It’s for the best, really. Since Rudy Giuliani appears to be running America’s foreign policy unofficially anyway, it’d be nice to elevate him and give him the title that befits his position.
Granted, granted, the Senate would never confirm him, but that’s no problem in 2019. Trump can do some of that jujitsu he performed to install Ken Cuccinelli as acting head of USCIS even though a new appointee wasn’t supposed to be eligible for that position. In order to satisfy the requirement that an acting secretary must already be employed by the department, Trump could just name Rudy the new janitor or whatever at State before elevating him to fill Pompeo’s vacancy.
It’s not like the Senate’s going to assert its constitutional prerogatives by objecting or anything.
Anyway. Why does Mike Pompeo have to quit? you ask. Because, if you believe Republican internal polling, the party’s on track to lose a Senate seat next year that it has no excuse losing. It could mean the difference between a 50/50 Senate controlled by Mike Pence’s tiebreaking vote and a 51/49 Democratic Senate controlled by Chuck Schumer.
Internal Republican polling shows Kris Kobach trouncing the current GOP primary field for an open U.S. Senate seat in Kansas, but losing by double digits to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, should he jump into the race…
Mr. Kobach, an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration, previously served as Kansas’ top elections official. He won a crowded Republican primary for governor last year only to lose the general election to Democrat Laura Kelly. A previous NRSC poll showed Mr. Kobach losing by 10 percentage points to a Democrat in the 2020 general election for the Senate seat vacated by retiring Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.).
“If Mike Pompeo doesn’t run, we don’t have a prayer,” said a top Republican strategist who had seen the latest poll.
Kobach’s one of the few Republicans in Kansas capable of losing a big race. He barely eked out a primary win last fall over the acting governor, then went on to lose by five points in the general election to Democrat Laura Kelly. If you believe the NRSC’s polling he’s on track to blow an even more significant race next year if he ends up again as the GOP’s nominee, which he momentarily stands a strong chance of being. His prospects remind me of Marco Rubio’s joke about Trump during the 2016 primaries: “How the hell does anyone go bankrupt running a casino?” How the hell does any Republican lose two major races in Kansas?
This dude could singlehandedly turn the state blue in all of its key statewide offices by 2024 if he somehow succeeds Jerry Moran as nominee for *that* Senate seat and then loses to a Democrat again.
Obviously the Republican establishment wants to stage an intervention here, not just because Kobach is a weak hand for the party to play in what should be an easy election but because his brand of border-hawk populism is … not to their taste politically. Enter Mike Pompeo, the most famous Republican in the country from Kansas (now that Pat Roberts is retiring), a man with multiple cabinet positions already under his belt and the Donald Trump seal of approval. Per the internal polling, Pompeo’s entry into the race would immediately shift 60 percent(!) of Kobach’s support, amounting to a 54/17 Pompeo lead over Kobach in the primary. The lead would probably widen once Trump formally endorsed him. The general election would be a walkover.
The polling, which was conducted in late October, also explains why pressure on Pompeo has ramped up lately, with the NRSC urging donors at a “Save the Senate” fundraiser last month to call him and twist his arm to run. The NRSC probably took a wait-and-see approach at first, hoping that the other Republican in the race, Rep. Roger Marshall, might zoom past Kobach. Presumably they have recent evidence that that’s not happening, which is why Pompeo has become the “break glass in case of emergency” option.
And luckily for them, it comes at a perfect moment for Pompeo and for Trump. Read this post from a few weeks ago for background. Impeachment hasn’t been great for the relationship between the two and it hasn’t been great for Pompeo’s relationship with his underlings at State. It’s not like foreign policy looks to be smooth sailing next year either, as relations with North Korea and Iran are growing more tense, not less. It’s a sweet opportunity for Pompeo to parachute out of the administration and into the Senate. Riding the Trump roller-coaster as a cabinet member for nearly three years is more than any human should be asked to endure.
Just one question in all this: How much do we trust the GOP establishment to be honest brokers in leaking their polling on Kobach? They opposed him since he announced his run for Senate, spooked by last year’s defeat and the fear that he’d be a giant pain in the ass for McConnell in the Senate. Meanwhile they’ve had trouble convincing Pompeo to run, to the point, it seems, that they felt obliged to release this data to ramp up the pressure. Do we trust that these numbers are accurate and not cooked to make Kobach look bad and Pompeo look good? If we do, how do we explain the fact that they’re releasing polling from late October instead of something more recent?
And why didn’t they release recent numbers proving that Kobach is DOA in the general election, as they allege? Surely they tested him in hypothetical match-ups with various Democrats.
My guess is that the polling shows that Kobach is no worse than competitive in a general election, possibly (narrowly) ahead. There’s no earthly way he’d lose by 10 points running in a state like Kansas with an incumbent Republican president at the top of the ballot to drive turnout. His downfall last year was that he was running in a midterm, with the out-party ramped up to turn out and show the guy in the White House that he should be worried about 2020. With Trump’s coattails to help him, Kobach’s race would be no worse than a coin flip, possibly a “lean Republican” contest. That’s not an argument for nominating him — he’s a weak hand compared to Pompeo, so why take the chance? But his weakness is being overstated here for what I suspect are political reasons.