Donald Trump speaks to Matt Lauer during the Commander-in-Chief Forum in Manhattan last night. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

With Breanne Deppisch

THE BIG IDEA: The upcoming debates will be harder to moderate than ever before.

-- The reviews are in, and last night’s biggest loser was Matt Lauer. No one is happy with the host of NBC’s “Today” show, who interviewed each presidential candidate back-to-back for 30 minutes during the network's “Commander-in-Chief Forum” in prime time.

The most galling moment came when Donald Trump repeated his demonstrably false claim that he was “totally against the war in Iraq,” and Lauer never pressed him on it.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is angry that the NBC host devoted one-third of her time on stage to asking a series of follow-up questions about her email practices as secretary of state and then gave her little time to talk about pressing national security issues.

Trump’s allies, meanwhile, insist that he took it too easy on her. “Six Obvious Follow-Up Questions NBC’s Matt Lauer Failed to Ask Hillary Clinton” is the headline on Breitbart News (which is controlled by Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon).

-- Visualizing the frustration: Our analytics partners at Zignal Labs tracked more than 250,000 mentions of Lauer and at least one of the candidates during the forum. Tweets and articles mentioning Clinton and Lauer were 15 percent more likely to be negative than those mentioning Trump and the NBC host. As the word clouds below illustrate, the Clinton/Lauer dialogue was focused on emails (mostly complaints that Lauer spent too much time talking about them) and the Trump/Lauer chatter focused on Iraq (mostly complaints that Lauer let Trump off the hook when he lied about opposing the war.)

-- Last night was seen by the campaigns as a kind of dry run ahead of the first head-to-head debate on Sept. 26. Reading the flood of negative reaction overnight, I felt tremendous empathy for the five journalists who are preparing to moderate the upcoming face-offs. They are bound to be heavily criticized no matter what they do.

-- No one wants to be Candy Crowley, who memorably clashed with Mitt Romney about the particulars of the Benghazi attacks in 2012. The moderators and their employers do not want to be the center of attention. That’s why the bipartisan members of the Commission on Presidential Debates picked them. But they may not be able to avoid it, and it’s very possible that one of their careers could be defined by an unplanned moment. Bernard Shaw, for example, will always be remembered for asking Michael Dukakis in 1988 whether he’d change his position on the death penalty if his wife got raped and murdered. (CNN cut Crowley in 2014.)

Chris Wallace moderates the first GOP debate in August 2015. (Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters)

-- “What do you do if they make assertions that you know to be untrue?” Howard Kurtz posed that question to his Fox colleague Chris Wallace after he was named as a moderator last Friday. “I do not believe it is my job to be a truth squad,” Wallace replied, explaining that a debate is very different from a Sunday show. “It's up to the other person to catch them on that. I certainly am going to try to maintain some reasonable semblance of equal time. … But I want it to be about them. … I suspect I'm not going to have any problem getting them to engage with each other, but I don't view my role as truth squading, and I think that is a step too far. If people want to do it after the debate, fine, it’s not my role.”

-- In Wallace’s defense, if the hosts seem like they are “truth squading,” it may feel like “bias” to tens of millions of viewers who they want to watch their shows.

-- Generally, it’s going to be hard for moderators to keep control. Lauer implored both candidates not to go negative on each other during their responses. Both ignored him, though Trump went much further in attacking her than she did him. Clinton alluded to his feud with a Gold Star family and mentioned Trump’s proposed Muslim ban. “That is not going to help us succeed in defeating ISIS,” she said. Trump called her trigger happy.

-- Trump has proved adept at not letting interlocutors nail him down on specifics, which will be frustrating for moderators who don’t want to be the center of attention. He has claimed for months that he has a secret plan to destroy ISIS, but he would not reveal it. Then on Tuesday night he said he’ll give the generals 30 days to come up with a plan once he takes office. Pressed last night on the apparent contradiction, he said he will compare his secret plan to what the generals bring him and come up with the best approach. “You don’t give plans because you want to be unpredictable,” he told Lauer. “I don’t want to broadcast to the enemy exactly what my plan is.”

-- He also makes simple proclamations and then just repeats them over and over again when pressed. “If we would have taken the oil, you wouldn’t have ISIS,” he declared last night. Not one credible expert on the Middle East would agree with that. The Donald does not care.

HRC and DJT during last night's forum. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

-- Trump is the worst offender, but both candidates will make misleading and inaccurate claims during the debates. The Post’s Fact Checkers, for instance, wrote up 10 “dubious claims” made by Clinton last night and eight more from Trump. (Read their report here.)

-- A significant difference between last night and the debates: The candidates will be able to respond to one another and jump in, of course, but there will also be a lot more time. Lauer got a little less than 30 minutes with each. One of the things he’s getting attacked for is telling candidates to keep it short. “As briefly as you can,” he told Clinton when a veteran asked her to describe her plan to defeat ISIS. Keep in mind that this was after he spent almost 10 minutes pressing her on the email server.

The 30-second sound bite format plays into Trump’s hands. But the debates will be 90 minutes, with no commercial breaks. There will be longer blocks for each issue, which could reward the ability to go into depth. (More on the format.)

-- The debates are coming up sooner than you think. The first is 18 days away at Hofstra University. Organizers are already setting up for next month’s vice presidential debate in Virginia:

MORE ABOUT LAST NIGHT:

-- What media beat reporters are saying:

  • The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone: Lauer Failed The Moderator Test.
  • Yahoo News TV critic Ken Tucker: Lauer Shows What TV Does Wrong In Questioning Trump and Clinton.
  • The New York Times’s Michael Grynbaum: “It was a high-stakes political moment, far from the chummier confines of the ‘Today’ show and, for Matt Lauer, NBC’s stalwart of the morning, a chance to prove his broadcasting mettle on the presidential stage. The consensus afterward was not kind. … The criticism captured what has become a common complaint about media coverage during this election: that news organizations and interviewers treat Mrs. Clinton as a serious candidate worthy of tough questions, while Mr. Trump is sometimes handled more benignly.”
  • Vox’s Matt Yglesias explains why “Lauer totally blew it”: “It’s not a great idea, in general, for journalists to let politicians get away with bald-faced on-camera lies. But it’s particularly important not to let them do it when, as is the case with Trump on these two issues, the lies are so predictable."

-- Journalists across the mainstream media cringed for much of the broadcast:

Lauer’s own colleague, the senior political editor at NBC News, tweeted this after the host did not challenge Trump on his Iraq lie.

NBCNews.com fact checked Trump online afterward, but only a tiny fraction of the television audience will see it.

The head of The Post’s fact checking unit:

The New York Times columnist:

An NYT political reporter:

A Politico reporter:

-- The left was even angrier:

New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait described the forum as the “scariest thing” he’s seen during the whole campaign: “I had not taken seriously the possibility that Trump could win the presidency until I saw Lauer host.… Lauer’s performance was not merely a failure, it was horrifying and shocking. The shock, for me, was the realization that most Americans inhabit a very different news environment than professional journalists. I not only consume a lot of news, since it’s my job, I also tend to focus on elite print news sources. Most voters, and all the more so undecided voters, subsist on a news diet supplied by the likes of Matt Lauer. And the reality transmitted to them from Lauer matches the reality of the polls, which is a world in which Clinton and Trump are equivalently flawed.”

Slate’s Fred Kaplan called the whole thing "a waste of time": "What an ill-focused forum, a senseless not-quite-debate, another wasted hour in an election season that’s been more wasteful and dispiriting than anyone could have imagined possible, until it gets more dispiriting still.” 

-- The Clinton campaign is angry too. From her press secretary:

So were these three alumni of the Obama White House:

ADDITIONAL TAKEAWAYS:

Vladimir Putin leads a cabinet meeting in Moscow's Kremlin yesterday. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Impressed by his authoritarian tendencies, Trump continues to get snowed by Vladimir Putin.

He suggested that the Russian strongman is more worthy of praise than Barack Obama. “Certainly, in that system, he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader,” Trump said. “We have a divided country.”

Trump preached the virtues of an alliance with Russia to defeat ISIS. Asked to defend Putin’s aggressions on the world stage, such as the invasion of Crimea, Trump replied: “Do you want me to start naming some of the things Obama does at the same time?” (It would have been great if Lauer asked him to.)

This deeply troubling moral equivalency argument would outrage all of Trump’s supporters … if any Democrat said it.

As Romney’s chief strategist from 2012 explains:

Trump said he appreciated kind words Putin has had for him. “Well, I think when he calls me brilliant, I think I’ll take the compliment, okay,” he said.  “I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Putin, and I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Russia.” (Putin has actually never called Trump brilliant…)

The most bizarre part of Trump’s Russia riff, though, might have come when he claimed that Putin has an 82 percent approval rating at home. His numbers in the U.S. are not quite so good:

From the guy who ghost-wrote “The Art of the Deal” for Trump:

From The Atlantic writer:

-- Underscoring why he’s tanking among college-educated women, Trump reaffirmed his view that having men and women serve alongside one another is the root of the military’s sexual-assault problem.

Lauer asked about this 2013 tweet:

“Well, it is, it is a correct tweet,” Trump replied. “There are many people that think that that’s absolutely correct. . . . Well, well, it’s happening, right? And, by the way, since then, it’s gotten worse.” Trump clarified during a follow-up that he does not want to remove women from the military, but he wants to more aggressively prosecute the offenders.

Here’s a taste of the online reaction:

-- For most of the campaign, Trump has criticized intelligence analysts for being bad at their jobs. Last night, he declared that these “experts” have actually been offering good advice — but Obama and Clinton did not take it. “I was very, very surprised,” he said, discussing the two classified intelligence briefings he’s now received. “In almost every instance, and I could tell, I’m pretty good with the body language. I could tell, they were not happy. Our leaders did not follow what they were recommending.” This puts leaders of the intelligence community in the tough spot of deciding whether and how hard to push back. (Karen DeYoung has more.)

The forum was on the Intrepid, a retired aircraft carrier. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

-- It often felt like Clinton was the incumbent president running for reelection.

She is always more cautious, circumspect and thoughtful about her choice of words than Trump. Post reporters John Wagner and Anne Gearan describe her performance last night as “guarded, even stilted.”

Lauer asked if she could guarantee Americans will be safer four years from now than they are today. “I’m not going to promise something that I know most thinking Americans know is going to be a huge challenge,” she said.

She did not distance herself from Obama when given the opportunity. "We are not putting ground troops into Iraq ever again, and we're not putting ground troops into Syria,” she said. “We’re going to defeat ISIS without committing American ground troops.”

The Democratic nominee defended her support for intervening in Iraq and Syria by pointing out that Trump did too. “I have taken responsibility for my decision,” she said. “He refuses to take responsible for his support.”

-- “Clinton acknowledged that emails she sent or received as secretary of state contained references to the CIA’s drone program, but she defended her handling of communications about the classified operations,” Missy Ryan reports. “Officially, the program has remained a secret, despite the extensive news reports that have documented the strikes.”

-- “Trump said that he is open to allowing undocumented immigrants to legally stay in the United States if they serve in the military,” Jenna Johnson reports. "I think that when you serve in the armed forces, that's a special situation, and I could see myself working that out. Absolutely," he said.

If you missed it, read the full transcript of the forum here. Our video team created a three-minute summary:

Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning newsletter.
With contributions from Elise Viebeck (@eliseviebeck)

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WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

-- President Obama struck back at Trump during an overnight news conference in Laos, warning that the Republican nominee’s "unacceptable and outrageous" behavior is becoming normalized in the 2016 election cycle. From William Wan and David Nakamura: "I don't think the guy's qualified to be president of the United States and every time he speaks that opinion is confirmed," Obama said, speaking after a three-day visit to this Southeast Asian nation. "There is this process that seems to take place over the course of the election season where somehow behavior that in normal times we consider completely unacceptable and outrageous becomes normalized and people think we ought to be grading on a curve."

Gary Johnson reacts as his microphone stops working during a rally last Saturday in Des Moines. (AP Photo/Scott Morgan)

-- Oops: On “Morning Joe,” Mike Barnicle asked Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson: “What would you do if you were elected about Aleppo?” The former New Mexico governor responded, “And what is Aleppo?” “You’re kidding me,” said Barnicle. “No,” replied Johnson. After being told that it was the city in Syria, Johnson said: “OK, got it, got it!” Then he called for an alliance with the Russians. Talk about not ready for primetime. (Watch the 3-minute segment here.)

Mark Halperin, who was on the show, asked Johnson about it after. “No one is taking this more seriously than me, I feel horrible,” he told the Bloomberg host. “I have to get smarter, and that’s just part of the process.”

-- The gaffe comes just hours after Romney, with his first tweet in two months, spoke up in favor of including Johnson and his running mate, William Weld, in the coming debates. A spokesman for Romney tells Dave Weigel that this is not an endorsement:

Here's how Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol, a leading Never Trump figure on the right, responded to Johnson's embarrassing screw-up:

-- Former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow joined the New York Mets franchise with a minor league contract, despite not having played competitive baseball since high school: Scouts who observed the former quarterback were impressed by his “raw power” and bat speed, saying some eight different teams expressed an interest in Tebow. (Fox News)

People kayak in the Animas River near Durango, Colo. last summer. (Jerry McBride/AP)

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. A Colorado gold mine that spilled more than 3 million gallons of wastewater into western rivers was designated as a “Superfund” site by the EPA, putting the site on a national priority list for cleanup. (Darryl Fears)
  2. Mitch McConnell said he is in talks with the White House and Senate Democrats about breaking a partisan deadlock over Zika funding, preparing to push a stopgap fundraising measure -- which would keep the government open until Dec. 9 – as early as next week. He is not negotiating with House Republicans… (Kelsey Snell and Mike DeBonis)
  3. Merrick Garland is coming to the Capitol today for meetings, including a sit-down with Pat Leahy. And Joe Biden will lead a new push for his confirmation to the Supreme Court. (New York Times)

  4. The Obama administration said a Syrian cease-fire agreement with Russia is at a “make or break moment,” stating they expect a decision on proposed joint U.S.-Russia counter-terrorism operations in the next several days. (Liz Sly)
  5. British officials announced they will begin constructing a concrete wall around the French port of Calais, attempting to prevent migrants and asylum-seekers from entering the U.K. The joint project has sparked controversy in both countries, with some likening the effort to Trump’s border wall proposal. (James McAuley)
  6. Republicans on the House Oversight Committee blasted the OPM for a massive data breach last summer, concluding that the hack – suspected to be the work of state-sponsored Chinese hackers – was preventable. The report also accuses OPM of playing down the breaches to avoid fallout. (Andrea Peterson)
  7. Apple debuted its new iPhone 7 models on Wednesday, emphasizing practical changes and “under the hood” updates to its newest smartphone. But the lack of physical bells and whistles came as a disappointment to some – as Hayley Tsukayama notes, “it's hard to get excited when one of the company's announcements was literally that it had perfected the color black.”
  8. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter lashed out at Putin during a speech at Oxford University, accusing him of spreading global instability and warning Russia to “stay out of the American elections.” “The United States does not seek a cold, let alone a hot, war with Russia,” he said. “But make no mistake, we will defend our allies, the principled international order, and the positive future it affords all of us.” (New York Times)
  9. Americans have a more optimistic sense of the future than they did when Obama took office, according to a new Gallup poll: A majority of Americans – 62 percent – now say they feel as though their standard of life is improving, compared to 42 percent who said the same in 2008. (New York Times)
  10. California officials launched an on-campus excavation project for the body Kristin Smart, the Cal Poly student who vanished 20 years ago. Authorities said new evidence “strongly suggests” her remains may have been buried near a giant campus landmark.  (Sarah Larimer)
  11. House lawmakers will vote on a controversial bill allowing families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia, sending the measure to Obama's desk just days before the 15th anniversary of the terror attacks. Obama is expected to veto the bill – some critics say the measure will "harm the United States relationship with Saudi Arabia and establish a precedent that jeopardizes American officials overseas." (Karoun Demirjian)
  12. Rep. Keith Ellison will today introduce legislation to increase gun safety awareness on college campuses today. The measure requires schools to publicly disclose gun policies and gun-related crimes in campus promotional materials. (Elise Viebeck)
  13. More than 4,000 athletes are in Rio for the Paralympic Games. At last night's opening ceremony, newly-installed Brazilian President Michel Temer was loudly booed off stage. (AP)
  14. A frugal University of New Hampshire librarian who drove an old car and had a penchant for TV dinners was revealed to be a multimillionaire after his death -- leaving behind his entire estate to the university where he worked for 50 years. (Sarah Larimer)
  15. A Malaysia-bound flight mistakenly landed in Melbourne after its pilot made a single-digit typo in the plane’s navigation system. The single erroneous digit set passengers more than 6,000 miles off course. (Time)
  16. Nearly 50 cops raided an Amish party in Ohio over the weekend, arresting 75 young people gathered to celebrate the “Rumspringa” tradition. (Newser)
  17. Ryan Lochte received a 10-month swimming suspension for fabricating details of a Rio gas station incident last month, excluding him from competing in the 2017 world championships. The punishment – which is four months longer than Michael Phelps’s ban after his DUI arrest – has been criticized by some as unduly harsh. (USA Today)
  18. A 34-year-old Arizona yoga instructor facing sexual indecency charges claimed she was drugged and raped by a group of 15-year-old boys. She argues that she did not take advantage of the minors, but they took advantage of her. (Daily Mail)
Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton listen to remarks at a groundbreaking ceremony for the U.S. Diplomacy Center in 2014. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

THE DAILY HRC:

-- Former Secretary of State Colin Powell told Clinton at the start of her State Department tenure that he used a personal computer to conduct government business and took steps to ensure his digital correspondence wasn’t “going through the State Department servers,” WSJ’s Byron Tau reports. "The newly released emails appear to show Mr. Powell … acknowledging he exchanged work-related emails with foreign leaders and State Department officials using a personal computer or by corresponding with the personal accounts of senior government staffers: ‘I didn’t have a BlackBerry. What I did do was have a personal computer that was hooked up to a private phone line (sounds ancient.) So I could communicate with a wide range of friends directly without it going through the State Department servers,’ Mr. Powell wrote to Mrs. Clinton … ‘I even used it to do business with some foreign leaders and some of the senior folks in the Department on their personal email accounts. I did the same thing on the road in hotels,’ he said. House Democrats said that the exchange showed Mrs. Clinton was being held to a double standard on the issues of email, cybersecurity, and her responsibilities under federal law to preserve government documents." (Read Powell's two-page email.)

-- Meanwhile, FBI Director James B. Comey said the decision not to charge Clinton for her use of a private email server while secretary of state was “not a cliff-hanger,” telling bureau employees in a memo that “despite all the chest beating by people no longer in government, there really wasn’t a prosecutable case.” The memo – while notable for its bluntness – did not deliver any new information, Matt Zapotosky reports. Comey defended his investigation in the memo,saying he had “no patience for suggestions that we conducted ourselves as anything but what we are — honest, competent, and independent ... 'Those suggesting that we are ‘political’ or part of some ‘fix’ either don’t know us, or they are full of baloney (and maybe some of both),'" he wrote.

-- “A group of about 30 emails sent or received by [Clinton] about the 2012 Benghazi attacks and recovered in [the] FBI investigation into her use of a private email system contains only one previously undisclosed email,” Spencer S. Hsu reports: “The revelation of the existence of as many as 30 potentially related emails in a conservative group’s public records lawsuit briefly roiled the presidential race … But the criticisms were undercut by the single newly released email, which is a complimentary note to Clinton from another U.S. diplomat. The government said in a filing that all the other emails turned out to be unrelated or duplicates of previously searched records.”

“I watched with great admiration as she dealt with a tough and personally painful issue in a fair, candid and determined manner,” [then-Ambassador to Brazil Thomas] Shannon wrote Clinton’s then-chief of staff Cheryl D. Mills -- who forwarded the note to her boss -- about Benghazi. “I was especially impressed by her ability to turn aside the obvious efforts to politicize the events in Benghazi …”

-- “Trump and his joint committees raised $90 million in August, a substantial haul for a candidate late to fundraising but one that still significantly trails Hillary Clinton's enormous summer totals,” CNN reports. “The haul, raised in the late summer doldrums when candidates often struggle to collect large checks, is another sign that Trump has managed to quickly assemble a finance operation … Yet Clinton, who prioritized exclusive fundraising events over retail campaigning last month, still holds a commanding lead in the cash race as of the beginning of September. Her campaign, along with the Democratic National Committee and other state parties, collected $143 million in August, a record-shattering number.”

-- Politico, “Hillary Clinton’s ‘Invisible Guiding Hand,’” by Shane Goldmacher: “There are only a handful of corner offices inside Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters, and they are mostly occupied by familiar names. … Then, there is Elan Kriegel. Overlooking downtown Brooklyn … Kriegel’s skyline view is the backdrop for what is on the windows themselves: erasable marker scribblings reminiscent of A Beautiful Mind that … underlie nearly all of the Clinton campaign’s most important strategic decisions.” Decisions big and small -- what states Clinton competes in, what doors volunteers knock, where almost every dollar of her $60 million primary ad campaign was spent – all have Kriegel’s coding fingerprints on them. “To understand Kriegel’s role is to understand how Clinton has run her campaign — precise and efficient, meticulous and effective, and, yes, at times more mathematical than inspirational.”

-- New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat writes that a narrow Clinton win suggested in a spate of recent polling would be a “gift” to the republic – and a better tonic than a landslide wipeout.  “Yes, there is much in Trump and Trumpism that richly deserves a total wipeout, and much in his Republican Party that deserves to be sent howling into the political wilderness,” Douthat says. “But a true landslide, a total repudiation, would also encourage unwarranted self-satisfaction and relief among the American republic’s ruling class — a sense that the ideas Trump represents, the fears and concerns he has exploited, and the people he has rallied can be safely buried and ignored and consigned once more to the benighted past. Thus Hillary Clinton’s weakness and unpopularity might be a gift, of sorts, to the American future. Because [if] she can’t put Trump away, it’s harder to dismiss Trumpism … and only by taking him seriously can we learn enough to make sure the next Trump isn’t far stronger, and far worse. Unless, of course, she loses."

Trump speaks while accepting the Conservative Party of New York State's nomination for president on September 7. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

THE DAILY DONALD:

-- Mexico's Finance Minister was replaced after organizing and advocating for last week's Trump visit, Joshua Partlow and Gabriela Martinez report from Mexico City. "President Enrique Peña Nieto Peña Nieto offered no explanation for the resignation of Luis Videgaray, one of his closest aides and the protagonist of some of the government’s signature economic reforms. … But Peña Nieto’s decision to host Trump has provoked one of his most severe political crises since he took office in 2012, with even his own cabinet deeply divided over the move. Videgaray, who had served as the Mexican government’s behind-the-scenes liaison to the Trump campaign, and his allies advocated the visit as a chance to defend Mexican interests and calm financial markets worried about how a possible Trump victory in November might harm Mexico’s economy, according to Mexicans familiar with the deliberations."

-- Trump ended his media blacklist, announcing that he will begin credentialing The Washington Post, Politico, BuzzFeed and other news outlets that have been barred from the press section at his campaign events. From Callum Borchers: "'I figure they can't treat me any worse!’ Trump told CNN. Trump's move to ease tensions with the media comes as Clinton appears to be making an effort to engage reporters more often. The Democratic nominee began allowing journalists to travel aboard her campaign plane this week, [taking] questions from the press corps on Monday and Tuesday."

-- “Trump bragged that his money bought off politicians. Just not this time,” by David A. Fahrenthold and Rosalind S. Helderman: “[Trump] used to have a simple theory for how politicians worked. ‘When you give,’ he said last year, ‘they do whatever the hell you want them to do.’ Now, this year’s Trump seems to think last year’s Trump was wrong. The Republican nominee is facing new scrutiny over [his 2013 contribution to Pam Bondi], where his pay-to-play theory of politics seemed to work perfectly — and casting it, instead, as an innocent transaction with no strings attached."

That case fits an old pattern in Trump’s political giving -- showing a focus on his own personal and business needs. "He raised money for Jeb Bush while lobbying Bush’s allies to soften the governor’s opposition to casino gambling. He started giving to Virginia state candidates after purchasing a golf course and, later, a winery in the state. And he backed two county commissioners in Palm Beach County, Fla., amid a dispute over airport noise at his Mar-a-Lago estate … By implication, he is defending the very system that last year’s Trump said he knew, disdained and wanted to fix.”

-- Mike Pence renounced “birtherism” claims against President Obama on Wednesday, breaking with his running-mate who has previously embraced the issue. "I believe Barack Obama was born in Hawaii," Pence told reporters. "I accept his birthplace." His remarks come just days after Trump ally Ben Carson also urged Trump to apologize for his previous remarks. (Aaron Blake)

-- Trump shook up his struggling Florida campaign team, replacing longtime supporter Karen Giorno with veteran operative Susie Wiles as it seeks to compete with Clinton’s operations in the Sunshine State. From Politico’s Marc Caputo: “The turnabout was weeks in the making and capped a frustrating month for many Florida Republicans — many of whom fretted that Giorno wasn’t doing enough to open field offices, while Hillary Clinton’s campaign opened 51 of the get-out-the-vote centers.

The shakeup comes as Trump begins to gain on Clinton in the state, a must-win for the Republican nominee: “A survey released Wednesday by Public Policy Polling shows Trump pulling 44 percent support to Clinton’s 43 percent, an inside-the-error-margin lead for the Republican,” Caputo writes. “That apparent movement in the polls comes despite Clinton vastly outspending Trump on television ads.”

-- Trump called for higher military spending in Philadelphia, reversing months of isolationist talk as he called for a robust military buildup and an end to current defense-spending caps. Trump’s address “represented his most substantive and comprehensive plan on national security to date,” Jose A. DelReal reports. “As soon as I take office, I will ask Congress to fully eliminate the defense sequester and will submit a new budget to rebuild our military,” Trump said during a speech at the Union League in Philadelphia. “It is so depleted.”

 “The speech marked a striking shift toward conservative orthodoxy for the real estate developer, whose candidacy on foreign affairs was built on an anti-establishment, anti-interventionist message,” DelReal writes. “At the top of his remarks, Trump held out an overt olive branch to defense hawks by referencing [Reagan’s] foreign policy motto: ‘Peace through strength.’” The Republican nominee sought to contrast his proposals from Clinton and Obama, whom he accused of destabilizing the Middle East and using troops too readily for interventions abroad. “Unlike my opponent, my foreign policy will emphasize diplomacy, not destruction,” Trump said, accusing his rival of being “reckless” and “trigger-happy” during her time in the Senate and as secretary of state.

-- Trump’s new full-throated calls to stop defense sequestration are being cheered by Republican lawmakers, who have spent much of the year at odds with their party’s nominee, Karoun Demirjian reports.

-- Trump is traveling to Northern Virginia for a fundraiser next week, meeting with donors at the home of real estate developer Giuseppe Cecchi as he seeks to boost his network of Republican donors, Sean Sullivan reports. Listed on the invite as a co-chair of the event is Virginia developer and NRSC finance Chairman Bob Pence, who helped raise money for Marco Rubio’s presidential bid earlier this year.

-- Eric Trump said he was “a little scared” by a video of Clinton coughing during a Cleveland speech, fueling widely-debunked conspiracy theories that the Democratic nominee suffers from an undisclosed illness. “I’m not a politician and I’m not really, you know, the person who opines on people’s health but, you know, I saw that video too and I was a little, I was a little scared by it,” Trump said in a Philadelphia radio interview. “I mean, it was pretty interesting to say the least.” (Buzzfeed)

-- Buzzfeed, “Trump’s Alias “John Baron” Threatened An Author Writing A Book On Him In The 1980s,” from Andrew Kaczynski and Christopher Massie: “One of the stranger stories about [Trump] to emerge this election cycle is that ... he [previously] posed as his own publicist using the alias ‘John Baron’ when speaking with the press.” Author Jerome Tuccille, who wrote a biography on Trump in the 1980s, said he was threatened by Trump’s fake persona while conducting research -- realizing just this year that the man on the line was actually Trump. “It was chilling,” Tuccille said, adding that the remarks caused him to shift all of his assets to his wife’s bank account. “… I assumed that John Baron was a higher-up in his organization and that he was threatening me.”

In one conversation, Trump-as-Baron informed the author that longtime ally Roy Cohn would “be in touch” – deploying the notorious ex-McCarthy aide to threaten Tuccille. “Roy Cohn actually got me on the phone and said, ‘Do you know who I am?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I know who you are.’ And he said, ‘Do you know what I do for a living?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ ‘I make people get down on their hands and knees and beg for mercy.’ That sent a chill up my spine at the time,” Tuccille said.

Nancy Pelosi at the DNC (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

THE BATTLEGROUNDS:

-- “Republicans don’t think targeting Nancy Pelosi is the way defend their House majority – yet,” by Paul Kane: “Six years ago, when she was still speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi’s advisers estimated that she starred in roughly 200,000 ads by Republicans tying their opponent to the unpopular California Democrat. Pelosi was the Democrat that Republicans most loved to hate, and their relentless campaign in the summer and fall of 2010 left her brutally unpopular, helping the GOP sling-shot to a 63-seat gain that delivered them back into the House majority. These days Pelosi has drifted from the spotlight, barely a supporting character in GOP attack ads as Republicans focus most of their fire on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and President Obama. The obvious omission shows Republicans believe that Democrats still don’t have a realistic shot of capturing the House majority — catapulting Pelosi back into the speakership — even as they hedge their bets with Donald Trump at the top of their ticket …”

-- A new Bloomberg poll shows Trump is decisively winning white voters who don’t have more than a high-school education, but his stubborn unpopularity with minorities has given Clinton a narrow overall lead with America’s least-educated voters,” John McCormick writes. “In a two-way contest, Trump is backed by 55 percent of whites with no more than a high-school degree, compared to 33 percent for Clinton. The findings … highlight two of the biggest demographic fault lines in this year’s presidential race: educational attainment and race.”

-- Sen. John Thune, who does not have a competitive reelection race in South Dakota, donated $2 million of his campaign cash to the NRSC. At the same time, Chuck Schumer made his own $2 million transfer to the DSCC. (Paul Kane)

-- “Sen. Rob Portman probably will win a second term, despite the fact that he deserves to,” Post columnist George Will quipped. “Portman’s supporters are a forgiving sort, undeterred by his many accomplishments and qualifications that could be disqualifying in this season of populist antagonism toward people who have actually governed. It gets worse: This year’s Republican presidential nominating electorate decided that the lungs are the locus of wisdom, but Portman is as quiet as his 19th-century Quaker abolitionist ancestors probably were … Given today’s apotheosis of the outsider, Portman is fortunate to be running against a former congressman and governor, Ted Strickland, a political lifer who first ran for Congress (unsuccessfully) 40 years ago. Tip O’Neill’s incessantly quoted axiom — ‘All politics is local’ — is increasingly false in polarized America, where many elections are nationalized. This year, however, it is in Portman’s interest to stress local issues unrelated to anything being bellowed about by the person at the top of the Republican ticket …”

-- “Bobby Scott: The congressman who could make history. Again,” by Jenna Portnoy: Rep. Robert Scott threw open his family’s sprawling back yard for a Labor Day cookout, a 40-year tradition marking the real start of the political season in this state. “But this year, an undercurrent of intrigue pulsed through the gathering: As he welcomed several hundred guests, Scott (D-Va.) was also launching his unofficial bid for a U.S. Senate seat that is not yet open. As the senior Democrat in Virginia’s congressional delegation, Scott, 69, has emerged as the front-runner to fill Tim Kaine’s Senate seat. … [Yet] some Democrats privately express reservations about entrusting a seat that could decide the balance of power in the closely divided Senate to a candidate who has never won statewide, is considered less than dynamic and has been an anemic fundraiser. The concerns are magnified by the singular challenge faced by anyone appointed to fill Kaine’s seat: That candidate would assume office in January 2017, run in a special election in November, and then turn around and run again for a full term the very next year …”

-- North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, trying to appeal to the suburban women who are turned off by Trump and are helping to make his reelection contest competitive, highlights his bipartisan work to help special needs children in a new commercial. “A true champion for Down syndrome and disabled community,” the chryon of the ad says. “We trust Richard Burr,” a mother of three says to the camera. One of the most successful knocks on Trump, with female voters especially, is his mockery of a disabled reporter. This is part of an effort by the senator to gently distance himself. In an accompanying op-ed for the Fayetteville Observer, Burr touts his role in last year’s education reauthorization act.

Joe Miller and his wife Kathleen (Michael Dinneen/AP)

-- He’s back: Joe Miller is running against Lisa Murkowski again in Alaska, this time as the Libertarian candidate. Miller beat the senior senator in the 2010 GOP primary, but Murkowski survived by waging a write-in campaign in the general. Miller ran for Senate in 2014, but Dan Sullivan beat him in the primary (though he still got 32 percent.) The guy who won the Libertarian primary last month withdrew, and Miller agreed to take his place. He has about $100,000 left over in his campaign account. Murkowski has about $2.5 million, and she should be totally safe. (Alaska Dispatch News)

-- A North Dakota judge issued an arrest warrant for Green Party candidate Jill Stein yesterday after she spray-painted construction equipment during a protest against an oil pipeline. From the Bismarck Tribune: “Court records show Stein was charged Wednesday in Morton County with misdemeanor counts of criminal trespass and criminal mischief. The same charges have been filed against her running mate, Ajamu Baraka. Stein campaign spokeswoman Meleiza Figueroa could not immediately comment on whether Stein plans to turn herself in. Activists invited Stein to leave a message at the protest site near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's reservation on Tuesday, Figueroa said, and Stein sprayed ‘I approve this message’ in red paint on the blade of a bulldozer. A court document shows Baraka painted the word ‘decolonization’ on a piece of construction equipment.” 

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

The RNC chairman sparked an outcry after he criticized Clinton for not smiling during last night’s forum on national security:

-- Reince is getting beaten up pretty badly by women on social media, including many Clinton campaign staffers, and you can bet that they'll fundraise off the backlash.

#PresidentialFace is trending this morning, as thousands of women post selfies of themselves not smiling:

Oops, via the GOP's official Instagram feed:

Thoughts on the election from Charles Manson:

Tim Kaine visited Capitol Hill for meetings and worked from his official office. New Mexico's Martin Heinrich snapped a photo with him:

Claire McCaskill got this shot:

Sean Hannity was ridiculed from across the ideological spectrum for his politically-motivated praise of Julian Assange:

Hannity has been tangling a lot with figures on the right lately. Here's a sample of his back-and-forth with National Review's Jonah Goldberg, who is not supporting Trump:

Charlie Rangel wishes you a very warm welcome back from congressional recess:

The newly repaired Capitol rotunda is back in view:

Here's a closer look:

Publicity stunt of the day: Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) -- almost certain to lose to Charlie Crist in November -- brought mosquitos onto the House floor for his speech about Zika funding:

Marcy Kaptur has a new toy:

Ryan Costello's staff wished him a happy birthday:

Finally, the biggest coffee filter you might have ever seen:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

-- How much power would Clinton or Trump have to launch a nuclear strike as commander-in-chief? Former Minuteman and missile-launch officer Bruce Blair broke down the step-by-step procedure to Bloomberg News:

  • FIRST, top brass is brought in for a Situation Room consultation, lasting as long – or as short – as the president wishes: Depending on the nature of the threat, a meeting could be as short as 30 seconds.
  • THE PRESIDENT ORDERS A LAUNCH: “Some advisers may try to change the president’s mind or resign in protest—but ultimately, the Pentagon must comply."
  • THE ORDER GOES OUT: The war room prepares the launch order, an encoded and encrypted message that contains the chosen war plan, launch time, and authentication codes. The 150-string of characters is about the length of a Tweet, and takes just two to three minutes to deliver to launch crews.
  • LAUNCH CREWS TAKE OVER, comparing the launch order to NSA-distributed SAS codes. For a land launch, five crews in various locations control a squadron of 50 missiles, each casting a “vote” to verify the launch order’s validity.
  • MUTINY IS UNLIKELY: It takes just two “votes” to launch the missiles – meaning that even if three crews refuse to carry out the order, it won’t stop. It only takes about five minutes from the time the president orders the launch. Once fired, the missiles and their warheads cannot be called back.
A woman walks past a banner offering support for Edward Snowden in Hong Kong. (Philippe Lopez/Getty)

-- New York Times, “After Edward Snowden Fled U.S., Asylum Seekers in Hong Kong Took Him In,” from Patrick Boehler: “When 42-year-old [Vanessa Rodel] opened the door of her tiny Hong Kong apartment three years ago, two lawyers stood outside with a man she had never seen before. They explained that he needed a place to hide, and they introduced him as Edward Snowden.” Rodel is one of at least four asylum seekers in Hong Kong who took in Snowden after he fled the U.S. in 2013, agreeing to host the former NSA contractor during his mysterious first days in hiding. “It was never clear where Mr. Snowden [had been holed up] during those critical days … As it turns out, he was staying with Ms. Rodel and others like her — men and women seeking political asylum in Hong Kong who live in cramped, substandard apartment blocks in some of the city’s poorest districts.” Snowden’s lawyer turned to these refugees for help in part because he expected them to understand his client’s plight: “These were people who went through the same process when they were fleeing other countries,” he said. “They had to rely on other people for refuge, safety, comfort and support.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Early voting reduced in 23 NC counties; 9 drop Sunday voting after NCGOP memo,” from the Raleigh News & Observer: “Voters in 23 North Carolina counties will have fewer opportunities to vote early than they did four years ago under schedules approved by Republican-led election boards. The decisions came after the N.C. Republican Party encouraged its appointees on the county boards to “make party line changes to early voting” by limiting the number of hours and keeping polling sites closed on Sundays.” Sunday early voting hours have been popular among African-Americans, some of whom organize “souls to the polls” events where church members vote together after Sunday services.” One county board voted to cut hours to the minimum permitted by law – offering less than a quarter of early voting hours it had held in 2012, with just one voting site available.

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Calif. university latest to establish 'black-only' housing,” from Fox News: “A California university is the latest public school of higher education to establish ‘black-only’ co-ed housing in response to demands from African-American students seeking refuge from what they consider insensitive remarks and ‘microaggressions’ from their white classmates. ‘[It] would provide a cheaper alternative housing solution for Black students,’ [the union said], adding that it would serve as a ‘safe space for [black students] to congregate, connect, and learn from each other.’ University of Connecticut and UC Davis and Berkeley also offer black-only housing. Proponents believe the students can draw on their common experiences to support one another … [but] critics cringe at the idea of black-only housing, saying it turns decades of hard-fought racial progress on its head.”

DAYBOOK:

On the campaign trail: Clinton is in Charlotte, N.C. and Kansas City, Mo. Trump is in Cleveland.

At the White House: Biden speaks about economic security for the middle class at the Center for American Progress, then holds a press conference with Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill.

On Capitol Hill: The Senate meets at 9:30 a.m. to work on the Water Resources Development Act. The House meets at 12 p.m. for legislative business, with first votes on the Accelerating Access to Capital Act expected starting at 1:15 p.m.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“Offices don't vote. People do." – RNC chief strategist Sean Spicer, defending Trump’s abysmal ground game on CNN

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

-- Unrelenting summer swelter continues through the weekend, according to today’s Capital Weather Gang forecast: “Clouds from last night’s thunderstorms still linger into the early morning but disappear by midday. While highs in the mid-upper 90s probably (though not definitely) stay below the record of 100 at Reagan National and BWI airports, Dulles has a good shot at busting the record of 93 that was hit just last year. Humidity is moderately painful and should help to push heat indices into the lower 100s at least.”

-- The Nationals beat the Braves 5-4.

-- Pitcher Stephen Strasburg left in the third inning, plagued by pain in his elbow just hours after being released from the disabled list. Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said Strasburg – who recently signed a seven-year, $175 million extension of his contract – will undergo an MRI exam Thursday. (Chelsea Janes)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Here's David Jolly holding his container of mosquitos on the House floor:

The group Republicans for Clinton released its first ad going after Trump:

Obama toured a Buddhist temple in Laos:

Here is everything you need to know about the iPhone7 and 7 Plus:

Finally, have you heard of the adoption program for dogs that flunked TSA training? Click here to watch: