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It's Trump's way or the highway in today's Republican Party

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 /
Image: Trump steps off of Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews
President Trump arrives at Joint Base Andrews after returning from Singapore on Wednesday.Mark Wilson / Getty Images

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WASHINGTON — Yesterday, June 12, 2018, could very well end up being an entire chapter in the history of the Republican Party. After President Trump held his summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un (and also after saying the dictator is smart, loves his people and loves his country), the following events took place:

  • Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., lost his primary because he wasn’t loyal enough to Trump. “Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to MAGA. He is MIA and nothing but trouble. He is better off in Argentina,” Trump tweeted just hours before polls closed in South Carolina. Last week, Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., was forced into a runoff after her 2016 opposition to Trump.
  • Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., hardly a Trump ally and a former veteran of the Bush 43 administration, got just 61 percent of the vote in her primary against a nominal GOP opponent, while Corey Stewart (who championed Confederate monuments in his unsuccessful gubernatorial bid last year) won the GOP’s Senate primary in Virginia. “Congratulations to Corey Stewart for his great victory,” Trump tweeted this morning.
  • Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who decided not to run for re-election, fumed that GOP Senate leaders blocked his effort to rein in Trump’s tariffs. “In an angry speech on the Senate floor, Corker slammed the ‘powers that be’ for blocking legislation that would have put checks on the president's ability to levy tariffs, especially on friendly nations, in the name of national security,” NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Heidi Przbyla write.
  • And on the topic of immigration, a group of moderate Republicans in the House failed to gather enough petitions to force a vote to protect the DACA program that Trump’s administration tried to rescind (but which the courts have kept alive for now). The House next week will hold votes on two immigration bills – with no guarantee that they will pass and resolve the DACA issue, the Washington Post says.

The four events represent much more than Trump controlling his party, which happened after he accepted the GOP’s presidential nomination and after his surprise victory in November 2016. They make it clear that the Republican Party isn’t a place for dissent against the president — whether it’s GOP politicians who have criticized Trump for being untruthful (Sanford), who want to take action on Trump’s tariffs (Corker) and who no longer supported Trump after the “Access Hollywood” video (Comstock, Roby).

In today’s GOP, the dominant motivating force isn’t ideology — it’s loyalty to the president. “Mark Sanford losing in South Carolina is pretty much proof positive that the GOP is not really a conservative party that cares about limited government. It is now fully a cult of personality,” conservative commentator Erick Erickson tweeted.

It’s Trump’s way — or the highway.

It was another big night for Democratic women, especially in Virginia

And if loyalty to Trump has been the story of the 2018 Republican primary season so far — remember those TV ads in the Indiana and West Virginia primaries? — then the story of the 2018 Democratic primary season has been the success of female candidates, as CNN’s Harry Enten writes.

In Virginia, Jennifer Wexton (VA-10 against Comstock), Elaine Luria (VA-2 against Scott Taylor), Abigail Spanberger (VA-7 against Dave Bratt), and Leslie Cockburn (VA-5 open) will be the Democratic nominees in the state’s key congressional races this fall. Indeed, if you want to tell the “Year of the Woman” story heading into November, you won’t have to look any further than Virginia.

However, there was a key exception last night to this female success in Democratic primaries: In Nevada, Steve Sisolak (backed by Harry Reid) defeated Chris Giunchigliani (backed by EMILY’s List and Hillary Clinton). But that has been more the exception rather than the rule, and it says a whole lot about how Harry Reid’s political operation still rules the roost in Nevada.

Dems flip another legislative seat

By the way, the other big primary/election story last night played out in Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: “Wisconsin Democrats came one step closer to gaining control of the state Senate by picking up a seat held by Republicans for more than 40 years, while the GOP held on to an Assembly seat in a pair of special elections Tuesday. Caleb Frostman topped Rep. Andre Jacque in the 1st Senate District and Jon Plumer defeated Ann Groves Lloyd in the 42nd Assembly District.”

“Frostman will be the first Democrat to represent the northeast Wisconsin district since the 1970s — a win Democrats are hailing as more evidence of a so-called blue wave ready to flip more Republican-held seats in elections later this year.”

Trump repeats that he’s canceling military exercises on the Korean Peninsula

In case there was any confusion, Trump repeated that he was stopping military exercises with South Korea. “We save a fortune by not doing war games, as long as we are negotiating in good faith — which both sides are!” he tweeted.

More from the New York Times: “President Trump’s pledge on Tuesday to cancel military exercises on the Korean Peninsula surprised not only allies in South Korea but also the Pentagon. Hours after Mr. Trump’s announcement in Singapore, American troops in Seoul said they are still moving ahead with a military exercise this fall — Ulchi Freedom Guardian — until they receive guidance otherwise from the chain of command.”

Claire McCaskill used a private plane on her RV tour

Republicans have been seizing on this story over the last 24 hours: “Sen. Claire McCaskill confirmed Tuesday that she used her private plane during a three-day RV tour of her state last month, an admission that promises to become a political headache for the Missouri Democrat in her reelection bid,” Politico writes.

“McCaskill claimed that a report on her air travel in The Washington Free Beacon, which used aircraft tracking data to map the plane's path following her RV tour for two of its three days, was ‘not accurate.’ However, she went further than the publication did in confirming that she did use a plane for part of the tour. 'I added some stops with the use of the plane, but I was on the RV so much that the broken drawer drove me crazy,’ McCaskill said in a brief Tuesday interview in the Capitol, adding that ‘I even lost an iPad around a corner on the RV.’”

Remembering Tim Russert

On the 10th anniversary of the passing of Tim Russert, our former colleagues Betsy Fischer Martin and Erin Fogarty Owen share some of the practices that made Tim so special.

“For many of us, it’s hard to believe that ten years have gone by since we lost one of the giants of journalism, Tim Russert, the longtime moderator of “Meet the Press." His death, as sudden as it was shocking, brought forth tributes from the politicians he covered with such passion and enthusiasm. Viewers, no matter their political stripe, mourned together because they viewed him as a trusted resource — someone committed to the truth who held the powerful accountable, explained the complexities of Washington, and did it with a gusto that made his love for politics contagious.”

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