In the run up to the US Congressional elections in November I will be write a post every so often with an update on the situation and any thoughts I have on the direction the House and Senate are heading in.
I have punted on the Democrats reclaiming control of the Congress after the election. At the moment, the polls and bookies also see this happening, but I am not taking this as a definite as there have been many electoral shocks recently.
Today is the special election for the 8th Arizona Congressional District.
The background to this “by election” was caused by one of the most bizarre political scandals I have come across when the incumbent Republican Congressman, Trent Franks, asked two female members of his staff if they would bear his children. Franks resigned in early December after the House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into his behaviour. His quotes below are almost unbelievable;
“I have recently learned that the ethics committee is reviewing an inquiry regarding my discussion of surrogacy with two previous female subordinates, making each feel uncomfortable,”……“I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress.”……. “I want to make one thing completely clear. I have absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff.”
This election should be a straightforward win for the Republican candidate, Debbie Leisko, over her Democratic competitor, Hiral Tipirneni.
Donald Trump won this district by 21% in the 2016 Presidential Election and it should be a clear Republican Hold. However, the recent victory of Conor Lamb in the 18th District of Pennsylvania (which Trump won by 19%) has left many believing that many previously uncompetitive seats have become battlegrounds.
This is almost certainly not the case here. There are a number of inherent, structural advantages for the Republians here that mean a shock is a lot less likely (Republicans make up 41% of registered voters v Democrats 24% plus an older demography).
There have been major questions marks about three of the major polls released but I have included the numbers below for reference;
The margin of victory here is important though. For this to be a successful election for Republicans and a positive indicator for November they need to win by at least 15%.
For the Democrats a margin of less than 10% would be a major boost and could lead to a re-assessment of the political landscape ahead of November. A win here is almost impossible and would be a major shock despite some polling calling it quite close.
The result will not decide November but may be another piece of contextual evidence on the potential chance of the Democrats reclaiming the House of Congress…
The 8th will Probably be Repealed but it will be Closer than the Marriage Equality Referendum in 2015...
The campaign is heating up. I last directly wrote about the 8th Amendment referendum in August 2017. Then I warned that it would be a very close race, especially if it was run on the basis that the 8th would be replaced with legislation that allowed abortion on demand for the first twelve weeks of pregnancy.
That does seem to be the case now. It was the recommendation of the Citizen’s assembly and it seems difficult to envisage how it will not be the starting point for legislation if the 8th is indeed repealed. I warned then that the campaign may be our Brexit/Trump moment where there is a shock results that rails back against the assumption that Ireland has moved on and changed.
I do now believe it will pass on May 25th but see it being an extremely close race. There is a comfort to viewing this through the prism of the next logical step in Ireland continuing its path to becoming a truly progressive republic.
However, in many ways I think the comparisons to the Marriage Equality referendum are dangerous for the Repeal side and fail to distinguish the differences and intricacies of both the society that is being asked the question and the question itself.
The Yes campaign for the Marriage Equality had a real “feel good” that allowed many to openly support the campaign even if it was not an issue that was high on their political priorities.
So far, I do not see the same level of enthusiasm for the Yes campaign amongst the “non-aligned”.
The reason for this may be that so far, the No side have been more successful in framing the referendum around “abortion” than the Yes side have been in framing it around “bodily autonomy” and “freedom of choice”.
There are two factors that make the “No” side’s task easier here. The No side got its posters up earlier and many of the posters contain stark warnings about what they believe repealing the 8th means.
Furthermore, the wider phenomenon of a growing effectiveness of short, simplistic political messages in recent times, arguably fueled by the rise in social media platforms like Twitter, means the message of abortion is received and processed a lot easier than “bodily autonomy”.
That said, the Yes campaign is still ahead in every poll so far which is the clearest indicator that it will pass. The most recent poll from the Irish Times this week showed a slight drop in support for Yes at 47%, with No at 28%, “Undecided” at 20% and “Don’t Know” at 4%.
The results were also framed as Yes at 63% and No at 37% with others excluded. This is a much more dangerous way of analyzing the results for those who are in favour of Repeal as Irish voters in past referendums have shown a high aversion to change when there is uncertainty around what that change will be.
Finally, it’s time for some updated predictions based on where we stand today. There may be changes in the run up to the Referendum, but this is probably the final predictions I will make;
Yes to pass with a vote of 52% to 57% - a much smaller margin of victory than the 62% Yes received in the Marriage Equality referendum.
Turnout out to be lower than 55% for the reasons illustrated above
5+ Constituencies to Vote No versus only Roscommon in the Marriage Equality referendum.
I started to write an article last night on why the UK shouldn’t bomb Syria. I fell asleep before I had completed it and when I woke up this morning it was obsolete. The UK had crossed it’s Syrian Rubicon and another Middle Eastern country had been added to the list of UK targets of military action.
I will not pontificate on the legitimacy of the missile strikes last night by the US, UK and France. There is plenty of coverage and articles out there already doing so.
The thrust of this short piece is a hope that the hawks in all three governments are now satiated and that there will be no further escalation in violence or warfare. It is a hope that could be crushed as early as tonight if the three nations decide to embark on further sorties or if Syria’s key allies, Russia and Iran, decide to launch retaliatory strikes.
The former seems slightly more likely than the latter. Despite the bombastic rhetoric of the Russian government this week, it seems unlikely that would really escalate this to the next level by targeting “allied” sites or infrastructure.
It would be counterproductive and could ultimately dislodge Russian’s position of (albeit challenged) supremacy in Syria now.
It is a little too early to fully analyze what impact these strikes have had on Syria’s military capability, but it seems unlikely it will serious hinder their slow but steady path to ultimate victory they have pursued since Russia’s major interjection into the Syrian Civil War.
Approximately one year, Trump also launched missile strikes against the Syrian regime after another alleged chemical attack by the Syrian regime on its own people. At the time Trump was quoted as saying;
“No child of God should ever suffer such horror,”
There was an initial fear then that the strikes would escalate into American troops on the ground and an overthrow of the Syrian regime. Essentially, back then the “Trump factor” was so unknown that this seemed a possibility despite all the obvious challenges and dangers.
However, when this did not occur, and Trump refrained from further action it appeared the window for the possibility of serious military intervention by the West had passed.
We are unfortunately again at a similar crossroads. The difference this time is that both the UK and France have entered on the side of the US. Apart from the obvious aims of preventing further chemical attacks on innocent civilians, both European nations may also have more nefarious motives for intervening.
Emmanuel Macron has been cozying up to the Saudi Royal family in recent times and it may be more than a coincidence that Macron’s strong actions have taken place less than a week since the Crown Prince visited Paris.
Theresa May has had a bump in her approval ratings in the last month since her strong reaction to the Skripal attack in Salisbury. She may identify this as a further opportunity to bolster her reputation as strong on foreign policy.
This is major gamble by May as only 22% of Britons supported cruise missile strikes against Syria in a poll they published on Thursday.
There will be parliamentary debate on Monday in the UK and hopefully both the opposition and members of her own Conservative party will speak up against further military action.
We are now in a dangerous lull where the first strikes have taken place, but we cannot know for certain that there will be no further action. In my view these initial strikes have been in vain and will produce very little on the ground without engagement with Russia and Iran.
Unfortunately, with the recent appointment of John R. Bolton as Trump’s National Security Advisor there is another hawk in his inner circle who is not afraid to advocate military action against Iran. Whether this would extend to direct action against Russia is unknown for now.
Over the next few days it will become a lot clearer whether this was another one-off strike/warning to the Syrian regime against the use of chemical weapons or we have reached a new level of tension and conflict between the US and its allies against the Syrian regime backed up by Russia and Iran.
The terrifying difference on this occasion would be that the conflict could potentially bit e solely between proxy forces on both sides but directly between military superpowers.
Let’s hope that common sense prevails and we see a de-escalation of threatening rhetoric and a return to dialogue in the coming days…