Steve Bannon to Sean Hannity this week, discussing efforts to recruit primary challengers to incumbent Republican senators: “Nobody’s safe. We’re coming after all of them.”
If every Republican senator is going to get a primary challenger backed by Bannon, no matter what, then what’s the incentive to vote Bannon’s way between now and Election Day?
The problem for the Trump administration is not really one of insufficiently loyal or cooperative Republican senators. Peruse the tables over at Five-Thirty-Eight about how often GOP senators vote the way the Trump administration prefers. Fifteen Republican senators have voted with the White House 95.9 percent of the time. The least “loyal” Republican senator is Susan Collins of Maine, and even she has voted with the White House position 79 percent of the time. The most cooperative Democrat has been Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who votes with the White House position 55 percent of the time.
Apparently the angry populists can’t read a chart. If the Trump administration wants to get more legislation passed by the Senate, it doesn’t need different Republicans; it needs more Republicans. Replacing the most cooperative Democrat with the least cooperative Republican will still get a vote going your way an additional 24 percent of the time. A person who really wanted to see the Trump agenda become law would skip over the primary challenges and focus entirely on unseating the half-dozen or so vulnerable Democratic senators in 2018.
No, the Bannon argument is entirely about style. Barrasso is an even-tempered, soft-spoken statesman and that sort of lawmaker doesn’t hold the interests of the angry populists. This is an argument about aesthetics masquerading as one about ideology and policy. The angry populists want to be entertained. They want drama. They prefer Roy Moore suddenly pulling out a handgun on stage. A good portion of people probably tuned out the paragraph up there because it involves numbers and percentages. Barrasso feels like an establishment squish to them, so he’s got to go.
Steve Bannon wants to send former Congressman Michael Grimm back to the House of Representatives, describing Grimm as “a straight-talking, fire-breathing, conservative populist.” Perhaps, but he’s also a convicted tax felon who served seven months in prison and who admitted in court to hiring illegal immigrants at a restaurant he co-owned. I thought the populist revolution was supposed to go after employers who hire illegal immigrants. But Grimm is an angry guy who once threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony, so I guess he gets a pass. Aesthetics!
One of those aforementioned Democrats who should be vulnerable is Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D–Wisconsin), whose news releases have suddenly included the word “bipartisan” in the past few months, when no one with a brain would consider her to be even remotely moderate.
Wisconsin has a tradition of politicians who don’t necessarily toe the party line when their party is in power. Sen. Dale Schultz (R–Richland Center) claimed he voted Republican 87 percent of the time, but the times he didn’t generally were when the GOP had a narrow majority. Sen. Mike Ellis (R–Neenah) was similar, and U.S. Sen. John McCain (R–Arizona) seems to have given himself that role in the current Senate. It’s an obvious strategy to give yourself more power, which may make sense in competitive districts or state, as well as having the ability to have things both ways by claiming you voted against something (Act 10 in Schultz’s case) that became law anyway. The only way to counter that is to make each member of the Senate majority have less power by having more Republican senators.
The GOP has bigger issues than trying to get rid of senators who vote with Trump only 95.9 percent of the time. This, from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, ought to alarm Republicans:
U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman said Monday he’s worried about his re-election prospects.
“I am very apprehensive about the future. Right now it’s kind of the calm before the storm. The fundraising is not going as well as I’d like,” the Glenbeulah Republican told WISN-AM (1130) host Jay Weber.
He added: “When you talk nationwide about the Republicans losing the House next time, this is one of the seats that’s going to be in play.”
It is rare for politicians to talk so candidly about fundraising struggles and their risks at the ballot box, especially when they hold a seat that is viewed as solidly being in their party’s hands.
Grothman said his opponent, Democrat Dan Kohl, has paid staff and is “far ahead” of him in running his campaign.
“Well, we’re not raising as much money as we should,” Grothman said. “I’m getting around the district. I’m getting a good response, but a lot of people don’t realize this is the toughest race of my political career. People can say I’m popular right now, but when you turn on the TV and every 10 minutes there’s an ad saying, ‘Glenn Grothman doesn’t like women, Glenn Grothman doesn’t like children, Glenn Grothman doesn’t like whatever, whatever, whatever,’ it’s going to become a very difficult race very quickly.”
In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel later in the day, Grothman said he was a hard worker and expected to win re-election. He said he faces a tougher run this year because Kohl, who is the nephew of former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, comes from a wealthy family and can tap into donations from rich donors.
“He knows rich guys from New York or Miami or Los Angeles that I don’t know,” he said. “Obviously, it’s tough running against a guy from such a wealthy family.”
Grothman had $247,000 on hand as of the end of June, according to his most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission. Grothman’s campaign said that figure had grown to about $325,000 by the end of September.
Kohl had $245,000 in the bank at the end of June, according to his report. By the end of September, he had more than $390,000 on hand, according to his campaign manager, Rick Coelho.
The Sixth Congressional District hasn’t been represented by a Democrat since the 1960s, and has had only one Democrat in office since the 1930s. If Grothman is indeed in trouble, that’s a really bad sign for Republicans. Of course, it’s one thing for Uncle Herb to buy a Senate seat in a more or less bipartisan state; it’s another thing to try to buy a House seat in what should be a firmly Republican area.