwest/east that Democrats will target.  If the data cannot accurately capture even close to the results in GA-6, missing political patterns obvious to even ad designers, how can they accurately capture what moderate voters are thinking?

Add all this together and you have a perfect storm for the generic ballot to expect Democrats to be currently leading by six points and Trump’s approval mired in the low 40’s.  But, if the data is suspect the actual numbers we are seeing is thus likely wrong.  Until pollsters can get their act together it is very likely we will see a surprise in 2018 that benefits Republicans significantly.

Does The Supreme Court Really Want To Set Limits On Partisan Redistricting?

Last Monday, the Supreme Court accepted hearing their first partisan redistricting case in more than a decade (last was in 2006).  The case revolves around Wisconsin’s current legislative maps, first drawn in 2011.

Specifically, the Wisconsin Democratic Party, Fair Elections Project and a group of individual voters sued the state in 2016 for drawing partisan maps that locked in heavily Republican legislative majorities despite the fact the state voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump by a mere 11,000 votes.

Initially, a federal district court ruled in November of last year Act 43 (the law creating the current maps) were unconstitutional on the grounds “The discriminatory effect is not explained by the political geography of Wisconsin nor is it justified by a legitimate state interest.” The ruling only impacted legislative and not Congressional maps. Unsurprisingly, the state GOP responded by appealing to the Supreme Court.

In it’s accepting of the case the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, slapped down the federal court’s ruling new maps had to be drawn by November 1st. The  This is not surprising considering even in cases of racial gerrymandering (see Virginia and North Carolina) the Supreme Court has been hesitant to burden states with onerous requirements like holding special elections or drawing new maps before the next regularly scheduled legislative/federal election.

Less surprising is the Supreme Court undertook the appeal.  The Supreme Court in both 2004 and 2006 looked at prior partisan redistricting cases but in both cases largely ruled in favor of the defendant (the states of Texas and Pennsylvania).  The Supreme Court’s verdicts largely centered on the fact that the plaintiffs never presented a valid way to measure when partisan gerrymandering violated the Constitutional rights of voters.

This go-round, the plaintiffs argue they are armed with such a measurement.  It is called the “Efficiency Gap” and simply measures the difference between the parties’ respective wasted votes in an election, divided by the total number of votes cast.  In the case of Wisconsin, the federal court found the gap was so large it impeded on Democratic voters rights of free association and the guarantee of equal protection by impeding their votes being translated into legislative districts.

Since the map was drawn, Republicans have enjoyed almost lock-step dominance in the state (except for a few months in 2012 when Democrats held a one-vote majority in the Senate).  Republicans currently enjoy a massive majority in the state senate and house.

The case could easily have national implications.  If the Supreme Court sides with the lower court, the out of power party across the country will have a new avenue to access power via court rulings challenging political maps.  In Maryland (Republicans) and Pennsylvania (Democrats) would have a leg up in their court challenges.

But, the Supreme Court ruling either way is no sure thing.  Past defendants have successfully argued that geographic and other variables are at play in determining legislative control of a state.  Additionally, voter affiliations change over time meaning a district can start leaning Democratic or Republican at the start of the decade and change (GA-6 anybody).

Indeed, Wisconsin Republicans have made these arguments.  The GOP argues they have a natural advantage because Democrats cluster in Madison and Milwaukee.  Further, Republicans argue they run superior candidates in swing districts (this is irrefutably true).

Notably, two of the three judges on the lower court that ruled against Wisconsin were Republican appointments.  One of the reasons they ruled against the state was because in 2012, Democrats in the state assembly won more votes than Republicans yet held only 39 seats.  After 2014 and last year their numbers are a paltry 34.

The plaintiffs believe this is because a majority of Democratic voters were packed into urban districts.  The result is a large number of wasted Democratic votes. While this is certainly true it is also true other variables have been at play over the last several years.

The Justice most likely to decide the case is Anthony Kennedy who in both the 2004 and 2006 cases said he was open to finding partisan gerrymandering discriminatory but unsure of how to do so.  Certainly, racial bias is a reason to throw out maps but partisanship is hard to disentangle from an inherently political process.

States are required to redraw their maps once every 10 years after the Census.  Starting with the Supreme Court’s ruling in 1962 in Baker vs. Carr that redistricting presented justiceable questions the courts began to get involved.  Soon after, in 1964, the Supreme Court established the idea of “one person, one vote” in Reynolds vs. Sims which eliminated rural areas being able to outweigh urban areas simply due to geography.

Since this time the Supreme Court has found racial gerrymandering unconstitutional, delineated rules on geographic boundaries and population differentials between districts.  But trying to decide what is and is not too political in redistricting is something the Supreme Court has never done.

Honestly, they should not try.  Discerning discriminatory racial intent is easier than pure partisanship.  Few rules and laws govern partisan map-making and thus the Supreme Court would be effectively making law.  From the standpoint of limited jurisprudence, such a ruling would open up a pandora’s box of case law.

It is also true that partisan affiliations and habits change over time and are subject to natural, non-political variables.  For example, once a Democrat does not equal always a Democrat.  Additionally, districts and their voters can change over time.  A map once thought to lock in a permanent majority can easily swing the other way within five election cycles.

Further, the quality of a candidate can matter as can the power of incumbency.  For example, local Democrats held dozens of Southern districts at the Congressional level for decades even as they consistently voted Republican for President.  Likewise, local legislators can easily outrun the partisan nature of a district due to local connections, constituent services and more.  All these factors matter explaining why the Supreme Court has been hesitant to rule in partisan gerrymandering cases.

If the Supreme Court did find in favor of the plantiffs based on the Efficiency Gap the court would essentially be saying only a certain level of partisanship is not just allowed in the process but also our politics.  Ironically, the result might be creating more partisanship as studies have shown more partisan members exist in swing districts than one-party districts (sorry mainstream narrative).

Ultimately, the Supreme Court would be wise to stay above the fray and find in favor of Wisconsin.  If not, they will once again be making laws and determining how much partisanship is allowed in the US.  That is not the role of any court!

 

Nancy Pelosi Is The Gift That Keeps On Giving To Republicans

Nancy Pelosi is the gift that keeps on giving to Republicans and seems to continue to hold her party back.  After Jon Ossoff’s surprisingly large loss in GA-6 some Democrats are pointing the finger at their longtime House leader.  She appeared in almost every attack ad and at the end of the day seemed to be the galvanizing factor behind Republicans falling behind Handel.

Pelosi has seen this song and dance before.  After 2010 and 2014 she was blamed for the party’s losses but still managed to stay in power.  Still, the fire is not just coming from old opponents like her 2015 Leadership post opponent Tim Ryan (Ohio).  Kathleen Rice (New York) joined the call for her to step down, “We need a leadership change.  It’s time for Nancy Pelosi to go, and the entire leadership team.”

Tim Ryan, echoing a growing sentiment in the party, “We are heading into July, and I cannot believe I am saying this, but our party still doesn’t have a clear economic message.  Are you kidding me.”  He did not mention Pelosi but it was hardly supportive of Leadership.

Due to her long tenure, Pelosi is the consummate tactician.  She has allies across the ideological spectrum and has earned the loyalty of many senior Democrats.  She also appeals to the growing Black and Hispanic Caucuses in the party giving her a lock on leadership.

Pelosi has raised money for many in the party helping ensure leadership.  Like GOP counterpart Paul Ryan and John Boehner before him, she dispenses this among the party helping lock in her support.  But, unlike Paul Ryan, and even less milquetoast John Boehner, she is a lightning rod for the opposition.

It’s easy to see why.  Due to her long tenure she has supported actions bills and taken Congressional actions sure to fire up partisans of the opposite party.  She was instrumental in opposing Bush.  She passed Obamacare (twice), Cap and Trade, Dodd-Frank and called the Tea Party “astro-turf).

But, she also is not just unpopular with Republicans but also Independents.  This fact is what makes so many Democrats squeamish about her continuing tenure. Few Democrats expect to win Republicans but they need Independents in purple districts across the nation.

For every Democrats publicly question her tenure there are two more in private echoing such sentiments.  Consider Representative Seth Moulton (MA), a veteran and LBGT member, saying of such things, “We need to have that discussion.”  By we he means the party.  Internally!

Certainly political parties turn to the leaders of the opposition as boogeymen almost always.  Republicans did it way back with Tip O’Neill, Democrats with George Bush and now Democrats with Trump.  But, Republicans continue to find a potent weapon in attacking Pelosi and her San Francisco roots in red and purple districts.

Handel, who won Georgia’s hard fought contest the other night, felt so confident the attacks on Pelosi were working she aired them in Spanish.  The Congressional Leadership Fund, after focus groups showed attacking Pelosi and SF values worked, ran a multi-million dollar ad campaign based on San Franciscans thanking Ossoff for his campaign.

Nothing seems to drive the GOP base to unify more than Pelosi.  But, for a party out of power, her horrible numbers among Independents are even more worrying.  Anecdotal it may be, but a week before the election polls showed Ossoff winning a majority of Independents and 13 percent of Republicans.  The final Trafalgar poll of the race showing Handel up by two points and she was splitting Independents and winning 96 percent of Republicans.  Coincidence this happened right after CLC went up with their major ad buy featuring Pelosi?

This was desperately necessary.  The Ossoff campaign was vastly outspending Handel on the airwaves, had more campaign staff and had far more focus group centered messages than Handel.

It is unlikely Pelosi is going anywhere.  The same attributes that make her a liability for the party electorally also make her a lock for leadership as long as she wants it.  The genteel, old white liberal guard sitting in suburban Seattle, Portland, California and the like have no reason to worry electorally.  Likewise, the Black and Hispanic Caucus’s members sit only in competitive districts in wave elections (they usually still win).

This creates two problems for the party.  The first is creating a leadership cap.  It is notable that so many rising stars in the party’s Congressional ranks have left.  Young Democrats have either run for Governor, Senator or in the case of Xavier Bercerra, moved over to state office.  There is minimal grooming of future talent for leadership.

This in turn leads to generational divides along electoral and policy lines.  Democrats might have supported Clinton’s policies but few actually liked her personally.  Contrast that with an older, whiter GOP base that had more in common with Trump than young and diverse Democrats had with a 70 year old white women.

Electorally, the problem is obvious.  Pelosi is simply toxic to her party in nationalized contests for federal office.  Democrats took great care in Kansas, Montana and South Carolina to avoid those races being nationalized party for this reason.  But, Georgia was inevitable and at the end of the day Pelosi was simply to enticing a target not to attack.

The worst part of GA-6 for Democrats is that Jon Ossoff did everything he could to run away from her short of saying, “I will not vote for her for leadership.”  He ran as a problem solver and a centrist and still lost because he was tied to Pelosi by the simple fact of being a Democrat.  How can other Democrats outrun that in suburban Texas and Florida in places that resemble Georgia-6 in if not education level but partisan leanings?

Answer,  They cannot.  Until Pelosi leaves.  She won’t.  And that is a major problem for her party and keeps Republicans smiling as they win.

 

The Middle East Is A Mess

Donald Trump has expressed he wants to succeed where every former President has failed in the Middle East; creating a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors.  He should probably just settle for stability in the Middle East for the remainder of his term.

The fun began less than a month ago when the Saudis hosted Donald Trump and 50 Muslim leaders in Ridayh.  Showing their economic and cultural power, the Saudis were able to rope almost every major Muslim nation to come to the summit.  The summit was meant to show the Muslim world stands in solidarity with Trump and the West in opposing Iran and terrorism.  Instead, it simply notched a foreign policy visit checkbox for Trump and foreshadowed a splintering in the Muslim world.

The United States has always occupied a slightly awkward position between two major Muslim states, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  In fact, these are the only two Wahhabi states in the Middle East.  Needless to say, they do not like each other much.

Qatar has always been an annoyance to the Saudi Royal Family.  Qatar has crushed dissent at home but encouraged it abroad.  The Saudi Royal Family blames Qatar for domestic terrorism problems at home.

Qatar shares a major natural gas deposit with Iran and as a result has been a major voice in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for keeping ties with Iran.  Saudi Arabia has always viewed Iranian hegemony as a threat to regional and national stability.  Thus, Qatar’s alliance with Iran is a threat to Saudi interests.

The Trump administration has yet to publicly take a side in this spat and for good reason.  The Trump administration needs Saudi support to curb Iranian influence but the US also has a major base in Qatar.  Talk about being in between a rock and a hard place.

Regionally, it seems you can break down the various factions in this spat into three camps.  The first is the Saudi-Bahrain-UAE camp, which has severed ties and closed their borders to Qatar.  The second faction are Kuwait and Oman, the neutral parties trying to mediate this dispute.  Being so small and westernized, Kuwait has good reason to be playing the moderator.  The last faction is the Qatar-Iranian camp.

Reflecting the factional nature of the Middle East, Iran was quick to offer its support to Qatar.  The move was Iranian officials way of sticking it to the Saudis who they blame for the ISIS terrorist attack in Tehran.  Iran has also accused the Saudis of supporting Sunni dissidents in Kurdish and Arab communities in Iran against the government.

The Saudis in turn have their reasons for wanting to quell Iranian expansionist tendencies.  Along with threatening Saudi control of the region, Iran has been offering increasing support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen, where the Saudis have been unable to help the local government gain full control of the country.  Additionally, Iran has been involved in exploiting Saudi weaknesses in Iraq and elsewhere.

Further muddling the picture is Turkey taking the unprecedented step of deploying troops in defense of Qatar.  Ironically, a century ago a former Saudi King, Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, helped engineer the withdrawal of the Ottoman Empire from the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf in coordination with the British.  Now, following Saudi action in Yemen and Qatar, the return of the Turkish army seems assured.

Another player in this divide is Egypt who has backed Saudi Arabia.  This is mostly self-interest.  The Saudis have largely backed the Muslim Brotherhood’s community efforts and fully support the latest government in place.

Due to their power and cultural dominance, many poor African nations such as Eritrea and The Maldives have backed the Saudis.  But, beyond geographic proximity, many Muslim nations are staying out of the fray.  Despite signing friendship agreements with Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia are not ending ties with Qatar.

Pakistan is trying to play mediator just as Kuwait is.  Pakistan has thousands of its citizens living and working in Qatar and Saudi Arabia so they have a vested interest in the resolving the crisis.  Good luck with that.

Saudi foreign policy has historically been cautious and risk averse.  The nation has preferred to use its economic and military might in indirect ways to collect victories.  Money resolved most issues the latter could not.

But the Saudi Royal Family recently underwent a changing of the guard so to speak and new King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has let his more hawkish son, Muhammad bin Salmon, adopt a much more belligerent defense policy.  The signature action of this policy change has been the two years plus old war in Yemen that drags on.  The UN calls it the worst humanitarian crisis in the world as millions of civilians are caught in the cross-hairs and lack access to food and clean water.  Saudi Arabia cannot walk away from the conflict, otherwise it would lose face, but the longer the conflict drags on the more Iran wins by siphoning off Saudi resources and attention in a fruitless effort.

Trump does not have a ton of clout in the Muslim world.  He has the solid backing of Israel, but other than that the US is largely isolated in the region.  Even the Afghan government is keeping the new administration at arm’s length.

Still, Trump has tried to make inroads.  His meeting with the Saudis last month was designed to show allies in the region the US has their backs.  Since Trump has criticized the Iranian Nuclear Deal, it makes sense the Saudis would embrace him on that alone.  But, Trump also okayed a $350 billion arms deal over 10 years, partly to show Iran they do not have an any semblance of an ally in the White House anymore.

Unlike Obama, Trump has shown little interest to date in pushing Saudi Arabia to expand civil rights.  He also has been more willing to back traditional US foreign policy doctrine that operates on “backing the devil you know over the one you don’t.”  Just more reasons why the Saudis would embrace Trump.

But while Trump is more friendly to Saudi Arabia than his predecessor, Congress is not.  Case in point, when the last Saudi arms deal was approved last year in the Senate , over 70 Senators voted yes.  Less than a week ago, 20 Senators switched sides and the chamber only approved a modest half billion dollar deal to the Saudis by a 53-47 margin.

Saudi Arabia is not doing itself any PR favors in the US by continuing the war in Yemen.  By contrast, Qatar has very publicly withdrawn from Yemen and recently inked a deal for 36 F-35 fighter jets from the Pentagon.

In a likely bid to promote unity in the region the administration has backed Saudi Arabia.  But, at the same time, Trump’s national security team is trying to keep their base in Qatar open and preserve existing air access agreements that are allowing them to bomb ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

Nobody is perfect in this scenario.  Saudi Arabia supports secretarian and extremist groups when it suits their interests.  So does Iran.  So does Qatar.  But this puts the US in an extremely untenable position.

The US has been allied with Saudi Arabia since 1945, an alliance with origins in preventing Nazi and then Communist expansion into the region.  The alliance has allowed the US to confront many issues from Communist expansion to Saddam Hussein to Al-Qaeda.  The US cannot throw away such an alliance.

Nor can it ignore the mistakes the Saudis are making or the strategic disadvantage it would find itself in if Qatar closes down the US base in the nation.  Mideast peace is a pipe dream if we cannot even maintain a solid presence in the region.

Things may get worse before they get better.  The Middle East has always been a mess but Saudi bullying and incompetence combined with Qatari game-playing and Iranian meddling has made this situation potentially explosive.  Right now, closing borders and fighting proxy wars in other counties is as far as the scenario has gone.  But that could change if Saudi Arabia feels it needs to use its military and believes it can rope the US into the conflict.  In such a scenario, all parties involved lose!

 

What Virginia Should Tell The GOP

All the excitement was supposed to be on the Democratic side.  But, as seems to be becoming increasingly common, the conventional wisdom is wrong.  For all the talk of a competitive Democratic primary, Ralph Northam coalesced the party around his more moderate progressive leadership as opposed to Tom Perrellio’s more ardent Sanders like rhetoric.

The excitement was all on the GOP side.  Former Congressman and RNC Chair Ed Gillespie, should have cruised to victory.  Instead, he barely managed to win by 4,000 votes against a little known Prince William County Supervisor, Corey Stewart.

Such a result is an ominous sign for the GOP.  The national political mood clearly favors Democrats and while I have been skeptical of Democrats taking the House in 2018 (I still am) this seems to indicate statewide Republicans might have a tougher task in even red and definitely purple states.  I say this because if a moderate candidate like Gillespie cannot draw in rural, Trump supporting voters in a purple state it means the GOP base is deeply divided.

Gillespie’s strength in the NoVA suburbs should make moderate, suburban Republican members of Congress happy.  It means they have a shot to run decently if they can thread the needle between distancing themselves from Trump, focusing on local issues and hitting on standard, GOP issues.

But, it should also tell rural and downscale suburb representing Republicans running away from Trump is not a great idea.  Gillespie’s little known challenger, Corey Stewart, was a former Trump surrogate in Virginia, and he staked his campaign on backing Trump.  Apparently, it almost paid off.

It is entirely possible we are reading to much into this.  Rural voters could simply have been put off by Gillespie’s insider history and will rally around him in November after registering their displeasure in the primary.  But, then again, the fact a giant favorite like Gillespie struggled so much against an underwhelming opponent might indicate primary challengers are waiting right around the corner for many in Congress if they cannot make both sides of the party happy.

Also, Democratic turnout easily surpassed the GOP’s.  Most analysts will probably say this indicates a problem for the GOP.  But, the GOP race always looked noncompetitive and the Democratic primary appeared far more exciting so it is hard to tell how much this played in the turnout game.  Keep in mind Virginia is a blue trending state so it is not like special elections in red states.  Democrats now actually have a deeper base to draw from in the state further exacerbating the turnout gap.

The real news was the closer than expected GOP primary and what it hints at for the GOP going forward into GA-6 next week and the elections next November!