/POLITICO Playbook: Trump’s GOP walloped

POLITICO Playbook: Trump’s GOP walloped

WHERE WE ARE … DEMOCRATS captured control of the Virginia House of Delegates and state Senate, the first time they’ve controlled the entire government “in a generation,” per the WaPo.

— NYT’S JONATHAN MARTIN: “For the first time since 1993, Democrats control both chambers in the legislature and the governor’s office — allowing them to redraw the state’s legislative boundaries after next year’s census.

“Linking Republican incumbents to the unpopular president and criticizing them for opposing gun control measures in the aftermath of a mass shooting in Virginia Beach in May, Democratic challengers built their victory with strong showings in suburbs stretching from outside Washington to Richmond and Hampton Roads. In Fairfax County, the state’s largest jurisdiction, the last remaining Republican lawmaker was defeated.” NYT

DEMOCRATS APPEAR TO HAVE TOPPLED the unpopular sitting Republican governor of Kentucky one day after a visit from President DONALD TRUMP. Democrat ANDY BESHEAR leads Republican Gov. MATT BEVIN by more than 5,000 votes, according to Steve Shepard, who is in Lexington for us. POLITICO

REPUBLICANS, THOUGH, had success throughout the rest of the state. Senate Majority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL’S former legal counsel, Daniel Cameron, was elected attorney general — the first black person to be elected to that office. Lexington Herald-Leader

PENNSYLVANIA — a state key to TRUMP’S re-election prospects — is turning toward Democrats in a historic fashion.

— PHILLY INQUIRER: “The blue wave crashed down on Pennsylvania again, as voters from Philly to Delaware County turned left,” by Julia Terruso: “The political forces that shaped last year’s midterm elections showed no signs of abating Tuesday, as voters turned on Republicans and establishment Democrats alike in races from Philadelphia and Scranton to the suburbs of Delaware and Chester Counties. …

“Locally, Democrats will hold all five seats on the Delaware County Council, a Republican stronghold since the Civil War, and also assumed a majority on the legislative body in Chester County. In Bucks County, Democrats also held a late lead for control of the board of commissioners in a close race.” Inquirer

HOW DOES THIS ALL affect TRUMP’S political fortunes? Do Republicans take a look at Tuesday night’s electoral results and rethink whether they want to stick with the president on impeachment? (For the most part, we doubt Rs will ditch Trump.) Will it affect Trump’s 2020 campaign strategy or his governing posture? Will the president look, in any way, to try to partner with Democrats on something popular, or will he continue his current posture, which is he’s being impeached for doing nothing wrong, and there’s nothing really the two parties can work on?

THERE ARE TWO WAYS FOR REPUBLICANS TO LOOK AT TUESDAY NIGHT. One way: We won the Mississippi governor race, we won almost the entire slate of races in Kentucky and Bevin lost because he was unpopular. All of that’s true — but just part of the story. The other way to look at it is: Pennsylvania is slipping away, Virginia is gone and Kentucky — a state TRUMP won by nearly 30 points in 2016 — has elected a Democrat in a race where impeachment was center stage.

HERE’S HOW TRUMP CAST the Kentucky race in his rally for Bevin earlier this week: “If you win, they are going to make it like, ho hum. And if you lose, they are going to say Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world. You can’t let that happen to me!”

— AND HERE’S WHAT HE SAID TUESDAY NIGHT: @realDonaldTrump at 11:37 p.m.: “#ElectionNight Won 5 out of 6 elections in Kentucky, including 5 great candidates that I spoke for and introduced last night. @MattBevin picked up at least 15 points in last days, but perhaps not enough (Fake News will blame Trump!). Winning in Mississippi Governor race!”

… at 11:51 p.m.: “Congratulations to @tatereeves on winning Governor of the Great State of Mississippi. Our big Rally on Friday night moved the numbers from a tie to a big WIN. Great reaction under pressure Tate!”

FWIW: TRUMP won Mississippi by 17 points in 2016.

THE STEP BACK … WAPO’S BOB COSTA: “[T]he Kentucky defeat has sparked concern among the party’s donors and many longtime GOP leaders who are worried that the nonstop twists of the House impeachment inquiry and Trump’s growing fury are making it increasingly difficult for Republicans to make a clear and compelling case to voters.” WaPo

— AP’S STEVE PEOPLES in New York: “It’s difficult to draw sweeping conclusions from state elections, each with their own unique quirks and personalities. But there’s little doubt Tuesday’s outcome is a warning to Republicans across the nation a year out from the 2020 election and a year after the 2018 midterms: The suburbs are still moving in the wrong direction.” AP

AND YET … NEW POLITICO/MORNING CONSULT POLL: “Poll: Majority expects Trump to win in 2020,” by Caitlin Oprysko: “With less than a year to go before the 2020 election, a majority of registered voters say they think it’s at least somewhat likely that President Donald Trump will secure a second term in the White House, a new poll has found, with almost a third of voters saying the president will be top of mind when casting their vote next November.

“According to a POLITICO/Morning Consult survey released on Wednesday, 56 percent of voters expect the president to be reelected next year, including 85 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of independents. By comparison, more than a third of Democrats (35 percent) say the same.” POLITICO

Good Wednesday morning.

IMPEACHMENT … IN THE EARLY DAYS OF POLITICO, our co-founders John Harris and Jim VandeHei often asked us to try to report as if we were putting our sources on truth serum. What would they say if they couldn’t lie?

SO AFTER TUESDAY’S BOMBSHELL transcript releaseGORDON SONDLAND and KURT VOLKER we buzzed our top House Republican sources and challenged them to tell us what they were actually thinking about TRUMP’S standing at the moment.

— THEY UNDERSTAND TRUMP IS IN DEEP TROUBLE. “Without a doubt,” one House Republican told us, this is the biggest political pickle TRUMP has been in. That’s why Republicans are taking the highly unusual step of putting Rep. JIM JORDAN (R-Ohio) on the Intelligence Committee to defend the president: He needs reinforcements, and fast. (We hear it will just be Jordan that gets a slot on that panel.)

— THEIR STRATEGY IS TO OBFUSCATE. Republicans understand that they “have a tough set of facts,” as one told us, and they are going to try to muddy the waters and distract from the obviously troubling testimony delivered by every witness Democrats have called. Watch for small-ball answers trying to pick apart the credibility of certain witnesses when it comes to whether they extrapolated or had firsthand information on what they were testifying about.

— THEY’RE READY TO THROW SONDLAND UNDER THE BUS. This was, perhaps, the most surprising to us. Conventional wisdom held that SONDLAND was going to be the strongest ally for TRUMP — a donor whose $1 million to the Trump inaugural fund should have made him a loyal figure. But Republicans are starting to turn on him. Lawmakers we spoke with called him a lackey, a chest-thumper and a rube. Of course, perhaps that’s because he turned on the president. But there is no love lost for Sondland at all.

— THEY STILL, TO THIS DAY, QUESTION THE QUID PRO QUO. The cornerstone of Republicans’ defense of TRUMP is that, despite testimony indicating otherwise, there is no actual evidence of a quid pro quo. There is talk that the president wanted to hold up aid in exchange for a statement laying out an investigation into the BIDEN family. But, as several lawmakers told us, the aid was restored without the statement.

WE ASKED OUR SOURCES this simple question: If TRUMP is so concerned about corruption, can you point to other places in the world where he’s withheld aid in exchange for cleaning up government, or was the Biden example unique? No one can, but people point out that he frequently has threatened to cut off aid.

— THE PUBLIC WITNESS THE GOP FEARS: Bill Taylor is the unanimous No. 1.

HEAR NO EVIL, SAY NO EVIL … SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, via CBS: “I’ve written the whole process off … I think this is a bunch of B.S.” Marianne LeVine on Graham

INTERESTING TEXT … TAYLOR in a text to VOLKER in May, presumably after he was asked to go to Kyiv: “I’m really struggling with the decision whether to go [to Ukraine]. Can anyone hope to succeed with the Giuliani-Biden issue swirling for the next 18 months? Can [Mike Pompeo] offer any reassurance on this issue”

HAPPENING TODAY … AP’S MATTHEW LEE: “AP sources: State Dept. worried about defending ambassador”: “The State Department’s third-ranking official is expected to tell Congress that political considerations were behind the agency’s refusal to deliver a robust defense of the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

“People familiar with the matter say the highest-ranking career diplomat in the foreign service, David Hale, plans to tell congressional impeachment investigators on Wednesday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other senior officials determined that defending Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch would hurt the effort to free up U.S. military assistance to Ukraine.

“Hale will also say that the State Department worried about the reaction from Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, also one of the strongest advocates for removing the ambassador. … Hale is expected to shed more light on why the State Department did not step up to defend its top envoy in Kyiv. According to the people familiar with the matter, he will say he tried to distance himself and the department from the matter by removing himself from email chains about Yovanovitch.” AP

SMART STORY … WAPO’S ROBERT BARNES and SEUNG MIN KIM: “Senate impeachment trial to test chief justice who has tangled with Trump”: “The trial would be an unfamiliar moment in the spotlight for Roberts, 64, whose evocation of the judge as impartial umpire drew praise at his 2005 confirmation hearing. His nomination by President George W. Bush capped off a career as a Republican operative in the White House, a lawyer with many appearances before the Supreme Court and an appellate judge.

“Trump’s impeachment proceedings would be the first trial over which Roberts has ever presided. It provides the potential for a confrontation with a president who has already antagonized him, even as the chief justice has tried to distance himself and the court from partisan politics.

“‘I think [the chief justice] is going to be very uncomfortable with it,’ said Carter G. Phillips, a longtime Washington lawyer who is among the most prolific practitioners before the Supreme Court. ‘He will look the part and will act the part, but I’m sure he’d rather not have the part.’” WaPo

JUICY … VANITY FAIR’S JOE POMPEO: “The Mask Will Probably Fall’: In a Warning, New Trump Scandals — And Clues to the Identity of Anonymous”

TRUMP’S WEDNESDAY — The president will give a speech on federal judicial confirmation milestones at 3 p.m. in the East Room. Trump will leave the White House at 4:10 p.m. en route to Monroe, La., where he will deliver remarks at a campaign rally at 7 p.m. Central time at the Monroe Civic Center. Afterward, he will return to Washington.

THE LATEST ON ROGER STONE, via Darren Samuelsohn and Josh Gerstein: “Day 2 of the Roger Stone trial starts at 9:30 a.m. with more jury selection. Judge Amy Berman Jackson got the pool of people down to 34 by the end of the day Tuesday — and she expects to get it across the finish line to start today. Then it’ll be time for opening arguments from DOJ and Stone’s attorneys.

“Looking forward to hearing the Stone opener in particular as they really haven’t articulated in public what his defense will be at the trial. DOJ prosecutors said they could be done with their side of the case by the middle of next week. Stone’s lawyers have said they’d need three to four days.” More on how Stone’s gag order has effectively kept Stone silent

WILD TALE FROM BEN SCHRECKINGER — “‘A little help from the vice president’: How Joe Biden, his younger brother Frank, a lobbyist and an oil heiress got Congress to ban the slaughter of horses for meat.” POLITICO

MUCK READ — “How Mike Pence’s Office Meddled in Foreign Aid to Reroute Money to Favored Christian Groups,” by ProPublica’s Yeganeh Torbati: “Officials at USAID warned that favoring Christian groups in Iraq could be unconstitutional and inflame religious tensions. When one colleague lost her job, they said she had been ‘Penced.’” ProPublica

HEADS UP — “Trump OKs wider Syria oil mission, raising legal questions,” by AP’s Lolita Baldor: “President Donald Trump has approved an expanded military mission to secure an expanse of oil fields across eastern Syria, raising a number of difficult legal questions about whether U.S. troops can launch strikes against Syrian, Russian or other forces if they threaten the oil, U.S. officials said.

“The decision, coming after a meeting Friday between Trump and his defense leaders, locks hundreds of U.S. troops into a more complicated presence in Syria, despite the president’s vow to get America out of the war. Under the new plan, troops would protect a large swath of land controlled by Syrian Kurdish fighters that stretches nearly 90 miles (150 kilometers) from Deir el-Zour to al-Hassakeh, but its exact size is still being determined.

“Officials said many details still have to be worked out. But, Trump’s decision hands commanders a victory in their push to remain in the country to prevent any resurgence of the Islamic State group, counter Iran and partner with the Kurds, who battled IS alongside the U.S. for several years. But it also forces lawyers in the Pentagon to craft orders for the troops that could see them firing on Syrian government or Russian fighters trying to take back oil facilities that sit within the sovereign nation of Syria.” AP

HAPPENING TODAY — “In Major Nuclear Step, Iran to Resume Enrichment at Underground Site,” by WSJ’s Laurence Norman in Brussels and Aresu Eqbali in Tehran: “Iran plans to start enriching uranium at an underground facility Wednesday, Tehran officials said, in a significant step away from its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal that could raise pressure on Europe to take action.

“A 15-year ban on any enrichment of uranium at the Fordow nuclear plant was one of the central achievements of the deal. Enriched uranium can be used as fuel for a nuclear weapon.

“The site, buried deep within a mountain, is considered impregnable to most conventional weapons, presenting a major hurdle to any military effort aimed at stopping Iran from building a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program has always been for peaceful purposes. The latest step is the most dramatic yet by Iran away from the 2015 accord.” WSJ

VALLEY TALK — “Concerns about Facebook’s political ad policy brought to Zuckerberg’s dinner table,” by CNN’s Brian Fung: “Steak, scallops and the future of American democracy were among the items on the menu at one of Mark Zuckerberg’s homes on Monday night as the Facebook CEO hosted a dinner for American civil rights leaders.

“Flanked by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Facebook exec Nick Clegg, Zuckerberg met face-to-face at his Bay Area home with some of the company’s most ardent critics to hear their concerns about how the company tackles hate speech and its policy of not fact-checking ads from politicians.

“Civil rights representatives agreed not to disclose specifics of what the Facebook executives and other attendees said at the meeting, Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates, who attended the dinner, told CNN. But a number of them raised concerns about Facebook’s policy of allowing politicians to run false ads, said Khera and Vanita Gupta, the CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, who also was in attendance.” CNN

MEDIAWATCH — MICHAEL CALDERONE: “Media outlets reject Rand Paul’s demand that they identify Trump’s whistleblower”: “Major news organizations have not identified the whistleblower whose claims about Trump pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens have been largely corroborated and even expanded upon by officials testifying in the impeachment inquiry — and they’re not buckling to demands from Trump and his allies to expose the individual.” POLITICO

— DEAN BAQUET to WaPo’s Paul Farhi: “I’m not convinced his identity is important at this point, or at least important enough to put him at any risk, or to unmask someone who doesn’t want to be identified. Pretty much everything has now been discussed or confirmed on the record, multiple times, by others in the administration. So I’m not sure I see the point of unmasking someone who wants to remain anonymous.” WaPo

— NPR’S DAVID FOLKENFLIK: “ABC News Defends Its Epstein Coverage After Leaked Video Of Anchor”

Send tips to Eli Okun and Garrett Ross at politicoplaybook@politico.com.

TRANSITIONS — Giovanna Gray Lockhart is now chief strategy officer at The Riveter. She was most recently at The Wing and is a Kirsten Gillibrand alum. … Josh Hurvitz is now a partner at government relations firm NVG. He previously was VP for public policy at Time Warner and WarnerMedia.

SPOTTED at a screening Tuesday night at the National Archives of “Created Equal,” a documentary about Justice Clarence Thomas: Justice Samuel Alito and Martha-Ann Alito, D.C. Circuit Court Judge Neomi Rao, Leonard Leo, Carrie and Roger Severino, Rachel Semmel, Hugo Gurdon, Kevin Daley, Emily Jashinsky, Byron York, Greg Mueller, Keith Appell and Ryan Lovelace.

BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Ruth Messinger, global ambassador for the American Jewish World Service, is 79. How she thinks the Trump presidency is going: “I worry that the U.S. is losing our role as a human rights leader, especially for the populations that American Jewish World Service works alongside. The lack of a thoughtful response from our State Department to almost any human rights issue, the constant threats to foreign aid and to immigrant populations — all are damaging our status in the world.” Playbook Q&A

BIRTHDAYS: Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) is 78 … Arne Duncan, managing partner of Emerson Collective and former Education secretary, is 55 (hat tip: Devon Spurgeon) … Sidney Blumenthal is 71 … Dan Senor is 48 … Eric Schulze … Rob Jesmer, partner at FP1 Strategies and PLUS Communications … POLITICO’s Louis Nelson is 31 … Marlon Bateman is 31 … Social Security Administration Commissioner Andrew Saul is 73 … former Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) is 63 … Andrew Snow … Ana Estes … Katie Rosborough … American Red Cross’ Eric Mondero … Alison Patch of APCO Worldwide … Bob Grand … Ashley Lewis, press secretary for Senate Banking Committee Democrats … Rachel Weiss, director of external affairs at UnitedHealth Group (h/t husband Adam) … Julia Bennett …

… Whitney Mitchell Brennan, communications director for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) … Blair Gremillion, senior media analyst at America Rising, is 27 (h/t Christian Martinez) … Alan Dechert … Arun Chaudhary, creative director at Revolution Messaging, is 44 … Catherine Crier is 65 … Mychal Denzel Smith … Matt Kirk … JoJo Sears … Rick Nussio … Sheila Walter … Scott Anderson … LaCreda Drummond-Mondon … Ramesh de Silva … Ian Braun … NPR’s Eric Deggans … USCIS’ Diana Banister … Keaton Bedell … Christopher Joshua Arndt … Ben Wrobel … Julia Moseley … Gray Brooks … NBC’s Gresham Striegel … ABC’s Trish Turner … CNBC’s Angelica LaVito … Chris Fitzgerald … Andrew Weinberg … Suzanne Granville (h/t Teresa Vilmain) … Ira Fishman (h/t Jon Haber)