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Power Up: October has been full of awful surprises. Will they affect voters?

with Reis Thebault

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After the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, many politicians condemned the violence and blamed divisive political rhetoric around the country. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

At the White House

AWFUL OCTOBER SURPRISES: It was only a few weeks ago that Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice after a bitter confirmation fight that further inflamed an already divided electorate. A series of pretty terrible things have occurred since then that would have rocked previous election cycles.

But we're living in a new political normal under the Trump administration and it's hard to predict what may or may not affect voters. To refresh your memory, here are some of the major news events that have happened just this month:

  • Hurricane Michael tore through Florida.
  • A Post contributor and Saudi Arabian journalist was killed in Turkey amid questions about what the Trump administration knew about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's involvement.
  • A migrant caravan from Honduras began making its way to the U.S. border, earning repeated denunciations from President Trump and his allies and threats to shut down the border entirely to Central Americans.
  • A Florida man and Trump supporter was charged with 13 counts after mailing pipe bombs to prominent Trump critics.
  • Two African American grocery store patrons in Kentucky were shot by a white man in what is being investigated as a hate crime.
  • Eleven people were killed and six wounded after an anti-Semitic commentator attacked a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Previous October surprises have never seemed so quaint. Remember when Maine officials confirmed that then-presidential candidate George W. Bush had been arrested for drunken driving in 1976? And what about James Comey restarting the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails on Oct. 28, 2016? Or the revelation of the "Access Hollywood" tape on Oct. 8, 2016? NPR has a great rundown here.

Who's responsible for the violence? Observers argue there is an undeniable link between Trump's incendiary rhetoric and the recent violent acts. “In charging that the media and Democratic protesters have been largely responsible for inciting hate, Trump and his allies have seemingly equated the influence of activists and journalists with the singular power and reach of the American presidency,” Robert Costa and Felicia Sonmez reported last night.

  • The key quote: “The idea that Trump and conservatives share no blame for scaremongering on immigrants and the refugees is really ridiculous,” said William Kristol, a veteran conservative commentator and Trump critic who is Jewish — and was called a 'loser' by Trump at a Saturday rally in Illinois. “A little dignity and cessation of ‘what-about-ism’ or ‘you-too-ism’ would be welcome,” Bob and Felicia write.

Traditionally, the incumbent party benefits during national crises (although there's limited evidence of late-breaking news having an effect on voters.)

  • Both sides: Democratic operative Doug Schoen told Power Up it's difficult to say which party will shoulder responsibility. “My best guess is that both parties will be blamed, and no one will benefit electorally. And frankly no one should benefit given the sad state of affairs in American politics now.”
  • Turnout is already high: GOP pollster Chris Wilson doesn't think recent events will goose Democratic turnout, despite the fact “obviously some Democrats want to make these events the president's fault. He added: “I think at this point both party’s voters are equally motivated — which is an improvement from where the GOP was before Kavanaugh — and nothing is going to change that.”
  • Campaign on: “We can’t let evil change our life and change our schedule,” Trump said at a campaign rally on Saturday in Illinois after calling for unity to “extract the hateful poison of anti-Semitism.” 

Things aren't going to change: Trump told reporters on Friday he could stand to “really tone it up.” GOP officials and supporters continued to spread unsubstantiated conspiracies about George Soros and the migrant caravan over the weekend. Trump didn't specifically mention the synagogue killing Sunday after denouncing it the day before.

On Sunday night, Trump continued to blame the media for the “division and hatred”:

THE COMMON DENOMINATOR OF EVERY MASS SHOOTING’: Saturday’s killings marked the kind of event that has become increasingly common in the United States. Also seemingly inevitable is the response from public officials.

President Trump said of the shooting, gun control “has little to do with it” and “if they had protection inside, the results would have been far better.” Trump and other Republican leaders have responded similarly to school shootings, calling for teachers to be armed. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto disagreed and said the country must change the laws, as guns are “the common denominator of every mass shooting in America.”

Here’s an overview of Trump’s stances on some changes to gun laws — positions he has frequently changed or walked back:

  • Age limits: Trump once called for raising the minimum age for purchasing an AR-15 or similar rifles from 18 to 21 years old but has since backtracked, saying there’s “not much political support” for the proposal.
  • Background checks: Trump’s plan to combat school shootings includes support for the bipartisan Fix NICS Act, which punishes federal agencies that don’t send criminal records to the national background check system. However, he has not supported legislation that would extend background checks for online gun purchases.
  • Bump stocks: Earlier this month, a year after bump stocks played a lethal role in the Las Vegas massacre, Trump announced a ban on the devices would be coming “over the next couple of weeks,” adding “We are knocking out bump stocks.”

Read more and follow the money: Follow the NRA’s Spending on the 2018 Midterms, Down to the Last Dollar via The Trace

Reacting to the Pittsburgh shooting, Parkland survivor David Hogg wrote on Twitter:


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The People

A RABBI'S POINT OF VIEW: Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish movement in the country, spoke with Power Up in the aftermath of Saturday's horrific attack. He called out the uptick in anti-Semitic violence as a manifestation of the intense “other-ing” that public figures like Trump engage in on a daily basis. 

  • The president's words: Jacobs said the president isn't directly responsible for the synagogue deaths. But he argued there is a connection between “the climate in this country and rhetoric . . . We all have to bear responsibility for not just our deeds, but our words.”
  • Daily demonization: Jacobs said we are “witnessing the demonization of the other on a daily basis — Muslim, immigrants, Jews, the LGBTQ community, journalists, etc.” which is, in turn, taking the lid off hatred throughout the nation. 
  • There is a connection: Jacobs said the mailed bombs and synagogue killings are what happen “when you have incitement and demonization of individuals and cohorts of people — it creates this rising tension and they become targets.”

Power in the ethos of faith and idealism: Jacobs emphasized his optimistic view of American ideals reflected in stories he's collected during his travels to synagogues and religious communities across the country. He told us two anecdotes of good prevailing in the face of hate:

  •  Victoria, Texas: After an arsonist burned down the town's mosque, leaders of a small nearby reform synagogue went to leaders of the mosque and gave them a set of keys, Jacobs told us. The rabbis told them, “This is so upsetting but here is a set of keys. Come pray at our house,” Jacobs said. 
  • 'KKK Country': During Jacob's visit to a congregation in Georgia last year, congregants were thrilled to show him their sign outside the synagogue. “This is Klan country here,” Jacobs said they told him. “We didn't put a sign in front of our synagogue until recently and the reason we can put that sign up is because we have built relationships and we are not afraid. We are protected by the web of relationships that we have built person-by-person.” 

Pain into action: After the mourning period ends, Jacobs predicted, there will be a call to action and an uptick in activism. The Jewish community will “protect the values they care about,” he said. “They’ll turn pain into action.” 

Outside the Beltway

THE CAMPAIGN CONTINUES: With midterm elections in eight days, the president will resume his rigorous campaign schedule on Wednesday.

  • A White House official confirmed that Trump will appear at 11 rallies in the final six days and conclude the stretch with a visit to Missouri on Nov. 5th. Trump will also be appearing in Florida, Indiana, and West Virginia. The Wall Street Journal's Michael Bender reported that POTUS will be rallying in Tennessee, Montana, Ohio, and Georgia, as well.
  • The White House is also scrambling to organize a visit to Pittsburgh. Trump told reporters over the weekend he planned on visiting in the wake of the Shabbat shooting. However, on Sunday, a group of Jewish leaders replied in an open letter that Trump is not welcome until he denounces white nationalism and stops targeting immigrants and refugees. 
  • On the Democratic side: Former Vice President Joe Biden will stump in Wisconsin for Sen. Tammy Baldwin and gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers on Tuesday. He'll then head to Fargo on Thursday to rally for North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. 



In the Media

  1. 'The synagogue’s most faithful'The lives lost in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting by the staff of The Post
  2. From the editor of the Pittsburgh Post-GazetteDread in a peaceful place by David Shribman via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  3. Their bodies won't let them forgetTwenty-seven school-shooting survivors bear their scars, and bear witness by Jared Soule and Amelia Schonbek via New York Magazine
  4. Crickets ...  Czech president jokes he will 'organise banquet for journalists at Saudi embassy' by Emma Beswick via Euronews
  5. Speaking of Saudi ArabiaYemen on brink of catastrophic famine orchestrated by Saudis by PBS NewsHour