The Fix's Ask Aaron: 2017 politics year-in-review

Dec 29, 2017

The Fix's senior reporter Aaron Blake chats with readers in his weekly politics chat series.

Today is a special Ask Aaron chat. Why? Because the calendar is soon turning to 2018, and because I've been thinking a lot about what the last year has brought.

(Also, because apparently that's what you're supposed to do between Christmas and New Year's.)

There are lots of great questions already. Let's get to it

With Jones confirmed in Alabama, will Pence be casting more votes in the Senate? Or will this mean that instead of him voting to break ties, fewer Republican votes will pass?

Something tells me Pence could remain very busy. The GOP can now afford only 2 defections, rather than 3. And they've been constantly teetering around that 50-vote threshold already.

We'll see how ambitious the agenda is in the new year, but I suspect Pence won't leave town when big bills are being considered.

For all the talk from democrats about huge gains in the mid-terms, President Trump's approval rating among likely voters is right where it was when he was elected and the GOP made major gains in both houses of Congress. Meanwhile, the RNC has far outraised the DNC. So why the optimism among democrats?

I haven't seen too many likely voter screens on reputable polls, but if I grant your premise:

1) Democrats have a double-digit edge on the generic ballot

2) They have performed well in pretty much every election this year, beating Clinton's showing by double digits in many cases

3) The first midterm under a new president is almost always tough.

Will you answer some of the questions from last week's cancelled chat? Thank you.

Unfortunately they need to be re-submitted!

The President did not host a state dinner, did not conduct a formal press conference, did not attend the White House press correspondents dinner, did not attend the Kennedy Center honors, did not host a Performance at the White House (usually broadcast later on PBS), etc. Question: Does the WH believe that this endears him to his base while the majority wonders what happened to the norms of civility or is it something else?

I think these are just the latest examples of how Trump doesn't care for the traditions of the presidency. And much of his base seems to like that.

I also doubt many swing voters are more upset about no year-end press conference. The biggest deterrent to that is angry journalists who may complain to the White House. But again, I don't think this White House cares.

What is he talking about? Is Anna Wintour the editor of Vanity Fair, not Vogue? https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/946401576381505536

She is artistic director of Conde Nast, which owns both magazines, so she could seemingly assert some influence at Vanity Fair.

Why hasn’t someone in Trump’s circle explained the separation of powers to him?? It’s been a year and he’s STILL struggling with basic civics concepts. The mind boggles.

I'm not sure this is all about how he doesn't understand it. I think it's partly him 1) being frustrated and 2) trying to stretch the bounds of what he's able to do. I think that's a big part of it, in fact.

Does he think that he can hypnotize all of us if he say "no collusion" enough times in quick succession? I've always thought that Trump was pretty transparent in general. His lies are so laughable. And whenever he's done something wrong he accuses his foil of doing it way worse. I can't believe 38 (or whatever) percent of people approve of this guy.

There is certainly a strategy behind saying the same thing over and over again. It's one of the few things he's disciplined about.

Certainly, the Senate is up for grabs. Is the House also in play?

For sure. In fact, David Wasserman says Democrats are favored to win the House.

Were you at an office party last week instead of the chat?

Sorry to have missed it! Unfortunately something came up. But I assure you I was having no fun without you guys.

Would the GOP really try to double down on the tax bill by cutting entitlements (which disproportionately benefit their base) in an already-difficult midterm year?

It doesn't sound like McConnell is AT ALL enthused about this. And there is little doubt that Democrats would LOVE to have this is a political issue. Few issue resonate like arguing that someone is taking away your Medicare or your Social Security.

When someone with a very bad haircut makes an assertion that is untrue, could you say right away that it is a LIE? For example, when he says "It's Proven there is no collusion". You can say "This is a Lie. The Mueller team has yet to report on whether there was collusion or not."

I still say calling them lies involves too much judgement by journalists. I do think, however, that we should point out that the alternative to calling these things lies is arguably worse: That Trump has no real grasp of the concept of truth.

I also think the idea that calling these statements "lies" would change anything is fanciful. Trump only has his base, and neutral journalists calling what he says "lies" isn't going to convince them. In fact, it will just make them feel like he's being treated unfairly.

Where does an accused Pedophile go after the Alabama Board of Elections denies his appeal and Certifies the election to a democrat? He can't go to the Gadsen Mall, that's for sure!

It sure doesn't sound like he's going away any time soon. Maybe he runs for governor?

How big a wave does Beto O'Rourke need to knock off Ted Cruz in next year's Texas Senate race?

A really big one. Texas is a great state for Democrats to get 40-45 percent, but getting more than that is extremely difficult.

That said, I don't think we can totally dismiss O'Rourke, given Cruz's numbers haven't been great.

“And by the way, I didn’t deal with Russia. I won because I was a better candidate by a lot. I won because I campaigned properly and [Hillary Clinton] didn’t.” This actually seems weaker to me; it sounds like the noise one potential defendant makes when he/she is setting up a defense that other people may have colluded, but "I" did not.

That's a fair read, I suppose. (To everyone else here, I argued today that this sounded firmer than "I didn't collude." It sounded to me like he was saying there was no contact.)

So Roy Moore based his challenge on rumors and statistical speculation. He claims it was statistically unlikely that so many blacks would turn out to vote. But wasn't it statistically unlikely that the Alabama Republican Party would nominate a candidate so repugnant as Roy Moore? And would it not be statistically LIKELY to have such a strong backlash from everyone else in Alabama that Moore would lose? It would be statistically unlikely to come across a 10-pound mountain of fresh dog poop on the sidewalk. But it would be statistically likely that you'd smell it and avoid it.

Philip Bump did a good takedown of the Moore campaign's entire line of argument. It was based on basically nothing.

Didn't he run for Governor before? I thought he took 4th behind a Lecherous old man who was caught with an Alabama Official?

He did finish 4th in the 2010 Republican primary for governor, behind Bentley, now-Rep. Bradley Byrne, and the son of former governor Fob James who has never held office. They were all bunched pretty close, but still.

What do you think, Aaron?

Nothing is impossible. I think it's still extremely unlikely this year. It would become significantly more likely if Democrats won back the House.

Isn't the risk of a firmer denial that if incontrovertible evidence is found to the contrary, it's harder for Trump to wiggle out of it? At some point, enough House and Senate Republicans will get fed up with him (cf. Nixon/Watergate after the tapes).

On Count No. 2, I still think we're a long ways off that.

On No. 1, that is certainly the risk. But Trump's mouth has gotten him in trouble plenty of times before, most notably when it comes to firing Comey and then explaining that he did so with the Russia investigation on his mind.

Who do you expect to be gone next? Tillerson? Sessions? Mattis? Looks like Kelly is in it for the long haul?

Tillerson would still be the odds-on favorite among the big names. Trump has denied Tillerson is on his way out, but we'll see!

Why not only report what was said without commenting either way? For example, The president said, ".....". And then report what the opposing side says. Opponents in response said, "...." Allow the reader to decipher and form his/her own opinion. Too easy?

I don't think this is the answer, either. When something is objectively and provably wrong, it shouldn't be put forth as a he-said-she-said. It's a disservice to readers.

I also think, though, that we always need to make sure that the things we are saying are objectively true are, in fact, objectively true. Our own biases tend to make us believe certain things are incontrovertible when they may not be.

Which Republican do you think will be first to throw his/her hat into the ring to challenge President Trump for 2020? Note: I predict that Trump will choose not to run in 2020, but that's another story.

Flake seems to be the one who is leaning into it the most, but I don't even see him running as being likely. The one that makes the most sense to me -- even as I don't think he'll run -- is Kasich.

If collusion is found, would the GOP Congress start impeachment proceedings to save their butts in the Mid-Term Elections?

It really depends on how you define collusion. The GOP base will give Trump plenty of latitude on what Mueller finds, and elected Republicans will be wary of impeachment as long as the base remains behind him.

How does Mauer (yes, your dog) generally react when this Orange Person is intensely praised on TV (i.e. Mr. Pence, for three minutes, that bit before the Holidays)?

He's much more concerned about ringing doorbells and barking dogs.

Chances he remains as Speaker of the House after the 2018 mid-terms? (Could either be ousted by disgruntled colleagues or Reps could lose control of the House)

I would say about 20%. I would say Dems taking the House is about a 50-50 proposition, and even if GOP keeps the majority, everything I've heard suggests he's leaning toward retirement.

Trump announces he's not running for a 2nd term. Your thoughts?

I think they would love it. Incumbent presidents usually win reelection, but he's uniquely unpopular and looks like he'll be a drag downballot. My guess is they'd have a better chance at keeping the presidency with a new nominee.

Is it 35% or 32%? Have there been any polls since the Tax Bill was signed?

Right around 35%, consistently.

I know Trump seems to throw out the rulebook, but he seems to be very worried about collusion with Russia. Should he just take a chill pill and release everything now and hope that his voters will forgive him?

Devil's advocate here: What if he's just doing all of this because he likes to be pitted against the establishment?However short-sighted his base strategy might be, what if this is just feeding into that -- rather than him being legitimately worried about what might come from the Russia probe?

It's worth considering.

If he does retire, is it a case of "declare victory and get out"? Or does he really think the tax monstrosity cements his political legacy? I can't imagine someone so obviously ambitious being happy about that.

I'm not sure it's so much about declaring victory as understanding that the sledding is likely to get tougher after 2018, no matter whether the GOP continues to control Congress. If you plan to head for the exits now, you can put all you have into that final year and not worry about the electoral costs.

It is difficult to see how Doug Jones is no more than a three year senator. Do you think the Democratic leadership will work hard to protect him from difficult votes, or have they already written him off as not worth trying to save?

They will be primarily occupied with keeping him on the key votes and preventing him from switching parties. Winning reelection will take a miracle in a presidential year.

What do you consider to be the best political story of the year? The worst?

The best political story would be Chris Hurst winning that Virginia state delegate seat. He was the boyfriend of the women who was killed on-air by a disgruntled former co-worker.

The worst story would probably be the sexual harassment allegations made against several politicians.

In weather like this, do you walk around smug and tell stories of the cold Minnesota winters?

No. I used to do that, but I'm not as tough as I used to be.

Talking heads on morning radio talked about why impeachment would be bad for Dems, causing a partisan divide. What could possibly divide Americans any more than they are? And why be spooked by angering the 30% who'd be Trumpsters if he burned down the White House using the Constitution as kindling?

I do believe there is a certain segment of GOP-leaning voters who aren't all that pro-Trump but do think he's unfairly targeted. Impeachment, to me, might create something of a rallying effect -- especially if they aren't convinced of the evidence against him.

I read the article suggesting that the upcoming Senatorial race in Mississippi might turn out like Alabama's recent election. While they do have an expected far-right challenger to the incumbent, do you think there is really any chance at all that Mississippi would elect a Democrat in a statewide election? Ideally, there will be a libertarian, a Green, and/or other parties on the ballot, too. I know, I know, this country likes to only have two (usually poor) choices with an R or D after their name on a ballot, but maybe we'll evolve...

In a presidential year, I'd say no. In a midterm and if Chris McDaniel is the nominee? It can't be ruled out. Democrats biggest hurdle, though, is finding a credible challenger.

How about "the Failing Washington Post" is immediately followed by "which was another Fake Fact in his mind"?

I think you mean the "Failing New York Times." We're the "Amazon Bezos Washington Post." Get it right.

I fear that he wants his legacy to be slashing those entitlements that he so often rails against--even the popular ones like Medicare and Social Security. Then he can walk away happy.

Wanting to do it and actually succeeding are two extremely different things. Cutting taxes is much more palatable than cutting entitlements. 

Obama Dec 2009 48 percent. Trump Dec 2017 47 percent.  Come on Fake News how bad are his ratings? Get accurate.

You can cherry-pick individual polls if you want. (The best poll I've seen for Trump recently is 46% approval, with the worst being 33%.) But you are picking the best number Trump has seen in any poll in a long time.

It's much better to look at averages. Trump's RCP average is currently 39.4%, while Obama's at this point was 49.9%. Also, Obama got absolutely clobbered in the 2010 election a year later. 

We'll see you next year (yuck yuck yuck).

In This Chat
Aaron Blake
Aaron Blake is a senior political reporter, writing for The Fix. 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 lives with his family and trusty dog, Mauer, in Northern Virginia.
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