Seeing 2020

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On the roster: Seeing 2020 - Hope Hicks, ultimate Trump insider, testifies on Russia - Special election day in Arizona - Audible: Austin Powers, maybe? - M’kayyyy…

SEEING 2020 
President Trump was supposed to make a shocking announcement today, but it only amounted to static electricity. 

Trump’s campaign said he would indeed seek a second term, but the source of that announcement itself reveals the snoozy nature of the news. The fact that it came from the campaign pretty much gave away the gag. 

Trump filed for reelection earlier than anyone in the modern era, submitting his paperwork even before he took the oath of office before his first term and began holding campaign events in his first year.

The news value in the announcement was that Trump had tapped his campaign’s former digital director, Brad Parscale, to be his campaign manager. The choice of Parscale, a central figure in the ongoing investigation of Russia meddling in 2016, was presumably intended at least partly as a show of confidence by the president as the probe heads into the home stretch. 

One supposes the announcement of the already existing campaign might also have something to do with Ohio Gov. John Kasich and others starting to put out feelers for 2020. 

Whatever made them do it, the move gives us a good occasion to examine how things look for the president’s reelection at this early date. 

Let’s start with this stipulation: It is far too soon for anything but rank conjecture on the subject. But what could political junkies love more than rank conjecture?

Twenty-seven presidents who won a first term went on to run for a second. Of those, 15 won and 12 lost. But in the post WWII era, the odds have been better for incumbents. Of eight presidents who entered office for a first term of their own right only two, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, failed to win reelection. 

It’s not quite as good as the historical precedent Trump enjoyed in 2016 when facing an opponent trying to keep the White House in the same party for a third straight term, but you’d have to say that precedent suggests he starts with a solid chance. 

The advantages of incumbency in the modern era – an imperial office with all of its mighty trappings, donors eager to curry favor with the man in power and constant coverage – are formidable indeed. Perhaps the biggest part of it all is that the presidency has become so powerful that voters tend to be very uncomfortable about mid-stream course changing. 

As you consider Trump’s chances please bear in mind that politics is very much about managing expectations, and Trump even being considered a contender for reelection is a reflection of that. 

Americans having elected the former host of the “Celebrity Apprentice” and a freshman senator with the middle name Hussein ought to dispel notions about what is electorally possible and ought to also remind us of the power of low expectations. To become president or to remain president you don’t really have to be the best, you just have to be better than they thought you were. 

And in that regard, Trump has succeeded pretty spectacularly. It helps when your adversaries say that your election will actually cause a nuclear holocaust. After that, everything is upside. A guy with job approval ratings hovering around the 40 percent mark would have previously been thought a goner, but persistent unpopularity – though not as steep – dogged Obama ahead of 2012 bid, too.

How about the map?

Trump certainly have reason for concern in states that were key to his 2016 victory. Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and some others have shown measurable movement away from Trump. But, he is more popular than ever with his base voters. So in that way, he is certainly no worse off than he was going into the 2016 general election. 

Will he get primaried? 

All of the modern incumbents who lost general election bids faced serious primary challenges, while the winning six managed to avoid that fate. 

Republicans right now seem pretty well united, and those still dissenting against Trump have become increasingly marginalized by the GOP. Kasich, for example, represents a far great threat to Trump as a potential independent candidate than he would as a Republican. The same may go for Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who is heading to New Hampshire next month.

How about the opposition? 

If anyone tells you they know who the Democrats are going to pick, they are either time travelers or full of beans. There will probably be two dozen or so legitimate Democratic candidates in 2020 running the gamut from ultraliberal to pro-business social moderates. Who Democrats choose will depend on so many unknowable factors that there’s little point in speculating. 

We will be spending an increasing amount of time over the coming months on examining the relative merits of the potential members in the Democratic field, but for now it’s just too soon to say. 

If you’re starting your 2020 scenario based on what Democrats are going to do, you’re probably just spinning your wheels. 

And that’s like so much of the rest of it. We don’t know how the economy will be, how the national security situation will be, how Trump will be conducting himself or any of the other vagaries of a campaign.

But at this point, things are falling in Trump’s favor on those subjects. Democrats who once consoled themselves with the idea that Trump wouldn’t even make it to the end of one term are being forced to consider that it might be eight MAGAriffic years.

By the end of this year two factors will tell us so much more about Trump’s chances. First is the Russia probe itself which still holds the potential to sink Trump before he can ever get out of the harbor.

The second is how the parties conduct themselves in midterms. Are Democrats lurching hard left? Are Republicans able to close ranks and continue to unify in the face of a potential wave election?

As we said, there are far too many variables on too many fronts to make any educated guesses. But at the very least, Trump is already where a year ago many thought he would never be: a serious contender for a second term.

THE RULEBOOK: YOU AIN’T LYIN’
“Necessity, especially in politics, often occasions false hopes, false reasonings, and a system of measures correspondingly erroneous.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 35

TIME OUT: THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF FLORIDA’S FLAMINGOS

Atlas Obscura: “The flamingo isn’t the state bird of Florida—that honor goes to the much-less-leggy Northern mockingbird—but the rosy-hued waders with Modigliani necks are deeply associated with the Sunshine State. When [John Audubon] set out to a find a Florida flock, he described his desire to study ‘these lovely birds in their own beautiful islands.’ … ‘Living in Florida, you see flamingos everywhere … but as an actual organism, as a species, there was essentially no information available on the biology of flamingos,’ said Steven Whitfield, a conservation ecologist at Zoo Miami. The birds are iconic, Whitfield says, but there’s been little information about their past and present in the state. When and how did they get to the region? What happened to them once they arrived? The murky history spans centuries. While some 19th-century naturalists recounted dense clusters of flamingos around Florida, others were less certain about the birds’ primary strutting grounds.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
38.6 percent 
Average disapproval: 56.6 percent 
Net Score: 
-18 points
Change from one week ago: down 0.6 points 
[Average includes: Gallup: 39% approve - 56% disapprove; USA Today/Suffolk: 38% approve - 60% disapprove; CNN: 39% approve - 56% disapprove; Marist College: 40% approve - 53% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 37% approve - 58% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 40.2 percent
Democratic average: 49.2 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 9 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage up 2.4 points 
[Average includes: CNN: 54% Dems - 38% GOP; Marist College: 46% Dems - 39% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 53% Dems - 38% GOP; IBD: 46% Dems - 41% GOP; Monmouth University: 47% Dems - 45% GOP.]

HOPE HICKS, ULTIMATE TRUMP INSIDER, TESTIFIES ON RUSSIA 
AP: “President Donald Trump's longtime aide Hope Hicks is scheduled to meet with the House intelligence committee Tuesday for a closed-door interview as part of the panel's Russia investigation. That's according to a person familiar with the panel's investigation, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the person wasn't authorized to speak publicly. Hicks is a key eyewitness to Trump's actions over the past several years. She was his spokeswoman during the 2016 presidential campaign and is White House communications director. It's unclear how much Hicks will tell the committee. Others who have worked at the White House have refused to answer questions, citing limits on what they can say. The panel is investigating contacts between Trump's campaign and Russia, as is special counsel Robert Mueller.”

Mueller moves to drop charges against cooperating witness Gates - Fox News:“Special Counsel Robert Mueller moved Tuesday to dismiss nearly two-dozen charges against former Trump campaign associate Rick Gates, in the wake of his guilty plea last week. Mueller’s team filed a motion to drop 22 tax and bank fraud charges against Gates. The filing was tied to Gates’ agreement last week to plead guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and lying to the FBI. That plea pertained to charges filed against him in October in Washington, D.C., for which he still faces up to 71 months in prison. Under the terms of the deal, the government had agreed it would move to dismiss another set of charges brought against him more recently in a Virginia federal court. Those charges covered everything from alleged tax fraud to bank fraud. The filing on Tuesday indicates Gates' cooperation with the special counsel team could be yielding good information -- as it pursues charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.”

Poll shows Americans trust Mueller more than Trump when it comes to Russia - USA Today: “When it comes to Russia, Americans have more trust in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation than they do in President Trump's denials of collusion, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds. By wide margins, those surveyed are convinced that Russians meddled in the 2016 presidential election and that they will try it again. More than four in 10 believe Moscow's interference affected the outcome of the election that put Trump in the White House. The poll of 1,000 registered voters, taken after Mueller's team indicted 13 Russians and three companies on criminal charges, spotlight the potential perils ahead for the president if he ends up in a showdown with the special counsel. A 58% majority say they have a lot or some trust in Mueller's investigation, while a 57% majority say they have little or no trust in Trump's denials.”

SPECIAL ELECTION DAY IN ARIZONA
AP: “Allegations against the top candidates have captured much of the attention in the republican primary [today] to replace a U.S. congressman from Arizona who quit amid charges of sexual misconduct last year. … The top favorites emerging in the GOP race to replace [Trent Franks] are former state Sen. Steve Montenegro, a Tea Party favorite backed by Franks, and former state Sen. Debbie Lesko, backed by former Gov. Jan Brewer. Montenegro, a married father and Christian minister, acknowledged last week that a former Senate aide had sent him texts and an unsolicited topless photo. He said he became too close to the woman, but he ‘never had inappropriate relationship with her or anyone else.’ Meanwhile, Lesko has denied charges by Montenegro and others that her transfer of $50,000 from her state campaign committee for the primary contest was illegal. Lesko was one of the drivers of the state's landmark school voucher program and is touting her border security plan.”

Gov. Walker being sued for not holding special elections - Politico: “The National Redistricting Foundation sued Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin on Monday for not holding special elections for two state Legislature seats. The seats, left vacant by an assemblyman and state senator who resigned in December to take jobs in Walker’s Republican administration, will otherwise remain open until January 2019, following the regularly scheduled elections for the seats in November. Eric Holder, who was President Barack Obama’s first attorney general and is now chairman of the foundation’s parent organization, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said that although most of his focus right now is on fundraising and campaigning around redistricting, he felt drawn to this lawsuit out of good-government concerns, as well as talk about Democratic efforts to win the seats if and when there are races.”

GOP candidates step up to replace Rep. Hunter - Politico: “Rep. Duncan Hunter, already staring down an FBI investigation, is running into serious turbulence for reelection. … Republicans in Hunter’s San Diego-area district are lining up to challenge him. Some of his expected foes are formidable. Bill Wells, the conservative mayor of El Cajon, which has a population of roughly 100,000, jumped in last week to challenge Hunter for the seat. Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego City Council member turned radio talk show host, said he was also considering a bid and would decide within days. That’s in addition to Shamroze ‘Shamus’ Sayed, a 40-year-old businessman who's banking on Hunter’s troubles giving him a shot. Two other declared candidates dropped out, one to support another contender and the other to run in a neighboring district.”

Corker stays quit - 
Politico: “Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) will not run for reelection after reconsidering his decision last fall to retire, his chief of staff said Tuesday. After listening to some Tennessee Republicans and GOP senators who were privately urging him to run, the two-term senator and Foreign Relations Committee chairman decided that this will be his last year as senator, said Todd Womack, Corker’s chief of staff. The move ends a period of intense speculation in Tennessee and Washington about Corker’s future and avoids what could have been an ugly primary between Corker and Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn. … The White House made clear to the senator’s team that the president would not get involved in a potential primary between Corker and Blackburn, according to a source familiar with the conversations.”

Bernie’s son seeks House seat in neighboring New Hampshire - WMUR: “It’s official. An eighth Democrat has entered the race for New Hampshire’s 1st District House seat, and he has a familiar last name: Levi Sanders, the son of former presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. ‘After much thought and consultation with my family, friends, and the people of New Hampshire, I am excited to announce today that I am running for Congress in New Hampshire’s 1st District,’ Sanders said in a statement provided first to WMUR. ‘This is a unique opportunity to listen to the hard-working men and women of New Hampshire about the issues that matter to them.’ Sanders is proposing a ‘Medicare for all health care system,’ tuition-free college, a higher minimum wage, equal pay for women and ‘sensible gun legislation.’”

Conservative ‘Clueless’ star Dash mounts long shot House bid - NYT: “The actress Stacey Dash, best known for starring in the 1995 movie ‘Clueless,’ is now aiming for Congress. In paperwork filed with the Federal Election Commission on Monday, Ms. Dash declared her candidacy for the House of Representatives in California’s 44th District, a Democratic stronghold in the southern suburbs of Los Angeles. As a Republican, Ms. Dash is likely to face an uphill battle in the district, which is currently represented by Nanette Barragán, a Democrat. Hillary Clinton received 83 percent of the vote there in the 2016 presidential election, and Barack Obama won similar shares in 2008 and 2012. Ms. Dash, 51, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday evening and has not announced her candidacy publicly, beyond the F.E.C. filing.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY 
Trump will not hold gun talks with state attorney generals - Politico

Joseph Epstein
: ‘The only good thing about Donald Trump is all his policies’ - WSJ

Trump and Sen. Perdue: BFF’s Business Insider

Markets jitter as new Fed chairman says rate hikes will keep coming - Fox Business

Chief of Staff John Kelly staying ‘below the radar’ after Porter scandal - The Hill

Obama NatSec bros form group to attack Trump - WaPo

States sue federal government, say without the individual mandate Obamacare is unlawful - Reuters

Trump administration signs on to major lawsuit against painkiller makers - WaPo

Big Luther Strange feeling out possibility of returning to Washington - Politico

AUDIBLE: AUSTIN POWERS, MAYBE? 
“He’s not Jason Bourne, he’s not James Bond.” – Rep. Trey Gowdy said on ‘The Story with Martha MacCallum,’ regarding all of the trouble the FBI went through to obtain a warrant for former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Adding to your point about moderate Dem power players out of favor.  During all of the breathless debate and push for gun control over the weekend, I often heard about all of the millions of guns in America.  Do they think that only Republicans own guns?  I would think that other than the clustered-coastals and the left stream media there are many moderate, gun owning Democratic voters that wouldn’t take kindly to over-restriction or maybe worse.  This is just another area where a lack of moderation may hurt them overall.” – Mike Martin, Tukwila, Wash.

[Ed. note: Quite so, Mr. Martin. But, do remember the same goes for Republicans. Even in deep red places like Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, Missouri and other key battle ground states this year, there are plenty of Republican-leaning voters who want action to end the scourge of school shootings. Just as Democrats will pay a price for being extreme in their actions, Republicans could pay a price for extreme inaction. Politics is almost never an either/or proposition when it comes to cultural issues.]

“Thanks for addressing my very strong desire to understand what folks are thinking on the other side of our current political chasm. May I request a periodic explanation of the ‘Control of House’ polling summary? Went looking on the Marist site; gave up. I assume the polling questions are something like ‘For the best interests of the country, which party should control the House of Representatives?’ — but I don’t really know. BTW, didn’t you do ‘Control of Senate’ for a while? Thanks much, keep it up!” – Stephen Tulloss, Ellicott City, Md.

[Ed. note: Thanks much, Mr. Tulloss! We love writing it even more than you love reading it, and I hope that shows. Each pollster asks what we call the “generic ballot” in their own way, but, yes, generally it’s a question that goes something like this: “Which party would you prefer to be in control of Congress/the House of Representatives?” We haven’t done anything in the scoreboard about control of Senate simply for the reason that with fewer races affected by more variables, there’s no single polling metric that we could use. The Senate has to function more like your March Madness bracket, picking individual winners and losers with the help of available data in order to make rankings.]

“I know the President, the VP and Speaker of the House get to travel on our military aircraft, which we pay for. How about all of the other members of congress, their staff, families, aids etc.? They fly commercial I am guessing. I believe if they are traveling on government ‘official’ business we most likely pay for their tickets. But, what about if the bring the family etc.? I am sure they all have mileage cards to get the rewards as well as for car rentals and hotel stays. If they go home for the weekend etc. are they supposed to pay for their travel? If the answer is that we should not, but they often get the miles for personal use and we pay for their travel for everyone, I have a suggestion. If they are using those perks for personal use, how about if we were to stop that practice and collect those miles. We could use them for the Make a Wish foundation, St Jude Children's Hospital etc.” – Peter Murawsky, Scotts Valley, Calif.

[Ed. note: Good question, Mr. Murawsky! You no doubt saw the big news today about the new Air Force One fleet, but that’s just for the president and his entourage. As you observed, the vice president and other individuals in the line of presidential succession are given the use of military aircraft for the sake of communications and security, and that certainly includes speaker of the House. When it comes to paid travel for spouses, family members and staff, the rules are not that dissimilar to what you might find in corporate America. If there is a good reason for their attendance – some sort of official visit or other event – they ride along as part of the delegation. But, if officials in that privileged class want to bring their posse along for unofficial business, they are supposed to compensate the Treasury for the value of a comparable first-class ticket. As many in the Trump administration have found out, flying afoul of these rules can be quite embarrassing and, in the case of at least one cabinet member so far, career ending. Your idea about mileage rewards for charity is an interesting one that might apply to members of Congress who get an allowance for travel to and from their districts. I think in the end, though, we come back to the same place we often do with tax payer funds which is that picking and choosing these charities could quickly become and ethically fraught topic. But I like where your head is at!]

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M’KAYYYY…
Lynchburg News & Advance: “Ever since they were little girls, twins Briana and Brittany Deane dreamt they would one day meet their double dose of Prince Charming together. After that dream came true in August 2017 when the Sweet Briar College graduates met Josh and Jeremy Salyers, a special moment followed on Feb. 2 when the twin brothers dropped to one knee and proposed. The special occasion took place at Twin Lakes State Park in Prince Edward County when the brothers told the sisters they were filming a promotional commercial, leading the two to dress in matching gowns, Brittany recalled in a phone interview. A camera crew followed the two couples, including the brothers in their handsome suits, and suddenly they heard a director call ‘Action!’ and Josh and Jeremy popped the question simultaneously. … The parallel romance is a journey they always felt they would take together, according to the sisters who graduated from Sweet Briar [College] in 2008.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.