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Mueller Report has people “Russian” to the Exits – Sunday Political Brunch March 31, 2019

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – It may be the most anti-climactic event in my 42 years of covering American politics. The widely anticipated report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which we are told will eventually be several hundred pages long, landed with a thud on the nation’s political doorstep last weekend. There are many implications, especially for Campaign 2020, which is already upon us. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“What it Said” – “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” the special counsel wrote in his four-page summary report to Attorney General William Barr.

“What it Didn’t Say” – Some folks are trying to read between the lines on additional comments from Mueller and Barr: “For each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leave unresolved what the special counsel views as ‘difficult issues’ of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction,” Barr wrote to Congress. “The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,’” said Barr. So, while they found nothing, and their work is done, it leaves the barndoor open for others, i.e. Congress, to keep looking.

“A Senator Weighs In” – This week I got to interview Senator Shelley Moore Capito, (R) West Virginia, for her reaction on the Mueller Report. Capito was among several Republicans who did not oppose the Russia investigation in the first place. "I was very supportive of the Special Counsel. I thought it should come to its natural conclusion which it did. And basically, what it says is that neither the President, nor his campaign, colluded with the Russians in the 2016 election, cut and dry,” said Senator Capito. She added, “I think clearly this is a time to put this topic behind us and move on in the important issues we talk about every day.”

“Full Disclosure” – As a First Amendment practitioner, I am an ardent supporter of full-disclosure and transparency. At a time reasonably soon, I would like to see the full Mueller Report made available to Congress, the public, and the press. Remember, it’s not really Mueller’s report, it is “our” report. Yes, redactions should be made in any instance where there is a national security concern, or protections in any ongoing legal matter, but what we don’t need is page after page of blacked out material. Just put it out there in the sunshine and let people evaluate for themselves.

“2020 Issue?” – There will be a lot of strategizing behind the scenes, especially by Democrats, in terms of how to frame this in the 2020 presidential and congressional elections. And on the Republican side you’ll hear chants of this being complete exoneration. I would suggest, that to most voters, this issue is over. Time and time again we note that people vote on “kitchen table” issues. How is my economic well-being? Is my community and country safe? Do I have health insurance? Can we afford to send the kids to college? Yes, people also want to know that elections are fair and protected, but this report may have eased that worry. If I’m a candidate for either party for 2020, I’d stick to “bread and butter” issues.

“Bob Dole 1996” – Whether or not the Trump-Russia investigation becomes a central campaign issue in 2020 remains to be seen, but I have my doubts. Back in 1996 when Congressional Republicans were still investigating Bill and Hillary Clinton’s complicated Whitewater land deal in Arkansas, Senator Bob Dole was asked if he’d make Whitewater a big campaign issue. I’m paraphrasing him here, but Dole was blunt and said something to the effect of, “I can’t make an issue out of something you can’t explain in 30 seconds. It’s not a bumper sticker.” He was right and the same may hold true in 2020 on Russia. As a campaign issue, I don’t think it has staying power

“Impeachment Full Speed Ahead” – Despite what I say about this not being a central political issue in 2020, I fully anticipate Democrats will go full-bore with their investigations, and even start an impeachment inquiry in the House Judiciary Committee. If nothing else, many Democrats are looking for “payback” on the 1998 impeachment proceedings against President Clinton. As President Lyndon Johnson famously said, “In Washington, D.C., we keep score.”

“The Big Picture” – Set your partisan politics aside for a moment. Set your love or disdain for President Trump and his Democratic opponents in Congress aside for a moment. Realize this fact: Russia clearly attempted to interfere and influence the U.S. presidential election in 2016. Russia also tried to manipulate and interfere in the 2018 midterm elections. And rest assured it will happen again in 2020. There is indisputable, rock-solid evidence within the cyber security and intelligence communities to back this up. A lot of the influence peddling is done on social media and the internet where it’s open season like the wild, wild west. I am among those that believe cyber-terrorism – including election meddling - is one of the greatest threats we face right now. The next big war will be fought online, not on the traditional battlefield.

What are your concerns about the 2020 election? Click the comment button on this page or email me at Mark@MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is the Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and the five surrounding states, plus most of the Washington, D.C media market.

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

The Strategies to Win the White House in 2020 – The Sunday Political Brunch March 24, 2019

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – With lots of candidates now in the race, it’s time for me to play political strategist for both parties again. The presidency is up for grabs in 2020, and the path to the White House is never easy for either party. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“What Democrats Need to Do” – Here’s the simplest route. Democrats need to win every state they won in 2016. Then they need to win back Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, states that surprisingly went for Trump. Every state Hillary Clinton carried was by a comfortable margin, so winning all of them again is very plausible. Conceivably Democrats should be able to retake Michigan, but true swing states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania will be a tougher fight.

“Retail Politics Still Matters” – Bombarding the airwaves and social media has become the norm in many states, especially the most populous. Look, it’s hard to shake hands with 35 million Californians. But in states such as Wisconsin, you still need to shake hands at 6 a.m. at factory gates in the dead of winter. Third shift workers are leaving, and first shift is coming on. In big labor states, that personal touch still matters. Hillary Clinton never stepped foot in Wisconsin after winning the April 2016 primary. It’s my home state. You can’t win there by phoning it in. You must show up!

“Milwaukee Factor” – I was thrilled to see my hometown of Milwaukee selected as the site of the 2020 Democratic National Convention. It will be great to go home, see my family, then work my butt off. But this goes to what I was saying earlier. Democrats needs to show major industrial, labor-centered states that they still care. Having a convention in Miami or New York City would have sent the wrong message to Midwestern Democrats. In politics – like real estate – it’s all about location, location, location. Republicans will hold their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, a key swing state Trump won in 2016, that they need to stay “red” in 2020.

“What Republicans Need to Do” – Let Trump be Trump! I can’t believe I just said that. After his bombastic, “bull in a China shop” primary campaign in 2016, I suggested he needed to tone it down and stop all the tweeting, so he could appear more “presidential.” He didn’t, and his base loves him for it. My advice was wrong! He has a solid, core constituency that’s going to hang with him no matter what. If the economy stays solid, and there is no threat looming against us at home or overseas, he has a strong chance of being reelected. The wild card for him is the number of investigations looking at him. If there are credible legal problems he’s in trouble. If it looks like a political witch hunt, he’s safe.

“GOP Uncontested” – I have said it before, and I will say it again. Incumbent presidents need the unquestioned loyalty and backing of their own party. A divisive intra-party fight takes money, energy, and political capitol away from the president, wounding and weakening him for November. In my lifetime, Presidents Johnson, Ford, Carter and George H.W. Bush all lost re-election after a serious challenge from within their own parties. If former Gov. John Kasich (R) Ohio gets in, Trump may be doomed. My prediction is that Kasich and former Senator Jeff Flake, (R) Arizona are likely to run.

“Let McCain Rest” – The Republicans will win the hard right and Democrats will win the progressive left. That’s just a given. But presidential races are often won in the middle, by appealing to the most independent votes who now make up the largest voter block in the nation. While they fell short of putting him in the White House, the clear majority of independents revered the late maverick Senator John McCain, (R) Arizona. President Trump did himself no favors this week by restating his criticism of McCain. Trump should let McCain rest in peace or the “ghost of politics past” may come back to haunt him.

“Reagan Democrats” – Here’s a real serious issue for Democrats. Remember back in 1980 and 1984, there was a large group of moderate-to-conservative Democrats – many of them from labor unions – who bolted their party to back President Reagan. They felt President Carter was weak on national security, and weak on economic policy. Remember, Reagan didn’t just win, he trounced Democrats in back-to-back landslides. A lot of that was due to the “Reagan Democrats.” Well guess what, they’re back. Many Reagan Democrats, or their successors, backed Trump in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, which put him in the White House.

“The Bombshell Issue: Student Loan Debt” -- The top two issues – as always – are the economy and national security. Health care may be a big deal, but for most people who have it, the issue is off the table. The “Green New Deal” is getting lot of buzz, but environmental problems are often unseen (and I’m not minimizing them), but it’s hard to get most people fired up on this. If I were a candidate, I would make the nation’s staggering student loan debt my bumper sticker issue. Student loan debt now exceeds our nation’s credit card debt. Graduates are taking meager jobs with over $100,000 in student loan debt. This issue touches millions of families and resonates with parents and children alike. I’d set this issue on fire in 2020.

Who would you like to see win the White House in 2020? Leave your comment here or click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, and the five neighboring states, as well as a large portion of the Washington, D.C. media market.

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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