The GOP once despised tariffs, bailouts and Russia. Then came Trump.

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.
by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /  / Updated 
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump participates in the U.S. Coast Guard Change-of-Command Ceremony at the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington on June 1, 2018.Olivier Douliery / Pool via Getty Images

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

WASHINGTON — In Donald Trump’s 18 months as president, the greatest trick he’s played is transforming a Republican Party that once hated tariffs, bailouts, Russia and extramarital affairs into a party that has come to at least begrudgingly accept these things.

  • Trump’s tariffs: “Tariffs are the greatest! Either a country which has treated the United States unfairly on Trade negotiates a fair deal, or it gets hit with Tariffs. It’s as simple as that,” the president tweeted on Tuesday.
  • Trump’s bailout: “The Trump administration on Tuesday announced up to $12 billion in emergency aid to farmers caught in an escalating trade war… The aid is designed to help farmers facing tariffs in China, Mexico and other countries that imposed the levies on U.S. products in response to Trump’s new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum,” the Washington Post writes.
  • Trump’s cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin: “President Trump plans to invite President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to visit Washington in the fall, the White House said Thursday — an invitation that stunned the nation’s top intelligence official, who said he was still groping for details of what the two leaders had discussed in their encounter … in Helsinki, Finland,” theNew York Times reported last week.
  • Trump’s extramarital affairs: “Michael Cohen's attorney says a secretly recorded conversation in 2016 shows Donald Trump mentioning ‘cash’ in relation to a possible payment involving a former Playboy model who alleges she had a year-long affair with Trump,” per NBC News on a recording that was released to CNN.

One of the biggest questions at the beginning of Trump’s presidency was whether Trump would bend to the will of the GOP, or whether the GOP would bend to his will. Well, we have our answer.

And sure, we’ve heard from plenty of congressional Republicans who have criticized Trump’s tariffs, his rhetoric to Russia and his personal behavior. “This administration’s tariffs and bailouts aren’t going to make America great again, they’re just going to make it 1929 again,” Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said in a statement yesterday.

But as a separate and equal branch of government, what has the GOP-led Congress done to rebuke the president on these matters?

A GOP that tolerates a president who imposes tariffs, who bails out affected industries, who plays footsie with Russia, and who’s caught on tape discussing “cash” when it comes to a Playboy model really means the party doesn’t care about anything other than winning elections.

Trump says “Tariffs are the greatest!” Voters disagree

On Tuesday, Trump tweeted, “Tariffs are the greatest! Either a country which has treated the United States unfairly on Trade negotiates a fair deal, or it gets hit with Tariffs. It’s as simple as that — and everybody’s talking!”

But in the latest NBC/WSJ poll, voters — by a 2-to-1 margin — oppose raising tariffs, and say they hurt the economy and average Americans.

Forty-nine percent of voters in the survey said that tariffs raise the cost of goods and hurt the economy, versus 25 percent who believe they protect American jobs and help the economy.

Even some members of Trump’s own party express some doubt about the effectiveness of tariffs, with about a quarter (23 percent) saying the move will hurt the American economy. And majorities of independents (56 percent) and Democrats (71 percent) say that tariffs have a negative effect.

Lordy, there’s a tape

More on that Michael Cohen tape: “Made two months before the presidential election, the tape appears to show Cohen, who was Trump's personal attorney at the time, discussing ‘how to set the whole thing up with funding.’ At one point, Trump appears to ask ‘what financing?’ and seems to ask ‘pay with cash?’” NBC News writes.

“Cohen appears to then say ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, I got ...’ before Trump is heard saying, or asking, ‘check,’ and then the recording abruptly ends. Although the exact wording on the tape is unclear at times, it does make it clear that Trump was aware of the model's allegation of the affair and the plans to pay to ensure her silence.”

Official White House transcript omits this presser question to Putin

“Did you want President Trump to win the election?” Given all the news that’s out there (trade, Cohen, midterms), this arguably should be the biggest political story in America right now: The Trump White House clearly altered the transcript of the president’s press conference last week with Vladimir Putin.

Here’s what was said during the July 16 presser:

REUTERS’ JEFF MASON TO PUTIN: Did you want President Trump to win the election, and did you direct any of your officials to help them do that?

PUTIN (as interpreted): Yes, I did. Yes I did. He talked about bringing the Russian relationship back to normal.

Now here’s what’s currently on the White House’s website:

MASON: And did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?

PUTIN: (as interpreted) Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.

Did you catch that? The White House eliminated Mason’s “Did you want President Trump to win the election?” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reports that Mason’s question was ALSO ALTERED in the White House’s official video of the press conference.

And the news of this deleted/altered question comes after Trump tweeted on Tuesday that Russians want to help Democrats win in November’s midterm elections. “I’m very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election. Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don’t want Trump!” he said. The record — at least from all transcripts BESIDES the White House’s — suggests the opposite.

Whether it was this scrubbing of the transcript or Trump’s statement to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (“What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening”), it’s hard not to conclude that George Orwell is alive and well.

UPDATE: After publication, the White House released this statement, per NBC’s Peter Alexander: “The White House stenographer uses the audio from the White House audio to produce the transcript. The audio mixer at the site did not bring up the question mic level in time to catch the beginning of Jeff’s question because the translator was still speaking. This was by no means malicious.”

But that explanation raises an additional question: Will the White House now insert what was left out?

Kemp easily wins GOP gubernatorial runoff in Georgia

Last night in Georgia, state Secretary of State Brian Kemp routed Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in the gubernatorial runoff, 69 percent to 31 percent – with President Trump’s recent endorsement of Kemp playing a significant role. Kemp will face Democrat Stacey Abrams in the November general election.

By the way, we guess Cagle was right in his leaked audio observation about the race, in which he said the contest was focused on “who had the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck and who could be the craziest.” Just see these ads by Kemp (here and here).

Meanwhile, EMILY’s List-backed Lucy McBath won the Dem runoff in GA-6, and she will face Rep. Karen Handel, R-Ga., in the fall. And Carolyn Bourdeaux won the Dem runoff in GA-7 for the right to challenge Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga. So the major Dem nominees in Georgia will be three women – Abrams, McBath and Bourdeaux – and two of them are African-American women.

Don’t forget about the UAE and Qatari parts of the Mueller probe

Finally, writing for Wired.com, Garrett Graff makes a good point about a part of the Mueller probe we haven’t heard much about lately: the focus on Team Trump’s talks with Persian Gulf states. “While we’ve mostly talked about Mueller’s probe as focusing on Russia, there are clearly some adjacent questions about other foreign influence in Washington involving Republican donor Elliott Broidy, among others. A key Middle East go-between, Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, is both cooperating with Mueller’s investigation and has testified before his grand jury—indicating a line of inquiry that hasn’t resulted in any public charges but is somehow central to Mueller’s underlying investigation.”

More: “Unlike the probe into Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, Mueller hasn’t handed this thread of the investigation off to another office, which appears to indicate that, in ways not yet clear to the general public, the UAE and Qatari questions are related to the underlying Russia probe.”

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
MORE FROM news