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Power Up: In final campaign stretch, Trump is ... being Trump

with Reis Thebault

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At the White House

THE SEVEN TRUMP COMMANDMENTS: We’re at the two-year mark of Donald Trump's election and his presidency is exactly what he said it would be — seriously and literally.

There's not a different Trump. There's the same Trump — and even though he says he can act presidential, the president has also said he doesn't want to because that would be too “boring.”

As the midterm elections approach on Tuesday, Trump has returned to the faithful playbook that helped him win the 2016 election in the first place: immigration, immigration and more immigration. At a rally in Florida last night, Trump called "crazy policy" the constitutional amendment conferring birthright citizenship on children of noncitizens.

As Trump and Tony Schwartz wrote in “The Art of the Deal:” “It pays to trust your instincts.”

Speaking of instincts, Trump released the below video on his Twitter account yesterday afternoon featuring Luis Bracamontes, an undocumented immigrant who was sentenced to death in April for killing two California police officers. In it, Bracamontes, smiling, pledges to “break out soon and kill more.” The video warns: “Democrats let him into our country. Democrats let him stay. Who else would Democrats let in?”

We spent some time reviewing some of the president's other books — written mostly with co-authors — to better understand those instincts as the president seeks to move another election in his favor.

Here's what we found:

Quote: “One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better,” Trump wrote. (“Art of the Deal,” p. 56) 

Actions: There have been several dramatic presidential proposals just this week that have consumed reporters like us: First, an order to send 5,200 troops, and then up to 15,000 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to stop a migrant caravan that has yet to arrive. Then, a legally questionable proposal to revoke birthright citizenship by executive order.

Quote: “Brand yourself and toot your horn” reads the title of one chapter in “How to Get Rich,” written with Meredith McIver. The then-businessman ended the section with a classic Trumpian line: “Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn when you’ve done something worth tooting about. And don’t believe the critics unless they love your work.” (p. 54)

Actions: Per The Post's Fact Checker Glenn Kessler, “Now, in 40 different venues over three months, according to our database of false and misleading claims, President Trump has declared that the economy is the greatest, the best or the strongest in U.S. history.” Fact check: “By just about any important measure, the economy today is not doing as well as it did under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Clinton — and Ulysses S. Grant.” 

Quote: “I’ve read stories in which I’m described as a cartoon … But my cartoon is real. I am the creator of my own comic book, and I love living in it. If you’re going to think, think big. If you’re going to live, live large,” Trump wrote. (“How to Get Rich,” p. 35) 

Actions: As the New York Times wrote yesterday, Trump's “Reality Distortion Field” has dominated the week thus far. “From nonexistent riots to conspiracy theories about migrants to false claims about his popularity and job-creating record, the president has offered a litany of falsehoods in the midterm campaign,” Peter Baker and Linda Qui wrote. In an interview with ABC News's Jon Karl last night, Trump described his tenuous relationship with the truth: “When I can, I tell the truth. And sometimes it turns out to be where something happens that’s different or there’s a change, but I always like to be truthful,” he said. 

Quote: Keep personal risk to “an absolute minimum.” (“The Art of the Deal,” p. 121) 

Actions: Trump scolded Paul Ryan yesterday for questioning the notion birthright citizenship can be changed unilaterally. He argued the House speaker should instead be “focusing on holding the House majority,” signaling the president is looking to deflect blame for a potential loss, the New York Times Maggie Haberman noted. Trump earlier told the Associated Press that he would not accept the blame if Republicans lose control of the House.

Quote: “For many years I’ve said that if someone screws you, screw them back,” Trump wrote. (“How to Get Rich,” p. 138)

Actions: Trump's rule of thumb has always been to counterpunch when he believes he's being unfairly attacked. Case in point: Observers this week criticized the president for contributing to an inflammatory political environment that they believe helped foster an anti-Semitic shooter in Pittsburgh and a Trump supporter mailing pipe bombs to prominent Trump rivals. Trump's response was that if he anything, he could “really it tone up.” And he turned to an old standby: blaming the media. Presidential spokesperson Sarah Sanders insisted Trump would also “continue to fight back” against Democrats who have “repeatedly attacked the president.” 

Quote: “Sometimes by losing a battle, you find a new way to win the war,” Trump wrote. (“The Art of the Deal,” p. 249)

Actions: Trump simultaneously paints himself as an underdog and as a winner, a tension he believes is necessary to “win the war,” so to speak. Read The Post's Jenna Johnson's piece on this Trumpist tic if you haven't already, “Frozen in time, President Trump and his supporters celebrate at his campaign rallies as though it’s still 2016.” 

Quote: “Don’t equivocate, it’s an indication that you’re unsure of yourself and what you’re doing. It’s also what politicians do all the time, and I find it inappropriate, insulting, and condescending.” (“How to Get Rich,” pg. 15) 

Actions: Despite being told by the Pittsburgh mayor not to visit Tree of Life synagogue until after the funerals of the 11 people killed there,Trump made the trip to pay tribute to the victims anyway. Some prominent lawmakers declined to appear with Trump, which didn't deter him. That was on top of an open letter to Trump from prominent Jewish leaders who said that Trump should not visit unless he denounced white nationalism and stopped disparaging minorities and immigrants. Over 80,000 people signed the letter.  

Bonus watch: CBN interviewed Trump aboard Air Force One on his way to the Florida rally. "The blue wave is dead, frankly," he said. "I think we'll win the Senate and I think we're going to do well in the House."


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Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had no knowledge of the operation. The CIA's latest findings contradict that assertion. (Video: Joyce Lee, Jason Aldag, Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

Global Power

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS: It's now been a month since Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and was killed and allegedly dismembered by a squad of 15 agents dispatched from Riyadh.

While Saudi Arabia still hasn't “officially concluded that Khashoggi's death was premeditated,” The Post's Kareem Fahim, Tamer El-Ghobashy, and Louisa Loveluck report that Turkey's top prosecutor on Wednesday said that Khashoggi was strangled “almost immediately after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and then dismembered his body.” Some basic questions are still unanswered. One of them: where are his remains? Turkish authorities believe agents used acid to destroy his body on Saudi property, while Saudi officials insist his body was disposed of by a “local collaborator.” 

  • Key quote: “Saudi officials seemed primarily interested in finding out what evidence the Turkish authorities had against the perpetrators,” [a] Turkish official said . . . “We did not get the impression that they were keen on genuinely cooperating with the investigation.”
  • Independent investigation: U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grennell called for an independent investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance, along with several human rights organizations, and the U.N. high commissioner for human rights. 
  • A catalyst: A group of Republican senators sent a letter to Trump urging him to end negotiations with Saudi Arabia on nuclear energy after Khashoggi's death.
  • Noted: The letter reads:"The ongoing revelations about the murder of Saudi journalist [Khashoggi], as well as certain Saudi actions related to Yemen and Lebanon, have raised further serious concerns about the transparency, accountability, and judgment of current decision-makers in Saudi Arabia.”
  • Ripple effects: The Trump administration is also now “accelerating efforts to halt the war in Yemen, a move diplomats and U.S. officials said is fueled by concern over the humanitarian toll and by eroding support in Congress for Saudi Arabia,” the Wall Street Journal's Warren Strobel and Dion Nissenbaum report. 

In the Media

LOCAL POLITICS, LOCAL PAPERS: With Trump talk dominating the national political conversation, Power Up decided to take a look at how local newspapers are covering some of the country's closest — and most closely watched — races for governor, House and Senate. Here's a sampling of what voters in crucial swing states and districts are reading in their hometown press: 

  • The Denver Post: Colorado's flagship newspaper had a reminder for readers of Wednesday's print edition: Trump and his immigration policies are not on the state's ballots. Its four-column, double-decker headline announced that “State's top races don't hinge on immigration,” noting that Republican incumbent Mike Coffman has eschewed the issue and downplayed border security threats. 
  • The Lexington Herald-Leader: Speaker Ryan stopped by Kentucky's 6th Congressional District this week, scoring Rep. Garland "Andy" Barr,  the Republican incumbent, a valuable front-page photo op. Barr, who received a “Strong Endorsement” from Trump this week, also made a splash by breaking from Trump over his vow to end birthright citizenship, saying “The constitution cannot be changed by an executive order.”
  • The Gazette (Cedar Rapids): Former Vice President Joe Biden was plastered across the front page of this eastern Iowa newspaper on Wednesday (an appearance that may also be self-serving) as he stumped with a trifecta of Democratic candidates — for governor, House and Senate. One of them, Abby Finkenauer, is running to unseat Rep. Rod Blum (R) and is using Trump's tariffs, which could cost Iowa farmers $624 million, to do it. The headline read “Biden: Nation's soul at stake in election.”
  • The Topeka Capital-Journal: A pair of odd front-page stories in the Kansas capital's newspaper spotlighted the distinctly different tones of state and national politics. One, a tic-toc from an unannounced Steve Bannon “micro rally” in a North Topeka Holiday Inn, featured Bannon evidently attempting to scare Kansans into voting Republican or else Democrats would begin impeachment proceedings. The other was a recap of a recent gubernatorial debate in which, for a minute and a half, candidates set rhetoric aside and exchanged compliments (prompted by a question from the moderator, of course). 

Outside the Beltway

OVER IN WISCONSIN: Marquette University Law School released a poll yesterday from one of the key states to flip from blue to red in 2016, showing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and challenger Tony Evers (D) tied at 47 percent among likely voters. And in the race for Wisconsin’s Senate seat, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) is ahead of rival Leah Vukmir (R), 54 to 43 percent, among likely voters. The midterms are an important test for Democrats in 2020, whose path back to the White House likely runs through Wisconsin and its Midwestern neighbors.

Power Up chatted with Charles Franklin, Marquette's pollster, who explained the question Tuesday — especially in those Midwestern states that went for Trump — is the durability and reliability of Trump voters. 

  • How big: “Tuesday will answer just how big our red shift is from 2016,” Franklin told us, noting that Trump's approval rating stood at 90 percent among Republicans in the state."Trump on the stump solidifies his base but it's not clear what it's doing with independents who are more disapproving than approving of Trump by 14 points,” Franklin added. 
  • Health care: As many Republicans likely now know, Franklin said that health care is no longer a Democratic albatross. “What we're seeing is that 82 percent say coverage of preexisting conditions is very important to them — even among the people that wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, 65 percent said it was very important to them.”