October 22, 2021

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POLITICO Playbook: GOP hands Trump the party – POLITICO – Politico

13 min read

“Nine months ago, Republicans were questioning DONALD TRUMP’s place as the lead fixture of their party. Saturday night provided the clearest evidence yet that they want him right there.”

This morning’s must-read piece comes from Meridith McGraw, reporting from Saturday night’s Trump rally in Des Moines, Iowa, where we saw a clear glimpse of two interrelated dynamics that are shaping the GOP as it marches into the 2022 midterms:

1) There’s a big gap between the GOP message and Trump’s message. On Saturday night we heard both from Trump himself — the former when he read the speech that was written for him, and the latter when he said what he really thought.

— The GOP message: “After just nine months under [President JOE] BIDEN, violent criminals and bloodthirsty gangs are taking over our streets; illegal aliens and deadly drug cartels are taking over our borders; inflation is taking over our economy; China’s taking over our jobs; the Taliban has taken over Afghanistan; lunatic leftists are taking over our schools; and radical socialists are taking over our country — and we’re not going to let that happen.”

— Trump’s message: “I’m telling you the single biggest issue, as bad as the border is and it’s horrible, horrible what they’re doing, they’re destroying our country — but as bad as that is, the single biggest issue — the issue that gets the most pull, the most respect, the biggest cheers — is talking about the election fraud of the 2020 presidential election.”

That’s a problem for Republicans. Many of them want to make the midterm elections about the issues — inflation, the border, Afghanistan, etc. — to set the election up as a referendum on Biden’s presidency. Trump doesn’t. The bulk of his speech, Meridith writes, “was devoted to his baseless claim [that] the 2020 election was stolen.” In focusing on that issue above all others, Trump effectively makes the 2022 election a referendum on him instead of Biden.

2) The GOP establishment is now along for the ride. “Trump has held rallies since leaving the White House,” Meridith writes. “But never have elected Republicans of such tenure and stature appeared with him. And the presence of [Sen. CHUCK] GRASSLEY in particular signified that whatever qualms the GOP may have had with Trump are now faded memories; whatever questions they had about the direction of the party have been resolved. …

“Back in January, Grassley offered a stinging condemnation for Trump’s behavior in the aftermath of the 2020 election — the type of statement that, at its heart, suggested a desire to rid himself of the messiness. … But Grassley is in a different place now. He recently announced, at age 88, that he is running for an eighth term. And with it, Trump has gone from nuisance to needed. …

“For Trump, this is a wonderful gift. The ex-president has been openly discussing the likelihood that he will run for president again. To be greeted with open arms in the all-important, first-in-the-nation presidential caucus state of Iowa was a flashing-neon light signal to voters that this party remains his. And he’s done it all while still launching broadsides against current leadership (he eviscerated Senate Minority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL at various points on Saturday for striking a deal with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling and for not having the ‘courage to challenge the election’) and without offering a morsel of remorse for how his presidency ended.”

DOWN TO THE WIRE IN VIRGINIA — Three weeks out from Election Day, WaPo has a trio of stories on its front page about the Virginia gubernatorial race: a curtain-raiser by Marc Fisher, and dueling profiles of the two main candidates:

— For TERRY MCAULIFFE, the election is a test of whether he “had a hand in permanently changing Virginia’s political complexion or just whipped up a blue blush in reaction” to Trump, writes Gregory Schneider. It’s not just a test of how much Virginia has changed; it’s also about how much the Democratic Party has changed, how much McAuliffe himself has changed, and how all of that interacts to affect turnout.

— For GLENN YOUNGKIN, the election is a tug of war between two competing images voters are receiving, writes Laura Vozzella: “Is he a Trump ‘wannabe’ and conservative social warrior, as his Democratic rival contends? Or a common-sense businessman and basketball dad who just wants to lower grocery bills, strengthen schools and boost the economy? … Youngkin has managed, at various times, to come off as all those things.” In part, that’s the same messaging conundrum faced by every candidate. But one thing that makes it different for Youngkin is that it’s also a byproduct of a GOP that is torn about its own direction, and the particular challenges that presents for someone who seems as establishment in his bearing as Youngkin.

— QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Because I’m an email-signing slut” –JAMES CARVILLE. That’s what the famed Democratic operative told Zach Montellaro when asked why he has sent 47 fundraising emails for McAuliffe’s camp since mid-July.

Good Sunday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.

THREE MORE TOP SUNDAY READS …

— A big sticking point in Dems’ reconciliation talks: drug prices. And with the deadline for an agreement hitting in a matter of weeks, “Democrats have yet to bridge their differences” over “how aggressively to take on drug prices,” Alice Miranda Ollstein and Laura Barrón-López report. The debate features an odd assortment of players: Sens. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) and BERNIE SANDERS (I-Vt.) agree that Medicare should be able to negotiate drug prices; Rep. SCOTT PETERS (D-Calif.), a pharmaceutical industry ally whose San Diego district has a large life-sciences sector, wants a narrower plan than most Democrats; Sen. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-Ariz.) hasn’t made up her mind; and the White House is pressing the issue with moderates in the House and Senate.

— The next few weeks are make-or-break for the Biden administration. WaPo’s Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim write that the coming weeks will be critical in turning the tide for a White House that has endured months of negative headlines. “Beyond that, the coming weeks will tell whether Biden’s central message — that America’s democratic system can still tackle big problems — will hold true. Even if the president cannot push through his major goals by month’s end, he faces enormous pressure to show at least some progress, with White House aides looking at the months leading up to Christmas as a crucial window.”

— There’s a prominent doctor who has consistently crusaded against vaccines, medical consensus and government guidance — and he’s also a U.S. senator. AP’s John Hanna looks at ROGER MARSHALL, the first-term GOP senator from Kansas who sticks “Doc” at the top of his official office’s press releases, and finds that “he has company in other GOP doctors, dentists and pharmacists in Congress, several of whom have also spread sketchy medical advice when it comes to the pandemic.”

SUNDAY BEST …

— House Minority Whip STEVE SCALISE (R-La.), pressed repeatedly on “Fox News Sunday,” refused to say whether he thinks the 2020 election was stolen and instead tried to argue that states didn’t follow their laws. (Regular reminder: It was not stolen.)

— McAuliffe on Dems’ legislative struggles, on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “Why haven’t we passed this infrastructure bill? … I’m traveling all over Virginia: They’re worried about minimum wage, they want child care, they want elderly care, they want to see paid sick leave, family medical leave … They want them to get their job done. They’re paid to get up in Washington, get this done, and the frustration is: Why isn’t it done by now? Sixty-nine votes in the Senate two months ago. Get it done this week. Do your job.”

— Sen. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-Minn.) on Facebook, on “State of the Union”: “The time for conversation is done. The time for action is now.”

BIDEN’S SUNDAY — The president has nothing on his public schedule.

VP KAMALA HARRIS’ SUNDAY — The VP has nothing on her public schedule.

CONGRESS

RECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES — Sanders isn’t holding his tongue any longer as Democrats negotiate their reconciliation spending bill. In an interview with WSJ’s Eliza Collins, he said of Manchin and Sinema, “They have a right to fight for their ideas, they have a right to get concessions for their ideas, as does every other member of the caucus, but it does seem to me to be basically unfair and undemocratic for two people to say it’s my way or the highway.” And Sanders said his number is still $3.5 trillion.

BIPARTISANSHIP ISN’T DEAD — Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are finding rare agreement right now: Big Tech is facing its “Big Tobacco” moment. The result for the Silicon Valley giants, NYT’s Cecilia Kang writes, “is likely to be a yearslong, complicated path toward new rules and regulations, with no guaranteed result.”

ALL POLITICS

IOWA’S BIG LOSS — Despite its big win on the football field Saturday, Iowa could be eyeing a huge loss in the coming years as Democrats debate stripping the state of its “first-in-the-nation” status. “[T]he day of reckoning for Iowa Democrats is fast approaching, as the national party starts to create a new calendar for the 2024 presidential nomination that could remove Iowa from its privileged position for the first time since 1972,” WaPo’s Michael Scherer reports. “The caucuses’ reputation has been damaged by high barriers to participation, a dearth of racial diversity, the rightward drift in the state’s electorate and a leftward drift in the Democratic participants.”

THE PANDEMIC

THE VACCINE DIVIDE — Moderna has created a highly effective vaccine to fight the coronavirus. But the company has also contributed to a growing disparity between rich and poor nations as the globe tries to beat back the pandemic, NYT’s Rebecca Robbins reports. “About one million doses of Moderna’s vaccine have gone to countries that the World Bank classifies as low income. By contrast, 8.4 million Pfizer doses and about 25 million single-shot Johnson & Johnson doses have gone to those countries.”

POLICY CORNER

FED UP — After another weak jobs report, some experts question whether the Fed has an adequate grip on the current state of the economy. A “growing number of economists and experts acknowledge that the nation’s top economic policymakers underestimated the delta variant’s threat to job growth, inflation, global supply chains and people’s own comfort levels going into the fall,” WaPo’s Rachel Siegel writes.

ANTITRUST, SO HOT RIGHT NOW — DOJ has been quietly escalating its antitrust enforcement since Biden took office, even though the department’s chief has not been confirmed yet, WSJ’s Brent Kendall reports. “Antitrust staff, whether at the department or the FTC, tend to be oriented in favor of bringing cases … This year, career Justice officials have been empowered by the department’s top brass to push forward when there is a case to be made.”

AMERICA AND THE WORLD

TALIBAN TAKEOVER — The Taliban said Saturday that it would not help the U.S. contain extremist groups in Afghanistan, AP’s Kathy Gannon reports in Islamabad. “Senior Taliban officials and U.S. representatives are meeting this weekend in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Officials from both sides have said issues include reining in extremist groups and the evacuation of foreign citizens and Afghans from the country. The Taliban have signaled flexibility on evacuations. However, Taliban political spokesman SUHAIL SHAHEEN told The Associated Press there would be no cooperation with Washington on containing the increasingly active Islamic State group in Afghanistan.”

TAIWAN LATEST — “Chinese President XI JINPING vowed on Saturday to achieve ‘peaceful reunification’ with Taiwan, and did not directly mention the use of force after a week of tensions with the Chinese-claimed island that sparked international concern,” Reuters’ Carlos Garcia and Yew Lun Tian report in Beijing. “Taiwan responded to Xi by calling on Beijing to abandon its coercion, reiterating that only Taiwan’s people could decide their future.”

— Taiwan has become the center of the “deepening discord between China and the United States,” NYT’s Chris Buckley and Steven Lee Myers write. “The island’s fate has the potential to reshape the regional order and even to ignite a military conflagration — intentional or not.”

FOR YOUR RADAR — French President EMMANUEL MACRON wants to push for a worldwide ban on the death penalty and is planning to use France’s upcoming turn for the presidency of the Council of the EU as a jumping-off point, POLITICO Europe’s Vincent Manancourt writes.

MISCELLANY

THE SPY WHO INSPIRED ME — WaPo’s Theo Zenou has your history lesson for the weekend, on one of JOHN F. KENNEDY’s biggest and most surprising inspirations: JAMES BOND.

BAIER BEGINNINGS: With Fox News celebrating its 25th anniversary, its big-name hosts have been making the media rounds to talk about the network’s rise. We caught up last week with a man who’s been with the channel for 23 of those years: Bret Baier. Even though he feels like a Washington staple, he didn’t start his career running around the halls of Congress as a print reporter or as a local reporter who caught his big break at a D.C. bureau.

He was a one-man band running Fox News’ Atlanta bureau from his apartment with a fax machine, a cellphone and a freelance photographer. Despite having such a small footprint in the city where CNN is headquartered, Fox still had to flex, so they erected a billboard right outside of CNN’s parking lot. “It said, ‘Fox is here, fair and balanced,’ but it was just me,” Baier told Playbook. At the time, Baier was desperate to get on Brit Hume’s show — the program he eventually took over — so he pitched political stories from around the country. But it was 9/11 that finally brought him to D.C. “I started doing live shots outside of the burning Pentagon,” he said, “and never left.”

IN MEMORIAM — “Gen. Ray Odierno, Former Army Chief and Iraq Commander, Dies at 67,” by Military.com’s Travis Tritten: “Retired Army Gen. Ray Odierno, who rose to be the top U.S. commander in the Iraq War more than a decade ago, has died … He was 67 years old. He died of cancer … The height of Odierno’s nearly 40-year military career was serving as Army chief of staff from 2011 to 2015, but the towering New Jersey native was most known for his service in Iraq, which mirrored the entire trajectory of the war itself. Odierno helped lead the capture of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.”

Allen West was hospitalized with Covid-19 but is still sticking to his anti-vaccination message.

Lisa Desjardins of PBS NewsHour won the RTCA Joan S. Barone Award for Excellence in Journalism award for her Jan. 6 reporting.

TRANSITION — Jake Oken-Berg is now a senior policy adviser at Summit Strategies. He previously was a senior business adviser for Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

WEEKEND WEDDING — Allyson Marcus, political director at American Bridge 21st Century, and Dan Weaver, technical architect at WaPo, got married Saturday night in Tilghman Island, Md. Friday night’s welcome party included a traditional Maryland crab feast. Guests gathered at the Wylder Hotel for a bayside ceremony, followed by a cocktail hour with a raw bar and espresso martinis. The bride and groom danced to David Bowie’s “Heroes” and guests enjoyed burgers, fries and Jell-O shots at the afterparty. Pic SPOTTED: Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.) and Lacey Schwartz Delgado, Barb Solish and Danny Kazin, Trish Hoppey, Ashley Gold, Lucy MacIntosh, Haley Scott, Kevin McKeon and Jacqui Newman, Drew Godinich, Christina Jansen, Brian Smoot, Terrance Green and Melissa Toufanian.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: California Gov. Gavin Newsom … Reps. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) (6-0) and Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) … White House’s Natalie Montelongo … Fox Corp.’s Raj Shah and Brian Nick … Treasury’s Alexandra LaManna … State Department’s Spencer AndersonMatt Rohan of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce … Miriam Roday (25) … Healy Baumgardner … POLITICO’s Clea Benson, Bianca Flores and Laura DiAngeloJason Millman … S-3 Group’s Michael Long … APCO Worldwide’s Brandon NealJason MidaJim CullinanJessica Powell of Rep. Steve Womack’s (R-Ark.) office … Marshall Turner (8-0) … Laurence TribeAdnan Mohamed Matti FriedmanChristina Harvey of Stand Up America … Thad LoganGuillermo MenesesMichael Borden of Sidley Austin … former Reps. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) … Dirk MaurerSeth LeveyVictoria Glover Raquel Krähenbühl Caroline Wren … NYT’s Adam Nagourney Marlowe Early

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