Rep. Manchin under fire on vote for Kavanaugh

Sen. Joe Manchin, center, speaks to John Heron and Connie Hill about his recent vote in the Senate to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018, at an IHOP restaurant in Charleston, W.Va. (AP Photo/Tyler Evert)

Danielle Walker cried on Joe Manchin’s shoulder after she shared her story of sexual assault in the senator’s office. She thought he listened.

The 42-year-old Morgantown woman said she was both devastated and furious when Manchin became the only Democrat in the U.S. Senate to support President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

“I feel raped all over again,” Walker told The Associated Press.

A day after Manchin broke with his party on what may be the most consequential vote of the Trump era, the vulnerable Democrat is facing a political firestorm back home. While Republicans — including one of the president’s sons — are on the attack, the most passionate criticism is coming from Manchin’s very own Democratic base, a small but significant portion of the electorate he needs to turn out in force to win re-election next month. A Manchin loss would put his party’s hopes of regaining control of the Senate virtually out of reach.

Walker, a first-time Democratic candidate for the state legislature, said she may not vote at all in the state’s high-stakes Senate election. Julia Hamilton, a 30-year-old educator who serves on the executive committee of the Monongalia County Democratic Party, vowed to sit out the Senate race as well.

“At some point you have to draw a line,” Hamilton said. “I have heard from many, many people — especially women. They won’t be voting for Manchin either.”

Manchin defended his vote in a Sunday interview as being based on fact, not emotion. He praised the women who shared their stories of sexual trauma, Walker among them, but said he “could not find any type of link or connection” that Kavanaugh was a rapist.

The woman who testified to the Senate about Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey Ford, accused him of sexual assault but not rape when they were high school students more than 30 years ago. Two other women stepped forward late in the confirmation process to accuse the appeals court judge of sexual misconduct in high school or college. Their stories resonated with women who had suffered sexual trauma and fueled opposition to Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

“They weren’t going to be satisfied, or their healing process, until we convicted this person,” Manchin told The Associated Press. “I couldn’t do it. You talk about two wrongs trying to make a right. It just wasn’t in my heart and soul to do that.”

Manchin insisted over and over that his vote wasn’t based on politics.

There is little doubt, however, that his vote was in line with the wishes of many West Virginia voters, who gave Trump a victory in 2016 by 42 percentage points. There simply aren’t enough Democrats in the state to re-elect Manchin. He needs a significant chunk of Trump’s base to win.

One West Virginia Trump supporter, 74-year-old Linda Ferguson, explained the politics bluntly as she watched the parade at Saturday’s Mountain State Forest Festival in Elkins.

“If he didn’t vote for Kavanaugh he could have kissed his seat goodbye,” Ferguson said.

While he may have represented the majority of his state, Manchin’s political challenges are far from over.

The clash over Kavanaugh, who was confirmed by the Senate on Saturday, has injected new energy into each party’s political base. While that may help Democrats in their fight for the House majority, which is largely taking place in America’s suburbs, there are signs it’s hurting vulnerable Democrats in rural Republican-leaning states like North Dakota, Missouri and West Virginia. Phil Bredesen, who said he would have voted for Kavanaugh, could also face new challenges in his bid to flip Tennessee’s Senate seat to the Democratic column.

For much of the year, Manchin has held a significant lead in public and private polls over his Republican opponent, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Yet Republican operatives familiar with the race report a definite tightening over the last week.

In an interview, Morrisey called Democrats’ fight against Kavanaugh a “three-ring circus” that “energized a lot of people in West Virginia.”

He acknowledged that Manchin voted the right way for the state, but called the vote “irrelevant” because another swing vote, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, had already given Kavanaugh the final vote he needed.

“He waited until the last possible minute after Susan Collins declared for him to take a position, effectively allowing Maine to decide how West Virginia’s going to decide,” Morrisey charged. “We shouldn’t reward that kind of cowardice.”

Echoing the attack, Donald Trump Jr., mockingly called Manchin “a real profile in courage” on Twitter.

When asked about the social media jab, the West Virginia senator slapped away the insult from the younger Trump.

Donald Trump Jr. is “entitled to his opinion, he’s just not entitled to his own facts to justify what he’s saying. He doesn’t really know anything,” Manchin told the AP.

The Democrat conceded that he followed Collins’ lead out of “respect” — he didn’t want to get in the way of her high-profile Friday afternoon announcement on the Senate floor.

“Nothing would have changed my vote,” Manchin declared. “Susan took the lead, Susan did the due diligence. … She’s going to give her speech and I’m not going to jump in front of 3 o’clock. I’m just not going to do it.”

That wasn’t good enough for Tammy Means, a 57-year-old florist from Charleston, who was among thousands tailgating outside West Virginia University’s football stadium in Morgantown on Saturday.

Means, a registered Democrat who voted for Trump, said she also voted for Manchin in the past.

“I’m not going to anymore. Nope,” she said with a laugh as she sipped a Smirnoff Ice. She’s glad Manchin voted for Kavanaugh, but said, “He’s just doing it so he can get elected.”

Across the parking lot, 63-year-old John Vdovjac said he was deeply disappointed by Manchin’s vote. Still, the Democrat said he’d probably vote for Manchin this fall.

“I recognize the position he’s in because the state’s heavily Republican now,” said Vdovjac, a retired educator from Wheeling, as he helped grill hotdogs and hamburgers. “But he’s lost my loyalty.

Manchin knows he needs to explain his vote to his constituents, although he didn’t have any public events scheduled this weekend. Before and after the AP interview, conducted at Charleston’s International House of Pancakes, he told everyone who would listen — including his waitress — that his Kavanaugh vote was not based on emotion.

“I made my decision based on facts,” the senator told Kevin Estep, a 57-year-old registered Democrat and Trump voter who was eating buttered pancakes with his family.

“You hang in there and vote your heart,” Estep, who lives in nearby St. Albans, told the senator.

After Manchin left the building, Estep warned that the #MeToo movement “is like a dam that’s about to break open.”

Asked whether he’d support Manchin this fall, he responded, “Always.”

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Kanaugh bump? Republicans hope one exists

President Donald Trump with a rally on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, in Rochester, Minn. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP)

On the brink of a political gender war, President Donald Trump’s Republican Party is threatening to erode Democrats’ enthusiasm advantage as the fiery debate over his Supreme Court nominee enters its final phase.

Political strategists in both parties suggest the GOP’s enthusiastic embrace of Brett Kavanaugh despite multiple allegations of sexual misconduct may have shifted the political landscape — at least temporarily — by injecting new energy into the most passionate Republican voters a month before the election. Trump’s aggressive defense of Kavanaugh — and more recent attacks against his female accuser — have resonated particularly with white working-class men, who are a shrinking voting bloc nationally but remain a critical segment of Trump’s political base.

For now, many men apparently agree with Trump’s warning that the surge in women speaking out against sexual violence in the #MeToo era has created “a very scary time” for men in America.

“Democrats have been trying to destroy Judge Brett Kavanaugh since the very first second he was announced,” Trump declared as he rallied voters in Minnesota on Thursday night. He added: “What they’re putting him through and his family is incredible.”

Energy is everything in midterm elections, which typically draw fewer eligible voters to the polls. And through the first 21 months of the Trump era, Democrats have claimed an undisputed enthusiasm advantage — as evidenced by a slate of special election victories and fundraising successes.

Yet even a small erosion in the so-called enthusiasm gap could make a big difference in the Democratic Party’s high-stakes push to wrest control of Congress from the GOP.

The Kavanaugh debate “is making the two groups of people who are already mad at each other in America even madder. To me, the question is, who is maddest?” said Gary Pearce, a veteran North Carolina Democratic strategist.

Just as Trump benefited from opposition to Hillary Clinton in his 2016 election, the GOP could benefit from opposition to the Democratic Party’s handling of Kavanaugh this midterm season.

“This may be energizing the right — especially people who don’t like Trump and may not have been motivated to vote,” Pearce said. “This is the substitute for Hillary.”

The Supreme Court clash has already attracted a surge of new campaign cash for both parties.

The Republican National Committee and its associated groups raised more than $3 million in digital donations this past weekend, the most it’s ever raised online, according to a GOP official. And last Saturday was the GOP’s highest single-day online fundraising haul.

The official wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss the fundraising details and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The GOP says the fundraising surge is fueled by anger over how allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh have played out.

On the other side, the online Democratic fundraising portal ActBlue pulled in $25 million in just two days, while Emily’s List, a group that aims to elect more Democratic women, also set a record for online fundraising.

Trump and his lieutenants on Capitol Hill tried to stoke that same anger on Thursday as they outlined an aggressive timeline for the Kavanaugh confirmation. A round of Senate voting is expected Friday, with the final vote likely Saturday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that an FBI supplemental background investigation didn’t corroborate any of the allegations against the Supreme Court nominee. The Kentucky Republican said senators wouldn’t be “hoodwinked” by those who have tried to “smear” Kavanaugh’s reputation.

“This is a search and destroy mission,” the second-ranking Senate Republican, Sen. John Cornyn, added.

The GOP’s support of Kavanaugh puts the party at odds with the rising #MeToo movement that has empowered women across America to share their stories of sexual violence. The movement has triggered the downfall of powerful men in media, sports and politics — Republicans and Democrats alike.

“It’s a very scary time for young men,” Trump said this week. A day later, he mocked Kavanaugh’s accuser’s memory of the alleged sexual assault.

Many women, backed by liberal men, have been outraged by Trump’s comments.

“The idea that it’s a terrible time to be a young, white guy is completely absurd,” said Florida-based Democratic strategist Steve Schale.

He noted, however, there is “some evidence that the Kavanaugh stuff is galvanizing Republicans, particularly Republican men.”

“It’s coming at a price,” Schale added. “We’re seeing Republican women throw their hands up.”

Indeed, while Trump often states, falsely, that he won the women’s vote in 2016, Democrats have enjoyed an advantage with women for most of the last three decades.

Political strategist Matthew Dowd, a former Republican who has criticized Trump, said it’s unclear so far whether GOP energy behind Kavanaugh represents “some men on social media” or a “movement.”

“I’ve always been a believer that the most motivating factor in these elections is who is the angriest,” Dowd said. “Whoever loses is going to be the angriest.”

There is scant polling so far suggesting that the GOP is truly benefiting from a Kavanaugh bump. Strategists note that polls often tighten in the month before any election.

A Quinnipiac University poll released this week shows that opposition to Kavanaugh is actually growing, as is the gender gap.

Women overall oppose the confirmation, 55 percent to 37 percent, while men support it 49 percent to 40 percent, Quinnipiac found.

The Trump White House is expected to intensify its support for Kavanaugh as the final vote approaches.

“You can feel the energy both for the president and for his nominee in Brett Kavanaugh,” Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told Fox News. “People are outraged at the way that the Democrats have totally made this process into a partisan battle and they’ve created something that should never have happened.”

She continued: “And I think the message is very clear: Dems, you made a mistake here and it’s going to show up in November.”

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AP writer Brian Slodysko in Indianapolis and Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Republicans face payback over Kavanaugh mess

Supreme Court is seen in Washington. Brett Kavanaugh’s fate remains uncertain, but some on the front-lines of the Republican Party’s midterm battlefield fear the GOP may have already lost. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Whether or not Republicans ultimately confirm President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, some on the front lines of the GOP’s midterm battlefield fear the party may have already lost.

In the days after a divided nation watched Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser Christine Blasey Ford deliver conflicting stories about what happened when they were teenagers, Republican campaign operatives acknowledged this is not the fight they wanted six weeks before Election Day.

Should they give Kavanaugh a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court after Ford’s powerful testimony about sexual assault, Republicans risk enraging the women they need to preserve their House majority. Vote him down, they risk enraging the party’s defiant political base.

In swing state New Hampshire, former Republican Party chair Jennifer Horn said Republicans are “grossly underestimating the damage that would be done” at the ballot box in the short and long term should they confirm Kavanaugh.

Horn, a lifelong Republican and frequent Trump critic, described Ford as “the most credible person I have ever seen publicly talk about this.” One young friend of Horn’s family was so inspired by the testimony that she revealed her own painful experience with sexual assault on social media for the first time Thursday.

“Republicans have to ask themselves if they’re willing not only to sell the soul of the party, but sell their own souls to get this particular conservative on the Supreme Court,” Horn said in an interview.

Another wing of the party was just as convinced that Republicans would trigger Election Day doom should they fail to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court pick.

“If Republicans do not get this vote taken and Kavanaugh confirmed, you can kiss the midterms goodbye,” conservative icon Rush Limbaugh boomed from his radio studio this week, a message that Trump echoed on Twitter and Republican strategists repeated privately on Friday.

In what has become the year of the woman in national politics, there are no easy answers for a party aligned with a president who has dismissed more than a dozen allegations of sexual misconduct of his own.

The GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines Friday to send Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate, with the informal understanding that the FBI would investigate the allegations against Kavanaugh. A final vote would be delayed by a week.

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona crystalized the challenge before the GOP. After announcing his support for Kavanaugh early Friday, he was confronted by tearful victims of sexual assault as he tried to board an elevator in the U.S. Capitol.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you,” one woman cried as Flake stood uncomfortably in the elevator. “You’re telling me that my assault doesn’t matter, that what happened to me doesn’t matter, that you’re going to let people who do these things into power.”

Flake later insisted on the FBI investigation to secure his vote allowing Kavanaugh’s nomination to move out of the Judiciary Committee. He is retiring at the end of the year and the Republican congresswoman seeking to replace him, Martha McSally, said nothing for much of this week before releasing a statement Friday afternoon noting Kavanaugh and Ford were “heard.”

“The Senate’s role is to provide advice and consent on this nomination, and to seek the truth,” McSally said. “I encourage them to use the next week to gather any additional relevant facts, and then act on this nomination.”

The balancing act reflects the impossible politics ahead for some Republican candidates, particularly those in swing states and suburban House districts.

McSally has come out as a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of her high school track coach. At the same time, she has strongly embraced Trump and his combative ethos, which Kavanaugh exemplified during his Thursday testimony.

She indirectly criticized Trump last week after he questioned why Ford didn’t report her assault decades ago.

“A lot of people who have not been through this — thank God they have not been through this — don’t understand that a lot of us don’t immediately go to law enforcement,” McSally said.

Two key Republicans — Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Maine Sen. Susan Collins — have also avoided taking a firm position so far. Neither is up for re-election this year, yet both are facing intense political pressure from the right and left back home, with the potential that aftershocks from their votes could be felt for years to come.

Cindy Noyes, a registered Republican in Maine, attended public schools with Collins and usually agrees with her. But not if she backs Kavanaugh.

“It’d be hard for me not to support her, but I really, really, really encourage her to vote against him,” Noyes said of Collins, who doesn’t face re-election until 2020.

In Alaska, Juneau voter Sally Saddler, an independent, said she voted for Murkowski in the past, but likely wouldn’t back her again if the Republican senator decides to confirm Kavanaugh.

Murkowski also faces the prospect of a primary challenge from the right should she break with her party.

That potential has already convinced Anchorage Republican Women’s Club president Judy Eledge to consider supporting a Murkowski primary challenger in 2022.

“I would support the other person, and I think there’s a lot of other people that would,” she said.

Republican candidates in states Trump won overwhelmingly in 2016 have been far more eager to follow Trump’s lead on Kavanaugh. Meanwhile, some vulnerable Democratic incumbents like Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly and Montana Sen. Jon Tester announced Friday they would stick with the Democratic minority in opposing the nomination. Others, including Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, remain undecided.

Evangelical leaders in contact with the White House have quietly launched an influence campaign designed to rally 1.5 million evangelical voters behind Kavanaugh across five key states: Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Florida and North Dakota. The campaign features a video on social media and a series of direct text messages.

Republicans are on their heels in the nation’s suburbs, the region that features the most competitive House races.

GOP Rep. Leonard Lance, running for re-election in a suburban New Jersey district Trump lost in 2016, was forced to backtrack this week after being caught on tape questioning Kavanaugh’s accusers. After Ford’s testimony, he endorsed calls for an expanded FBI inquiry.

Democratic challenger Tom Malinowski says the issue goes beyond whether Kavanaugh should be on the court.

“It’s precisely that tendency to dismiss accusers of powerful men that makes it hard for survivors to make what is already a wrenchingly difficult decision to come forward,” Malinowski said in an interview, adding that it’s particularly important for male politicians to speak up instead of leaving all the difficult votes to women.

Republicans are betting that Democrats are already so motivated by their opposition to Trump that the Supreme Court fight won’t make much difference, said Republican pollster Ed Goeas.

Most off-year elections are decided by which side is more energized. Most polls suggest that Democrats have a distinct advantage on that front.

“All Republicans can do is close that gap at this point,” Goeas said.

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Associated Press writers Bill Barrow in Atlanta, David Sharp in Portland, Maine, Nick Riccardi in Denver, Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska, Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, and Thomas Beaumont in Washington contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Establishment failures, diverse wins mark primary results

Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, right, speaks to supporters with his wife Casey at an election party after winning the Republican primary Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

President Donald Trump got his man in battleground Florida, but he watched a prominent immigration ally fall in Arizona in what was another eventful night in the 2018 midterm season.

Arizona and Florida held primaries Tuesday, both of which tested Trump’s influence. There were also new signs of diversity on the Democratic side.

Takeaways from one of the final rounds of voting ahead of midterm elections:

FLORIDA ESTABLISHMENT FAIL

The political establishment in both parties had a bad night in Florida’s high-profile race for governor.

On the Republican side, Trump got his man, Republican congressman Ron DeSantis, who beat out the establishment favorite, state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Despite Trump’s support, DeSantis was not the strongest general election candidate in the race, operatives in both parties suggest.

The three-term Republican congressman who makes frequent Fox News appearances is known as an immigration hard-liner in a state where Hispanic voters hold outsized sway. And lest there be any question about his allegiance to Trump’s divisive immigration policies, DeSantis encourages his toddler to “build the wall” with blocks in one campaign ad.

That’s a message that may play well among a general electorate in West Virginia, where Trump won by more than 40 percentage points in 2016, but Trump carried Florida by only a single percentage point.

On the Democratic side, liberal champion Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, bested a crowded field that included establishment favorite Gwen Graham, the former congresswoman and daughter of Florida political icon Bob Graham.

Graham, who was considered a centrist, was viewed as a more attractive general election candidate in the purple state. Gillum is more liberal, having earned the backing of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and billionaire Tom Steyer.

To win the governor’s office for the first time since 1999, Democrats will have to come together quickly.

The results on both sides underscore the outsized influence of each party’s most passionate voters in lower-turnout off-year elections.

McSALLY’S CHALLENGE

Martha McSally won the GOP nomination for Arizona Senate, but the results show how divided the party is and the challenge that lies ahead.

A significant number of Republicans backed former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and fellow immigration hard-liner Kelli Ward.

Now McSally has to bring together the party — including some of Trump’s most devoted supporters — going into the fall against Democrat Krysten Sinema, who is widely considered well-positioned. The race gives Democrats one of their best pickup opportunities in the nation.

Meanwhile, it would be wrong to assume that McSally’s win is a repudiation of the tough rhetoric of her challengers, who essentially split the conservative vote.

The 86-year-old man known nationwide as Sheriff Joe, who personifies the tough immigration policies that define the modern-day Republican Party, may never serve in public office again after his loss Tuesday.

(For those who forget, Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt last year for ignoring a judge’s order to stop detaining immigrants in the country illegally. Trump later pardoned him.)

MISSING: BLUE WAVE IN FLORIDA

If a Democratic wave is coming to Florida, it may have to be supplied by independents.

With just a handful of precincts left to count, Republicans cast more than 1.6 million Florida ballots, while registered Democrats were on track to fall just below 1.5 million. Beyond the raw vote totals, the GOP count also was a larger share of its last presidential election turnout.

That measure is a useful way to assess which party is more excited about a midterm election, and it’s particularly useful in Florida because the state limits primaries only to voters registered by party.

The GOP total came to almost 35 percent of what Trump won in Florida in 2016. The Democrats’ total was about 33 percent of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 turnout.

Of course, it doesn’t mean Republicans are guaranteed big wins in Florida this fall. But it does show the GOP base in Florida is anything but depressed, turning out in solid numbers to nominate DeSantis after he was endorsed by Trump.

The scenario cuts against the grain of a midterm election cycle that’s been defined by energy on the left in other states, and it puts an added burden on Florida Democratic candidates to attract voters who didn’t participate in Tuesday’s primaries.

FLORIDA MONEY PIT

There was less drama on the Senate side in battleground Florida, but the stage is now set for what will likely be the nation’s most expensive midterm contest.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott easily captured the Republican nomination in the GOP’s bid to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson. At 75 and seeking his fourth term, Nelson is considered particularly vulnerable as voters continue to show disdain for candidates with deep ties to the establishment.

Scott, an independently wealthy businessman, has already spent more $27 million on the race compared to Nelson’s $6 million. The conservative Koch network has identified the Senate seat as a top target, and outside groups on both sides are expected to dump millions more in the contest.

The extraordinary price tag of running a statewide campaign in Florida, which features 10 media markets, will test each side’s resolve and resources — particularly on the Democratic side.

Republicans know Scott can and will dump millions more of his own personal wealth into his campaign. Democrats aren’t so lucky.

National Democrats are already weighing how best to invest their limited dollars considering their challenges in other states where their incumbents are on the defensive. Yet if Democrats lose Nelson’s seat in Florida, their already narrow path to the Senate majority becomes virtually nonexistent.

DIVERSITY WAVE GROWS

In his upset victory, Gillum joins two other African-American gubernatorial nominees on the November ballot, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams and Maryland Democrat Ben Jealous, in what may be the party’s most diverse midterm class in history.

No state is currently represented by a black governor.

The nominations, of course, do not mean the candidates will continue to re-write history.

Republicans have cast Gillum, like the other black nominees, as part of their party’s far-left fringe. Indeed, in all three cases, the candidates were backed by Sanders. Progressive billionaires Steyer and George Soros invested heavily in Gillum’s primary campaign as well.

Diversity may help win Democratic primaries in 2018, but it’s unclear if it’ll help Democrats pick up seats among a broader general election audience.

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Associated Press writer Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Trump dump: Growing list of ‘forgotten Republicans’

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski, File)

The ranks of forgotten Republicans are growing.

Some were forced out, such as Tim Pawlenty, a former two-term Minnesota governor who lost this week’s bid for a political comeback. Some, such as the retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chose to leave on their own. Others still serve, but with a muted voice.

Whether members of Congress, governors or state party leaders, they are struggling to fit into President Donald Trump’s Republican Party.

The expanding list of marginalized GOP leaders underscores how thoroughly Trump has dominated — and changed — the Republican Party in the nearly two years since he seized the presidency. The overwhelming majority of elected officials, candidates and rank-and-file voters now follow the president with extraordinary loyalty, even if he strays far from the values and traditions many know and love.

The Republicans left behind are warning their party with increasing urgency, though it’s unclear whether anyone’s listening.

“I hope this is a very temporary place for the Republican Party,” said Corker. “I hope that very soon we will return to our roots as a party that’s very different, especially in tone, from we’ve seen coming out of the White House.”

The forgotten Republicans — people like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — have been unwilling to sit quietly as Trump steers the GOP away from free trade, fiscal responsibility, consistent foreign policy and civility.

Isolation and political exile have been their rewards.

Their diminished roles leave fewer Republican leaders willing to challenge Trump under any circumstances, even in his darkest moments.

Fact checkers have recorded an extraordinary level of false and misleading statements flowing out of the White House. And beyond dishonesty, some of the forgotten have decried a disturbing pattern of racially charged rhetoric on issues like immigration, NFL anthem protests and Confederate monuments.

“White nationalism isn’t something I’m ever going to be comfortable with. But it is embraced by, or simply doesn’t bother, a lot of Republicans,” said former Ohio Republican Party chairman Matt Borges, once a Trump confidant who was forced from his leadership post after criticizing Trump in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election.

After Trump’s victory, Borges returned to practicing law, while he continues to play a modest role in local politics.

“To me, it became a matter of how much of your soul are you willing to sell. I would be the wrong person to be leading this party right now,” Borges said.

Trump remains popular among rank-and-file Republicans. And the vast majority of Republican candidates across the country this midterm season are pledging unconditional loyalty — and being rewarded with primary victories.

Gallup found that 82 percent of Republicans approved of the president’s job performance earlier this month. That’s compared to just 34 percent of independents and 7 percent of Democrats.

Kasich, who has not ruled out a primary bid against Trump in 2020, said the president’s approval is misleading because the universe of people identifying as Republican is shrinking.

“We’re dealing with a remnant of the Republican Party. The party is not what it was,” Kasich said in an interview.

The term-limited governor said he’s content to focus quietly on addressing issues like the opioid epidemic and urban violence on a bipartisan basis while the Trump-led GOP focuses on partisan squabbling.

“Let those in the Republican Party who want to be ideological and partisan, let them wallow in their own failures,” said Kasich.

Other GOP leaders aren’t feeling quite so emboldened.

Pawlenty’s quest for a third term collapsed after Republican primary voters determined his experience — and his years-old description of Trump as “unfit and unhinged” — weren’t welcome.

Pawlenty politely declined to be interviewed, but a former aide, Alex Conant, said this week’s result, like other primary elections this year, sent a clear message about the modern GOP.

“There’s not a lot of room for dissent in the Republican Party right now,” Conant said. “Moderates don’t feel welcome. And if you’re not loyal to Trump, there’s not necessarily room for you.”

The details may be different, but Pawlenty’s unexpected exit is reminiscent of other public officials who have struggled to find their footing in the Trump era.

Bush, another Trump critic, declined to comment for this story. He has been forced into silence, at least in part, for fear of hurting his son’s political career. In June, Donald Trump Jr. withdrew from a fundraiser for Texas land commissioner George P. Bush after Jeb Bush criticized the president’s policy of separating immigrant children from their families at the border.

Another periodic Trump critic, former House Speaker John Boehner, is in the midst of a 20-stop bus tour to help raise money for vulnerable House Republicans.

Just don’t ask whom he’s raising money for.

Spokesman David Schnittger said it was up to each of the campaigns involved to disclose Boehner’s help. “I’m not sure anyone has exercised that option to date,” he said.

Boehner’s successor, Paul Ryan, has seen his once sky-high career prospects flounder in the Trump era. The 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee has occasionally criticized Trump, but he is retiring at the end of the year.

In South Carolina, Republican Congressman Mark Sanford narrowly lost his June primary hours after Trump tweeted he had been “very unhelpful” and highlighted the congressman’s extramarital affair.

Days later, Sanford described Trumpism as “a cancerous growth.” As he prepares to leave Congress, he’s warning the GOP the cancer is spreading.

“We have a president that will tell numerous dis-truths in the course of a day, yet that’s not challenged,” Sanford said in an interview. “What’s cancerous here is in an open political system, there has to be some measure of objective truth.”

“I’m baffled by the way so many people have looked the other way,” he said.

Asked whether he feels like he fits in today’s GOP, Sanford said simply, “No.”

Back in Ohio, Borges vowed that his departure from politics was only temporary.

“The Trump phenomenon is going to end at some point in time. That might be six years, that might be two years, that might be sooner. No one knows,” the former Ohio GOP chairman said. “When it does end, it’s the job of a lot of us … to make sure that the party is still populated by good, honest, decent candidates and officeholders who we can continue to be proud of.”

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AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Rebranding what once were the ‘Koch brothers’

David, left, and Charles Koch. (Phelan M. Ebenhack, Bo Rader/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

The conservative Koch brothers are no more — even if they remain a political powerhouse.

The Democrats’ super villains for much of the last decade have quietly launched a rebranding effort that may vanquish the “Koch brothers” moniker from American politics. The catalyst came earlier in the year when ailing billionaire conservative David Koch stepped away from the family business, leaving older brother Charles as the undisputed leader of the Kochs’ web of expanding political and policy organizations.

There were already few, if any, clearly identifiable links between the Kochs and their most active spinoff organizations such as Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners or the LIBRE Initiative. But in the days after the younger billionaire’s retreat, company officials quickly began pushing journalists across the country to change references from “Koch brothers” in their coverage to “Koch network” or one of their less-recognizable entities.

Asked about the shift on Saturday, Koch’s chief lieutenants explained that 82-year-old Charles Koch was always far more involved with their political efforts than his ailing brother. The elder Koch addressed the shift directly as he welcomed hundreds of donors to an invitation-only summit at a luxury resort in the Rocky Mountains.

“I am not getting weak in the knees. … Truly I am not,” Charles Koch said with a smile. He added: “We’re just getting started.”

Regardless of its name, the conservative network remains one of the nation’s most influential political forces, a conservative powerhouse simultaneously playing the long- and short-game in a way that ensures it will remain a dominant force long after President Donald Trump is gone. And in sharp contrast to the Republican president who is eager to put his name on his accomplishments, the Kochs are happy to do it in the dark.

While much of the network operates out of sight, the Charles Koch Foundation announced Saturday that it would begin publicly posting all multiyear grant agreements with universities. Last year, the foundation gave $90 million for projects on 300 campuses.

An estimated 500 Koch donors — each having committed at least $100,000 annually — gathered for the weekend “seminar” that featured a handful of elected officials and high-profile influencers. As is customary for the bi-annual meetings, guests were required to give up their cell phones during some presentations. And while The Associated Press joined a handful of media organizations allowed to witness some activities, photos and videos were strictly prohibited.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, both Republican Senate candidates, led the list of elected officials on hand. Senate Republican whip John Cornyn of Texas, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin were also on the guest list.

The money behind the Kochs’ push to transform education, philanthropy, immigration, health care, tax laws, courts, government regulation, prisons and the economy has long been cloaked in secrecy.

Koch officials have vowed to spend between $300 million and $400 million to shape the 2018 midterm elections. But there’s no way to verify how or where the money is spent because most of its organizations are registered as nonprofit groups, which aren’t required to detail their donors like traditional political action committees.

While they have long been closely aligned with the Republican Party’s far-right flank, they oppose the Trump administration’s policies on spending, trade and immigration.

On Saturday, network leaders seized on Trump’s push to apply billions of dollars in tariffs on America’s top trading partners. The burgeoning trade war has sparked an outcry from business leaders across the nation, and in a new video Charles Koch lashes out at what he calls the “destructive” rise of “protectionism.”

Koch official Brian Hooks warned that, on trade and immigration, “the divisiveness of this White House is causing long-term damage.”

Democrats who invested extraordinary time and resources into attacking the Koch brothers in recent years concede that, in the era of Trump at least, the billionaire industrialists are no longer the left’s No. 1 enemy.

Adam Jentleson, who previously worked for former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, said Koch’s quiet rebranding effort represents “a small victory.”

“Sen. Reid was always very clear that drawing the Koch brothers out of the shadows was a big part of his strategy,” Jentleson said. “He thought people deserved to know who was behind the dark money. This seems like a recognition that they’re uncomfortable being out front and are scurrying to get back in the shadows.”

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