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Amid remembrances of political honor, reminders of today's rotten partisanship

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.
Governor Scott Walker holds a sign as he speaks to supporters at a rally the night before the midterm elections in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on Nov. 5, 2018.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks to supporters in Waukesha on Nov. 5, 2018.Darren Hauck / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — For all the talk of honor, dignity and respect as the country mourns and remembers former President George H. W. Bush, the exact opposite of honor, dignity and respect is playing out in Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina — reminders of how rotten our politics have become.

In Wisconsin, per the AP, Republicans yesterday advanced their efforts after their election loss to take powers away from the incoming Democratic governor and state attorney general (although they backed down from changing the date of the state’s presidential primary to benefit a conservative state Supreme Court justice). Final approval could take place as early as today.

A reminder: Democrat Tony Evers beat Republican Scott Walker in Wisconsin’s gubernatorial race, 49.6 percent to 48.4 percent. And Democrat Josh Kaul defeated Republican Brad Schimel in the attorney general race, 49.4 percent to 48.8 percent.

A similar kind of GOP power grab appears to be taking place in Michigan, where Democrats won the statewide contests for governor, attorney general and secretary of state. “State Rep. Robert VerHeulen, R-Walker, introduced a bill that would allow the state House of Representatives and Senate to intervene in any legal proceedings involving the state, which has traditionally been the purview of the state attorney general or the governor’s office,” the Detroit Free Press reported last week. “In addition, state Sen. David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, introduced a bill that would shift oversight of campaign finance law from the secretary of state to a six-person commission appointed by the governor. The panel members would be nominated by the state Republican and Democratic parties.”

In Michigan, Democrats won the governorship, 53 percent to 44 percent; they won the attorney general race, 49 percent to 46 percent; and they won secretary of state contest, 53 percent to 44 percent.

And in North Carolina, it increasingly looks like something VERY WRONG happened in that NC-9 congressional race. Here’s the Washington Post:

“In a low-slung, aging commercial strip across the street from an online-gaming parlor here, a local operative named Leslie McCrae Dowless ran his command center for Republican Mark Harris in the 9th Congressional District primary this spring. Dowless sat at a desk at the back of one of the strip’s vacant storefronts, where he oversaw a crew of workers who collected absentee ballots from voters and updated the Harris campaign on the numbers, according to Jeff Smith, who is the building’s owner and a former Dowless friend.”

“Smith provided his account about the primary campaign to state investigators, who are examining whether Dowless’s activities then and in the general election violated North Carolina’s election laws, which allow only individual voters or designated close relatives to mail a ballot.”

NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell adds, “Harris finished ahead of [Democrat Dan] McCready by 905 votes overall in the entire district. But in Bladen County, the election results show that Harris racked up a winning margin of 1,557 votes, more than any other Republican in the county except for a low-turnout county board of commissioner's seat. J. Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College in North Carolina, says the data shows that Bladen County had an absentee ballot return rate of more than 7 percent, compared with 4 percent average in other counties in the district. What's more, Bitzer said that 60 percent of the absentee ballots were cast for Harris, the only county in the district to do so, even though only 19 percent of the mail-in absentee ballots were cast by Republicans and 39 percent by voters who didn’t identify with a party.”

Our politics, even back during Bush 41’s days, have never been pretty. Remember Lee Atwater and Willie Horton? Or the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings? But 30 years after that brutal 1988 presidential campaign, it’s only getting worse and worse.

Georgia today holds runoff for secretary of state

And speaking of races for secretary of state, Georgia today holds its runoff for this political office. “Republican state Rep. Brad Raffensperger faces former Democratic congressman John Barrow in a Dec. 4 runoff for Georgia secretary of state after neither garnered the more than 50 percent of votes required to win outright on Nov. 6. Official results show Raffensperger led by about 16,000 votes out of over 3.8 million cast,” the AP writes.

“At stake in their runoff is the ability to reshape the state's election system, which came under a national microscope during the recent race for governor between Abrams and Republican Secretary of State — now governor-elect — Brian Kemp.”

Did Trump engage in witness tampering in the Russia probe?

NBC’s Allan Smith: “President Donald Trump on Monday praised former longtime associate Roger Stone for promising never to testify against him and having the "guts" to stand up to special counsel Robert Mueller — prompting some legal experts to suggest that could be witness tampering. Stone, who finds himself under Mueller's microscope for his possible contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign, told ABC's ‘This Week’ on Sunday that there was "no circumstance in which" he would testify against Trump.”

“Trump's tweet about Stone touched off a debate in legal circles, with several experts, including attorney George Conway, the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and often a strident critic of the president, taking issue with the president's comment. Conway tweeted: ‘File under 18 U.S.C. §§ 1503, 1512’ — sections of U.S. code dealing with witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Neal Katyal, acting solicitor general under President Barack Obama, tweeted Conway was ‘right.’"

“But others weren't so sure. Ken White, a criminal defense attorney, told NBC News that he didn't think it was a clear-cut case, though the tweet was ‘the kind of thing that prosecutors would look at carefully.’”

If Trump seems rattled now, get ready for the next few weeks

“If President Donald Trump appears to be rattled by special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation now — and his extraordinary tweets on the subject suggest that he is — just wait,” per NBC’s Ken Dilanian and Tom Winter. “Over the next few weeks, a series of court filings are due that may shed substantial light on what Mueller has learned from people who once sat in Trump's inner circle. That could happen as soon as Tuesday, when Mueller is scheduled to file a detailed memo in support of the sentencing of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. That memo would include information about any "bad acts" Flynn committed for which he was not charged, and details about his cooperation with the special counsel.”

Congress avoids a government shutdown — for two weeks

“Congressional leaders and White House officials agreed Monday to extend a government funding deadline by two weeks, until Dec. 21, setting up the possibility of a shutdown showdown just ahead of Christmas,” the Washington Post’s Erica Werner writes. “The decision, confirmed by aides involved in the talks, was made because of the observances surrounding the death of former president George H.W. Bush. The former president will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda ahead of a service at Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday. The House has canceled all votes for this week.”