What Washington Insiders Tell Us — Off the Record
Author: Greg Valliere
March 15, 2023
SO HERE’S WHAT WE ARE HEARING, from sources who say “not for attribution,” knowing that their comments may get published:
Joe Biden: His image as a doddering old man is flatly dismissed in both parties. “He’s ruthless when he has to be,” one Republican admirer told us. “He’ll drill for oil in Alaska because low gasoline prices are a key to his re-election, and he’ll pivot on a dime to embrace anti-crime measures.” The left increasingly dislikes Biden but he’s the favorite — for now — to win re-election by default.
The dominant issue: It may be Social Security, and the Democrats are happy to demogogue. “We”ll portray the Republicans as willing to push grandma off a cliff,” one Democrat told us. As for the budget deficit, no one seems very concerned — “if the markets aren’t concerned, why should we care,” a Democrat says (off the record).
Volodymyr Zelensky: Most of Washington — including us — views him as a great hero, but in private there’s exasperation that he won’t even consider negotiations. Make no mistake — everyone in this town is watching the polls on Ukraine; the public may become weary of this expensive war.
Jerome Powell’s halo is slipping: The Fed Chairman elicits grumbling on the left and right. “He’s made a lot of mistakes, and the Fed’s regulators missed some obvious red flags in Silicon Valley,” one moderate Republican tells us.
The economy: It’s stunning how poorly politicians understand economic issues. They think the economy is in terrible shape and of course it’s surprisingly strong. “We’ll win in 2024 because of inflation,” says one Republican staffer.
Donald Trump: He’s reviled in this city, but he’s also feared. “There’s a narrow path for him to win the Republican nomination,” a political analyst tells us, “but winning the general election is an uphill fight.” Many sources think Trump will consider a third-party run if he can’t win the GOP nomination. We disagree.
Trump indictments: Everyone expects indictments, especially in Georgia. Would this derail Trump’s campaign? Not necessarily, most of our sources say. “He loves to play the martyr, and would turn an indictment into a political plus,” several sources say in private.
China, the villain: It’s virtually impossible to find anyone in this town who has anything good to say — on the record or off the record — about China. The antipathy is overwhelming.
The most over-rated politicians? That’s a crowded field. Most sources will tell you that Pete Buttigieg can’t get elected dog catcher. And many sources will tell you — off the record — that Ron DeSantis is the new version of Scott Walker, who galloped out of the gate in 2016 and then fizzled. But the most over-rated politician may be Gavin Newsom of California, too liberal for the country, and saddled with baggage.
Under-rated politicians: Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders, all of whom are mocked in public — but in private they are viewed as formidable. All four “have large constituencies,” one analyst tells us.
Hottest issue among the lobbyists: The looming battle over extending the Trump tax cuts, many of which expire in two years.
A debt default? Wall Street is convinced that it won’t happen, but no one in this town can figure out how this will be resolved. With billions being thrown at shaky banks, the debt ceiling showdown could move up to early summer, a change in the timetable.
The issue that deserves more attention: The easy call would be immigration or urban crime, but the issue that shames Washington is the inability to deal with the tidal wave of fentanyl deaths. “There’s no easy answer,” many sources concede.
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