House GOP Moving Right, Democratic Direction Less Clear

We don’t know exactly how many House seats Democrats will gain in November, though Democratic control of the chamber next year looks almost inevitable. But even now it is clear that the midterm results will move Republicans further to the right. Where the Democrats will stand is less clear.

In the House, GOP losses will be disproportionately large in the suburbs and among members of the Republican Main Street Partnership, the House GOP group that puts “country over party” and values “compromise over conflict,” according to its website.

Not all the 70-plus members of the group are pragmatists or generally seek to defuse partisanship, but many are endangered this election cycle.

GOP casualty list?

Reps. Barbara Comstock of Virginia and Mike Coffman of Colorado are headed for defeat, and Democrats are likely to flip the seats of retiring pragmatists such as Florida’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Pennsylvania’s Ryan A. Costello, and New Jersey’s Frank A. LoBiondo and Rodney Frelinghuysen, as well as the seats of former Pennsylvania Reps. Charlie Dent and Patrick Meehan.

Reps. Tom MacArthur of New Jersey, Kevin Yoder of Kansas and Peter Roskam of Illinois are running even or behind their Democratic challengers, as are Mimi Walters of California and Leonard Lance of New Jersey. (Roskam is not listed as a member on the Main Street website.)

Some Republican pragmatists and advocates of increased cooperation with Democrats, including Reps. Will Hurd of Texas and John Katko of New York, are likely to survive the wave. They are the exceptions to the general rule.

But at least 30 of the House members listed on the Main Street website are now at risk in the midterms, and when Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan starts to crawl on to some endangered Republican lists, you know that most of the remaining GOP pragmatists on Capitol Hill have reason to be nervous.

Not every Republican incumbent in a tough race, though, is a pragmatist who at least talks about changing the tone on Capitol Hill.

A handful of Freedom Caucus members are at risk — including Iowa’s Rod Blum, Virginia’s Dave Brat, North Carolina’s Ted Budd and California’s Dana Rohrabacher — and a number of conservatives are retiring or running for governor, including former Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida (who left Congress last month to focus on his gubernatorial bid) and Steve Pearce of New Mexico.

Rep. Jason Lewis, a Minnesota conservative, will likely lose, and the GOP’s California delegation will take a significant hit.

This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list of Republican losses, but it does demonstrate that while there will be House losses across the party’s ideological spectrum, the biggest losses — relatively speaking — will be among party members for whom “compromise” is not a dirty word and Donald Trump is a liability.

The House Republican Conference next year will be smaller but also more conservative and presumably more belligerent being in the minority.

Democratic divisions

The effect on the Democrats is more complicated and less certain.

On one hand, Democrats are likely to add a number of more pragmatic members to their caucus. These members won’t be “conservatives,” but they are less likely to see everything in knee-jerk ideological and partisan terms.

Among the likely winners in November are Rep. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, who won a special election this cycle and is a solid favorite over GOP incumbent Keith Rothfus in a newly drawn district. Former Navy helicopter pilot and prosecutor Mikie Sherrill looks likely to win Frelinghuysen’s open seat, and state Sen. Jeff Van Drew appears an easy winner in the district LoBiondo is vacating.

If they win, Democrats from upscale suburban areas — e.g., Virginia’s 10th, Kansas’ 2nd and 3rd, Minnesota’s 2nd and 3rd, New Jersey’s 3rd, 7th and 11th, and a handful of California seats — will be well aware of the “swing” nature of their districts, and they will be less likely to be robotic followers of their party’s liberal agenda, particularly on economic issues.

But while the House Democratic Caucus will add more pragmatic members who represent competitive districts, it will also see an influx of progressives who say the party has been too timid when it comes to proposing and defending liberal proposals.

All of the energy on the Democratic side is on the left, and progressives surely will demand an unapologetically confrontational approach to Trump nationally and on Capitol Hill.

The fight over the direction of the party is likely to play out first when House Democrats choose their leadership after the midterms.

In mid-August, NBC News identified more than four dozen Democratic incumbents and candidates who’ve indicated they won’t support Nancy Pelosi for speaker next year if the party takes the House.

Not all of the candidates on that list will win, and Pelosi’s opponents come from both the more moderate and the more progressive wings of the party.

While much of the opposition to Pelosi obviously is generational, not ideological, it’s notable that Lamb, Sherrill, North Carolina’s Dan McCready and Kathy Manning, Virginia’s Abigail Spanberger, Michigan’s Elissa Slotkin and Kansas’ Paul Davis are among those who have said the party needs new leadership.

Republicans will surely call next year’s House Democratic agenda “extreme,” “radical” and “socialist.”

But those labels reflect the GOP’s knee-jerk ideological approach and beliefs as much as the Democrats’ positioning, and the Democratic Party will need to work out its agenda during the next two years, when its voters will pick a presidential standard-bearer.

That nominee will, to a large degree, define the positioning of the Democratic Party just as the 2020 Republican nominee will make a statement about the GOP’s values and direction.

Note: This column originally appeared in Roll Call on October 4, 2018.

How Will Kavanaugh Shape the Midterms?

Assuming the FBI investigation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh doesn’t uncover some startling new information, the Senate is likely to confirm him to the Supreme Court and the political effects on the midterms could go in two different directions.

Democratic lawmakers will complain, of course, that the inquiry wasn’t thorough enough, that Kavanaugh lacks a judicial temperament, that he is too partisan to sit on the land’s highest court, and that he wasn’t completely honest with the Senate Judiciary Committee about his drinking.

Still, if all 51 Republican senators are looking for a way to confirm Kavanaugh, Democrats are powerless to derail the nomination.

Open House?

The impact on the fight for the House is likely to be minimal.

There probably will be about a month between Kavanaugh’s confirmation and Nov. 6, which should give many voters an opportunity to refocus on other issues, be they health care, immigration or President Donald Trump’s performance.

Of course, in states with early/absentee/mail voting, the confirmation fight will still be on some people’s minds. But the Kavanaugh fight has not redrawn the electoral battle lines during the final six weeks of the election.

Democrats were already energized when Kavanaugh was nominated, and Trump’s strongest supporters have remained loyal to him no matter what he says or does.

Republican primary turnout was good, though it didn’t match — and isn’t likely to match — Democratic turnout or enthusiasm.

Recently, some pollsters have argued that heightened Republican enthusiasm could eat into the Democrats’ expected turnout advantage in November. But if and when Kavanaugh is confirmed, that event will give the GOP “control” of the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court, and that will remove some of the urgency about the midterms for Republican voters.

Democrats, on the other hand, will see the midterms as their only opportunity to check Trump and his party. During the month between Kavanaugh’s confirmation and Election Day, the president is likely to return to his combative mode.

He will interject himself back into every House race, as he has been for months, thereby reminding voters that the midterms are about him.

The 2018 election’s crucial swing group — college-educated whites/white women — will be at least as energized after the Kavanaugh fight as they were before his nomination.

Polls have shown for months that swing voters (particularly women) have been preparing to send a loud message to Trump and the Republican Party, and the accusations about Kavanaugh will only further motivate college-educated women who live in the suburbs.

Both national polls and district surveys conducted by the media and by campaigns, as well as campaign spending decisions by the parties and PACs, show at least a modest Democratic wave developing.

According to national media reports, influential Republican political action committees have pulled out of Virginia’s 10th District (Barbara Comstock), Colorado’s 6th District (Mike Coffman) and Michigan’s 8th District (Mike Bishop).

Those districts are telling, since Coffman and Comstock were able to win even while Democratic presidential nominees were carrying their districts, and Bishop represents a district carried by both Trump in 2016 and Mitt Romney in 2012.

All three are politically competitive suburban districts. District-level polling also shows significant Republican problems — again, primarily in the suburbs — in New Jersey, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and California, and Republican funds are now flowing into districts not initially regarded as even competitive in the past.

Democratic gains of at least 30-35 seats currently appear likely, and there is little reason to believe that the Kavanaugh confirmation fight will change that outcome.

Indeed, if it does have any impact, it will probably be to the Democrats’ advantage.

Meanwhile, in the Senate

The Supreme Court battle could have quite a different effect on the race for the Senate. Instead of college-educated, suburban whites being the key swing demographic group, self-identified Republicans, rural voters and Trump voters are crucial in these contests.

Democratic incumbents in North Dakota and West Virginia certainly need to win some of those voters to have any chance of surviving (as do Democratic incumbents in three or four other states).

So Democratic senators in difficult races have a complicated calculation to make.

On one hand, if Republicans are going to confirm Kavanaugh with 50 or 51 votes anyway, endangered Democratic senators could boost their chances by casting meaningless votes in favor of the nominee — thus proving their political independence to swing voters and Republican voters in pro-Trump states such as North Dakota, West Virginia and Indiana.

On the other hand, the intensity of the Kavanaugh fight makes it more difficult for Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin III and Joe Donnelly to support confirmation because Democratic base voters are so outraged at Trump and Senate Republicans.

Voting for Kavanaugh — even if it has no impact on his confirmation — could anger and alienate those voters, which could well be fatal to the Democratic incumbents.

Of course, Democratic senators such as Donnelly now have new arguments to explain a vote against confirmation — the alleged unfairness of the process, questionable statements from Kavanaugh and the unanswered questions raised during the testimony of his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford.

While Democrats would love to kill the Kavanaugh nomination, dragging out the process to fill the court’s vacancy would only add to the concerns of Democratic senators running in heavily pro-Trump states by elevating the importance of partisanship, ideology and the Supreme Court.

That is less of a problem for Democrats in the House than it is for this cycle’s Senate class. Given the unexpected twists and turns of our politics these days — and of the Kavanaugh confirmation process — it’s probably wise not to rule out a few more twists and turns before November.

This column originally appeared in Roll Call on October 2, 2018.

 

I’m Just Tired of All of It

I’m tired of all the noise and hype. I’m tired of the daily crises. I’m tired of the drama that is produced by President Donald Trump. I’m tired of the suffocating coverage by the national media of the chaos that swirls around the administration. I’m tired of the obvious partisanship on Capitol Hill. I wish it would all stop, but I know it won’t.

I’m tired of the stupid tweets from the president of the United States that wouldn’t be appropriate for a 12-year-old school yard bully, let alone someone who is supposed to be a world leader.

I’m tired of the lies and efforts to misdirect that come from Sarah Huckabee Sanders and other members of the White House and friends of the president.

I’m tired of Trump’s ridiculous rallies — his attacks on the media and the “deep state,” his misstatements about the economy, and his efforts to undermine important institutions such as the Department of Justice and the FBI.

I’m tired of all of those people standing behind him, wearing their MAGA hats and waving signs, and cheering mindlessly when he mocks his adversaries, attacks America’s allies and brags about his alleged accomplishments.

I’m tired of much of the media coverage. While I agree with most critics of the president and Republicans on Capitol Hill, I wonder why the major cable networks can’t take a break once in a while from talking Trump (or more recently, Judge Brett Kavanaugh) and instead give me some other news.

Something else MUST be going on around the world.

Could we get some more coverage of Venezuela? The nationalist regimes in Poland and Hungary? The change in leadership in Australia? China’s economy and foreign policy efforts? Africa? Something must be happening there.

I’d even like to see or read pieces on how the states are dealing with health care or economic issues.

I’m unbearably tired of the endless panels on CNN and MSNBC going over the same topics all day. And I’m tired of cable television guests who talk about the midterms but know as much about elections as I do about nuclear physics.

I’m tired of the cable shows that feature panels/guests who are only on one side of the argument, and I’m tired of cable shows that have two guests from different parties yelling at each other rather than trying to be analytical.

I’m tired of Capitol Hill Republicans who refuse to comment on and criticize stupid things the president says or does.

Nobody can ever answer a question with “yes” or “no.” I’m tired of that, too.

I’m tired — really, really tired — of the hypocrisy. I’m tired of Republicans expressing shock that Democrats are trying to delay the confirmation of Kavanaugh and apparently forgetting that they wouldn’t take up the nomination of Merrick Garland, for no other reason than Barack Obama nominated him.

I’m tired of Democrats acting as if they wouldn’t do the same thing that Republicans are now doing if they were in the majority.

You see, I watched Democrats avoid criticizing Bill Clinton when he had his scandal, and I saw former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid begin the slippery slope of undermining the filibuster.

Oh, and I’m seriously tired of people complaining about “false equivalence.”

Sure, I’ll admit that I’m not equally tired of everything.

I’m most tired about Trump’s misstatements about the 2016 campaign, his complete lack of understanding about trade and deficits, his ignorance of American history, and his bragging and narcissism.

And, of course, I’m really tired of his lies and misstatements — and his constant efforts to accuse people of doing things of which he is guilty.

By now, you certainly want to know why I’m still writing about politics if I’m so tired of it all.

That’s a fair question.

Part of the answer is that I’m not certain what else I would do.

Part of it, I’m sure, is force of habit.

I have been watching the evening news since I was a child.

We were a Huntley-Brinkley family. And my family got two newspapers delivered each day — The New York Times in the morning and the Journal-American in the afternoon.

I’ve been watching and reading about politics for at least 60 years. I still remember how excited I was right before the 1960 election and how I enjoyed watching the national convention coverage when it was on broadcast TV.

I loved watching Frank McGee and John Chancellor and Bruce Morton.

So you can say that, in part, I’m addicted.

But I also remain fascinated and entertained by the game of politics.

Maybe I will get so tired of all the tumult associated with Trump that I’ll simply walk away.

But not today.

Not at least until after the midterms, when we see more winners and losers, and when the truly bizarre story we are all now following may show signs of coming to an end.

This column appeared originally in Roll Call on September 26, 2018.

The GOP Civil War Continues Without Even a Pause

While many dissected Corey Stewart’s recent Virginia Republican Senate primary victory and South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford’s defeat in his bid for renomination, an even more interesting runoff race is underway in the Palmetto State.

The June 12 Republican primary in Trey Gowdy’s open 4th District seat produced a runoff pitting first-place finisher Lee Bright, a former state senator, against William Timmons, a first-term state senator.

When I saw Bright’s name, I laughed. You see, I still remember my interview with him when he was running to deny GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham renomination.

Here is what I wrote about Bright after that interview: “Bright, whose professional career started with selling televisions at Circuit City, has experienced a series of business setbacks. In fact, I’m not entirely clear how he makes a living, though he said something about truck brokerage and credit card processing. He seems affable, but he lacks gravitas.

“The state senator describes himself as a member of the tea party and he endorsed first Michele Bachmann, then Ron Paul in the race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. He readily acknowledges that he rarely supports bills brought up for a vote on the floor of the South Carolina Senate.”

Bright came off then as an unadulterated bomb-thrower who cared more about attacking those in his party and making trouble than about passing legislation, and he doesn’t appear to have changed his stripes.

In a statement in March announcing his candidacy for Gowdy’s open seat, Bright said, “South Carolina voters are sick and tired of radical Leftists and establishment Republicans constantly eroding our rights.”

Bright, 48, put together an interesting record in the Legislature. He supported efforts to create a separate state currency and to nullify federal laws. He supported a bill to force transgender people to use public bathrooms matching their sex assigned at birth, and he was one of three South Carolina senators voting in 2015 against removing the Confederate battle flag from statehouse grounds.

According to Jamie Self of The State newspaper, Bright also “pushed an unsuccessful proposal to allow the carrying of firearms without training or a permit” and “filibustered a landmark abortion ban that passed — despite opposing abortion himself — because it included exceptions for rape and incest.”

Just a quick reminder here: Bright finished first in the primary, garnering about a quarter of the vote in a field of 13 Republican hopefuls.

Bright’s opponent in the June 26 runoff, William Timmons, is a young (34) first-term state senator. Post and Courier reporter Jamie Lovegrove wrote that Timmons “stems from a dynasty of wealthy, politically active Greenville Republicans.” Timmons has raised more than $1 million, including hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money that he put into his primary campaign.

Timmons doesn’t have a long record, so it’s hard to see exactly how he fits into the party. But insiders see Timmons as a business-friendly conservative from a prominent, well-connected family. In other words, unlike Bright, Timmons is no bomb-thrower.

During the primary, the Club for Growth ran a radio ad attacking Timmons and third-place finisher state Rep. Dan Hamilton for allegedly not being sufficiently supportive of President Donald Trump.

In some ways, the contrast between the two Republicans in the runoff could not be clearer.

Timmons has an undergraduate degree from George Washington University in the nation’s capital and a law degree (and a master’s degree in international studies) from the University of South Carolina. Bright graduated from Dorman High School.

Timmons has been endorsed by Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. Bright has been endorsed by Rep. Steve King of Iowa.

Finally, Timmons knocked off longtime state Sen. Mike Fair in the 2016 GOP runoff at the same time that Bright was losing his bid for a third term to attorney Scott Talley, who was endorsed by then-governor Nikki Haley and the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce.

Local observers believe the Bright-Timmons contest will be another fight between insiders and outsiders.

“This is a mainstream Republican — call it the establishment, if you’d like — versus a guy who is as extreme as [Virginia Republican Senate nominee] Corey Stewart,” said longtime South Carolina Republican consultant Chip Felkel, who expects the local business community to make “a very focused effort to support Timmons in the June 26 runoff.”

However, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has no plans to get involved in the runoff, especially since during a debate of GOP hopefuls, none of the candidates said he would seek the group’s endorsement.

The South Carolina 4th District runoff is another test of how far the GOP has moved from the political center and how strong the Freedom Caucus will be in the next Congress. It merits your attention.

Note: This column originally appeared in Roll Call on June 15, 2018.

Trump Numbers Are Up. And Down. But Really Unchanged.

New national polls show voters are more upbeat about President Donald Trump’s performance and more pessimistic about the Democrats’ chances of taking back the House. Or not.

An April 8-11 Washington Post-ABC News poll showed Trump’s job approval rating at 40 percent, while 56 percent disapproved of his performance.

An April 8-11 NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey showed almost identical numbers, with the president’s job approval at 39 percent and his disapproval at 57 percent.

But when you look below the topline numbers or start comparing survey results to earlier polls, things start to get a little more, well, complicated.

The Post-ABC survey found Trump’s job approval had improved from its January poll (when the president’s job approval stood at 36 percent), while the NBC/Journal survey showed Trump’s approval had worsened since its previous poll in March, when it stood at 43 percent.

This no doubt caused some head-scratching by news anchors and talking heads who have relatively little experience with or understanding of survey research — and who insist on focusing on every bump in the road rather than on the road itself.

Hold the horses

In fact, it’s best not to try to explain every data point.

“Margin of error” exists for a reason, and treating every survey number as if it is a perfect reflection of reality is an invitation to an emotional breakdown.

Most results from reputable national surveys show the president’s job approval in the 38 percent to 42 percent range. Try to live with that until there is a clear breakout in one direction or the other.

It’s best to approach survey results with a dose of common sense. That may make those of us seeking complete objectivity a bit uncomfortable, but it is still necessary given the increasing difficulty in getting accurate results at a time when many voters refuse to respond to public opinion surveys.

I find it difficult to believe the president’s job approval has been moving around much — or that it has improved significantly over the past few months.

Few Trump enthusiasts are defecting from him, and his opponents are as “locked in” as can be.

Yes, good news for the White House can move the president’s numbers up a couple of points for a few days, and bad news can cost him a few points for a matter of days or weeks. But public opinion always seems to return to the same 38 percent to 42 percent job approval range we have seen for many months.

A horse race?

Of course, if you want to be confused, there is always the “generic ballot.”

The NBC/Journal poll from April showed Democrats with a 7-point advantage, 47 percent to 40 percent, while the Post-ABC survey put the Democrats’ advantage at 10 points among voting-age adults but at only 4 points among registered voters.

But when you adopt a longer time frame, things suddenly get more complicated.

The Post-ABC surveys of adults from April, January and November showed Democrats with a low double-digit lead in the generic ballot. But the Democratic advantage in the generic ballot among registered voters plunged from 12 points in January to just 4 points in the latest survey.

While I’m certain you can come up with some elaborate explanation for the shift among registered voters, I wouldn’t waste the time.

It seems very unlikely that there has been a fundamental shift in sentiment among registered voters. It’s much likelier that the Post-ABC result is a statistical hiccup that doesn’t mean much.

That’s why I was surprised how The Washington Post played the results, suggesting the findings were a “signal to party leaders and strategists that they could be premature in anticipating a huge wave of victories in November.”

Maybe that 4 percent number is a signal. And maybe it isn’t.

It could simply be that the January survey was misleading or the April survey understated the Democratic advantage. Or a little of both.

If I were you, I’d wait for the next round of generic ballot tests from the major pollsters before getting too excited about the most recent Post-ABC generic ballot result.

More horsing around

Of course, if you really want to drive yourself crazy, you can consider Quinnipiac University’s generic ballot polling.

An April 6-9 Quinnipiac poll showed Democrats with a 3-point advantage, 46 percent to 43 percent. Another Quinnipiac poll conducted three weeks earlier gave them a 6-point edge.

Two weeks before that, Democrats had a 10-point advantage, and two weeks before that, Quinnipiac found them with a 15-point generic ballot lead.

That means that between mid-February and early April, a period of about seven weeks, the Democrats’ advantage in the congressional generic ballot shrunk from 15 points to 3 points.

Feel free to believe that if you want, but it strikes me as unreasonable given that the overall news flow hasn’t been favorable for Trump, and recent special elections suggest growing Democratic enthusiasm and strengths.

I have spent years watching polls, and I value them immensely. My repeated warnings about reading too much into the responses to any single question doesn’t change that.

I’d merely like to see everyone show a bit more skepticism and caution, rather than simply regurgitating the numbers and accepting them at face value.

Note: This column first appeared in Roll Call on April 19, 2018.

When History Overtakes a Campaign Promise

The press release from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was groundbreaking, if difficult to believe.

The chairman of the DCCC said his committee “will not fund any Democratic candidate who initiates attacks against their Republican opponents of an ‘intimate’ personal nature.”

In response, the National Republican Congressional Committee’s chairman made the same pledge and wrote that the agreement negotiated by the two committee heads “has the potential to truly change the tone and tenure of modern-day American politics for the better. We each agreed that there is no room in either of our parties for those who would make personal attacks on another candidate’s private life when those attacks have no bearing on a candidate’s fitness or ability to serve in office.”

If you think I just made up those quotes or the bipartisan agreement was the product of my imagination, you are very wrong. That agreement was forged almost 20 years ago, on Sept. 27, 1998, by Texas Democrat Martin Frost, who chaired the DCCC, and Georgia Republican John Linder, his counterpart at the NRCC.

But while Frost’s press release was limited to announcing the agreement, Linder used his letter to complain that President Bill Clinton’s allies were trying to discredit his critics: “As we have seen all too often, those whose views differ from the White House often become targets of vicious smears from ‘unnamed sources.’ In today’s Washington Post, Howard Kurtz writes on the White House’s ‘history of attacking its accusers.’ Kurtz writes, ‘James Carville, the president’s friend, openly declared ‘war’ on independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, and White House officials publicly released negative information about Kathleen Willey after the former White House volunteer accused Clinton of ‘groping her.’”

Linder was particularly upset about rumors being circulated that decades earlier, Illinois Rep. Henry J. Hyde, who chaired the House Judiciary Committee, had had an extramarital affair.

He complained: “The personal smear campaign being waged against my friend Henry Hyde is a shameful attempt by a hateful few to besmirch one of the most distinguished men to ever honor our nation with his service. These attacks are nothing more than a slanderous bid to intimidate the man charged with overseeing possible impeachment hearings against President Bill Clinton.”

About a week earlier, on Sept. 18, The Washington Post had noted that a “leading Republican critic of Clinton, former U.S. attorney Joseph E. diGenova, said yesterday: ‘Their denials are worthless at this point. There is a presumption they are responsible at this point. They’ve made no bones that their tactic is to destroy anyone who disagrees with them. The burden has now shifted to them to disprove the fact that they were responsible for this.’”

(That’s the same diGenova who has defended President Donald Trump and almost joined the president’s legal defense team.)

Changing times

While Trump’s affairs — and denials — are getting plenty of attention, most political campaigns have moved beyond issues of personal, “private” conduct.

Indeed, the focus on the current president’s behavior is less about his “private” behavior than it is about whether he lied, obstructed justice or benefited from the help of a foreign government.

Yes, Pennsylvania Republican Tim Murphy resigned his seat in the House after it was revealed that he had an affair and urged his mistress to get an abortion, and former judge Roy Moore’s Senate candidacy was sunk after revelations about his past personal behavior.

But Moore won a Republican primary even as rumors swirled about bad behavior years earlier, and GOP Reps. Blake Farenthold of Texas and Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee have survived personal scandals.

Personal scandals aren’t what they once were in American politics, though the recent attention to inappropriate sexual behavior has to some extent redefined what behavior is disqualifying for an officeholder or political hopeful and what is not.

I wouldn’t expect to see today’s campaign committees again swearing off future attacks, and it should be clear to all that the 1998 Frost-Linder agreement did not, as the Georgia Republican hoped, “change the tone and tenure of modern-day American politics for the better.”

Challengers and underdogs must still use multiple lines of attack to have any chance of winning, and White House spokesmen and leakers still try to discredit their opponents and silence their critics.

Getting worse

If anything, the nastiness has increased, even as attacks on a candidate’s private life — “when those attacks have no bearing on a candidate’s fitness or ability to serve in office” — seem to have become less important to voters.

The ideological division between the two parties has grown, and new platforms have made it easier for bizarre accusations based on baseless conspiracy theories to enter the political debate and to circulate very publicly  — rather than through whispering campaigns of many decades ago.

The result is that the current political environment — and certainly the current White House — has taken us further away from civility, thoughtfulness, and the tenor and tone that Frost and Linder said they hoped to achieve. And that is a great pity.

Note: This column first appeared in Roll Call on April 3, 2018.