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Regardless of party, the 2018 primaries run through Trump

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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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Matt Gaetz equates sex trafficking investigation with earmarks in Ohio speech

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STRONGSVILLE, Ohio — Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican mired in controversy, told a crowd of Republican activists Saturday that sexual misconduct allegations involving him are as benign as legislative earmarks.

“I’m being falsely accused of exchanging money for naughty favors,” Gaetz said at the Ohio Political Summit, a gathering sponsored by the Strongsville GOP in suburban Cleveland. “Yet, Congress has reinstituted a process that legalizes the corrupt act of exchanging money for favors, through earmarks, and everybody knows that that’s the corruption.”

Gaetz’s keynote speech came a day after Joel Greenberg, a former Florida tax official and associate of the congressman, pleaded guilty to six charges and is cooperating in a federal sex trafficking investigation. Federal officials are looking into whether Gaetz and Greenberg used the internet to find women they could pay for sex and whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a minor he paid to travel with him, the New York Times reported.

Documents filed in connection the Greenberg’s plea agreement do not mention Gaetz. He has not been charged with a crime and has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

An audience of at least 400 in person and others online turned out for the event, billed as a major forum ahead of the 2022 midterm election. A dozen or so guests trickled out after hearing from conservative commentator Candace Owens, who spoke before Gaetz, who delivered the final speech of the afternoon. But Gaetz received a standing ovation from those who stayed, and a dozen or so others lingered afterward for autographs and selfies.

Several Republican candidates for governor and U.S. House and Senate, had planned to address the crowd but backed out in recent days. Representatives from their campaigns declined to say why on the record, but all of them had committed before Gaetz was added to the program. Another scheduled keynote speaker, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., didn’t show.

To fill the time, organizers used everything from video footage from Trump rallies to a local conservative radio host and others who acknowledged on stage that they had been pressed into speaking duty at the last minute.

The scene at a suburban banquet hall offered a preview of how GOP campaigns, particularly in messy primaries, will proceed over the next 18 months. Strongsville is the center of Ohio’s 16th congressional district, represented by Anthony Gonzalez, one of the few Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. The Ohio Republican Party, nudged along by the Strongsville GOP, has called on Gonzalez to resign. Here, many people believe the lie that the last election was stolen. (“Trump Won,” read a bumper sticker in the parking lot.)

Attendees booed whenever someone mentioned Gonzalez or Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican who has become a villain to many in the party base for his acceptance of the 2020 election results and his cautious approach to the coronavirus pandemic. Far-right activists have taken to calling DeWine a RINO, or Republican In Name Only. If DeWine is renominated next year — and this week former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale got behind former Rep. Jim Renacci as a potential primary challenger — some are considering protest votes.

“I’ll vote for Nan Whaley before I vote for Mike DeWine,” said Dave Desser, a Toledo businessman who is pushing a No More DeWine effort online. Whaley, the mayor of Dayton, is a Democratic candidate for governor whose team relishes such intramural GOP squabbling.

Aware they’d be on hostile ground, DeWine and Gonzalez had never planned to attend Saturday’s summit. Renacci bailed after Gaetz was added to the program. Max Miller, a former Trump White House aide who is challenging Gonzalez with the former-president’s endorsement, appeared via a pre-taped video. That left Joe Blystone and Jonah Schulz, lesser-known candidates for governor and the Ohio 16th, respectively, with the audience to themselves.

“We’re going to Trump this state,” said Blystone, a farmer who campaigns in a cowboy hat.

The most prominent 2022 candidate to speak was Josh Mandel, a former state treasurer who has aggressively positioned himself as the most pro-Trump candidate in the Senate race. At one point Mandel, who is seeking retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s seat, went on an extended attack against a reporter, making sure attendees knew she was in the room as he read her tweets aloud. Mandel also revved up the crowd by lying about the 2020 election.

“Let me be very clear, this election was stolen from Donald Trump,” Mandel said. “My squishy establishment opponents in this race won’t say those words. But I will.”

Gaetz spent much of his speech railing against establishment Republicans such as Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, and Paul Ryan, the former House speaker from Wisconsin. He praised one Ohio congressman, Rep. Jim Jordan, saying he aspired to be “the Robin to his Batman,” while castigating another, Gonzalez, a former first-round NFL draft pick who played in parts of five seasons.

“Is it likely that the Anthony Gonzalez congressional career might mirror the Anthony Gonzalez NFL career?” Gaetz wondered. “Whole lot of hype, first round draft pick, out in four years.”

The absent Gonzalez appeared to issue a subtle rebuke of Gaetz and the Strongsville GOP from afar.

“Ending child exploitation remains one of my top policy initiatives in Congress,” Gonzalez, alluding to the controversy surrounding Gaetz, tweeted during the event. “Anyone engaged in these heinous acts needs to be held accountable and taken off the streets.”



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Confusing pension statements to be banned in huge retirement shake-up

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PENSION providers are to be forced to give much clearer information to people saving for retirement under new regulations being introduced by the government.

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Labour warned over antisemitism AGAIN as MPs turn on Israel

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Labour MPs attacking Israel on social media have been warned they risk stoking division within Britain with Jewish communities this week being forced to bring in extra security after an increased level of threats.

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