Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

“We will always take care of our GREAT VETERANS,” President Trump promised us last summer, and now they’re back in the news again. Trump has replaced his chief of the Department of Veterans Affairs with his personal physician, a man with no management experience who will be responsible for dealing with the VA’s chronic management struggles. This means more attention to the plight of our GREAT VETERANS and the question of how the Trump administration is treating them.

Which provides an occasion to look at another trend that the Trump era has produced: A lot of our GREAT VETERANS are running for House seats — as Democrats.

This important story is related to another big development with potentially far-reaching consequences: the shift of millennials toward the Democratic Party, and the apparent role of the two most recent GOP presidencies — those of Trump and George W. Bush — in making that happen.

Politico has an excellent piece of reporting on all the veterans who are running as Democratic House candidates around the country. To be sure, veterans do tend to lean heavily towards the GOP, and many veterans are running as Republicans, but as Politico notes, one count by a veterans’ group shows that a bare majority of the veterans who have run for Congress in this cycle have done so as Democrats. The point is that this group is unexpectedly large.

As Politico’s piece shows, a good number of the veterans who are running as Democrats served in either Iraq or Afghanistan, or both, and some were prompted to serve by the 9/11 attacks. Some of them have been driven to run by the excesses of the five-time draft-deferrer in the White House and the failures of the GOP-controlled Congress:

The candidates are presenting themselves both as a moral rebuke to what they see as Donald Trump’s self-promoting divisiveness and also as a practical solution to the failure of the nation’s highest legislative body to get anything done.

And Politico reports that the combination of having served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, and seeing the rise of Trump at home, has created “deep reservations” about the direction of the country, prompting the veterans to try to get involved in public service. (The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee counts more than 40 candidates who are veterans, around 20 in top-tier contests.)

Importantly, many of these candidates are millennials, and in this sense, this trend may be part of a bigger story. A recent Pew study found that nearly 6 in 10 millennials now identify with the Democratic Party, more than any other age group. A solid majority of millennials have liberal views. Only 27 percent of millennials approve of Trump, and millennials have beliefs that are at odds with key tenets of Trumpism: Large majorities of them say immigrants strengthen the country and believe that diplomacy, not military force, is the key to maintaining strength.

In the case of millennial veterans running as Democrats, it’s plausible that this represents a reaction of sorts to both of the past two GOP presidencies. Older millennials served in George W. Bush’s wars — which radicalized young voters, as evidenced by Barack Obama’s victory powered by them — and now that the Trump presidency is further alienating that generation, many are trying to enter public service. Meanwhile, younger millennials with dimmer memories of the Bush years may also be getting driven toward the Democratic Party by Trump’s excesses.

Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg suggests that this new crop of candidates — and the move of millennials toward the Democratic Party — could represent the kind of front end of a transformation of the party away from older leaders, such as Obama and Nancy Pelosi, and toward a newer generation of civic-minded millennial would-be public servants. Conor Lamb’s surprise victory in a Pennsylvania district Trump carried by 20 points is a case in point.

“Conor Lamb ran as a responsible civic leader, someone who served in the military and was a prosecutor,” Rosenberg told me. “This civic ethos is very powerful with Democrats running in 2018. The recklessness of the Bush and Trump presidencies has driven two waves of young people away from Republicans and towards the Democrats. Bush’s response to 9/11 meant millennials had to serve in his failed wars. Now the Trump presidency is creating its own backlash.”

Millennials will soon become the largest voting bloc in the United States. And behind this, of course, lies the post-millennial wave, whose political coming of age is being powerfully demonstrated by the Parkland protests, which also plainly represent a reaction to Trump. Whatever happens in the 2018 battle for the House, big trends are currently gathering that could have a lasting effect on our politics for years to come.

* MUELLER IS SCRUTINIZING TALK OF PARDONS: Last night we learned that Trump’s lawyer John Dowd floated possible pardons of Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn. The New York Times’s story also contains this:

During interviews with Mr. [Robert S. Mueller III’s] investigators in recent months, current and former administration officials have recounted conversations they had with the president about potential pardons for former aides under investigation by the special counsel, according to two people briefed on the interviews.

In one meeting, Trump asked about the extent of his pardon power; in another, he raised the possibility of pardoning Flynn. Plainly, Mueller is looking at possible obstruction of justice.

* PARDON OFFERS COULD BE OBSTRUCTION: The Post also reports that Dowd privately floated pardons and that Trump privately expressed a “keen interest last spring in his power to pardon.” And:

Legal experts said prosecutors could view floating the idea of a presidential pardon to people under investigation as a criminal effort to obstruct justice. Raising such a possibility could be considered an incentive for witnesses not to cooperate with investigators.

In other words, even if the president has quasi-absolute power to pardon, the floating of that possibility to get associates not to plead guilty and spill could be the problem.

* GENERIC BALLOT TIGHTENS: A new CNN poll finds that the Democrats’ advantage in the generic House ballot matchup has narrowed to six points, 50-44. But there’s also this:

About half — 51% — of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they are extremely or very enthusiastic about voting for Congress in November, compared with just 36% among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. … voters who are deeply enthusiastic about voting give Democrats a better than 20-point lead.

Democrats need a large spread to overcome GOP structural advantages such as gerrymandering. There will be a lot of hype every time these numbers tighten, but the enthusiasm edge will also matter.

* OPEN SEATS GIVE DEMOCRATS AN EDGE: The folks at Sabato’s Crystal Ball update their take on the House landscape and conclude:

Just 379 of 435 House districts will have incumbents running in them this November. That’s the second-lowest total of the post-World War II era. The 56 total open districts include 37 open Republican-held seats and 19 open Democratic seats. … the Democratic potential in these seats has grown: It’s possible the Democrats could get a third or more of the way toward flipping the House just through netting gains among the open seats.

And there may be more retirements to come.

* FIRED VETERANS AFFAIRS CHIEF FIGHTS BACK: Trump fired David Shulkin, his head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and replaced him with his personal physician. Shulkin strikes back in a New York Times op-ed:

The advocates within the administration for privatizing V.A. health services … saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed. That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans. … As I prepare to leave government, I am struck by a recurring thought: It should not be this hard to serve your country.

One imagines this will open the door to further reporting on what really happened here.

* CHINA WARNS U.S. ON TRADE: China today responded to Trump’s decision to slap tariffs on Chinese products with a warning of its own:

China could target a broad range of U.S. businesses from agriculture to aircraft, autos, semiconductors and even services if the trade conflict escalates, the official China Daily newspaper said in an editorial on Thursday. … China’s biggest U.S. imports are aircraft and related equipment, soybeans and autos, with the total bill about $40 billion last year.

Retaliatory action on agricultural products could bite deep in Trump country. But this kind of talk only encourages Trump, because it fuels his fantasies that this is a standoff he can “win.”

* AND REPUBLICANS CHEAT … AND CHEAT … AND CHEAT: E.J. Dionne Jr. notes that the common thread connecting two big controversies — the citizenship question added to the census, and the court battle against gerrymanders — is Republican cheating:

The undercounting of immigrants … would tilt representation … away from places with large populations of Latinos and other immigrants (often metropolitan and Democratic-leaning) and overrepresent white, rural regions and states. … Because so many of the state legislatures that drew district lines after the 2010 Census were controlled by Republicans, an end to gerrymandering now would be especially challenging to the GOP.

Funny how that works, isn’t it?