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For Trump, defense of Saudi Arabia is another Helsinki moment

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 Has Lunch With Saudi Deputy Crown Prince And Defense Minister
President Donald Trump meets with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office on March 14, 2017.Mark Wilson / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — An American resident who writes for the Washington Post walks into Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul and is never heard from again.

Here’s the reaction yesterday from America’s president, appearing to defend Saudi Arabia with the same playbook he used for Brett Kavanaugh: "Here we go again with you're guilty until proven innocent."

Here’s the United States’ secretary of state smiling with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and saying that the Saudis committed to conduct an investigation — for a death/disappearance that happened on Oct. 2.

And here is the latest reporting suggesting that Jamal Khashoggi’s death/disappearance might have had ties to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince: “One of the suspects identified by Turkey in the disappearance of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was a frequent companion of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — seen disembarking from airplanes with him in Paris and Madrid and photographed standing guard during his visits this year to Houston, Boston and the United Nations,” the New York Times writes. “Three others are linked by witnesses and other records to the Saudi crown prince’s security detail. A fifth is a forensic doctor who holds senior positions in the Saudi Interior Ministry and medical establishment, a figure of such stature that he could be directed only by a high-ranking Saudi authority.”

Not since July’s summit in Helsinki, where President Donald Trump 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") and appeared to accept Vladimir Putin’s denial that Russia interfered in the 2016 election ("I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today") has a U.S. president failed to stand up for America’s values — and against a crime either committed on U.S. soil or involving an American resident.

And like Helsinki — and unlike the Kavanaugh nomination — Trump’s defense of Saudi Arabia has divided Republicans. “I’m gonna sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Fox News yesterday. “You know, we deal with bad people all the time, but this is in our face. I feel personally offended. They have nothing but contempt for us.”

Trump says he has no financial interests in Saudi Arabia. The historical record says otherwise.

Yesterday, in response to accusations that Trump has been easy on Saudi Arabia due to his past business ties with the Saudis, the president tweeted: “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter). Any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS (of which there is plenty)!”

But here’s what Trump said a July 2015 rally, per CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski: “I like the Saudis; they are very nice. I make a lot of money with them. They buy all sorts of my stuff — all kinds of toys from Trump. They pay me millions and hundreds of millions.”

The New York Daily News reported that Trump sold the 45th floor of Trump World Tower to Saudi Arabia’s kingdom in 2001 for $4.5 million, and a former Saudi crown price purchased Trump’s yacht for $20 million in 1991.

And as the Washington Post noted, the entourage of Saudi Arabia’s current crown prince stayed at Trump’s hotel in Manhattan, boosting that hotel’s revenue after two years of decline.

Trump: Don’t blame me if GOP loses in the midterms — except that he’s embraced that they’re a referendum on him

“Facing the prospect of an electoral defeat that could imperil his presidency, President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he won’t accept the blame if Republicans lose the House in November, arguing that he is ‘helping’ Republican candidates in the midterms,” the AP writes.

But as we noted on Monday, Trump has fully embraced that the midterms are a referendum on his presidency:

  • “A vote for Marsha is a vote for me,” Trump said on Oct. 1 in Tennessee, as he campaigned for GOP Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn.
  • “A vote for Cindy [Hyde-Smith] is a vote for me,” he said on Oct. 2 in Mississippi.
  • “A vote for Steve [Watkins] is a vote for me and our agenda to make America great again,” Trump said on Oct. 6 in Kansas.
  • “A vote for David [Young] is a vote for me to make America great again,” Trump said at his rally in Iowa last week.

First Read’s Top 10 gubernatorial takeovers

Here's our current list of the Top 10 gubernatorial takeovers, based on their likelihood of switching parties (with the No. 1 ranking going to the state most likely to flip in November).

The number is parenthesis is our ranking from September, and current party control is listed as either D, R, or I.

  1. Illinois R — Incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner vs. Democrat J.B. Pritzker (2)
  2. New Mexico R — Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham vs. Republican Steve Pearce (1)
  3. Alaska I (flip to GOP) — Incumbent Independent Bill Walker vs. Republican Mike Dunleavy vs. Democrat Mark Begich (3)
  4. Michigan R — Republican Bill Schuette vs. Democrat Gretchen Whitmer (5)
  5. Maine R — Democrat Janet Mills vs. Republican Shawn Moody (4)
  6. Wisconsin R — Incumbent Republican Scott Walker vs. Democrat Tony Evers (7)
  7. Florida R — Republican Ron DeSantis vs. Democrat Andrew Gillum (8)
  8. Iowa R — Incumbent Republican Kim Reynolds vs. Democrat Fred Hubbell (10)
  9. Nevada R — Republican Adam Laxalt vs. Democrat Steve Sisolak (6)
  10. Ohio R, Oregon D (tied) — Republican Mike DeWine vs. Democrat Richard Cordray (unranked); Incumbent Democrat Kate Brown vs. Republican Knute Buehler (unranked).

Other GOV races to watch (in alphabetical order): Colorado D, Connecticut D, Georgia R, Kansas R, Rhode Island D, South Dakota R, Oklahoma R.

Looking at the ad spending in these GOV races

The ad-spending totals (TV, radio) for the general election in these gubernatorial battlegrounds as of October 16, per Advertising Analytics:

  • IL-GOV: Dem $28.9 million, GOP $21.0 million
  • NM-GOV: Dem $3.4 million, GOP $1.6 million
  • AK-GOV: GOP $1.1 million, Dem $24,000, Indie $5,900
  • MI-GOV: Dem $9.9 million, GOP $8.8 million
  • ME-GOV: Dem $2.8 million, GOP $1.4 million, Indie $750,000
  • WI-GOV: GOP $16.0 million, Dem $8.4 million
  • FL-GOV: GOP $16.8 million, Dem $11.8 million
  • IA-GOV: Dem $4.5 million, GOP $3.8 million
  • NV-GOV: Dem $10.2 million, GOP $10.2 million
  • OH-GOV: GOP $15.5 million, Dem $11.5 million
  • OR-GOV: GOP $5.1 million, Dem $4.3 million.

Breaking down the 3rd quarter fundraising numbers

Speaking of the money race, NBC’s Ben Kamisar breaks down the numbers on the 3rd-quarter fundraising reports:


  • In 90 percent of the competitive races identified by the Cook Political Report, Democrats are outraised Republicans (this includes Democratic incumbents as well)
  • 31 Democratic challengers have more cash on hand than their Republican incumbent rivals
  • The average Democratic candidate in these districts raised $1.48 million last quarter and has$959k in the bank
  • The average Republican candidate in these districts raised $559k and has $817k in the bank
  • 61 Democratic candidates in these districts raised $1 million or more. Of those, 19 raised between $2 million and $3 million; seven raised between $3 million and $4 million; and two raised more than $4 million.
  • Overall, Democratic candidates in these districts outraised Republicans by more than a 2-to-1 margin.


  • The average Senate Democrat in the top 17 races on Cook’s list raised $5.9 million this past quarter and has $5.1 million in cash on hand. (If you disregard Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s unprecedented $38 million quarter, the average raised last quarter is $3.9 million. )
  • The average Senate Republican in these top races raised $4.8 million last quarter (if you remove the $18+million that FL Gov. Rick Scott loaned himself and the $8.5 million that NJ’s Bob Hugin loaned himself, it’s $3.2 million in average fundraising). The average Senate GOP candidate has $2.8 million in the bank for the final stretch.

O’Rourke goes on the attack against Ted Cruz in second debate

The Dallas Morning News writes up last night’s Ted Cruz-vs.-Beto O’Rourke debate — their second overall. “Rep. Beto O'Rourke shed his nice-guy approach in Tuesday night's Senate debate as Sen. Ted Cruz kept up the pressure to paint him as far too liberal for Texas,” the paper says. “O'Rourke went on the attack early, in a way he hadn't done in the first debate and even more directly than he has on the stump in recent days — calling Cruz a liar, ineffective and self-serving.”

“‘Ted Cruz is for Ted Cruz,’ he said at one point. When Cruz asserted that he backs a $10 per barrel tax on oil, O'Rourke bristled and shot back, ‘He's dishonest. It's why the president called him `Lying Ted' and it's why the nickname stuck, because it's true.’”

“Cruz quipped that ‘it's clear that Congressman's O'Rourke's pollsters’ must have advised him to go on attack.”

'MTP Daily' is coming to Phoenix

Finally, “MTP Daily” is coming to Phoenix for the first stop on Chuck Todd’s Meet the Midterms Road Trip! Join Chuck at The VIG Arcadia TODAY for a live broadcast beginning at 2:00 pm PT/5:00 p.m. ET. Come early — the first 50 attendees will receive some special gear, and the best seats in the house!”