Several prominent Trump antagonists are actively urging other Republicans to take on the president, and a popular governor, Larry Hogan of Maryland, has indicated he is newly open to their entreaties.
.. Privately, some of Mr. Trump’s 2016 aides have said they are pessimistic about his path to 270 electoral votes after his party’s midterm defeats in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. An Associated Press poll on Wednesday showed that Mr. Trump’s overall approval rating had fallen to 34 percent, with his support among Republicans dipping below 80 percent — a startling turn for a president who strives for total control of the G.O.P., and has usually achieved it.
..An Associated Press poll on Wednesday showed that Mr. Trump’s overall approval rating had fallen to 34 percent, with his support among Republicans dipping below 80 percent — a startling turn for a president who strives for total control of the G.O.P., and has usually achieved it.
.. The Mueller investigation looms as another destabilizing force for the president. David Kochel, a Republican strategist based in Iowa who is opposed to Mr. Trump, said the special counsel’s eventual report could determine whether Mr. Trump is vulnerable in a primary.
“That will be a focusing mechanism for the party,” Mr. Kochel said.
.. Mr. Trump captured the presidency with a largely improvisational candidacy, guided by his own instincts for personal combat and cultural division, and lacking the strategic discipline of most presidential campaigns.
.. But even among his own political lieutenants, there is a general recognition that Mr. Trump currently lacks anything resembling a positive message.
.. Mr. Trump is especially fixated on two well-known Democrats, speaking frequently about Joseph R. Biden Jr., the former vice president whom Mr. Trump regards as his most dangerous potential opponent, and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Some of his advisers are more preoccupied with two other would-be challengers, who would offer a starker generational contrast with the 72-year-old president: Senator Kamala Harris of California and Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas Senate candidate.
.. Now a top aide on Mr. Trump’s campaign, Mr. Stepien and his deputies have been consulting party leaders about shutting off avenues to a challenge and ensuring that states cannot put forward “favorite son” candidates to contest the president’s renomination.
.. Mr. Trump has also dedicated a team of aides to guaranteeing that only political loyalists are elected to serve as delegates to the convention. To that end, Mr. Stepien dispatched some of his staff members this month to see that their preferred candidate remained in charge of the Maine Republican Party.
..Mr. Hogan spoke briefly with William Kristol, an implacable Trump critic in the conservative press, who argued that the president is weaker than widely understood
.. In addition to Mr. Hogan, William F. Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, is weighing a challenge to Mr. Trump as a small-government moderate, people who have spoken with him said. Mr. Weld, 73, who was the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2016, has discussed either opposing Mr. Trump in the Republican primaries or seeking the Libertarian presidential nomination.
.. Other Republicans known to be entertaining campaigns against Mr. Trump include John R. Kasich, the former governor of Ohio, who ran in 2016; Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska; and Jeff Flake, the former senator from Arizona. But Mr. Sasse is said to have grown uneasy about the idea, and Mr. Kasich and Mr. Flake are pursuing opportunities in television.
.. Bruce Berke, a Republican strategist in New Hampshire aligned with Mr. Kasich, said he currently saw Mr. Trump as unassailable in a G.O.P. primary.
“A primary challenge in 2020, as of today, would be futile for anyone,” Mr. Berke said.
Still, Republican donors will want to know just how damaged the president may be by the end of this year before they truly commit to a challenge.
Investigators alleged that Mr. Manafort made inaccurate statements in interviews with Mr. Mueller’s team about his communications with Konstantin Kilimnik, said the people familiar with the matter.
.. Mr. Kilimnik, who Mr. Mueller charged earlier this year along with Mr. Manafort with trying to influence the testimony of two witnesses against Mr. Manafort, had worked for Mr. Manafort’s lobbying firm in Ukraine. Messrs. Manafort and Kilimnik communicated earlier this year about contacting others who worked with them in an alleged effort to coordinate their stories
.. Mr. Mueller has long been interested in the relationship between Messrs. Manafort and Kilimnik.
.. He has questioned witnesses about a boat trip that Mr. Manafort took with Tom Barrack, a longtime friend of Mr. Trump, after Mr. Manafort was ousted from the Trump campaign in August 2016, say people familiar with the matter. Witnesses believed investigators were seeking to determine whether Mr. Manafort ever met with Mr. Kilimnik on that trip.
.. With the Mueller-Manafort dispute breaking into public view, some legal experts believe Mr. Manafort’s best hope for leniency is to obtain a presidential pardon. On Wednesday Mr. Trump told the New York Post a pardon for Mr. Manafort was “not off the table.” Any pardon would likely spark a firestorm among Democrats, who are preparing to take control of the House.
.. Senate Republicans Wednesday blocked an effort to pass legislation protecting Mr. Mueller’s investigation.
For the second time this month, Sens. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz) and Chris Coons (D., Del.) tried to pass by unanimous consent legislation designed to protect Mr. Mueller from being fired. They were blocked by Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) on Wednesday. Two weeks earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) had objected, blocking the bill.
Retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) have asked for “unanimous consent” to bring the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act to a vote on the Senate floor. The push comes after Jeff Sessions resigned from his post as attorney general, prompting speculation about the future of the Mueller investigation.
Steve Hilton said the proposed legislation is “ridiculous,” as Trump has never given any indication that he plans to shut down the Russia probe.
He said there should be an “equivalent investigation” of the Hillary Clinton campaign and all the “deep state malarkey” that happened prior to the 2016 election.
Melissa Francis said the problem is that “nothing ever comes of these investigations.”
“The idea that they would come together and draft legislation to protect an investigation? I mean, if that isn’t the swampiest thing you’ve ever heard in the world,” Francis said. “To waste time and money and effort on that, it makes me want to send them all home for a nap.”
When White House aides raised the issue with Judge Kavanaugh, he adamantly denied it and told them he did not even remember her.
.. They did what had never been done in a Supreme Court confirmation and put him on television to be interviewed, choosing Mr. Trump’s favorite network, Fox News.
Judge Kavanaugh, joined by his wife, seemed flat and mechanical as he retreated to the same talking points denying the allegations. Mr. Trump, who styles himself a master of television, thought his nominee came across as weak. Getting the clip of him denying the charges into the media spin cycle was important, but it was not enough.
.. The tide seemed to turn, oddly enough, when a third woman emerged with even more extreme allegations. Michael Avenatti, a brash and media savvy California lawyer who has been careening from one Trump administration brush fire to another, produced a statement from a woman alleging that Judge Kavanaugh in high school attended parties where women were gang raped. The woman, Julie Swetnick, said she was herself gang raped at one such party, though not by the judge.
Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, rushed to the floor to insist that “Judge Kavanaugh should withdraw from consideration.”
Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a key swing Republican, was so troubled that she took a copy of Ms. Swetnick’s statement, highlighted and marked up, to a meeting of Republican committee chairmen. Senator John Cornyn of Texas went through it point by point with her to debunk it.
.. The Republican senators got into a lengthy conversation about Mr. Avenatti and how he could not be trusted and concluded that Ms. Swetnick’s claims did not add up. Why would she as a college student repeatedly go to high school parties where young women were gang raped? No one came forward to corroborate the allegation, and news reports surfaced about past lawsuits in which Ms. Swetnick’s truthfulness was questioned.
“This was a turning point,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “That allegation was so over the top, it created a moment that was scary, quite frankly. But that moment was quickly replaced by disgust.”
The involvement of Mr. Avenatti, who represents Stephanie Clifford, the former porn star known as Stormy Daniels, particularly galvanized Republicans, reinforcing the idea that the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh were a political setup. One Republican congressional official called Mr. Avenatti’s involvement “manna from heaven.” From the other side, a Democratic congressional official called it “massively unhelpful.”
the notion that Mr. Avenatti tipped the scale was “wishful thinking” by Republicans who were bent on confirming Judge Kavanaugh at all costs.
.. credited Ms. Swetnick’s story with forcing Republicans to request an abbreviated F.B.I. investigation. “If it would have just been Dr. Ford,” he said, “I don’t think the investigation takes place.”
.. But Judge Kavanaugh’s angry outburst rallied Republicans. He went so far in expressing rage that he blamed the allegations on a plot to take “revenge on behalf of the Clintons” and he sharply challenged two of the Democratic senators about their own drinking.
During a break, Mr. McGahn told him he had to dial it back and strike a calmer tone. When he returned to the committee room, Judge Kavanaugh moderated his anger and apologized to one of the senators.
.. When Mr. Durbin asked Judge Kavanaugh to turn around and ask Mr. McGahn to request an F.B.I. investigation into the charges against him, Mr. Graham erupted in a ferocious, finger-wagging lecture. Other Republican senators began channeling their inner Trump and lashing out on Judge Kavanaugh’s behalf as well.
.. Ms. Collins said she would find it hard to vote yes without a sworn statement from Judge Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge denying that he saw what Dr. Blasey described.
.. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary chairman, got a fresh statement from Mr. Judge within three hours to satisfy her.
.. the three joined other Republican senators in Mr. McConnell’s office to discuss what the F.B.I. investigation should look like. The three undecided Republicans settled on four people they wanted to hear from
Ms. Ramirez, Mr. Judge and two others identified by Dr. Blasey as being elsewhere in the house at the time she was allegedly assaulted.
.. That night Mr. Graham went to dinner at Cafe Berlin with Ms. Collins, Mr. Flake and Ms. Murkowski. They discussed whether a limited F.B.I. investigation might assuage them.
The list of four witnesses they selected, however, later struck Democrats as so constrained that they demanded a more expansive investigation. In the end, the F.B.I. interviewed 10 people, but not many others Democrats recommended.
.. Ms. Murkowski was struggling with what to do. She asked the committee staff to question Judge Kavanaugh’s friends about their understanding of terms from his yearbook like “boofing” and “Devil’s Triangle” to see if they matched his.
.. “The tactics that were used completely backfired,” said Mr. McConnell. “Harassing members at their homes, crowding the halls with people acting horribly, the effort to humiliate us really helped me unify my conference. So I want to thank these clowns for all the help they provided.”
.. Less helpful may have been Mr. Trump’s decision to mock Dr. Blasey during a rally in Mississippi
.. White House aides insisted that the president’s outburst fortified Republicans... Trump and other Republicans accused sex-crime victims protesting Kavanaugh as protesters paid by George Soros.. The GOP Senate whip, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), called the victims a “mob” and echoed the bogus claim that they were paid protesters. They deny victims’ very existence; they are non-persons — props sent by opponents to ruin a man’s life... Graham snorted that he’d hear what “the lady has to say” and then vote Kavanaugh in.Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he’d “plow right through” (more like plow over) Ford’s testimony and confirm Kavanaugh.
Republicans’ defense of Kavanaugh — that Ford and others were props of a left-wing plot and therefore lacked agency of their own — evidences the party’s attitude toward women.
.. You cannot say a party that embraces a deeply misogynistic president who bragged about sexually assaulting women and mocked and taunted a sex-crime victim; accepted a blatantly insufficient investigation of credible sex crimes against women in lieu of a serious one that the White House counsel knew would be disastrous; repeatedly insulted and dismissed sex-crime victims exercising their constitutional rights; has never put a single woman on the Judiciary Committee (and then blames its own female members for being too lazy); and whips up male resentment of female accusers is a party that respects women.
.. What’s worse is that Republicans who would never engage in this cruel and demeaning behavior themselves don’t bat an eye when their party’s leaders do so. Acceptance of Trump’s misogyny — like their rationalization of the president’s overt racism — becomes a necessity for loyal Republicans.
.. One either agrees or ignores or rationalizes such conduct, or one decide it’s a small price to pay (“it” being the humiliation of women) for tax cuts and judges. It’s just words, you know.
.. The Republican Party no longer bothers to conceal its loathing of immigrants, its contempt for a free press, its disdain for the rule of law or its views on women. Indeed, these things now define a party that survives by inflaming white male resentment. Without women to kick around, how would they get their judge on the court or their guys to the polls?