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Trump and the GOP are struggling in Big 10 Country

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.
Image: Donald Trump Ohio
President Donald Trump arrives for a rally in Lewis Center, Ohio, in August. Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET, President Donald Trump holds a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Tomorrow, he heads to Pennsylvania. And on Friday, he campaigns in Ohio. All are states he won in 2016, and all are states where he and the Republican Party are currently struggling.

In Iowa, there’s a good chance the GOP could lose the state’s governor’s mansion, as well as two House seats (IA-1 and IA-3, which includes Council Bluffs). In Michigan, Democrats appear poised for big wins up and down the ballot. Ditto in Minnesota (although the GOP is trying to pick up a couple of House seats in the rural parts of the state).

In Ohio, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown is cruising to victory, while the gubernatorial race is a toss-up. In Pennsylvania, Democrats are way ahead in the Senate and governor’s races, and they could pick up four or five House seats. And in Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker is in the fight of his political life.

For all of the attention this cycle on the reddest of red Senate races — in North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia — one of the biggest developments of 2017-2018 is how Trump and the GOP are lagging in the states that ultimately decided the 2016 election.

Which raises the question: Are Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin “Trump Country”? Or were these states more “Anti-Hillary Country?”? We could very well get an answer on Election Day 2018.

Trump to make ethanol announcement in Iowa

In an effort to boost his fortunes in the Hawkeye State, Trump will make this announcement, via the Des Moines Register. “After months of false starts, President Donald Trump will tell Iowans on Tuesday during a campaign rally in Council Bluffs that he's opening the door to year-round access to gasoline with higher ethanol blends.”

More: “A senior White House official said Monday that Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency to begin rule-making that allows for year-round use of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol or E15. The announcement sets off a review that could make E15 available to consumers as soon as next summer.”

Trump falsely claims that Kavanaugh was 'proven innocent.' A majority of Americans disagree, per CNN poll

At last night’s ceremonial swearing in of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — the official swearing in was on Saturday — Trump said this:

“On behalf of our nation I want to apologize to Bret and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure.

Those who step forward to serve our country deserve a fair and dignified evaluation, not a campaign of political and personal destruction, based on lies and deception. What happened to the Kavanaugh family violates every notion of fairness, decency and due process.

Our country, a man or woman must always be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. And with that I must state that you sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent, thank you.”

Except Kavanaugh was never “proven innocent”; instead, he was confirmed by a 50-48 vote along (mostly) party lines. And according to a CNN poll released yesterday, 52 percent of Americans said they believe the women who made the charges against Kavanaugh, versus 38 percent who believe Kavanaugh. What’s more, 51 percent say they oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation, versus 41 percent who support it (-10) – it was 38 percent favor, 39 percent not in favor a month ago (-1).

If Rick Gates and the 2016 Trump campaign were looking at this, what else were they looking at?

“A top Trump campaign official requested proposals in 2016 from an Israeli company to create fake online identities, to use social media manipulation and to gather intelligence to help defeat Republican primary race opponents and Hillary Clinton, according to interviews and copies of the proposals,” the New York Times writes. “The campaign official, Rick Gates, sought one proposal to use bogus personas to target and sway 5,000 delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention by attacking Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Mr. Trump’s main opponent at the time. Another proposal describes opposition research and “complementary intelligence activities” about Mrs. Clinton and people close to her, according to copies of the proposals obtained by The New York Times and interviews with four people involved in creating the documents.”

“There is no evidence that the Trump campaign acted on the proposals, and Mr. Gates ultimately was uninterested in Psy-Group’s work, a person with knowledge of the discussions said, in part because other campaign aides were developing a social media strategy. Psy-Group’s owner, Joel Zamel, did meet in August 2016 with Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Trump’s eldest son. Investigators working for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russia’s campaign to disrupt the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates conspired, have obtained copies of the proposals and questioned Psy-Group employees, according to people familiar with those interviews.”

It’s Kanye vs. Taylor Swift — again

After Taylor Swift endorsed Phil Bredesen in Tennessee, we now learn this: “President Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, are expected to meet with the musician Kanye West on Thursday at the White House, two people familiar with the plans said,” the New York Times writes. “Mr. West, who has faced a backlash over his vocal support of the president, will meet first with Mr. Kushner and then have lunch with the president, the two people said.”

Per White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, “Topics of discussions will include manufacturing resurgence in America, prison reform, how to prevent gang violence, and what can be done to reduce violence in Chicago.”