It’s not even Labor Day and the voters are exhausted

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I’m so tired, I haven’t slept a wink

I’m so tired, my mind is on the blink

I wonder should I get up and fix myself a drink

— “I’m So Tired” The Beatles.

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

In a week where the headlines came fast and furious, which few enjoyed unless they were playing Criminal Republican Bingo, it seems like the voting public is dividing into three groups: die-hard Trump supporters, die-hard Donald Trump opponents and a group in the middle which is just tired of the chaos, punditry and stupidity.

While it might seem momentous that former Trump Campaign Chair Paul Manafort was convicted on eight of 18 counts of tax evasion and bank fraud and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts of bank fraud and campaign finance violations (the latter allegedly at the direction of Trump), in a lot of ways, the average voter may well process it as just another week in the chaotic Trump era.

The suspicion here is that a pretty big group of voters is just tired of it all —and that they will have the biggest impact on Election Day 2018.

Back in the late 1990s, there was a term “Clinton Fatigue” — folks mostly liked President Bill Clinton, but were exhausted by the drama caused by his alleged serial infidelity. Why — then and now — anyone beyond his wife much cared remains lost on me, until Clinton appeared to have perjured himself, which of course then became a legitimate issue.

Fast-forward 20 years and I’m not sure you can even call it Trump Fatigue, maybe it is Trump Exhaustion. It is way beyond that. From hush money to porn stars and Playboy Playmates — again, lots o’ infidelity, which again should be between Trump and his wife — but, now the specter of obstruction of justice, Russian interference in the election (with the possible help and cooperation of Trump and/or his campaign). And for fun, throw in corruption charges against two sitting GOP Congressmen — Chris Collins of New York and Duncan Hunter of California — and it’s enough to make any sane person yell “Calgon, take me away!”

So, with the election a bit more than two months away, it looks like voters are split into those three groups.

The pro-Trump voters are pretty much locked in no matter what the headlines are (and many don’t even see the relevant headlines — Fox News Channel, between dubious gold investment and largely ripoff reverse mortgage ads, is ignoring much of the Manafort/Cohen news and focusing on a murder in Iowa, allegedly by an illegal immigrant.)

The anti-Trump voters are basically in “hell, no” mode — pushing for impeachment, tar and feathering and so on.

That leaves a middle group, not tuned to cable TV 24/7, aware and kind of embarrassed at the spectacle, but increasingly exhausted by the daily headlines, the screaming talking heads and blurring of truth and reality.

In the end, it is this group, seeking to “make it go away” who will decide not just the Congressional elections, but a ton of local state legislative elections. How they vote — or don’t — to make it go away will be telling.

From here, it seems likely that Democrats and most independents in Chester County will vote to send a message: knock it off. And they’ll do that by voting against Republicans. Long-time Republicans who find themselves uneasy at best with Trump and his drama — not to mention many departures from GOP orthodoxy — may well choose to just stay home. A new NBC/Marist poll (more on that below) seems to confirm that thinking.

Using 2017 as a guideline, there could be a wipeout for Republicans in Chester County, as long as Democrats play it smart.

Smart means focusing on talking up health care and the tax cut — policy areas were Republicans are deeply vulnerable — and going no further than suggesting that they might be a check on GOP excesses. While talking impeachment might be red meat to the Democratic base, it would promise more chaos, not less, and turn off voters in the middle.

While Democrats face the burden of basically having to shut up and let Republicans immolate themselves, local Republicans face an almost impossible messaging situation.

In Chester County, where Trump lost by nearly 10 points in 2016, stapling one’s self to the president is not a sure-fire way to ensure support by the party’s rank and file. At the same time, distancing yourself — while potentially attracting independents and persuadable Democrats — would mean alienating the right-wing, Trump can do no wrong side of the party.

Faced with this impossible messaging situation, most GOP incumbents seem to be keeping quiet on Trump and national politics, focusing on state issues and/or showing their bipartisan bonafides. The problem is that, with GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner acting more and more like a mini-Trump (see below), it is going to be increasingly hard to maintain that distance.

If Democrats can manage to seem calm, issue-focused and well, grown up — granted a challenge at times — they should find themselves in a very good position on Election Day.

But, the temptation to say too much or the wrong thing could backfire.

Unlike Republicans, Democrats have much less to worry about from their left flank — angry left-wingers (a frequent no-show in off year elections) are going to vote and vote against Republicans to signal their fury with Trump. There’s no need to play to them — Democrats need to lock in moderate Democrats, independents and moderate Republicans who are frustrated with their own party. Common sense proposals, a willingness to work across the aisle and a desire to be a “check” on extreme politics should be enough to win the day.

***

In a week where we found out “truth isn’t truth,” a candidate for governor asked for help by the Russians to hack the election (we think he was joking), refused to release his tax records and said he’d consider signing a bill ending gay marriage in state, despite U.S. Supreme Court rulings to the converse (we don’t think he was joking).

So Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner asked Russia for help in hacking the 2018 election in Pennsylvania and seeking assistance from Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chair currently on trial over bank fraud and related charges.

At a campaign event in Wyomissing a week ago Friday, Wagner was recorded saying, “By the way, the Russians are going to help me with Tom Wolf. If I have to use Paul Manafort, I will.”

Here’s a link to listen for yourself — it is muffled: https://youtu.be/Ll0uHvyuhKY

Look, I get that he was joking. Aside from not being very damn funny, it is clear that Russian government operatives are actively seeking to interfere — again — in our elections, based on various credible reports, including new ones from Microsoft and Facebook just this week. And while Republicans seem smug that it has been mostly Democrats targeted, they should look closer: Republicans were targeted during the 2016 primaries and anti-Trump Republican organizations — as revealed by Microsoft Tuesday — have recently come under attack.

Maybe it is politically incorrect to say it, but this is the truth: the Russians very likely sabotaged Republican presidential candidates such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, helping Trump to win the GOP primary. Were there other factors? Obviously, but if the Russians didn’t interfere, we’d likely be talking about President Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, right now.

And to be clear: Hillary Clinton ran a terrible campaign. But if the Russians don’t interfere, instead of Trump, we’re talking about how badly her administration is going and about the coming Red Wave — meaning more Congressional investigations and deep, likely losses for Democrats this fall.

We need to be clear on this: the Russian government’s efforts changed outcomes in our elections. People seem to want to shy away from saying this outright, but the truth is the truth, Rudolph Guiliani notwithstanding.

And it will happen again — and maybe next time, it will be Republicans who are taken down. It is not a joke: this was literally an act of war against the United States by a hostile power, an attempt to sew chaos and disrupt our democracy. In many ways, it is a worse and more corrosive event than 9/11.

We. Were. Attacked. And remain under attack.

So, no, joking about it is even slightly funny or appropriate. It does show exceptionally poor judgment, however.

But 2018, being 2018, that wasn’t Wagner’s only head-shaking comment of the week, which his campaign back tracked on within hours.

At a town hall meeting in Erie, Wagner said he would consider signing a hypothetical bill that would ban gay marriage in the commonwealth if elected governor. The next morning, his campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo walked it back and said Wagner was caught off guard — and would veto any bill that came to his desk prohibiting same-sex marriage.

And again, another case where Wagner shows he’s not ready for prime time. Candidates for State Representative, let alone governor, should be prepped for their answer on this issue (plus a handful of others from abortion to eliminating property taxes) which is absolutely, positively going to come up in public forums.

At this point, one must conclude either that Wagner ignores his staff or hired staff incapable of doing basic level candidate prep work. Either way, Wagner is making things way too easy on Gov. Tom Wolf, who basically just has to avoid running anyone over in his Jeep to sail to easy victory this fall.

***

There’s polling and there’s polling.

Republicans fell all over themselves celebrating a poll from the Commonwealth Leaders Fund, suggesting that Wagner was close with Wolf and U.S. Senate GOP candidate Lou Barletta was in striking distance of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. Commonwealth Leaders Fund is a fairly new political action committee — one of its founders is Chester County’s own Colin Hanna, insert your own punchline here.

Yeah. As someone who has done some polling, this thing is a hot mess. Its sample is bizarre — vastly overweighting conservatives — and what appears to be a flawed likely voter model, including one deeply skewed toward voters over age 65 (a possible selection error from demon dialing landlines — but between the lack of info on CLF’s Website, which has ads, bizarrely, and the lack of methodology listed (no raw numbers, likely voter model explanation) — it’s hard to tell.

The poll shows Trump with a plus-8 approval rating, which is an immediate red flag. The new NBC/Marist poll (taken roughly at the same time) shows Trump down 14 points, 52-38 among registered voters in approval rating (I’ll note the NBC/Marist poll may also have a selection error, it uses only mobile phones for its polling, which tends to cut out older demographics).

So, one can attribute some issues to modeling and sampling.

But…there’s something fishy in the numbers as presented. Wolf is shown as having a plus-11 favorability rating in the NBC/Marist poll and a plus-10 favorability rating in the CLF poll. Yet, the NBC/Marist poll (which largely tracks with the polling averages of the last three months) shows Wolf leading Wagner by 14, 54-40. The CLF poll shows Wolf leading Wagner 46-43. To be blunt, those numbers do not compute — if Wolf’s favorables are similar in both polls, it makes little sense that the horserace number would be so different.

CLF has never polled before — and frankly is a conservative PAC with a mission to influence the race, not impartially measure it — so I think you may have to treat this poll as an outlier, if not entirely disregard it.

***

The tributes for Sen. John S. McCain, who died last night after a rugged fight against brain cancer, are coming in from all corners, and deservedly so. While McCain could be a more traditional politician at times, he showed more courage than many in recent years. He was a bright light, a patriot and will be sorely missed in our country.

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