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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

WASHINGTON — Republicans feel good about this fall’s election even though their party is sharply divided and its brand is badly tainted.

The House GOP last week elected a balanced ticket of leaders in a relatively harmonious process. Nonetheless, the party’s right still complained that its voices were not heard.

And a party leadership that thought it had quelled the Tea Party rebellion faces a runoff in Mississippi on Tuesday that will end either in a victory for the insurgent challenger, or in charges that the establishment candidate prevailed only because Democrats crossed into the Republican primary to save him.

Is it any wonder that the GOP’s governing game plan for the rest of the year is to do as little as possible? Since the party can’t agree to anything that would pass muster with President Obama and the Democratic Senate, it will bet that Obama’s low poll ratings will be enough for them to make gains in House races and could give them control of the Senate.

All of this is why 2014 will be the year of living negatively.

The prospect of months of attacks and more attacks reflects the depth of disillusionment with Washington. This is the best thing Republicans have going for them, but it might also provide Democrats with their clearest path to holding the Senate. Consider the findings of last week’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

The number that got the most attention was the president’s depressed 41 percent approval rating. But the survey also found that only 29 percent had a positive view of the Republican Party while 38 percent had a positive view of the Democrats. Democratic candidates have remained competitive in many key races because so many voters find the GOP alternative unpalatable.

The survey also showed that Republican divisions are not the invention of right-wing talk-show hosts or bloggers. Republicans who support the Tea Party are well to the right of others in their party. As NBC’s First Read reported, 68 percent of Tea Party Republicans said that immigration hurts the United States, compared with only 47 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans and 42 percent of all Americans. And a PRRI/Brookings survey (with which I was involved) found that while 41 percent of Tea Party members favored identifying and deporting illegal immigrants, only 26 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans preferred this option.

By a 74 percent to 23 percent margin in the NBC/Journal poll, Tea Party Republicans disapproved of requiring companies to reduce greenhouse gases, even if this meant higher energy costs for consumers. By contrast, 57 percent of Americans and 50 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans backed the idea.

The Republican congressional leadership thus continues to be caught between an aspiration to appeal to middle-ground voters and a fear, reinforced by Eric Cantor’s recent loss, that efforts to do so will be punished by the party’s right, which plays an outsized role in low-turnout primaries. On policy — notably on immigration — this often means that the Tea Party’s view takes precedence over majority opinion among Republicans.

In electing Rep. Kevin McCarthy as majority leader over the more conservative Rep. Raúl Labrador, House Republicans were actually trying to avoid ideology altogether. To replace Cantor, they picked a pragmatist focused on winning elections and an extrovert known for making friends across factional lines. Policy ambition is not McCarthy’s calling card.

The victory of Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana as whip pleased many conservatives and Southerners, but not all — and especially not the most ardently conservative bloggers and talk-show hosts who influence rank-and-file Tea Party opinion. Erick Erickson of the Red State blog, for example, accused Scalise of having worked “behind the scenes to marginalize conservatives.” Rep. Justin Amash, a young libertarian from Michigan, said the result of the leadership races showed that the House GOP “unfortunately hasn’t heard the message loud enough.”

There will be more loud commotion on Tuesday in Mississippi’s Republican runoff between the Tea Party’s Chris McDaniel and Senator Thad Cochran, a six-term incumbent. McDaniel is seen as having the momentum, but his supporters are already attacking Cochran’s campaign for encouraging Democrats to participate in the Republican contest.

Cochran, a McDaniel email insisted, “is so desperate to keep his seat that he’s going to use Democrats to steal the Republican primary.”

So the next stop in the battle for the Republican soul could see either a victory that emboldens the Tea Party — or a defeat that will be blamed on Democrats and infuriate the movement.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

AFP Photo/Win McNamee

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Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]