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Regardless of party, the 2018 primaries run through 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 Andrew Rafferty /

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WASHINGTON — In our divided political times, something unites both Democrats and Republicans running in key primaries this season: Most of them are talking about Trump.

Of course, there’s a difference in exactly how they’re talking about him. In Republican primaries, the conversation is about which candidate is more loyal to the president — or which candidate might have criticized him in the past.

  • Here’s Todd Rokita running in the May 8 Indiana Senate primary: “[GOP opponent] Luke Messer — he plotted with the Never-Trumpers to steal the nomination from President Trump… I’m Todd Rokita and I’ll proudly stand with our president and Mike Pence to drain the swamp,” he says in a TV ad as he dons a red “Make America Great Again” hat.
  • Here’s Messer’s own TV ad: “I’m Luke Messer. I get teamwork. That’s why I back President Trump’s agenda — tax cuts, pro-life and funding for our troops.” (Messer’s campaign also has seized on the news that Rokita called Trump “vulgar, if not profane” in a 2016 interview explaining why he backed Marco Rubio at the time.)
  • Here’s a TV ad from an outside group backing Republican Patrick Morrisey in the May 8 West Virginia GOP Senate primary: “Patrick Morrisey will move President Trump’s agenda forward.”
  • Here’s Republican Steve Braun running to fill Rokita’s House seat in Indiana: “Hoosiers are ready for ‘America First,’” he says in a TV ad.
  • And as the Washington Post recently spotlighted, here’s a TV ad from Republican Bill Schuette running in the August 7 gubernatorial primary in Michigan: “Supported by President Trump, Bill Schuette is the strong leader who can defeat the Granholm liberals.”

In Democratic primaries, meanwhile, the conversation is about which candidate is tougher on Trump, especially as a way to prove one’s progressive credentials. This anti-Trump contest, in fact, dates back to last year, when Virginia’s Ralph Northam was calling the president a “narcissistic maniac.”

  • Here’s a digital ad from Gwen Graham, who’s running in the increasingly competitive August 28 Democratic gubernatorial primary in Florida: “Donald Trump is an embarrassment. Donald Trump is an example of a bully.”
  • Here’s a TV ad from Democrat Steve Sisolak, who’s running in the June 12 Democratic gubernatorial primary in Nevada: “I’ve taken on bullies my whole life… Donald Trump is hurting Nevada families. He wants to take health care away from 200,000 Nevadans. He wants to break up families by deporting DREAMers.”

The Gwen Graham ad — much like the Northam one from last year — is especially striking, because it comes from a Dem candidate who, fairly or not, is being accused of not being sufficiently progressive. So playing the Trump card potentially neutralizes that. Bottom line: If you have primary problems, Trump is your elixir — in either supporting him (if you’re a Republican) or attacking him (if you’re a Democrat).

Trump White House hits the pause button on a trade war with China

“White House officials moved quickly on Wednesday to calm fears of a potential trade war with China, saying the administration’s proposed tariffs were a ‘threat’ that would ultimately help, not hurt, the United States economy, hours after China said it would punish American products with similar levies,” the New York Times writes.

“The administration’s insistence that a trade war was not imminent came as the United States and China traded tit-for-tat penalties that caused wild swings in stock markets from Hong Kong to New York.”

More: “White House officials reiterated on Wednesday that China must stop the ‘unfair’ trading practices President Trump believes have disadvantaged American companies and workers, but they held out the possibility that tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods outlined on Tuesday might never go into effect.

“‘There’s no trade war here,’ Larry Kudlow, Mr. Trump’s new top economic adviser, said in an interview on Fox Business Network. He described the threat of tariffs as ‘just the first proposal’ in a process that would involve negotiations and back-channel talks. ‘I understand the stock market’s anxiety,” he said. “But on the other hand, don’t overreact.’”

By the way, here’s the front page of the Des Moines Register: “Tariffs may help to sink farmers.” (What is Trump’s ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, who was Iowa’s former governor, thinking right now?)

Facebook’s Zuckerberg to testify before Congress April 10-11

NBC News: “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees as well and the House Energy and Commerce Committee on April 10 and 11 respectively, the committees announced Wednesday.”

“The public testimony will be Zuckerberg's first before the U.S. government and comes after Facebook has been the subject of broad criticism and numerous legal inquiries over how the user information of as many as 87 million Facebook users ended up in the possession of a data-analysis firm that worked with President Donald Trump's election campaign.”

Our take: The problem that Facebook has right now is a credibility problem: Every time they give an explanation of what happened in 2016, we ultimately learn that it was worse than they said.

Scott Pruitt’s campaign to save his job

“EPA chief Scott Pruitt and his allies in the administration are on a mission to save his job — offering a blitz of interviews to friendly media outlets while separately accusing a former agency staffer of a cascade of damaging leaks,” per Politico. “But the White House made it clear Wednesday that President Donald Trump is not pleased with all the negative headlines surrounding him.”

One thing is for sure: Pruitt has a constituency inside the conservative movement. We’ll see if that’s enough to save his job.

Rundown on the 2018 midterms

In case you missed them, here are some of the recent midterm developments that we’ve chronicled on our “Rundown” blog: Per NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald, Democrats are hoping their next upset comes in the April 24 AZ-8 special election… Vulnerable GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., called on Pruitt to resign… And Joe Biden is hosting a fundraiser for Phil Bredesen in Tennessee on April 10.

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