POLITICO Playbook: Woodward lets loose on Trump

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POLITICO Playbook: Woodward lets loose on Trump

With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross

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ALMOST THERE — 15 days left until Election Day. … 7,501,492 early votes already cast as of 10:20 p.m. Sunday, per the United States Elections Project.

LATEST FROM LONDON — RISHI SUNAK could be installed as U.K. prime minister as early as Monday after BORIS JOHNSON sensationally abandoned hopes of a return to No. 10 Downing Street,” Jack Blanchard reports. “His decision leaves Sunak, his fierce rival and former chancellor, in pole position to take over as U.K. prime minister in the coming days.” The only remaining drama: Can Sunak rival PENNY MORDAUNT garner enough Tory support in the coming hours to force a formal beauty contest? Live updates from BBC

ARE YOU ON THE LIST? — American Bridge, the progressive oppo research outfit, says it has put together an initial list of 21 potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates who it will start tracking, Yahoo’s Tom LoBianco reports this morning. The list offers a window into what top Dem strategists see as the emerging 2024 GOP field.

On their target list …

— Formers:DONALD TRUMP, MIKE PENCE, NIKKI HALEY, MIKE POMPEO and CHRIS CHRISTIE

— Govs:RON DeSANTIS, KRISTI NOEM, LARRY HOGAN, GLENN YOUNGKIN, CHRIS SUNUNU, GREGG ABBOTT, DOUG DUCEY and ASA HUTCHINSON

— Sens:TED CRUZ, RICK SCOTT, MARCO RUBIO, TIM SCOTT, JOSH HAWLEY, TOM COTTON and MITT ROMNEY

— Reps: LIZ CHENEY

WOODWARD SPEAKS HIS MIND — It’s a relatively slow news day, so we encourage you to read every word of BOB WOODWARD’s new essay about his 20 interviews with DONALD TRUMP — which are being fully released in audiobook format tomorrow as “The Trump Tapes” ($24.99). Perhaps the biggest critique of Woodward over his many years of presidential reportage has been that while his hoovering of information is unmatched, he lacks a point of view.

“Bob Woodward is always the last person you want to ask about the lessons to be drawn from his books,” Timothy Noah wrote in a stinging critique in Slate back in 2004. “Woodward is an astonishingly good reporter, and when he’s got something hot, he knows it. But when it comes time to arrange all the facts and anecdotes into a coherent whole, he tends to flub it.”

That was always a tad unfair, but it would ring completely false today. Re-listening to his eight hours of Trump interviews has moved Woodward further into the camp of longtime establishment figures who see Trump as a danger to American democracy and to the future of the country. He is not coy about the lessons to be drawn:

“In 2020, I ended ‘Rage’ with the following sentence: ‘When his performance as president is taken in its entirety, I can only reach one conclusion: Trump is the wrong man for the job.’ Two years later, I realize I didn’t go far enough. Trump is an unparalleled danger. When you listen to him on the range of issues from foreign policy to the virus to racial injustice, it’s clear he did not know what to do. Trump was overwhelmed by the job. He was largely disconnected from the needs and leadership expectations of the public and his absolute self-focus became the presidency…

“‘The Trump Tapes’ leaves no doubt that after four years in the presidency, Trump has learned where the levers of power are, and full control means installing absolute loyalists in key Cabinet and White House posts. The record now shows that Trump has led — and continues to lead — a seditious conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election, which in effect is an effort to destroy democracy.”

THE DEMOCRACY BEAT — There are three other deep dives on democracy that are worth your time today:

1. The NYT’s Michael H. Keller and David D. Kirkpatrick try to understand what’s happening in the districts of the House Republicans who objected to the 2020 presidential results. One key insight is that the MAGA movement is defined more by loss of status than by pocketbook economic concerns. They come up with several factors that set these “objector districts” apart: (1) “A shrinking white share of the population” …. (2) “lower income and education levels” … (3) “Mortality rates are much higher” … (4) “higher concentrations of evangelical Protestants.”

2. Vox’s Andrew Prokop profiles CURTIS YARVIN, a New Right blogger who advocates for the abolition of democracy and the imposition of a monarchy. Yarvin has a long history with PETER THIEL and has been cited approvingly by J.D. VANCE and BLAKE MASTERS. In an interview, Yarvin tells Prokop that the end of democracy can be “fundamentally joyous and peaceful.”

3. The Boston Globe’s Jim Puzzanghera travels to Macon, Ga., for a series on American democracy’s front-line struggles. There he finds a worrisome brain drain of election officials in the wake of a barrage of false conspiracy theories targeting them. “Nowhere,” he writes, “is there a greater need for an experienced, nonpartisan corps of local elections officials. And in Georgia, that corps has been severely depleted.”

Good Monday morning, and thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line and tell us who American Bridge left off its target list: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.

MUCK READ — Brittany Gibson unveils a big investigation this morning into a striking, big-money link between STACEY ABRAMS’ Georgia gubernatorial campaign and her voting rights advocacy group. ALLEGRA LAWRENCE-HARDY, Abrams’ campaign chair and close friend, is one of two partners at a small law firm that got millions of dollars in legal fees from Abrams’ Fair Fight Action. Lawrence & Bundy got $9.4 million in 2019 and 2020 alone; recent numbers weren’t available. “Fair Fight Action has maintained that the suit … served an important role in drawing attention to voting inequities,” Brittany writes. “But some outside the group questioned both the level of expenditures devoted to a single, largely unsuccessful legal action and the fact that such a large payout went to the firm of Abrams’ close friend and campaign chair.”

DEBATE WEEK AHEAD — Monday: Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS and Rep. CHARLIE CRIST meet for their lone debate at 7 p.m. (watch via WFLA). … 

Tuesday: Lone debate between Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. JOHN FETTERMAN and MEHMET OZ starts at 8 p.m. (watch via WHTM). Lone debate between New York Gov. KATHY HOCHUL and Rep. LEE ZELDIN at 7 p.m. (watch via Spectrum/NY1). Final debate between Michigan Gov. GRETCHEN WHITMER and TUDOR DIXON starts at 7 p.m. (watch via WXYZ). Colorado Sen. MICHAEL BENNET and JOE O’DEA debate at 8 p.m. Eastern (watch via Colorado Public Radio). … 

Wednesday: Alaska Rep. MARY PELTOLA debates SARAH PALIN and NICK BEGICH at 11 p.m. Eastern (watch via Alaska Public Media). … 

Thursday: New Hampshire Sen. MAGGIE HASSAN and DON BOLDUC debate at noon (watch via NH Public Radio). Alaska Sen. LISA MURKOWSKI debates KELLY TSHIBAKA and other challengers at 11 p.m. Eastern (watch via Alaska Public Media). … 

Friday: Bennet and O’Dea meet for their final debate at 9 p.m. Eastern (watch via KUSA).

Democrats could not be clearer about the stakes in the secretary of state races that are set to be decided next month. Facing off against GOP nominees who have embraced DONALD TRUMP’s election lies, they have argued that nothing less than the integrity of America’s elections — and even American democracy itself — is on the line.

But that doesn’t mean voters are responding. Our Zach Montellaro reports this morning from Minnesota, where Democrat STEVE SIMON is straining for attention in the shadow of a hard-fought governor’s race and nasty House contests.

Compared to past election cycles, fundraising has been strong for many Democratic SoS candidates, but their numbers remain miniscule compared to gubernatorial and congressional races. And, Zach writes, “there is mounting evidence that voters are still not dialed in on a slate of these key battleground campaigns.”

“These races suffer the same problem that basically all state races do: They’re just not as ‘sexy’ in the eyes of Americans as federal ones are!” Zach told Playbook on Sunday night. “I think most people of all political persuasions — operatives, donors and voters alike — dramatically underestimate the broad influence state governments, as opposed to the federal one, have on their lives.”

Zach shared a quote off the cutting-room floor from Rep. DEAN PHILLIPS (D-Minn.), a suburban Democrat who won one of the nation’s most expensive races in 2018 and now says he is “nauseated” by the fundraising disparity between congressional races and down-ballot statehouse races: “We have so many … congressional races in which over $10 to $20 million is being invested, when just a tiny percentage of that can make a difference in a massive number of statehouse races and statewide races. I think our allocation model is flawed.”

BIG PICTURE

TURNOUT TRACKER — Saturday’s early vote total in Georgia was up 159% from the 2018 midterms and even surpassed 2020 by 20%, the secretary of state’s office said.

THEY’RE WATCHING — You already know that plenty of organizations have your online data. But NYT’s Natasha Singer has an interesting new explanation of how political groups specifically target ads by creating political-issue scores for individuals. It’s not just “pro-choice” or “Trump 2024”; it’s also finding which Republicans are most Covid-cautious (soft targets for Dems), or calculating a “U.F.O.s distrust government” score. “But the same nano-targeting that may help mobilize some people to vote could also disenfranchise others as well as exacerbate political polarization, political researchers say.”

“Vote by mail: How one Colorado county secures its ballots,” CBS

“Pollsters Try to Learn From Mistakes of 2016 and 2020 Elections,” WSJ

BATTLE FOR THE SENATE

GOP LIKING THEIR VEGAS ODDS — RNC Chair RONNA McDANIEL and NRSC Chair RICK SCOTT (R-Fla.) tell NBC’s Natasha Korecki in Reno that they’re feeling good about the party’s chances of flipping the Nevada seat and the Senate overall. They credit early spending in the races that helped limit Dems’ summer momentum to a level that Republicans could make up now. McDaniel and Scott are eager to present a united front after strategy disagreements with Senate Minority Leader MITCH McCONNELL earlier this year.

HEAVYWEIGHTS’ PROXY RACE — DeSantis is endorsing Colorado Republican JOE O’DEA and putting out a robocall for him, the Washington Examiner’s David Drucker reports. It’s a notable boost for the moderate and a sharp contrast with Trump, who blasted O’Dea in a feud last week. “[T]he O’Dea campaign is expressing confidence that DeSantis’s endorsement two weeks before Election Day will bolster support among any wavering GOP base voters.”

“A BIG MISTAKE!” Trump responded on Truth Social.

BATTLE FOR THE HOUSE

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT — Where does JOE KENT work? It’s not such a simple question, The Daily Beast’s William Bredderman reports. The firm that the hard-right WA-03 candidate has named “holds no patents or trademarks, has no licenses, no website, no social media pages, and not a single publicly announced contract with a government agency or a private wireless provider.”

SWING-DISTRICT DISPATCHES — In the Raleigh, N.C., suburbs, BO HINES and WILEY NICKEL are trying to appeal to the center while accusing each other of extreme views, AP’s Hannah Schoenbaum reports from Fuquay-Varina.

— In Central New York, two Navy veterans — moderate Democrat FRANCIS CONOLE and conservative Republican BRANDON WILLIAMS — are vying for an open House seat, Marie French reports from Syracuse.

BATTLE FOR THE STATES

DOWN BALLOT — Texas Democratic AG nominee ROCHELLE GARZA is banking that she could score an upset by highlighting GOP incumbent KEN PAXTON’s travails and leaning on the abortion issue, Dana Liebelson reports in a POLITICO Magazine profile from McAllen today.

HOT POLLS

— Michigan: Could Republican TUDOR DIXON upset in the gubernatorial race? Trafalgar’s new poll Has Gov. GRETCHEN WHITMER leading just 48.4% to 47.9%.

— Nevada: Republicans lead in a new Insider Advantage/American Greatness poll: ADAM LAXALT is up 48% to 46% over Sen. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO, and JOE LOMBARDO is up 49% to 43% over Gov. STEVE SIOLAK.

— Georgia: Data for Progress has Democratic Sen. RAPHAEL WARNOCK barely up over HERSCHEL WALKER, 48% to 47%, while GOP Gov. BRIAN KEMP is beating STACEY ABRAMS 53% to 43%.

— Ohio: Republican J.D. VANCE leads Rep. TIM RYAN for Senate 49% to 46% in a Data for Progress survey, 47% to 43% in a Cygnal poll, and 46% to 45% in a Marist poll. All three find GOP Governor. Patrick Semansky/AP Photograph THE WHITE HOUSE RECESSION WOATCH — The cost to service the federal debt is rising thanks to the Fed’s drive towards higher interest rates. That could make it harder for the White House respond if the U.S. plunges into recession this morning. MIKE DeWINE trouncing NAN WHALEY: 57% to 38%, 55% to 37% and 53% to 40%.

PHOTO OF THE DAY

THE WHITE HOUSE

RECESSION WATCH — The cost of servicing the federal debt is ballooning thanks to the Fed’s drive to raise interest rates, and that could make it much harder for the White House to respond if the U.S. slides into recession, Kate Davidson reports this morning. “During recent downturns, Congress helped cushion the blow by flooding the economy with stimulus checks and other relief. But doing that now while inflation is raging — even if it were politically possible — would pile on even more debt and could rattle investors wary of policies that could stoke higher prices.”

CONGRESS

2023 JOCKEYING — The House GOP’s right flank is preparing to give its leadership all kinds of headaches over fiscal concerns next year, pushing for major changes on spending — even if they stand no chance of becoming law, Caitlin Emma previews this morning. “The disappointment would surely prompt blowback from right-leaning Republicans already known as the sharpest thorns in the party’s side.”

— Rep. CHIP ROY (R-Texas): “Spare me if you’re a Republican who puts on your frigging campaign website, ‘Trust me, I will vote for a balanced budget amendment, and I believe we should balance the budget like every family in America.’ No shit. … The only question that matters is, will leadership use that leverage?”

TRUMP CARDS

HAPPENING TODAY — Jury selection begins in the Manhattan district attorney’s criminal trial against the Trump Organization on tax fraud and other charges. The case doesn’t personally threaten Trump legally, and the potential penalties are small in the grand scheme of things. But it “will present an embarrassing scene for the former president, pushing to the forefront one of several criminal investigations swirling around him,” NYT’s Ben Protess, William Rashbaum and Jonah Bromwich preview. DA ALVIN BRAGG will have Trump Org CFO ALLEN WEISSELBERG testifying as a star witness; the trial is likely to stretch longer than a month.

Insider’s Laura Italiano and Dave Levinthal highlight one other potential implication of the case: “Conviction could prompt the government to bar the Trump Organization from doing business as a federal contractor, including cutting off the spigot of Trump’s lucrative … billing of Secret Service agents who stay at his properties while protecting the former president and his family.”

POLICY CORNER

REALITY CHECK — Though Biden said he plans to refill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve with domestic oil after tapping it to increase supply, that “pitch is likely to be a hard sell for many domestic producers,” WSJ’s Benoît Morenne reports. Companies are not optimistic about increasing their production because of the market swings and investor pressure to keep activities flat.

POLL POSITION — The Republican-led states imposing significant abortion restrictions don’t have the support of their electorates, The 19th’s Jasmine Mithani reports in a new poll analysis this morning. According to an August survey, 52% of respondents in states that have passed near-total abortion bans believe that abortion should be legalized in most or all cases. Only 13% of those states and 10% nationwide support a complete ban.

WAR IN UKRAINE

FEARS RISING — Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN spoke again Sunday with his Russian counterpart, SERGEI SHOIGU, as the West sounded louder alarms that Moscow may be preparing for an escalation in Ukraine. Russia has been warning that Kyiv plans to detonate a “dirty bomb” as a false flag; Ukraine and its Western allies say there’s no truth to the assertion, but they fear that Russia could use it a pretext to take the war to another level. More from Reuters

PELOSI ABROAD — Speaker NANCY PELOSI will head to Zagreb, Croatia, to represent the U.S. at the First Parliamentary Summit of the International Crimea Platform, her office announced. She’ll address the summit and meet with Ukrainian and Croatian officials. Rep. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-Va.) is going, too.

Tucker Carlson had an angry phone call with Tom Emmer.

Jared Polis can’t matchStacey Abrams’ dancing skills.

Bill de Blasio’s hair seems to be getting darker.

Ted Cruz got some boos and a “Go back to Cancun” after wearing Astros gear at Yankee Stadium.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tried ASMR to turn out the vote.

SPOTTED: Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden at “Death of a Salesman” on Broadway.

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — MSNBC is launching “The Revolution,” a new six-episode podcast hosted by Steve Kornacki diving into the 1994 “Republican Revolution” and “the origin story of politics as we know them today.” The exploration of Newt Gingrich’s rise and evolution comes out Oct. 31. Listen to the trailer

Lindsay Hamilton is now principal for corporate comms on the Amazon Books PR team. She was most recently an associate EPA administrator for Public Affairs.

STAFFING UP — Jake Freed will be a congressional affairs specialist at FDA on the drugs team. He was previously the health legislation assistant to Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.

TRANSITIONS — Danielle Brown is joining BSA | The Software Alliance as senior director of legislative strategy. She was most recently general counsel to House Ways and Means Committee. … Courtney Veatch is now director of federal government affairs at Fresenius Medical Care. She was most recently the associate director of federal affairs at Alzheimer’s Association. …

… Rachel Kingery is now senior media relations manager at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. She was previously the communications director for Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill. … Madison Hubbard is now adviser for government relations at TransUnion. She was previously a legislative assistant at Mehlman-Casagnetti.

WEDDINGS — Mary Carpenter, content and digital lead at the Nuclear Energy Institute, and Nick Schemmel, director of federal affairs for Organon, got married Saturday at the Vinoy Resort and Golf Club in St. Petersburg, Fla. Jack Kingston alum Buddy Carter met Jack while working for Kingston. The couple stayed close friends for many years before they started dating. Pic Another pic

— Remy Brim, co-head of BGR’s health and life sciences practice, and Stephen Mason, EVP for regulatory policy at Greenleaf Health, got married Oct. 14 in Telluride, Colo. They met through mutual friends. Pic

BIRTHWEEK (was Sunday): Joanna Miller Meghan Mitchum

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham … Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) … Reps. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) … Tony Podesta … NYT’s Jonathan WeismanAntonia Ferrier … Bloomberg’s Nancy Cook … NPR’s Tim Mak … POLITICO’s Monica AkhtarHenry Schuster of “60 Minutes” … Melissa LuceChris Wilson of WPA Intelligence … David FergusonMatt ThorntonChris Tuck of the Senate GOP … Bullpen Strategy Group’s Michael AhrensRahul Chopra of Sen. Mark Kelly’s (D-Ariz.) reelect … Kristine Michalson of the House Press Gallery … Carl Cannon of RealClearPolitics … Caitlyn StephensonDavid MastrangeloJenna Schuette Talbot … Deadline’s Ted Johnson Invariant’s Joey Smith … American Viewpoint’s Josh Davidson … former Reps. José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) and Mary Bono (R-Calif.) … Liz Spayd … Law360’s Kellie Mejdrich Marty Baron Omer Farooque … CNN’s Pamela Kirkland Zephyr Teachout

Send Playbookers tips to [email protected] or text us at 202-556-3307. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike DeBonis, deputy editor Zack Stanton and producers Setota Hailemariam and Bethany Irvine.

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