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Trump's Grip on the GOP Gets Stronger as the Party Gets Smaller

This is Donald Trump’s party now.
Image: Jeff Flake, Cheryl Flake
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., accompanied by his wife Cheryl, leaves the Capitol on Oct. 24.Andrew Harnik / AP

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.

WASHINGTON — It’s been three days since Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., delivered their stinging denunciations against President Trump, and much like Jerry Maguire and Renee Zellweger’s Dorothy — no one followed them out the door of the sports agency. (“Who’s coming with me?” Answer: No one else.)

There’s a simple reason why politicians like Corker and Flake (who aren’t running for re-election) have exited, and why everyone else (who could face primary challenges) is staying: This is Donald Trump’s party now.

Disagree with Trump’s positions on trade and immigration? Too bad if you’re going to continue to face Republican primary voters.

Have an issue with Trump’s character and Twitter habit? Best to stay silent or turn the conversation back to tax cuts.

Facing a tough election like Ed Gillespie is in Virginia? Run TV ads on immigration and crime just like Trump would.

But there are two consequences of a Trump-led Republican Party that no longer has room for the Bob Corkers and Jeff Flakes. One, it means a smaller party. This isn’t a big-tent GOP that’s adding more converts (though West Virginia’s governor is a clear exception); rather, it’s shunning the heretics.

Two, as we wrote earlier this week, it could hurt Trump and the GOP with the middle of the electorate, which still matters in American politics. The president’s job-approval rating among independents was already in the 30s and 40s. Do the criticisms that Trump took from his own party members like Corker and Flake make those numbers worse? We’ll find out.

Where’s the money to combat opioids?

“President Donald Trump's announcement of an unprecedented public health emergency Thursday to combat opioid and drug abuse drew both praise and concern from public health advocates. Many said the move, while a positive first step, risked undercutting the enormous financial requirement to launch an effective response,” NBC’s Vivian Salama writes.

“Declaring an emergency under the Public Health Services Act gives the Health and Human Services secretary wide discretion to respond by accessing the Public Health Emergency Fund, which only has about $57,000 left. The secretary can also waive typical Medicare and Medicaid rules temporarily or access the national stockpile of medications. ‘Funds will be critical,’ said Rebecca Haffajee, Assistant Professor of Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. ‘Congress will need to appropriate more money’ given the shallow resources available under the Public Health Emergency Fund.”

To borrow from another “Jerry Maguire” line: Show me the money.

House passes budget, paving the way for the GOP’s tax plan. Now comes the hard part

The New York Times: “The Republican race to overhaul the tax code broke into a sprint on Thursday, with House members narrowly clearing a budget blueprint that would allow a tax bill to pass Congress without any Democratic votes, and Senate leaders signaling that the bill could be introduced, debated and approved in both chambers by the end of November.”

More: "Those ambitions are already complicated by difficult math, both in terms of tax revenues and vote counts. The budget vote put those competing factors on display, with 20 Republicans defecting and the resolution narrowly passing, 216 to 212, in part over concerns about the possible elimination of a tax break that disproportionately benefits residents of high-tax states. A potential reduction in contribution limits for 401(k) retirement accounts also appears to be stoking an intraparty fight."

Northam leads Gillespie by 7 points, per new poll

A new Wason Center poll has Democrat Ralph Northam leading Republican Ed Gillespie by seven points, 50 percent to 43 percent, in Virginia’s gubernatorial race. Last week, the poll had Northam with a four-point lead, 48 percent to 44 percent — and all the movement is within the margin of error.