Trump Shows Restraint in Tennessee

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Primary season is back, with Tennessee having kicked off the remaining schedule on Thursday. The big contested race was for governor, and the Republican Party there appears to have gotten the candidate they wanted as businessman Bill Lee triumphed. Democrats selected former Nashville mayor Karl Dean to oppose him, and in the open Senate seat being vacated by Bob Corker, both parties successfully cleared the field for their candidates, Republican House member Marsha Blackburn and Democratic former governor Phil Bredesen. 

So, a few notes from a rare Thursday election.

President Donald Trump really has learned how to use endorsements. He chose not to get involved in the gubernatorial primary at the urging of the state party, which was worried that he might support House member Diane Black, who they perceived as a weaker general election candidate. Staying out was a twofer for Trump: The state party is presumably happy for him, and he avoided the real possibility of having his candidate defeated. By endorsing selectively in primaries recently, usually picking candidates who were already leading, Trump has developed a reputation for real clout in the party. Perhaps that’s true; perhaps he’s just jumping to the head of the parade after it’s started. Either way, since the perception of influence becomes real influence, Trump benefits. It’s one of the very few things he’s done that show real learning in office, and he deserves credit for it.

While Republicans did nominate Blackburn for a Senate seat that she has a good chance of winning, they otherwise followed the usual pattern of failing to support women — nominating men in eight of the nine House districts, including the two being vacated by Black and Blackburn. Their only female House nominee is in a solidly Democratic district. And while Democrats did nominate men for the two big statewide offices, they chose women for either four or five of those House districts, with the fifth ahead narrowly in a contest that hasn’t been decided yet. 

And with all the talk about ideological conflict in the Democratic Party, they’ve put up solid mainstream liberal candidates for both governor and senator. Bredesen is generally considered the best candidate they could have recruited in the Senate race, and he’s been polling well so far against Blackburn, although it’s unclear whether that will hold up now that she’s the nominee. And while Republicans are favored so far to retain the governor’s seat, Dean probably gives the Democrats a candidate who will put them in position to take advantage if the national environment shifts hard enough their way to make this Republican state temporarily competitive. 

1. Molly Reynolds explains the advantages and disadvantages of the “minibus” appropriations process.

2. Josh Huder on a bad idea for House reform. I agree: It’s a little bizarre right now to think that the problem in the House is that speakers aren’t powerful enough. 

3. Nina Barzachka at the Monkey Cage on Austria’s turn in the presidency of the Council of the European Union. 

6. Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes take stock of what we know about Trump-Russia so far

7. And a good Paul Waldman item on Trump and a shutdown showdown. Two extra points: One is that the mechanism he identifies here — a politician reluctant to listen to advisers because, after all, they all thought he or she would lose in the first place — is an important one, and certainly not unique to Trump. And also: Lost in all of this is that a shutdown almost certainly wouldn’t get Trump the border wall funding he wants, let alone the other immigration provisions. He doesn’t have the votes, and doesn’t know how to bargain to get some of what he wants. Shutting down the government doesn’t change that. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.