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Latest Trump controversy helps turn 2022 from a referendum into a choice

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Former President Donald Trump addresses the America First Policy Institute's America First Agenda Summit at the Marriott Marquis on July 26, 2022, in Washington.
Former President Donald Trump addresses the America First Policy Institute's America First Agenda Summit at the Marriott Marquis on July 26, 2022, in Washington.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON —  If it’s Monday ... President Biden leans on his Cabinet to tout newly passed Inflation Reduction Act, per NBC’s Mike Memoli. ... NBC’s Ali Vitali and Haley Talbot preview tomorrow’s contests in Alaska. ... Wyoming’s big Liz Cheney vs. Harriet Hageman primary also takes place Tuesday. … And it was exactly one year ago when the Taliban took control of Kabul, Afghanistan.

But first: We’ve told you that former President Donald Trump’s outsized political presence was always a wild card for the upcoming midterm elections.  

And that was before the FBI raided his Florida home last week and seized “Top Secret” documents. 

For one thing, it’s hard for the Republican Party and its candidates — especially the ones he personally selected and endorsed — to separate themselves from Trump, whose poll numbers are as bad (or even worse) than President Joe Biden’s. 

Additionally, Trump helps take the focus away from Biden, particularly when midterms are traditionally a referendum on the sitting president. 

“I think most Republicans would prefer to look — right now with the 2022 midterms coming up, we’d much prefer to focus on what the policies are right now that are hurting our economy,” Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said on “Meet the Press” yesterday.  

And as the Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter pointed out on the show, Trump is aiding Democrats in making the midterms a choice election — instead of a referendum. 

“When you’re the party in power it’s hard to make the election a choice. This is helping to make that choice very clear,” Walter said on “Meet” yesterday. “And the fact that Republicans in Congress and candidates are embracing this, continuing to embrace the president, makes it easier for Democrats to make this an election about a choice.”

We’ve said this before, and we’ll say it again: One thing that usually benefits the party out of power in a midterm cycle is that gets to reinvent itself after losing the most recent election. 

In 2009-2010, Republicans jettisoned George W. Bush and John McCain, embracing instead the Tea Party. 

In 2013-2014, the GOP moved on from Mitt Romney.

And in 2017-2018, Democrats put Hillary Clinton’s presidential loss behind them and united around the “Resistance” to Trump. 

But in 2021-2022, the Republican Party that lost the White House and control of the U.S. Senate has not reinvented itself — and hasn’t distanced itself from Trump. 

That could matter in November. 

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 9

That’s how many more seats Democrats hold in the House than Republicans, 220-211, after Rep. Brad Finstad, R-Minn., was sworn into office on Friday. Finstad narrowly won a special election last week to replace the late GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn. 

Democrats’ majority could shrink with more special elections this month. On Tuesday Alaska voters will select a candidate to replace the late GOP Rep. Don Young. New York is holding two special elections next week — in the 23rd District to replace former GOP Rep. Tom Reed (who resigned to join a lobbying firm) and in the 19th District to replace Democratic Rep. Antonio Delgado (who left Congress to become the state’s lieutenant governor). Republicans are expected to hold onto the 23rd District, while the 19th District is a competitive seat that could provide clues about the November elections.  

A fourth vacancy in the House won’t be filled until November, when voters in Indiana’s 2nd District will replace the late GOP Rep. Jackie Walorski, who was killed in a car crash earlier this month.

Other numbers to know:

800: About how many Americans have been evacuated from Afghanistan since the withdrawal one year ago, according to a GOP House report (per Politico). 

0: How many House members crossed party lines during last week’s vote on Democrats’ sweeping climate and health care bill. Democrats were unanimous in supporting the bill, while Republicans unanimously opposed it. 

$31.9 million: How much Democrats have spent on abortion-related ads since Roe v. Wade was overturned, which is nearly eight times more than Republicans, per a New York Times analysis of AdImpact data. 

$8.2 million: The amount in damages that a jury awarded Alabama Republican Roy Moore in a defamation lawsuit relating to a Democratic super PAC’s ad from Moore’s unsuccessful 2017 Senate run. A lawyer for the super PAC, Senate Majority PAC, said they plan to appeal.

5: The number of lawmakers who were part of a congressional delegation that traveled to Taiwan this weekend. 

3: The number of endorsements the New York Times made in Democratic House primaries in New York City — backing Democrat Dan Goldman in the 10th District, Rep. Jerry Nadler in the 12th District and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in the 17th. 

Midterm roundup: Voting in the Last Frontier

Alaska is holding its primaries as well as a special congressional election tomorrow, which will be the state’s first test of its new ranked-choice voting system. The special election to replace the late GOP Rep. Don Young features two Republicans, former Gov. Sarah Palin and businessman Nick Begich, and former Democratic state Rep. Mary Peltola. 

NBC News’ Ali Vitali and Haley Talbot are reporting from The Last Frontier this week on this ranked choice special election — where voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote on the first round, the last-place candidate is eliminated and his or her voters are distributed to the remaining candidates. 

The three candidates are also competing in the Top 4 primary for a full term in the House (a fourth candidate dropped out). In this primary system, the top four vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, advance to November. 

And don’t forget to keep an eye on the Senate primary. GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski and her Trump-backed challenger Kelly Tshibaka are expected to make the Top 4, but they both see the primary as a chance to show their strength heading into November.  

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

New Hampshire: Three GOP Senate candidates faced off in a debate Sunday hosted by a conservative group. Two of them — retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc and cryptocurrency investor Bruce Fenton — said they support repealing the 17th Amendment, which allowed for the direct election of senators. Bolduc, Fenton and former Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith all questioned the 2020 election results as well. And Fenton backed abolishing the FBI and labeling it a domestic terror organization. 

Pennsylvania Senate: Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman returned to the campaign trail Friday night for a rally in Erie, Pa., his first public appearance since suffering a stroke in May. Oz’s campaign reserved $1.8 million in TV ads from October through Election Day, per AdImpact. Oz has also been mostly steering clear of his party’s controversial gubernatorial nominee, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, NBC News’ Allan Smith reports.

Hawaii Governor: Lt. Gov. Josh Green won the Democratic primary for governor to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. David Ige, per the Associated Press. Green beat Rep. Kai Kahele and businesswoman Vicky Cayetano for the nomination. 

Pennsylvania Governor: Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro is out with a new spot attacking state Sen. Doug Mastriano for his links to a right-wing social media platform

California-12: The New York Times reports that local Democrats are preparing for the possibility that Speaker Nancy Pelosi resigns after November (she has previously said she will not serve another term as leader of the Democratic caucus). One potential contender for the potential open House seat is Pelosi’s daughter, Christine.  

Hawaii-02: Former state Sen. Jill Tokuda defeated state Rep. Patrick Branco in the Democratic primary on Saturday to succeed Kahele in Congress in the deep blue district, per the AP.

Ad watch: Campaigning on the PACT Act

Senate Democrats across the country are eager to campaign on several of their recent legislative victories. Among the successes is the passage of the PACT Act, a law that expands benefits for veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits while deployed.

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., out with new ads highlighting their support of the legislation.

Warnock’s ad features a Marine veteran, Corporal Adam Tomblin, who tells viewers, “We were there to serve our country, but in the process we were exposed to toxic chemicals and denied proper care when we got home.”

He adds, “Raphael Warnock’s changed things. He helped pass a law to expand health care for tens of thousands of Georgia veterans.”

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are warning that law enforcement officials are experiencing increased threats since last week’s raid at Mar-a-Lago.

The WHO plans to rename monkeypox as health officials worry it’s here to stay in the U.S.

NBC News’ Scott Wong, Ali Vitali, Sahil Kapur, Frank Thorp V and Mike Memoli examine how the Inflation Reduction Act came to be after months of belief that Democrats’ signature spending bill was dead.