The Slatest

Today in Conservative Media: Mississippi Is Now in Play

OXFORD, MS - OCTOBER 21: The Mississippi Rebels carry an American flag as they take the field before a game against the LSU Tigers at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on October 21, 2017 in Oxford, Mississippi.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Game on? Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Today in Conservative Media is a daily roundup of the biggest stories in the right-wing press.

The Republican Party is still sifting through the wreckage of the Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, which Democrat Conor Lamb swiped from Republican Rick Saccone despite Trump carrying the district by 20 points just 17 months ago.* It was, of course, not a good sign for the GOP, but how bad are we talking? Or is this a blip?

Jay Cost at National Review says Republicans are fighting against history this November, as the party holding the presidency has tended to hemorrhage seats in a president’s first midterms. “History suggests that Republicans face a monumental struggle to hold the lower chamber of Congress,” Cost writes. “Yet the warning signs have been present for so long that Lamb’s win doesn’t tell us much that we didn’t already know.”

What did we already know? That along with the headwinds of history, Trump’s popularity, or lack of it, continues to be a problem. “History suggests that the thing that can save the Republican majority is an uptick in Trump’s job-approval numbers,” Cost writes. “Gallup has him at 39 percent right now, and the average of all polls puts him around 41 percent, or thereabouts. If he can push that number up to 45 percent, I’d say the GOP has a fighting chance at the majority.” That doesn’t sound so dire, does it? If a slight uptick in Trump’s poll numbers could push the party over the line to hold on to its majorities, that seems at least doable.

The Weekly Standard’s David Byler has a slightly different message: “Mississippi Is Now in Play for Democrats.” Whoa, that would be something. This is not necessarily a sign of the political times in the state, Byler notes, but that the functioning of special election in the state and the presence of a divisive figure that could fracture the party opens up a narrow lane to victory for the Democratic Party with the right candidate. “Mississippi isn’t usually a problematic state for Republicans. It’s a strongly red, highly inelastic state—meaning that it usually votes for GOP candidates by a solid, reliable margin, regardless of which way the political winds are blowing,” Byler writes. “But if Mississippi Republicans catch multiple successive unlucky breaks, this seat could become a problem for them.”

The logistics of the race for the seat vacated by Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran’s early retirement means that both Mississippi Senate seats will be up for grabs in November. Chris McDaniel’s entrance into the race could split the GOP vote in the nonpartisan primary, which all candidates run in and then the top two participate in a runoff if no one gets 50 percent. “Mississippi is flush with Republicans,” Byler notes, but “the non-McDaniel Republicans could split the vote while McDaniel keeps enough of his core constituents to make it to the run-off.”

“If Democrats manage to take advantage of the highly Democratic national environment, get a strong candidate into the run-off, capitalize on McDaniel’s weaknesses, grab some Republican votes, and maintain a turnout advantage, they could take the seat,” Byler concludes. “All things considered, this race is still a likely Republican hold. It’ll be hard to make further judgments until we know more about the field and see some polling. But it’s worth watching these developments now, because stranger things than a Republican loss in Mississippi have happened—like a Republican loss in Alabama.”

In other news

Bill Kristol takes a turn at the Weekly Standard to grapple with the implications of Donald Trump, the fabulist. In the recent fundraising speech where Trump admitted to donors that he made things up during negotiations with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump also cited the “bowling ball test” in Japan, as an apparent critique of the country’s non-tariff-related efforts to keep out American goods. “It’s called the bowling ball test; do you know what that is? That’s where they take a bowling ball from 20 feet up in the air and they drop it on the hood of the car,” Trump said of Japan. “And if the hood dents, then the car doesn’t qualify. Well, guess what, the roof dented a little bit, and they said, nope, this car doesn’t qualify. It’s horrible, the way we’re treated. It’s horrible.”

“Let’s […] focus for a minute on Trump’s bowling ball parable,” Kristol writes.

Trump’s riff reminded me of a much-discussed book of the pre-Trump era, Robert Putnam’s 2000 work Bowling Alone. In it, the Harvard social scientist argued that Americans had become increasingly atomized—disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and social institutions in general. One such institution is—or was—the bowling league. More Americans were bowling in 2000 than ever before, Putnam claimed, but they weren’t bowling together in leagues, but were rather bowling alone.

Such was the claim, and Putnam marshaled a lot of data to support the argument that Alexis de Tocqueville’s fear about American society—that individualism could lead to isolation and atomization—could be coming true … one might see in the rise of Donald Trump—and much else besides—the unwelcome political consequences of the unfortunate social developments Putnam chronicled. Any response to those consequences will require thinking seriously about these underlying social and cultural trends, and about how to mitigate and even reverse them.

Kurt Schlichter writes for Townhall that he’s fed up with all of the stories about the president of the United States’ past extramarital affairs and hush payments. “So, the president may have been cavorting with Playboy playmates and porn stars a decade or so ago and … and what? Oh, right, we’re supposed to care,” Schlichter explains. “We don’t care … I don’t mean that we are simply unconcerned about Donald Trump’s past hobbies. I mean that our depth and breadth of not caring is so deep and wide as to create a critical mass of not giving a damn of such intensity that it is brighter than a million suns.”

David Harsanyi at the Federalist is all aboard the Kudlow economic train: “[Larry] Kudlow is … a noticeable upgrade over the outgoing Gary Cohn, not only because the former has been a far more consistent voice for free markets—Cohn’s support of carbon tax and a VAT tax, and his rumored moderating disposition on tax reform were all worrisome clues—but because the former TV host and syndicated columnist is better equipped to sell those ideas to the public and lawmakers,” Harsanyi writes. “Kudlow, a former White House budget aide for Ronald Reagan, has long held positions on NAFTA and trade in general that are diametrically opposed to the president’s. Which undermines the idea that Trump is rigidly opposed to any dissent within the administration.”

*Correction, March 19, 2018: This post originally misstated that Trump won Pennsylvania by 20 points in the 2016 presidential election. He won Pennsylvania’s 18th district by that margin; he won the state as a whole by less than 1 percent.