POLITICO Playbook: GOP struggles with how to handle Trumpism — and Trump

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On day two of a massive wave of backlash, the “America First Caucus” appears to have blown up on the launchpad, as Rep. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-Ga.) released a statement Saturday distancing herself from documents revealing plans for a congressional group based around “uniquely Anglo-Saxon” traditions, and a spokesperson told CNN she wasn’t “launching anything.” Greene’s statement

That’s a major relief for House Minority Leader KEVIN MCCARTHY, who pounced Friday to disavow that racist dog whistle-turned-blowhorn rhetoric. Politically, the caucus would have been catnip for Democrats in the midterms and beyond, especially as Republicans aim to compete in moderate swing seats.

But just because this white-people caucus may not happen doesn’t mean its critics are going to move on. MTG isn’t going anywhere. In her statement, she promised to fight for the “America First” policies of DONALD TRUMP, which are steeped in white identity politics — and that could make this situation a bit sticky for McCarthy to handle.

It’s all a big reminder that GOP leadership is still unsure how to handle both Trump and Trumpism. WaPo’s Josh Dawsey digs into just how tenuous the situation is at the RNC, as some of its members pressure Chair RONNA MCDANIEL to “show more independence” from Trump. Read his whopper of a lede:

“Amid the din of clanking glasses and cheering at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club on April 10, the former president ribbed Ronna McDaniel, the Republican Party chairwoman, about her relationship with the GOP’s potential 2024 White House contenders.

“‘She has to be neutral,’ he said, before pausing and adding: ‘She’s supposed to be neutral.’ McDaniel interjected, yelling back to the stage: ‘I said you’re my president!’ referring to her introduction of Trump earlier that night.

“‘She’s neutral like I’m neutral,’ Trump said, drawing loud laughs from the crowd of Republican donors.”

This need to placate Trump, whether or not it’s in the interests of the GOP itself, is at the heart of the refusal to grapple with the party’s losses. It’s what has kept the RNC from actually doing an “autopsy” on the last election, as we’ve come to expect from the losing party.

But perhaps there’s another option, writes Ross Douthat in this morning’s NYT: “The party’s autopsy for 2020, and its not-Trump hopes for 2024, are made flesh in the governor of Florida, RON DESANTIS.”

Good Sunday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.

Other Sunday top reads:

— Staggering statistic on police killings: “Since testimony in DEREK CHAUVIN’S trial began on March 29, more than three people a day have died at the hands of law enforcement.” Full article from the NYT

— David Siders on Nebraska, where the question for GOP candidates has moved from “Do you support Trump?” to “Can only the Trumpiest candidate win?” More from Siders

— NYT’s Maureen Dowd on President JOE BIDEN’S Afghanistan pullout: “We spent 20 years fighting in Afghanistan. But given our flat learning curve, every year there was like the first. So we were really on our first year for the 20th time, making the same mistakes over and over again.” Full column

— A deep dive into Michigan’s massive Covid surge, sobering as a reminder that the pandemic isn’t over, it’s just in a new phase — and, with the new British variant, is getting worse with young people. Full article from the Detroit Free Press

From the Sunday shows:

— Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN discussing the Afghanistan pullout on ABC’s “This Week”: “I just got back from Kabul. I met with President [ASHRAF] GHANI. I met with other leaders there. That was just after coming from NATO, meeting with all of our allies and across the board, I heard support for the president’s decision and the path ahead.”

— National security adviser JAKE SULLIVAN on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “We have communicated to the Russian government that what happens to [ALEXEI] NAVALNY in their custody is their responsibility and they will be held accountable by the international community. In terms of the specific measures that we would undertake, we are looking at a variety of different costs that we would impose. And I’m not going to telegraph that publicly at this point, but we have communicated that there will be consequences if Mr. Navalny dies.”

— CNN’s @kaitlancollins: “President Biden hasn’t decided what his new refugee cap will be, per national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Secretary of State Blinken says it likely won’t be 62,500 as he initially promised.”

— ANTHONY FAUCI on the Johnson & Johnson pause on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “My estimate is that we will continue to use it in some form. I doubt very seriously if they just cancel it. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I do think that there will likely be some sort of warning or restriction or risk assessment. I don’t think it’s just going to go back and say, ‘Okay, everything’s fine. Go right back.’ I think it’ll likely say, ‘Okay, we’re going to use it but be careful under these certain circumstances.’”

— Fauci on CBS’ “Face the Nation”: “I would be very surprised … if we don’t have a resumption in some form by Friday.”

BIDEN’S SUNDAY — The president will depart Wilmington, Del., at 8:25 p.m. to return to the White House, where he is scheduled to arrive at 9:20 p.m.

— VP KAMALA HARRIS has nothing on her public schedule.

THE WHITE HOUSE

OUT THIS MORNING — “Biden takes on Democrats’ ‘Mission Impossible’: Revitalizing coal country,” a special report by Zack Colman and Anthony Adragna: “After years of watching their standing erode in energy-producing states, Democrats under President Joe Biden have accepted the challenge that’s vexed them for a decade: convincing fossil fuel workers that they will still be okay even if their current jobs evaporate as the nation embraces a climate change-friendly economy.

“Democrats have a term for their vision — ‘Just Transition’ — and hope it might succeed in the same places where previous attempts to focus on economic transition have failed. … But even as Biden’s infrastructure bill touches on many policies that energy states say they will need to withstand job losses — including retooling defunct factories — they have yet to show much progress in winning the hearts and minds of people in places it would directly affect. Even some key allies acknowledge that Democrats haven’t yet landed on a coherent, persuasive message.”

CLIMATE NEWS — “U.S., China Agree To Cooperate On Climate Crisis With Urgency,” AP: “The United States and China, the world’s two biggest carbon polluters, agreed to cooperate to curb climate change with urgency, just days before President Joe Biden hosts a virtual summit of world leaders to discuss the issue. The agreement was reached by U.S. special envoy for climate JOHN KERRY and his Chinese counterpart XIE ZHENHUA during two days of talks in Shanghai last week, according to a joint statement.”

ICYMI — Biden played his first round of golf as president Saturday at the Wilmington Country Club in Delaware. He played with RON OLIVERE, the father-in-law of Biden’s late son Beau, and adviser STEVE RICCHETTI. More from Ben Leonard

CONGRESS

GAETZ-GATE — Gary Fineout is out this morning with a profile of Florida Rep. MATT GAETZ’S father, DON GAETZ. A fun nugget: “Before Gaetz burst onto the national political scene as the sharp-tongued, attention-grabbing defender of Donald Trump, he was best known in Florida as ‘Baby Gaetz.’

“The nickname underscored how much he lived in the shadow of his dad, former Florida state Sen. Don Gaetz, AKA ‘Papa Gaetz,’ a powerful and hard-nosed negotiator who lorded over politics in the Panhandle for a generation. …

“Matt Gaetz’s political trail was not just preceded but heavily influenced by his father, a Republican multi-millionaire businessman who had a reputation for rhetorical flourishes and drag-out political fights. Don Gaetz all but paved his son’s way into Florida’s political world, and some suggest that his father’s stature and influence is even helping his son as he faces a probe into potential sex trafficking.” The story

GREAT SCOTT — “Rick Scott navigates Trump, winning back the Senate — and his own ambitions,” WaPo: “Just months into his tenure [as NRSC chair], RICK SCOTT has undertaken a rapid effort to reorient the party committee toward small-dollar digital fundraising, hired some of Trump’s top campaign operatives, made a controversial decision not to support favored candidates in key primaries, and placed himself at the center of much of the group’s communications — to the point that some GOP operatives have privately snickered that NRSC now stands for the ‘National Rick Scott Committee.’ …

“[T]here are still open concerns about how Scott’s interests as the leader of the party campaign committee and his interests as a potential presidential candidate might diverge.”

TRUMP CARDS

ALTERNATE REALITY — “One America News Network Stays True to Trump,” NYT: “Months after the inauguration of President Biden, One America News Network … has continued to broadcast segments questioning the validity of the 2020 presidential election. …

“To go by much of OAN’s reporting, it is almost as if a transfer of power had never taken place. The channel did not broadcast live coverage of Mr. Biden’s swearing-in ceremony and Inaugural Address. Into April, news articles on the OAN website consistently referred to Donald J. Trump as ‘President Trump’ and to President Biden as just ‘Joe Biden’ or ‘Biden.’ That practice is not followed by other news organizations, including the OAN competitor Newsmax.”

STEPPING DOWN — “NSA official installed as Trump left office resigns after he was sidelined,” WaPo: “MICHAEL ELLIS, a former Republican political operative, resigned Friday as the National Security Agency’s top lawyer, having been sidelined for three months after President Biden took office.

“The NSA director, Gen. PAUL NAKASONE, had placed Ellis on administrative leave the day President Donald Trump left the White House — just as Ellis was taking up the position. The reasons: a pending Pentagon inspector general probe, an official told The Washington Post at the time, and a security inquiry into Ellis’s handling of classified information …

“‘I have been on administrative leave for nearly three months without any explanation or updates, and there is no sign that NSA will attempt to resolve the issue,’ Ellis said in a letter to Nakasone on Friday, a copy of which was obtained by The Post. ‘I therefore resign my position, effective immediately.’”

PANDEMIC

MILESTONE — WaPo’s Dan Diamond (@ddiamond): “Barring a surprise, 50% of U.S. adults will have gotten at least one shot of coronavirus vaccine by [today].”

WORTH A SHOT? — “Next-generation Covid-19 vaccines are supposed to be better. Some experts worry they could be worse,” Stat

BEYOND THE BELTWAY

ONE TO WATCH — “Chauvin trial lawyers bring everything together in closing arguments on Floyd’s death,” Star Tribune: “[On Monday,] after 45 witnesses and 14 days of testimony in the Hennepin County District Court trial, special prosecutor STEVE SCHLEICHER and defense lawyer ERIC NELSON will make their closing arguments, the final words the jurors hear from them before retreating behind closed doors to deliberate.”

ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT — “Matthew McConaughey may be a viable candidate for Texas governor; poll shows actor ahead of Abbott,” Dallas Morning News: “McConaughey leads Gov. Greg Abbott, 45% to 33%. But his middle-of-the-road appeal may not open an easy path for him to November’s finale, experts warned.”

SOME GOOD NEWS — “After a Year of Turmoil, Elite Universities Welcome More Diverse Freshman Classes,” NYT: “The aftermath of the George Floyd protests and a decreased reliance on standardized tests have led to more diverse admissions at elite universities.”

SOME MIXED NEWS — “Economic Growth Is Set to Surge. Hiring Might Not Keep Up.” WSJ: “Economists … project U.S. gross domestic product — the value of all goods and services produced — will grow 6.4% this year, measured from the fourth quarter of last year to the same period of this year. … Meanwhile, the economists expect employers to add 7.1 million jobs in the 12 months ending in December 2021, a gain of 5%.”

AMERICA AND THE WORLD

IMMIGRATION FILES — “Mexico Steps Up Detentions and Deportations of Migrants,” WSJ: “Detentions of Central American migrants [in Mexico] jumped 32% to 15,800 in March from February, and more than doubled compared with March of last year, according to data from Mexico’s immigration agency shared with The Wall Street Journal. Deportations rose 61% from February to 9,400 last month, and were up 65% from a year earlier.”

MEDIAWATCH

BACKING OUT — “Swiss Billionaire Is Said to End His Bid for Tribune Publishing,” NYT: “HANSJÖRG WYSS, who seemingly came out of nowhere last month to make a serious offer for Tribune Publishing, a major newspaper chain, has decided to take himself out of the bidding … [Sources] added that Mr. Wyss had come to believe it would be difficult for him to realize his ambition of transforming The Chicago Tribune — the company’s flagship paper and the one he was most interested in — into a national publication.”

SPOTTED at the National Arboretum this morning: VP Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff. Pic

SPOTTED separately at Cafe Milano on Saturday: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) … Steven MnuchinLaura Ingraham … Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) … Caroline Kennedy.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Reps. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) and Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) (7-0) … White House Cabinet Secretary Evan RyanKayleigh McEnany … Black Rock Group’s Mike DubkeDarby GrantNate Parker of Bart & Associates … Rick Kaplan … POLITICO’s Burgess Everett, Michael Stratford and Lara SeligmanJohn Podhoretz … Amazon’s Brian HusemanKelsey Donohue of Harvard’s IOP … Susan Faludi … USA Today’s Donovan SlackErin Miller Weibel … MSNBC’s Ayman MohyeldinKatie McKeogh … The Atlantic’s Sophie GilbertRyan Sager … Princeton’s Ben ChangGrant Saunders, political director for Team Scalise … Trey Grayson … Dewey Square Group’s Charlie Baker … former Rep. Justin Amash (Libertarian-Mich.) … former Rep. Karen Handel (R-Ga.) … Jonathan EpsteinTheresa Verbic … CARE’s Sean MaloneyZach ZaragozaMicki WernerTracy Spicer of Avenue Solutions … Christine SextonRobert Silvers of Paul Hastings … Caleb CrosswhiteJohn FogartyEvan PhilipsonJill HabigBret Manley … Irish President Michael Higgins (8-0) … Phil Gordon

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