WASHINGTON — After a performance Monday by President Donald Trump that was panned as “disgraceful,” “shameful,” “wrong,” “unacceptable” and “the most serious mistake of his presidency” — and those reviews were from Republicans — the political world needs to accept this reality: Trump himself isn’t going to protect the 2018 midterms from more foreign interference.
And he might even try to benefit from it, like he did in 2016. ("Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks," he said in the final days of the election.)
“My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others. They said they think it's Russia,” Trump said in response to a question Monday about interference in the 2016 election. “I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be.”
Trump added, “I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don't think it can go on without finding out what happened to the [DNC] server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC. Where are those servers?”
Compare Trump’s comments with special counsel Robert Mueller’s detailed indictments against 12 Russian intelligence officials.
And so we need to ask ourselves a question: What are the political parties, the 2018 campaigns and the media going to do if there’s another round of foreign interference in the election? Is any material that comes from foreign governments or their intermediaries fair game? Or should it be off limits?
Back in October 2016 — after the Obama administration announced that Russia was behind the WikiLeaks revelations hitting the Clinton campaign — Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he wouldn’t “indulge” in discussing information that came from WikiLeaks. “I will not discuss any issue that has become public solely on the basis of Wikileaks,” he said. “As our intelligence agencies have said, these leaks are an effort by a foreign government to interfere with our electoral process and I will not indulge it.”
In a panel last month featuring the chairs of the House Democratic and Republican campaign committees, DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan said that neither party should use hacked material in their campaigns. "Everyone needs to agree on this. They should not use it. It's bad for America, it's bad for our democracy," he said, per CNN.
But NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers responded that it was hard to rein in information that’s published by news outlets. "Once something's in the public domain, I'm not sure if you can say, 'Everybody, let's just ignore it,’” he told NBC’s Kasie Hunt, who was moderating the panel.
And Stivers’ point brings up the media’s role here. Is information that comes from a foreign government — directly or indirectly — akin to someone leaking Trump’s tax returns or the “Access Hollywood” video? Or is it different? And if so, should the media’s focus be on the substance of the hacked/leaked material? Or should the focus be why a campaign is using material ostensibly coming from a foreign government? (That story was really never told as Trump mentioned “WikiLeaks” some 140 times in the last month of the 2016 election.)
With less than four months until the midterm elections, these are all important questions to ask. Because more interference is coming.
Three things to watch after Trump’s performance with Putin
In the 24 hours after Trump’s news conference with Russia’s Vladimir Putin — where Trump also blamed both countries for the state of U.S.-Russia relations (“I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we've all been foolish”) — we are watching three things:
1. Are there any high-profile resignations from members of the Trump administration?
2. Does yesterday complicate Trump’s agenda on Capitol Hill, especially the Brett Kavanaugh nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court? (On “MTP Daily” yesterday, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said he was unwilling to hold up Trump’s judicial nominees in response to Trump. “I don’t think that that’s the answer,” he said.)
3. Does yesterday play into the Democrats “check and balance” argument for the midterms? That is, they will campaign that putting Democrats in charge of the House (and maybe the Senate) is the only way Congress will hold Trump’s actions accountable.
Judicial Crisis Network airs new TV ad to support Kavanaugh’s nomination
Speaking of Kavanaugh, the conservative Judicial Crisis Network says it has a launched a new $1.4 million TV ad buy – in Alabama, Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia — calling on senators to confirm Kavanaugh. This is the third TV ad that the group has launched since Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement — at a total of $3.8 million.
It’s Runoff Day in Alabama: Roby vs. Bright
“Representative Martha Roby of Alabama is battling for political survival in a Republican runoff primary on Tuesday. She faces an aggressive challenger and lingering suspicion among conservative voters about her support for President Trump,” the New York Times writes. “Ms. Roby withdrew her endorsement of Mr. Trump in 2016 after the release of a recording that showed him boasting about physically accosting women. His behavior, Ms. Roby said, made him ‘unacceptable.’”
“One big reason [why Roby might survive] that is the nature of her primary opponent: Bobby Bright, a former mayor of Montgomery who previously served in Congress as a Democrat. While Ms. Roby’s apostasy in the presidential race has been a problem for her, Mr. Bright has his own baggage, including his past support for Representative Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House.”
In the second fundraising quarter, Democratic candidates outraised Republicans in 90 percent of the most competitive House races
Democrats outraised Republicans in all but FOUR of 40 of some of the most competitive House general election races in the second quarter of 2018.
NBC News reviewed FEC reports for a list of 40 races which are ranked as “Lean” or “Toss Up” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report and which have their nominees set after March-June primary contests.
Some of the widest gaps in Democrats’ favor include fundraising hauls for New Jersey’s Mikie Sherill (who outraised Republican newcomer Jay Webber $1.4 million to $172,000), California’s Harley Rouda (who outraised incumbent Dana Rohrabacher by $994,000 to $192,000) and California’s Katie Hill (who outraised incumbent Steve Knight by about $1 million to $319,000).
Seven Democrats out of the 40 competitive races reported raising more than $1 million during the quarter, while no Republican campaign boasted a seven-figure haul in the same amount of time.
While the majority of Republicans in these races — most of them incumbents — have a cash-on-hand advantage over their Democratic rivals, Democrats in 16 of the 40 races are also besting their GOP counterparts when it comes to money in the bank as well.
Overall, Democrats in these races outraised Republican by nearly a 2-1 margin over the last 3 months, about $31 million to 15.8 million.
Key California House race is a virtual tie
A new poll from Monmouth University finds incumbent California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in a virtual tie with Democratic challenger Harley Rouda, underscoring the closeness of a contest in one of the nation’s most closely watched regions — Orange County. Rohrabacher, who has faced criticism from within his own party over his pro-Russia positions, has the backing of 43 percent of all potential voters compared with Rouda’s 46 percent. Using a model that anticipates a turnout surge among Democrats, Rouda registers 48 percent support to Rohrabacher’s 44 percent.
About a quarter — 24 percent — of self-identified Republicans say they would prefer that Rohrabacher wasn’t the GOP nominee, while Democrats have mostly coalesced around Rouda, with just 10 percent saying they wish another candidate had been chosen. (Remember, the DCCC put resources into Rouda — a businessman who isn’t widely known — to boost him over stem-cell researcher Hans Keirstead.)
The poll was conducted by telephone from July 11 to 15, 2018 and has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points for all potential voters.