The GOP comeback

With just thirty-six days to go until Election Day, and at the start of a new week and a new month, now seems as good a time as any to take a big-picture look at the state of the midterm race. And the picture looks to be a lot rosier for Republicans than it was even a few weeks ago.

The latest piece of good news for the GOP comes courtesy of Monmouth University. Their latest survey’s results were published today and record a three-point Republican lead on the question of which party voters would rather control Congress. That comes a month after a seven-point lead for Democrats in August.

Things are looking up for Republicans on other fronts too. In Pennsylvania, Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman appears to be fading fast, with Mehmet Oz surging in the polls. In Wisconsin, Republican incumbent Ron Johnson seems to have shored up his position. And in Nevada, Adam Laxalt has recorded several poll leads against Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto.

If you’d rather not rely on polling numbers for a read on the state of the race, consider the fact that Republicans are back talking about what they want to be talking about: bread and butter issues like crime, inflation, immigration and the economy. The Trump show is not dominating the news, and the limits of the president and his party’s late-summer surge seem to have been established: yes, Dobbs may turnout Democratic women, but the electoral upsides of Biden’s modest legislative wins seem negligible, while the bad economic news the White House thought it might be outrunning is still a major factor.

Democrats have settled on a dystopian message about life in an America run by Republicans. At the heart of that message is abortion. As the voter registration numbers make clear, that is certainly an energizing issue for an important slice of the electorate. But the politics of abortion are not clear-cut, and with most voters holding complicated views on the issue, it certainly seems possible that Democrats banking on a pro-choice blue wave have miscalculated. Economic worries still outrank abortion when it comes to voters’ concerns. In that context, is going all in on abortion really the right course of action?

With a little more than a month to go, the dynamics of the race could still change. For now, though, Republicans seem to have steadied the ship after a late summer wobble and focused on what they think is a winning message. Democrats, too, think they have a strong message with their abortion line of attack. The result is two parties talking past one another: less a vigorous back-and-forth, and more two parallel races. That makes for an odd, unpredictable race, and one in which a dizzyingly wide range of outcomes remains possible — especially in the Senate.

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Closure for the court?

The Supreme Court’s new term begins today. The justices return at a fraught time for the court: trust in the institution has taken a double-digit nosedive this year, the source of the leak of the Dobbs decision ahead of its official release has yet to be identified, and justices face a heightened threat of physical violence. This summer, a man arrested near Brett Kavanaugh’s house said he had planned to kill the the judge. Ginni Thomas, the wife of Clarence Thomas, has been hauled in front of the January 6 Committee to explain her insurrection cheerleading. Meanwhile, Justices have traded passive-aggressive barbs at speaking engagements this summer.

“The last year was an unusual one and difficult in many respects. It was gut-wrenching every morning to drive into a Supreme Court with barricades around it,” said Chief Justice John Roberts at a conference last month. “I think, with my colleagues, we’re all working to move beyond it.”

But how are things likely to cool down? Yes, the Dobbs furor has faded. But it remains open season for attacks on the court’s legitimacy from the left. And this term includes plenty of cases with the potential to cause liberal frustration. The 6-3 conservative court is hearing cases on EPA regulations, election rules, affirmative action, First Amendment rights and more. Not exactly a recipe for cool-headed reactions to the justices’ verdicts.

SuperTrump 

Trump’s 2020 brush with Covid was nothing if not dramatic: the Beast ride around the hospital, the carefully staged return to the White House, featuring a helicopter and the theatrical removal of a surgical mask as he looked out across the South Lawn.

According to Maggie Haberman’s new book Confidence Man, though, Trump wanted to take an even more cinematic approach. “He came up with a plan he told associates was inspired by singer James Brown, whom he loved watching toss off his cape while onstage,” she writes. That plan would reportedly have involved the president being wheeled out of the hospital in a chair, before standing up and opening his shirt to reveal a Superman logo. Haberman, again: “Trump was so serious about it that he called the campaign headquarters to instruct an aide, Max Miller, to procure the Superman shirts; Miller was sent to a Virginia big-box store.”

Trump v. McConnell

For those wondering about the state of relations between Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, look no further than a post by the former president on his social network Truth Social. “Is McConnell approving all these Trillions of Dollars worth of Democrat sponsored Bills, without even the slightest bit of negotiation, because he hates Donald J. Trump, and he knows I am strongly opposed to them, or is he doing it because he believes in the Fake and Highly Destructive Green New Deal and is willing to take the Country down with him?” asked Trump on Friday. “In any event, either reason is unacceptable. He has a DEATH WISH. Must immediately seek help and advise from his China loving wife, Coco Chow!”

It’s easy to grow numb to the tone in which so much of our politics is conducted, but even by today’s standards, Trump’s red-on-red attack is an ugly low. From the attack on Elaine Chao, an Asian-American former Trump cabinet member, as “China loving” to the use of the phrase “death wish”, the former president shows no sign of toning down his rhetoric in an age of growing threats of violence against elected officials. Nor does he appear especially interested in suspending Republican infighting ahead of the midterms.

What you should be reading today

Patrick Ruffini: Here come the Hispanic Republicans
Teresa Mull: Manufacturing in the US shouldn’t be so hard
Owen Matthews: War has come to Russia
Arian Campo-Flores and Jon Kamp, Wall Street Journal: Fentanyl’s ubiquity inflames America’s drug crisis
Dan Lamothe, Washington Post: Americans captured by Russia detail months of beating, interrogation
Kara Voght, Rolling Stone : The Republican who is thriving despite calling Trump crazy

Poll watch

President Biden job approval
Approve: 42.6 percent
Disapprove: 53.0 percent
Net approval: -10.4 (RCP Average)

Maryland Governor’s race
Wes Moore (D): 60 percent
Dan Cox (R): 28 percent
(Washington Post/University of Maryland)

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