The Republican Party's research director, Mike Reed, found out about Sen. Elizabeth Warren's DNA test before he got out of bed Monday. From his bedroom, the GOP attack machine started whirring.
At the White House, President Donald Trump and his aides initially downplayed the news. Adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters "that doesn't interest me" and Trump said "Who cares?" when asked about the new evidence that the Massachusetts Democrat had Native American heritage.
But the Republican story began to change at 9:46 a.m., when Reed blasted out his first email to thousands of reporters and allies, laying out new talking points for his side - that Warren's test result showed a "minuscule" percentage of native heritage in her DNA and would not end the political problems that had beset her since opponents suggested she had advanced her career by claiming such ancestry.
"Having as little as 1/512th Native American ties does not give you the right to claim minority status," he wrote - a quote that soon started showing up on Twitter feeds and in news stories across the country.
It was just the beginning of a weeklong anti-Warren onslaught that the Republican National Committee worked to orchestrate from its headquarters in Washington, an effort that helped blunt what Warren had hoped would be a moment of vindication before her likely 2020 presidential campaign.
And it was another trophy for a team of about 60 GOP researchers, bookers and attack dogs who spend their time churning out the ammunition that conservative media and Trump supporters use daily to pummel the president's foes.
The relentless stream of carefully curated - and sometimes misleading - political hits has been throwing Democrats off message for months while steadily stoking the daily fires of conservative outrage that power Trump's political movement.
"I understand their weaponry, and frankly I don't underestimate it at all," said one aide to a Democrat considering a 2020 campaign, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy. "They are really effective when they want to be. Within an hour, they are all on the same message and they are all pushing it."
The party operation - which includes a research shop of 15 and a 10-person war room that scans news and video streams for Democratic slip-ups - has established itself with a broad mandate that not only includes the midterm elections and the coming 2020 contest but seeks to attack former Trump administration officials who criticize the president.
"We average over 1 million views a week on Twitter, and we have 15 million views on our YouTube page this cycle," Reed said of the video component of the operation. "We have an extremely large megaphone."
Some Democrats have watched the operation with trepidation. They worry that Republicans have doubled down on online rapid response focused on protecting Trump and attacking his potential challengers while Democrats have refocused their resources, for the moment, on the midterm elections.
Recent improvements in Trump's approval rating and the release this week of a new national television ad from the group Future45 attacking Democrats as a group highlighted the concern that the party has become too focused on particular midterm races.
"Whose job is it exactly in the center-left ecosystem to take on Trump directly?" Simon Rosenberg, a Democratic strategist who runs the think tank NDN, asked in a blog post Wednesday. "Imagine if $50m had been directed against him in recent months. . . . Would it have made a difference in the coming elections? Of course it would have."
This cycle, Democrats have made a strategic decision to channel money to candidates in an effort to empower them in specific races, usually with ads that focus on issues. There are plans in the works on the Democratic side to shift resources after November. Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC that has focused on digital ads in the 2018 midterm elections, plans to join the Democratic National Committee next year in standing up a rapid-response operation focused on highlighting Trump's behavior.
"Priorities will be devoting significant resources in 2019 and 2020 to bridging the gap between traditional press outreach and traditional digital advertising to communicate directly with voters and conversation drivers to hold Trump accountable on a daily basis," said Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for the group.
"Democrats don't have the benefit of the conservative media echo chamber emanating out from Fox News, so it will always look a bit different on our side," he added.
The Democratic Party's rapid-response operation also plans to increase its output on Trumpafter the midterms, after a campaign season that has focused heavily on driving issues that favor midterm Democrats, including health-care costs, the Republican tax bill and education.
"We've been making our case to the American people on the issues that matter most to them, but we're very excited to hear that the RNC is so pleased with its rapid-response operation," said Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the DNC. "The Affordable Care Act is more popular than ever, GOP candidates can't even talk about the tax cuts that were supposed to be their signature campaign issue, and most Americans want to counter Trump's agenda by electing a Democratic Congress. So whatever it is they're doing over there, we hope they stick with it."
Democratic consultants expect the public attacks on Trump over social media to increase dramatically after the midterm. "Come November 7, it will fall on the shoulders of the Democratic Party to run interference for its field of potential nominees," Brad Woodhouse, who was the communications director for the party in the 2012 cycle, said in an email. "Daily, relentless and no holds barred."
Those adjectives fit the Republican operation as well. About one hour after Reed's first blast Monday morning, the Republican Party's rapid-response director, Michael Ahrens, sent out a tweet pointing to a 2014 New York Times story that listed the average European American share of Native American genomes was higher than the report released by Warren. The tweet took off on conservative social media and was shared more than 7,000 times, getting more than 1 million "impressions," or deliveries into Twitter streams. Later in the day, the tweet was read on Fox News.
That point was underscored when the Boston Globe, which broke news of the DNA test, corrected its own story to report that Warren's test suggested that as little as 1/1024 of her genome might come from Native American heritage.
"We went from shrugged shoulders to raised eyebrows," Conway said. "What our rapid response has been able to do is break through the noise."
By the afternoon, broader questions about the import of Warren's tests began to spread through the media, aided by a criticism from the Cherokee Nation about Warren's decision to publicize the DNA tests.
"My goal primarily is to put out material that I think could persuade a left-of-center member of the press," Ahrens said. "If I can change your mind, the base is going to like it, too."
So will one influential reader: Posted on a wall in the war room is a copy of one missive pushing back on the Russia investigation. "Michael, so true. A witch hunt. Thank you," reads a note scribbled in unmistakable thick black marker by Trump.
In recent weeks, the Republican operation, which includes a partnership with the Republican tracking firm America Rising, an independent political action committee, has created storms of controversy over former attorney general Eric Holder Jr.'s metaphorical contention that Democrats should kick Republicans when they "go low" and the claim by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., that those who supported the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh were "complicit in the evil." Both clips became staples of prime-time Fox News programming.
That was typical of how the Republican effort is aided by an ecosystem of conservative media that is fueled by outrage over Democratic behavior. "It is totally normal to see a video go up on our YouTube page, and then within an hour there be a post on a Daily Caller, or Washington Free Beacon, or Breitbart, or the Washington Examiner, and then it goes from there," Ahrens said.
The party often tries to produce material with the goal of going viral, including fake book covers of the latest tell-all White House insider accounts. Departed officials such as former FBI director James Comey and former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman have also become targets of the operation. Clips of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., a favorite Republican target, are also regular features of the operation.
The president in January retweeted a fake RNC-made cover of Michael Wolff's book "Fire and Fury," with the mocking title "Liar and Phony." The cover image was later flashed on NBC's "Meet the Press" during an interview with Wolff.
Democrats positioning themselves for likely presidential runs have begun to adjust their strategies to provide a viral counterbalance to Trump and the GOP infrastructure.
While her DNA release stumbled, Warren in particular has tried to prepare for online fisticuffs, hiring an experienced video and social media team into her Senate campaign that can transfer to a presidential effort if she runs.
As the Globe story came out, she released a well-produced video that earned millions of impressions, telling the story of her family's story about Native American heritage, with interviews from officials who hired her explaining that her heritage gave her no advantage in getting her academic jobs.
After Trump shifted tack and went on offense Tuesday, repeating his racially tinged nickname for Warren, "Pocahontas," and calling her DNA test "bogus," she seemed to welcome the challenge, responding with a string of tweeted attacks on the president. She accused him of making "creepy physical threats about me" and denounced his use of "nicknames," "racial slurs" and "conspiracy theories."
In the wake of the suspected assassination of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, Warren's Senate campaign posted a 21-second video with 2016 campaign footage of Trump praising Saudi Arabians as his business customers. "Who are you really working for @realDonaldTrump?" the Warren campaign asked.
Reed responded with a new email, listing dozens of news stories about backlash to Warren's DNA test results. His subject line: "Elizabeth Warren refuses to apologize after brutal 72 hours."
Both sides were playing to separate political audiences in an early preview of the online warfare to come.
CHUNJE, Bhutan - It is harvest time in this village in western Bhutan, and residents are reaping an unusual crop: politicians making promises.
One politician vowed to pave the local road, now a rutted dirt track skirting a river, within three months. Another pledged to expand a nearby elementary school into a high school. A third warned against believing what the other two had said.
Within families in the village, divisions have erupted over which party to support, while partisan messages pop up daily on cellphones via a social media app called WeChat.
"In terms of peace and quiet and harmony, the old system was much better," said Chencho Dorji, 68, picking up a sheaf of rice and feeding it into a thresher.
A small Himalayan nation wedged between India and China, Bhutan is famed for its isolated location, its stunning scenery and its devotion to the principle of "Gross National Happiness," which seeks to balance economic growth with other forms of contentment.
Now Bhutan's young democracy, only a decade old, is receiving a heady dose of the unhappiness that comes with electoral politics. In the months leading up to Thursday's national elections, the first in five years, politicians have traded insults and made extravagant promises. Social media networks have lit up with unproven allegations and fearmongering about Bhutan's role in the world.
It's enough to make some voters express a longing for the previous system - absolute monarchy under a beloved king. "I would love to go back," said Karma Tenzin, 58, sitting in his apartment in the picturesque capital, Thimphu. "We would be more than happy."
Bhutan is roughly twice the size of New Jersey and blanketed with mountains. In Bhutanese culture, where unity is prized, the advent of democracy has been a mixed blessing.
"We feel sad with all of these social divisions," said Dorji Penjore, who heads the Center for Bhutan and Gross National Happiness Studies, a government think tank. Democracy in Bhutan is "going to work, but naturally there are going to be costs."
If any country could figure out how to be a happy democracy, Bhutan would be it. Long before there were courses in happiness studies at American universities and happiness curriculums in elementary schools, Bhutan led the way in placing national contentment at the heart of its policymaking.
That philosophy helped Bhutan, a relatively poor country of 750,000 people, chart a unique course for its economic development. It accepts tourists but seeks to limit the flow with mandatory high fees; its constitution requires that at least 60 percent of its landmass remain forested, which has turned it into one of the only carbon-negative countries in the world.
Bhutan also had an unusual path toward democracy: Rather than voters rising up to fight for the right to elect their leaders, the country's revered fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, initiated himself the process of drafting a democratic constitution.
The way elections are structured here is atypical, too. Buddhist monks, nuns and other clergy are not allowed to vote, on the logicthat they should remain outside politics. No campaigning is allowed after 6 p.m. And candidates found "defaming" their opponents or straying into certain sensitive topics - such as Bhutan's oppressively close relationship with India - face fines or reprimands.
From the external signs, it is hard even to tell that there is an election underway. There are no campaign posters, except on easily missed public notice boards, no buses plastered with candidates' pictures and nothing resembling a lawn sign. The slogans of the two parties - "Narrowing the gap" and "Progress with equity and justice" - are not exactly fervid.
But the campaign is intense, even if the mudslinging doesn't quite register on the American scale. One party's supporters filed a complaint with the Election Commission of Bhutan arguing that their opponents had defamed them by describing their leader as "all talk and no substance." Another complaint alleged that one party's supporters had described the other party as "anti-national." In both cases, the Election Commission levied fines.
Like democracies throughout the world, Bhutan is wrestling with the effect of new technology on elections - a challenge that is particularly acute in a once-traditional society that only allowed television in 1999.
"The main challenge we face is social media," said Sonam Tobgay, a senior official at the Election Commission. A particular concern: anonymous posts by "faceless people who create disharmony in the society."
Sitting on Tobgay's desk on a recent afternoon was a letter from the government to Facebook asking it to suspend seven pages being used regularly by supporters of the two political parties contesting the election to "spread false information and hate messages."
Lotay Tshering, a urologist by training, is the president of the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), or Bhutan United Party, one of the two parties vying to govern Bhutan in the final round of the elections on Thursday. At a campaign event earlier this month, he was describing the insults lobbed at him on social media - including that he was a liar and a cheater - when he started to choke up.
"I was just struck by my emotions; I couldn't continue," said Tshering in an interview Tuesday. "I'm pretty sure these [insults] are engineered by my opponents."
His opponent, Pema Gyamtsho, is president of the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), or Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party. He, too, bemoaned the use of social media in the election to fling insults under the cover of anonymity.
"I guess that is part of the game, but we can do without it in a small society," Gyamtsho said. "Everybody should worry about division and disunity."
Those concerns are echoed on the streets of Thimphu, a capital city without a single stoplight where these days roofs are strewn with red chilies drying in the sun before they are stored for winter. "These party workers come to our houses and stoke bad feelings," said Dorji Pem, 66, in a neighborhood in the northern part of the city. "It's so irritating it makes your head burst."
Bhutan's own happiness researchers believe democracy is weighing on the country's contentedness. Penjore, of the Center for Bhutan, noted that the last quinquennial survey of the nation, in 2015, showed a decrease in two of nine indicators used to measure Gross National Happiness - psychological well-being and community vitality.
"Our intuition is democracy played a part," Penjore said. "We are assuming that it was due to party politics."
Penjore added that some aspects of democracy run up against elements of Bhutanese culture, which is deeply influenced by Buddhist precepts. The fact that candidates must flaunt their strengths and belittle their opponents is disconcerting for an older generation of Bhutanese, said Penjore. But "in democracy, to be humble is to commit electoral suicide."
Still, both Bhutanese voters and politicians are making the switch - and some are even enjoying it. On a recent afternoon, Phub Tshering, a DPT candidate for Bhutan's parliament, began a final round of door-to-door campaigning in Chunje, a village about 12 miles north of the town of Paro.
He cheerfully stomped through fields of freshly shorn rice in the shadow of a jagged peak with flanks that rose in shades of green, ochre and slate toward a deep blue sky. His brother, an unofficial campaign aide, handed out little pouches of areca nut wrapped in betel leaf, a mild stimulant that reddens the teeth when chewed.
Around the country, the most important issues were unemployment and health care. But in Chunje, voters were worried about a shortage of drinking water, finding ways to keep wild boars out of the rice fields and the poor condition of the village road.
The real problem, according to Tshering, was that his opponent from the DNT had "told all these lies." So many lies had been told, he said, that it was "time for a counterattack from my side."
As he hopped into his car to set off for his next campaign stop, he called out a jaunty farewell. "Be happy!"