Ask Aaron: The week in politics

Jun 24, 2014

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

It's primary day!

A few things we're watching today:

-Can Cochran survive somehow?

-Will Rangel survive?

-Why are voters picking on old dudes?

-Will a pro-gay marriage Republican (Richard Hanna) pay a price in upstate New York?

And there's plenty more -- both primary-related and otherwise.

So what's on your mind?

Out here in The Real America (TM), this year's mission is "throw them all out." Even for career politicians, enough is enough -- because it wasn't supposed to be a career in the first place.

I think lots of people share your sentiment, but 95% of incumbents will still probably win reelection this year.

Until Americans who profess to want to "throw them all out" actually vote in primaries or vote for the other party, there will be no "throw the bums out" election.

What is the point of these endless polls? Is he running for a third term?

The point is that he's still president, and his political capital plays a major role in whether or not Democrats will follow his lead and support his initiatives.

If his approval was 60%, immigration reform would have a lot better chance of passage.

It's also important for the 2014 election. The more unpopular a president -- especially in the second term -- the worse his party does.

So yes, Obama polls matter. Without question.

Who do you see retiring in 2016 from the Senate and who runs for another term? McCain, Grassley, Coats, Burr, and Portman?

I think McCain sticks around for sure. Grassley has said he'll run again too. Among the others, maybe Coats is the most likely, but I don't see any of them as being likely, period.

Luis Suarez: terrible or the worst?

I started rooting for Liverpool last year, and this makes me question that decision.

The man is an amazing soccer player with what appears to be terrible judgment.

I would expect FIFA to throw the book at him, given the multiple offenses.

I think the only policy toward Iraq that would please most Americans would be if Obama materialized a magic wand and was able to make the country disappear forever. Whatever Americans think about Iraq, they hate having to think about a place they just wish would go away.

I agree. The most popular decision --in the near term -- would be to do nothing, but then the question becomes whether that would mean even worse consequences down the road. Obama has to mind his legacy here.

There are just no good options for him.

Given how lazily he has campaigned and given how little enthusiasm he seems to have for seeking another term, a lot of ambitious young Republicans in Mississippi must be very annoyed with Thad Cochran for running again.

If he loses, there will definitely be some back-biting. There are a ton of candidates who were waiting to run for that seat, and now they'll have a 41-year-old incumbent who's not going anywhere any time soon.

I don't see what national significance there is to his race. He's in trouble because of (1) a scandal idiosyncratic to himself and (2) demographic shifts in his district -- black Americans increasingly outnumbered by Dominican-Americans. That's about it.

There really is no national significant to his race. It's more about whether an institution in Congress (and former Ways and Means chairman) somehow loses a primary.

Despite being a frequent and outspoken critic of President Obama, McCain's standing with Arizona Republicans is not great. He beat back a less than serious primary challenge from J.D. Hayworth in 2010. Do you see McCain seeking another term in 2016, and will he face a serious challenge for renomination from his fellow Republicans? Who do you see as possibilities to challenge him?

A lot of the state's congressional delegation has voted very conservatively (Schweikert, Franks, Salmon). I have to wonder if one or two of them have an eye on McCain.

But McCain I think is a lot like McConnell and Graham. Theoretically, he's vulnerable to a primary challenge, but he's not going to stand by and let you define the race like Cochran, Lugar, Bennett, etc. That matters a lot, and I think primary challengers will be wary.

She's been in politics for more than thirty years and yet since she's started the book tour she's had minor stumbles on Benghazi and gay marriage and huge stumbles on wealth. Was she expecting an easier ride from the media or is she just out of shape? Either way it doesn't speak well for her, uh, "readiness."

We saw very much the same thing with Jeb Bush. It's just much easier to be a secretary of state or non-candidate. And I think these folks are sometimes surprised that the way we cover them changes.

I think Hillary is a pretty solid messenger who probably is just a little off her game. But you have to wonder if this makes her rethink that whole running again thing.

Am I correct in seeing both parties' leadership as being more hawkish than their rank-and-file supporters? Democrats in Washington seem pretty united in supporting Obama's policies. But polls show a sizable number of Democrats who don't want to do *anything* in Iraq. Republicans mostly are positioning themselves as more hawkish than Obama. But there's a sizable minority of Republican voters who are non-interventionist, and Rand Paul is really the only one speaking for them.

I do think members are being more hawkish than their constituents, because they see the real nature of the threat. Average Americans don't really know what ISIS is or what it's doing; they just know that they don't want to get involved in another war.

Public opinion could change as more is learned. For now, the public's resistance is pretty knee-jerk.

Who are some VP candidates that could potentially balance Rand Paul and his libertarian sympathies well?

Basically, Rand Paul needs his very own Dick Cheney.

You might laugh at that, but it's kind of true. Paul would need someone who establishment Republicans feel like would be their guy in the White House and could have a say in what Paul does. And Paul has shown he's willing to play ball with the establishment.

Maybe someone like Scott Walker or Marco Rubio? Rob Portman?

If in the fall, Scott Walker looks like he's in real danger of losing, that quickly becomes one of the top races in the country for liberal activists, right?

Yep. Unless they are worried that they would be totally embarrassed if they lost to him again -- which isn't an insignificant factor.

The more you go after him, the stronger he c0uld emerge.

I have to think that J. D. Hayworth's experience may provide a discouraging model for any McCain challenger. Especially given that some of those folks have safe seats in the House. Why risk it?

Because, as Chris McDaniel shows, whenever McCain retires, there would be a free-for-all. Maybe it's better to get him 1-on-1?

Also, those congressmen, to my knowledge, have never promoted free government money.

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If you're a big Republican donor or activist considering whom to back in 2016, how nervous are you about "what's next" to come about Chris Christie or Scott Walker?

It's always a consideration. I think, though, that there will be plenty of vetting in the primary. It's not like these congressional primaries where you can slip through.

Hi Aaron -- I probably get three e-mails a day telling me how tight his race is (yes, I'm a supporter, but it's gotten a little ridiculous... they act like the election is tomorrow). What's the reality?

I think it's a state with a slight blue lean and Franken won with just 42% last time. In other words, there are about 8% of voters that he needs to win over for the first time.

If McFadden can run a legitimate campaign, I don't see why this can't be on the table.

This is one of those races that, if the GOP wasn't chasing red states like Arkansas, Louisiana, etc., we would probably be significantly more focused on.

Here's my theory: the primary motivator behind Republicans supporting more intervention in Iraq is residual allegiance to Bush and the fact that Iraq is still perceived as a Republican War. If the same situation existed in a different country, Republicans would conform to the non-interventionism that has become the party's new normal. Thus, Rand is smart to stake out an anti-intervention position to maintain the record most consistent with the most Rs and Americans.

Very interesting take. Here's what I wrote yesterday.

The GOP's more non-interventionist attitude toward Syria and Ukraine would seem to back up your claim.

Isn't Ayotte his perfect choice? She gives him geographic balance, alleviates establishment and neocon concern, expands his appeal to moderates, and, oh yeah, she's a woman.

She's an undersold potential VP candidate. And yes, she's definitely allied herself with the McCains and Grahams. A solid hopeful.

One problem: She faces reelection in 2016 in a swing state. So unless she has an easy race, it's probably tough to pick her.

Obama's approval rating has taken a hit over the past couple of weeks, presumably because of Iraq. But so far it hasn't affected downballot Democrats much. The generic ballot hasn't shifted, Senators like Jeanne Shaheen and Mark Warner are still running well above Obama's job approval. Any thoughts?

Shaheen's and Warner's approval ratings aren't really directly affected by Obama. I just think an unpopular president makes it harder for them to win with the approval ratings that they do have.

I would also add that Obama's approval rating is down a bit in the near term, but it's still pretty on-par with where it's been for months. I'm not surprised there isn't a big shift in those races.

Do you see the personhood duel fading as the race wears on? Or is it potent/long lasting enough that Udall will continue to push it?

It's a way for Democrats to paint Gardner as extreme (define the opponent) and to motivate the base. I'm not sure it's an October strategy.

There I said it. Can we all just acknowledge the fact that she very likely not going to get to 50% on Election Day and is almost certainly not going to get 50% during the runoff?

I wonder how many people made similar declarations in 2002 and 2008?

She's an incumbent, and it's tough to beat incumbents. I think she's got a very tough race, but I'm not close to comfortable with the idea that she's already done-for. There are four months left, and Republicans could spend much of that time beating each other up.

Presumably the senate will be somewhere between 50/50 and 53/47 - what is reasonable to expect the next congress to accomplish?

I think Keystone stands a much better chance if McConnell is the majority leader. There are plenty of Democrats who would be on-board -- if it got a vote.

And maybe Republicans do something small-scale on immigration. That's not really on the table right now, but if the GOP sends Obama something small, would he actually veto it rather than take something that gets him 50% to what he wants?

All of this is wild speculation, of course. But it's fun!

Isn't Iraq a microcosm for what is wrong with his leadership style? When he tries to stake out middle ground and please everyone, he ends up annoying everyone.

I'm not sure everyone is annoyed. A strong majority of Democrats think he's done the right thing so far, according to our poll.

When he would really annoy people is if he sent in a bunch of troops or did absolutely nothing. I think the middle-ground approach is -- politically speaking -- the best of three bad options.

Cory Gardner or Joni Ernst? Bruce Rauner or Mike Ross? Tom Cotton or Thom Tillis?

1. Tie

2. Ross

3. Cotton

Are many House and Senate candidates talking about Iraq? If so, what are they saying?

Not yet. The issue is so new and the situation is so fluid that it's not really a campaign issue.

It could be eventually, but it's a little too early for the politically cautious to be taking firm stances.

Isn't the bigger problem that she seems unable to answer questions that she and her team should have been able to anticipate - gay marriage, wealth, etc - without putting her foot in her mouth? She was never a great candidate in 2007/08 at avoiding gaffes - Bosnia sniper fire, RFK assassination, etc - so does this show that nothing has changed?

It's one thing to gaffe. It's another to gaffe on the same issues twice in two weeks.

Why in the world does she feel the need to keep prosecuting her family's wealth? The best answer to those questions is: "We have been so blessed. I want to make sure Americans have those same opportunities." Done. End of comment.

Well, you couldn't blame her if she did expect that her media friends would spread rose petals in her path to coronation. They've been promoting her for more than 20 years.

People are free to think they want, but I really don't perceive the media as being in love with Hillary Clinton. Her campaign in 2008 was notoriously heavy-handed in its dealings with reporters, and folks remember that.

I would advise a candidate not to talk about it, simply because there are no options that are (1) plausible and (2) popular. If the candidate insisted, I would suggest that she keep it vague: "We need stronger leadership in the White House."

Correct. Even among Republicans, calling for more involvement isn't a clear winner.

Does this class really seem stronger than 2012 as everyone says? Especially if Jeb doesn't run, the pickings seem mighty slim in that every candidate seems to have at least one major problem. I think Romney might be considered a stronger candidate than any of them.

I think the 2016 field has more potential than the 2012 field, but you're right that Romney was kind of the known quantity that they don't really have this time around.

In total, I think I'd rather have the 2016 field, though.

McConnell loses and Republicans take back the senate, the next majority leader is____?

I somewhat disagree with the premise. Would be tough for McConnell to lose if that year is that good for the GOP.

But if I grant the premise, maybe Cornyn, the whip? But you also might see someone like Roy Blunt or even John Thune in there. (Blunt is a former acting House majority leader, FWIW.)

You're around a lot of politicians. Much of the time they are just mouthing platitudes, so it is hard for those of us on the outside to get a sense of how smart and knowledgeable they really are. So, generally, are these super-smart people or not?

I think it was Rahm Emanuel who once said: "All of America is represented in Congress. And by all of America, I mean all of America."

Being in politics requires lots of things, and being really, really smart is helpful -- though not a necessity.

Some candidates who initially looked very strong don't look so hot now: Christie, Rubio, Walker. Some potential candidates who look pretty good may not run: Jeb, Ryan, Huckabee. One promising candidate is unacceptable to much of the party's elite: Paul.

So that leaves ... Jindal!

The idea of a former one-term congressman who voted for Nancy Pelosi for speaker, the stimulus package, and the bailout beating a Republican in Mississippi in a Republican year is just a bit too crazy for me to take seriously, even with McDaniel's baggage. Do you think Childers has a shot against McDaniel?

It's a remote chance -- especially in a midterm year. But lightning has struck a few times in recent years.

Thanks to everyone for another great chat.

We'll be back next Tuesday at 2. See you then!

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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