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Week In Politics: Paul Manafort's Trial And Ohio's Special Congressional Election


Now we're going to turn to our Friday week in politics discussion, and we're going to begin with what we can learn from this week's elections. Contests in Ohio and Kansas are still too close to call. In the Kansas Republican primary for governor, Kris Kobach said today that he will step down as the state's elections chief until the race is resolved since he was also on the ballot. This week, we also heard a secret recording of a Republican congressman from California saying that the GOP holding onto the House is the only way to protect President Trump from the Mueller investigation.

We're going to talk about all this with Guy Benson, political editor of townhall.com, and Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times. Welcome to both of you.

GUY BENSON: Thanks for having me.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Hey, thank you having - thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Would you each just start by giving me one quick top-line conclusion from this week's votes? And then we can dig in a little deeper. Michelle, you want to go first?

GOLDBERG: Well, sure. I mean, I think that, although, you know, moral victories only count for so much, if the trends that we saw on Tuesday persevere for another three months, the Democrats will probably take the House despite the structures that are arrayed against them. And I think that Democrats are a lot more unified than pundits are giving them credit for.

SHAPIRO: Guy, what's your top-line conclusion?

BENSON: Well, I think that when you talk to Republicans, they will say publicly that they are delighted to have apparently won the special election in Ohio. They would say during President Trump's tenure in office, of the nine special elections for red district seats, eight have been held by the GOP. But if you dig just beneath the surface of those talking points, there are certainly red flags or perhaps blue flags...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BENSON: ...Flapping in the breeze because there are causes for concern, I would say.

SHAPIRO: Well, it sounds like you both agree that on paper, Republicans have been doing OK in these special elections. And come November, you're not expecting them to hold on to control of the House.

BENSON: Look; I think it's early still to make any solid bets on what the November elections are going to bring. I would - if I were to put down my own money today, I would probably put it on the Democrats to win the House, right? But it could go still either direction. What I would say - what's interesting out of Ohio, among other things, is that was a district President Trump won by 11 points. The previous Republican congressman won it in 2016 by a landslide. This was a one-point race, give or take. And without Trump coming in the weekend before to fire up some elements of the base plus, crucially, a very strong endorsement from Governor John Kasich, who is not fond of the president but they are both Republicans - they actually had this unusual alliance where they...


BENSON: ...Teamed up and dragged Troy Balderson across the finish line.

SHAPIRO: Michelle, what do you make of what happened in Ohio? Do you think President Trump helped or hurt the Republican there?

GOLDBERG: My guess is both. I mean, I think that Guy is right. My understanding of the district is that it's pretty bifurcated between maybe kind of Kasich Republicans and Trump Republicans. So you have parts of the district that are very, you know, kind of working-class, white, rural, classic Trump voters. And their turnout actually wasn't great. So the fact that Trump came and riled people up, you know, told everybody that there was an important special election going on - you have to assume that that did something to goose the numbers there. And you didn't have to increase it by very much 'cause it was decided by about a thousand votes or will...

SHAPIRO: Has yet to be decided by about a thousand votes. Michelle...

GOLDBERG: ...Will probably be decided by about a thousand votes. But at the same time, the suburbs, where there was huge Democratic turnout - on the one hand, you couldn't increase it that much more because it was about as high as it could possibly be. But those people are hugely motivated by their revulsion towards Donald Trump.

SHAPIRO: Will you quickly explain what you mean when you say that Democrats are more unified than political pundits say? This is something you write about in your latest column for The New York Times.

GOLDBERG: Well, so Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders made several endorsements. And when the people they endorsed didn't win their primaries, there were a lot of headlines saying, you know, that the night was a big loss for the left, that, you know, socialists are going down. And to me, those were strange headlines first of all because the number of likely members of democratic socialists of America who will almost certainly be elected to Congress in November has gone from one to two - you know, from...

SHAPIRO: Yeah, right.

GOLDBERG: ...Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to, you know, the first Muslim woman who will probably be elected to Congress out of Michigan - and also because the candidates who are considered, quote, unquote, "establishment," you know, even four or eight years ago would have been considered extremely progressive.

SHAPIRO: I know...

GOLDBERG: And so you can really see the whole center of gravity of the party moving towards the - I think towards the beliefs of a large part of the base that had been previously pretty frustrated with the party's leadership.

SHAPIRO: Guy, I want to let you jump in here. Do you think that move to the left is an opportunity for Republicans?

BENSON: I think the Republicans would say yes. And the shift to the left of the Democratic Party as a whole I think is undeniable at this point. And it's going to be something that I think will bubble to the surface maybe not as prominently in 2018 but perhaps in 2020. And the...

SHAPIRO: For the presidential race, you mean.

BENSON: The reason why is this. I'm having flashbacks of 2010. Now, I have no idea. The Democrats are probably not going to win the 63 House seats.

SHAPIRO: 2010 is the Tea Party wave right after President...

BENSON: Right, a huge wave...

SHAPIRO: ...Obama was elected, right.

BENSON: Right, huge wave election for the GOP. The Republican base was crawling over broken glass, desperate to win that election, and they did. And then the fissures began within the Republican sort of coalition...


BENSON: ...Between some of these elements once they won. And...

SHAPIRO: And so Mitt Romney lost the race for president is the...

BENSON: And I think you'll start to see a tug of war - if the Democrats take the House, there will be a tug of war about what type of policies are they actually going to pursue. But now we're getting way ahead of ourselves.

SHAPIRO: Just to talk about what is at stake in November - we heard leaked audio played on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow's show from Congressman Devin Nunes of California, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, in which he said that if Republicans do not hang on to the majority, they cannot protect Trump from Mueller. What do each of you briefly make of that, Michelle?

GOLDBERG: I think like so many other things coming out of the Republican Party, it's both totally shocking and totally unsurprising. You know, on the one hand, it's no secret that Devin Nunes doesn't see his role as the head of the Intelligence Committee as actually getting to the bottom of what happened with Russia in the 2016 election. He sees his role purely as protecting Donald Trump even though he admitted in that audio that getting intelligence from a foreign...


GOLDBERG: ...Power would be a crime. He nevertheless sees his position as being sort of akin to Donald Trump's defense attorney. And...

SHAPIRO: And I want to give Guy an opportunity to weigh in on this, too - Guy?

BENSON: I think a lot of people view the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into this matter as more credible than the House one, which has been very fraught with nastiness and partisanship. I will say overall, it is not a surprising Republican talking point behind closed doors or in public that a Republican House can protect the president from impeachment, which is - the I-word is something that a lot of...

SHAPIRO: A little bit different from protect him from Mueller.

BENSON: Sure, but related to this Russia matter...


BENSON: ...And the Russia investigation broadly, the impeachment word is one that Republicans I think in some close districts are going to highlight.

SHAPIRO: That's Guy Benson, political editor of townhall.com, and Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times. Thanks to both of you.


GOLDBERG: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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