Ask Aaron: The week in politics

Jun 17, 2014

Aaron Blake chats with readers in his weekly Post Politics chat series.

Hey everyone, and thanks for coming out again. You know this is my favorite part of the week, but I'll keep reminding you anyway.

Let's get this show on the road...

Is it safe to call Ernst the (albeit marginal) frontrunner yet? She's led in two polls and released this very good ad yesterday https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6M2rfQxnwU

I'm getting more comfortable with the idea that this is a toss-up or something close to it, but I also think Ernst probably got a bump from her primary. Let's see if she can hold that edge for a few more weeks.

Some people are taking his passing up becoming House Majority Leader as a sign that he is seriously considering a presidential run. Are you one of those people?

I am not. I think he's playing the long game. He knows he's young and he'll have opportunities ahead of him.

Being Majority Leader or Speaker doesn't really appeal to him, and it probably would end whatever hopes he had of becoming president. Those positions just aren't conducive to future runs for high office.

I don't think the casual fan knows how awesome Germany, my pick to win the whole thing, is. The good news is that they're fun to watch.

They are pretty amazing. But Portugal also looked terrible.

Also -- is it just me or did Pepe totally not get his money's worth out of that headbutt?

Has Cochran been able to stop McDaniel's momentum with money from the Chamber, NRSC, Barbour, etc. or is McDaniel going to run away with it?

I still see McDaniel as the favorite, but whatever illusions people had that the establishment would desert Cochran and leave him for dead, they have quickly disappeared.

This is still a very important race symbolically. And it's worth the establishment's time and money to try and pull what would be a pretty significant upset.

Why did he attend a Republican gathering hosted by Mitt Romney, where he criticized President Obama and announced his opposition to the ACA? That's a strange way to seek the Democratic nomination.

If you try and use logic to understand Brian Schweitzer, you will give yourself an ulcer.

He spent millions of dollars, had no top tier challengers, was targeted by no outside groups and still only managed 56% of the vote. That's not exactly a ringing mandate for him is it?

I am SO GLAD that you mentioned this, because I just wrote about this exact thing: "Incumbents still dominate, but primaries are getting more and more competitive"

Yes, Grahan won by 40 points. But it was because his opponents split up the vote so much. And he was only six points clear of a runoff.

That's not what I would call resounding.

There are plenty of people who are deeply, viscerally uncomfortable with the prospect of being represented by Joni Ernst and Steve King. I'd let that reality sink in before anointing her as the front runner.

I'm sure Democrats would like to attach Ernst to Steve King. I really doubt that there are a lot of Iowa voters that are doing that right now.

Some analysts, like Josh Kraushaar at National Journal, have said that as we come closer to November and pollsters switch to likely voter models, evidence of a wave election will become more obvious. Do you agree?

The polls will definitely be more favorable to the GOP. Likely Voter models almost always are.

And that goes even more today, as most polls have shown a huge enthusiasm gap in the GOP's favor. Given that, the gap between RV (registered voters) and LV is even bigger.

I tend to think Josh is right. People who didn't understand voting models will suddenly see pretty decent-sized shifts and will misunderstand it as a momentum shift. But it's really already baked-in.

Are those graphs for all congressional incumbents or just senators?

All congressional incumbents.

Many thought Tillis ("the establishment") candidate winning the GOP primary in NC would create a bigger obstacle for Hagan. But at this point, doesn't he seem like one of the easier candidates she could've faced?

I don't think anybody had any illusions that he was the GOP's No. 1 choice for a candidate, but they definitely saw him as the best given the alternatives (including a Ron Paul supporter).

I'm not sure I would say Greg Brannon would be doing better right now.

So far the book tour has kind of confirmed the worst suspicions about her being aloof, elitist, out of touch, touchy when challenged, etc. It would bode very bad things if the rest of the tour goes this way, correct?

And we really shouldn't be all that surprised. Now that she's not secretary of state, she was bound to run into tougher questions and coverage.

If she continues to have stumbles, you have to wonder if she wants to spend another 2.5 years dealing with the likes of yours truly.

There's no national election. Enthusiasm is on a race-by-race basis. Candidates and local issues matter. It's tough to cover elections this way, but it's the way they work.

Of course local issues and candidates matter. But there are so many commonalities between races that it's foolish to ignore them.

And given how polarized Americans are, the effect that local issues and candidates can have on a given Republican vs. Democrat race is considerably smaller today than it has been before. That's just a fact.

There is a reason that we can tell you who the winner of 90% of congressional elections will be five months before Election Day. And it didn't used to be that way.

My two cents: (1) The demand for Hillary Clinton news (especially by bored journalists) will outweigh the supply for a long time. (2) The number of voters who care right now is vanishingly small.

As someone who wrote two Clinton pieces yesterday, i concur with this.

Does he expect Democrats to come out for him in this presidential run when he left the party in a lurch by opting not to run this cycle for the Senate seat? He abandoned the party. Who supports quitters?

Schweitzer was never going to get the Democratic establishment to support him, so I don't think that really has much effect.

And I really doubt many Democratic primary voters are aware of him unexpectedly pulling back on running for Senate. That's pretty inside-baseball.

Aren't his 2016 prospects overrated if he can't be more forceful about U.S. military intervention? That was supposed to be his thing. It makes me think he won't be too different from his dad after all.

I do think he needs something of a Sister Souljah Moment, in which he totally breaks with his dad's position on a major issue -- be it Iraq or something else.

But overall, I think his moderate non-interventionism could find a pretty interested audience.

If he was serious about a presidential run, he'd be spending his time differently. He'd be giving lots of interviews to MSNBC hosts and liberal bloggers. He'd be keynoting dinners in Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina. God knows why he is hanging with rich Republicans in Park City.

Again, we really shouldn't apply the normal standards of logic to Brian Schweitzer.

I beg to differ. It has been that way for a very long time. I'm now retired and I have lived all around the country and I have never voted in a competitive Congressional race.

In the early 1900s, it wasn't that uncommon for 50-100 House seats to change hands in a given election. Even in the 1970s you regularly had 30-seat swings that weren't necessarily "wave" elections.

Your experience notwithstanding, polarization has created a much more predictable Election Day.

If she wants to get the common person's vote, she will have to remember to never mention her "houses" again. If she does stumble, which Democrat will take it away from her like Obama did in 2008?

1) On "houses," I agree. You should never mention your plural houses. Ever.

2) Your guess is as good as mine. As I wrote yesterday, Clinton's strength is as much about her as it is the undefined field of other candidates.

I just don't know who could even pick up the pieces, because I think the other candidates are either not interested or don't seem to have "it."

TIME did a thoughtful profile of him a few weeks back. He appears to be a gadfly who enjoys the role of tweaking the leading Democratic Party figures, but lacks the internal fortitude to put himself on the front lines.

That's what I always hear about him, but he's also very folksy and a gifted politician -- the kind of guy who I think would make a splash if he ran.

And that goes double if liberals decide that he's their guy and actually give him some money.

Is he the greatest American since Abe Lincoln?

Without question.

If Hillary and Biden decide not to run, who do you think does?

Everybody and their brother/sister, probably.

I also don't think that Biden will necessarily scare anybody off. Clinton does, but not Biden.

Come on -- it's gerrymandering. Districts are picked down to the block. We've had competing philosophies before but the technology (and money invested in it and at stake in politics) is new.

Gerrymandering exacerbates polarization, but it doesn't completely explain it. The fact is that Americans have been sorting themselves politically for decades.

Even if we had "fair" districts, the vast majority of districts would be predictable on the day after the preceding election.

And yes, we have had competing philosophies before, but it's a matter of degree. People are just much more staked out on one side or another than they used to be. And we have reams and reams of data that backs that up.

Striking how little Republican reaction there was to Obama's executive order banning discrimination by federal contractors based on sexual orientation. Given that most companies want to be federal contractors someday, that's a big step toward a nationwide ban on discimination against LGBT people. And from Republicans -- crickets. They can't support it, because it would anger their base. They can't oppose it, because it would alienate swing voters. Better just to say nothing. What a change from a decade or two ago!

This is correct.

I would also note that, when a court makes a pro-gay marriage ruling, I get basically no reaction from social conservative groups. They know they are losing this battle, and they are moving on to other things -- things where they have a chance.

They will be if he decides to run for President, don't you think?

I really don't think it's much of an issue. Someone might try and bring that up at a debate or something, but it's a pretty obscure argument to make.

Voters just don't play that close of attention.

Aside from the usual suspects already in or gunning for leadership, what Republicans do you see as having the drive to climb the ladder in the next couple years? Same question for Democrats?

Keep an eye on:

Kristi Noem (R-S.D.)

Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.)

David Valadao (R-Calif.)

Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)

Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii)

Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) 

Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.)

Paul Ryan told Robert Costa he encouraged Hensarling to run for Majority Leader. With Ryan being perhaps the most influential member of the conference and Hensarling being pretty ambitious, it seems the only thing that kept him from running was the short time period and McCarthy's big lead in organization. Do you see Hensarling challenging McCarthy after November?

If Boehner retires, I certainly don't think McCarthy waltzes to the speakership. And Hensarling would likely be his top competition.

I think Hensarling made the wise decision that he would rather have a lengthy battle for speaker than a short battle for majority leader that would leave him politically wounded if he lost.

It's a tempting scenario.

I suspect the bulk of elite opinion in DC wants Obama to launch airstrikes in Iraq. I guess most Americans would oppose any military action. I also doubt many would care one bit if Baghdad falls to ISIS or some other band of thugs.

These first two statements are probably true. The third is probably true at first, but I'm guessing it wouldn't stay that way forever.

The polarization "problem" will be solved by time and the graveyard. Elderly and angry white males are the conservative base and guess what? No one to replace them. "Problem" solved.

Except that people get more conservative as they get older. Who is to say that the elderly people who replace them won't be just as conservative?

On which issues do social conservatives think they have a chance? They still care about abortion, but that looks like trench warfare, rather than something that will produce a "winner" anytime soon. Given their increasing emphasis on "religious liberty," social conservatives seem to be accepting minority status.

They are certainly losing plenty of ground. Here's my recent take on this.

Thanks again to everyone who showed up. You guys never cease to amaze.

We will see you next Tuesday at 2!

In This Chat
Aaron Blake
Aaron Blake covers national politics at the Washington Post, where he writes regularly for the Fix, the Post's top political blog. A Minnesota native and graduate of the University of Minnesota, Aaron has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and The Hill newspaper. Aaron and his wife, Danielle, and dog, Mauer, live in Northern Virginia.
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