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On the roster: The wave doesn’t care about your tactics - House GOP plays defense on tax hike reports - Trump’s China visit focuses more on business than trade - Gag order issued by judge in Manafort, Gates case - Fans will never let (it) go

Republicans are hard at work today casting blame for the party’s puny showing in Tuesday’s elections in Virginia and across the country. 

We know it’s an impossibility, but they really ought to give themselves a break. Nothing they could have done probably would have mattered much.

The GOP got its ears boxed all the way from Augusta, Maine to Olympia, Wash., but Virginia was the main focus. Both parties invested heavily in a gubernatorial contest that, based on electoral history, candidate recruitment and some polling, should have been competitive. It wasn’t at all.

In the aftermath of the nearly 9-point victory by Democrat Ralph Northam, Republicans have been looking back in anger. 

Some, starting with President Trump, blame Republican nominee Ed Gillespie for embracing Trump’s positions but rejecting Trump himself. This is a strategy that GOP kingmaker Steve Bannon praised as “Trumpism without Trump,” and that some Republicans thought might be the way forward for midterms. 

The idea was to fire up blue-collar Trump voters on cultural wedge issues but maintain support among the more affluent traditional Republican base by avoiding the president himself, who is unpopular with upscale voters. 

Other Republicans, meanwhile, are faulting Gillespie for being too Trumpy. The line of thinking here is that Gillespie, who performed well in a near-upset for a Senate seat in 2014, alienated moderate suburban voters. 

The idea for Trump-opposed Republicans was that Gillespie should have done more to distance himself from an unpopular president and try to cultivate his own brand as a pragmatic problem solver in the mold more typical of Virginia governors.

These arguments are good for placing or deflecting blame. But they’re not based in fact. Neither strategy, nor almost any Republican candidate would have won. 

To be sure, Gillespie’s ugly television ads and embrace of the veneration of the heroes of the Confederacy didn’t win many converts in the burbs. But it doesn’t seem to have hurt him there. He turned out 14,128 votes more in the four counties and five cities of Northern Virginia than the 2013 GOP gubernatorial nominee, Ken Cuccinelli

Too bad for Gillespie that Northam saw an increase of more than 10 times Gillespie’s gain. Northam improved the showing of current Gov. Terry McAuliffe by 158,558 votes.

But what about the claim that had Gillespie embraced Trump the man, rather than just his issue, he could have compensated for the pummeling he took in NOVA? 

We can’t completely test the question because we can’t be sure how a Trumpier Gillespie would have played with the rich folks up north, but we can see how Gillespie fared in the rest of the state.

In the parts of Virginia excluding NOVA, Gillespie got 145,051 more votes that Cuccinelli, who was Trumpy before Trump ever got back into politics. For an insider like Gillespie to get that kind of showing in the rest of Virginia is darned impressive.  

Unless, or course, you compare it to Northam, who improved on McAuliffe’s downstate showing by 176,750 votes.

Republicans would like to take a lesson away from Tuesday that tells them how best to run in 2018. Trump shunning? Conservative policies with a Trumpy garnish? Full-bore embrace of Trump, the man and the message? 

But the lesson from Tuesday is that it may not matter. Virginia Democrats were fired up and ready to go in ways we didn’t see in the Obama years, and the results from elsewhere in the nation suggest much the same.

So much may change in the next year, but for now Republicans probably ought to just do as they please. The best way to ride a wave is on your own surf board.

In New Jersey, it was a Dem victory too - NJ.com: “Polling sites across New Jersey closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday, and in less than one minute Democratic banking executive Phil Murphy was projected as the winner in the closely-watched race for governor. Murphy was the clear favorite to succeed two-term Republican Gov. Chris Christie, after outspending and out-polling his main challenger, Kim Guadagno, a Republican who currently serves as New Jersey’s lieutenant governor.”

Maine voters approve Medicaid expansion - NYT: “Voters in Maine decided on Tuesday to expand access to Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, making the state the first in the nation to settle the issue by referendum. Maine is one of 19 states whose Republican governors or legislatures have refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Other holdouts like Utah and Idaho are closely watching the initiative, as newly formed committees in both those states are working to get a Medicaid expansion question on next year’s ballot.”

Dems win party control in Washington state Senate - Seattle Times: “Holding a double-digit lead Tuesday night over her 45th District Senate opponent, Democrat Manka Dhingra appeared set to hand her party control of the Washington Senate — the last GOP-held legislative chamber on the West Coast. In the highest-profile state legislative race in years, Dhingra led Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund with 55 percent of the vote.”

Utah keeps Republican House seat with ease - Salt Lake Tribune: “…Provo Mayor John Curtis, a moderate Republican, celebrated his win Tuesday night to become Utah’s newest congressman. … Curtis trounced an astonishingly well-funded Democrat and a surprise third-party newcomer in the special election. He will serve the final year of former Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s term…”

NY gets four more years of de Blasio - NYT: “Gliding to his second landslide victory, Bill de Blasio was re-elected on Tuesday as the mayor of New York City, overwhelming his Republican challenger, Nicole Malliotakis, and a handful of independent candidates in what he declared a persuasive affirmation of his progressive agenda. Mr. de Blasio, the first Democratic mayor to be re-elected in a generation, since Edward I. Koch captured his third term in 1985, now has four years to further his goal of reshaping the city in his progressive mold.”

“The extension of the prohibition to bills of credit must give pleasure to every citizen, in proportion to his love of justice and his knowledge of the true springs of public prosperity.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 44

NatGeo: “It’s the most dangerous swim Lewis Pugh had ever attempted, but not his first. The former lawyer turned endurance swimmer finished a swim in the Antarctic waters off the coast of King Edward Cover near Grytviken, South Georgia, on Tuesday. Beginning at approximately 2 p.m. EST, Pugh swam in nothing but a Speedo through the icy waters. It took him 19 minutes to swim one kilometer, through waters that averaged roughly two degrees Celsius. Had the water not been salty, it would have already been frozen. And Pugh, 48, risked dangerous hypothermia during his endeavor. Without training, it’s possible to sustain serious injury or worse by swimming through these waters. Pugh’s team of supporters live tweeted his swim. After the halfway mark, Pugh passed two elephant seals, a species that can weigh over 8,000 pounds. Passing this potential danger unscathed, Pugh’s speed began to drop as he went. In water that cold, his body temperature falls rapidly.”

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Trump net job-approval rating: -20.4 points
Change from one week ago: -0.4 points

[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]

Politico: “House Republicans are on the defensive after a new analysis, the latest in a string, shows that some middle-income people would see tax increases under their plan to rewrite the tax code. While most taxpayers — 61 percent — would see their taxes fall in the next two years, almost one-fifth would pay higher taxes by 2027, the Joint Committee on Taxation said Tuesday. That year, 46 percent would get a tax cut while more than one-third would see only minimal changes in their tax bills, totaling less than $100. It promises to be an explosive issue, especially given President Donald Trump and other Republicans’ promises to make the middle class the focus of their tax plans. The JCT analysis is the second the agency has issued showing some modest-income people at risk of tax increases. The Tax Policy Center and other tax experts have come to similar conclusions.”

Report: GOP tax bill would add to national debt - The Hill: “The GOP’s tax bill would add $1.7 trillion to the national debt over the course of a decade, and increase the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio by 5.9 percentage points, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO analysis found that the bill would cut revenues by $1.4 trillion, which falls within the level Republicans allowed themselves in their budget resolution. Still, the additional cost of debt servicing would mean that the overall debt would increase by $1.7 trillion. The GOP allowed themselves up to $1.5 trillion of deficit increases over a decade in their budget. Despite the additional costs of servicing debt, the CBO score shows the tax plan staying within the bounds, which means Republicans will still be able to pass the bill through budget reconciliation, a procedure that only requires a simple majority to pass in the Senate.”

Senate GOPers may have a different approach than House - WaPo: “Senate Republicans on Tuesday were considering a starkly different approach to overhauling the tax code than their House colleagues, weighing a delay in the implementation of a major corporate tax cut and other measures to alter the cost and impact of the plan. Senate leaders were exploring postponing the centerpiece of the effort — an $845 billion corporate tax cut — until 2019, according to four people familiar with a draft of the legislation. The move would make it easier to comply with Senate rules that aim to limit any legislation’s impact on the debt. At the same time, Republican senators were planning to eliminate the state and local tax deduction, going further than the House…”

Long distance calling: Trump calls Dem senators on taxes - Politico: “President Donald Trump called a dozen Democratic senators Tuesday to court support for tax reform, but didn’t appear to change many minds. Dialing in from his trip to Asia, Trump connected with the lawmakers as they huddled with two of his top aides on Capitol Hill. Leaving the meeting, though, Democrats reiterated their interest in a bipartisan process rather than the closed-door, one-party approach that congressional Republicans have taken so far on tax legislation. Senate Republicans expect to release their tax bill later this week and start marking it up next week, a pace that is already raising fears of exclusion among some of the politically vulnerable red-state Democrats who say their votes could otherwise be in play.”

Ryan breaks record for shutting down floor debate - Politico: “Paul Ryan vowed an end to the much-despised top-down approach of his predecessor when he took the speaker’s gavel in 2015, promising a House that’s ‘more open, more inclusive, more deliberative, more participatory.’ … But two years later, the House Rules Committee, which is controlled by the speaker, just set a record for the most closed rules in a session — barring lawmakers for the 49th time from offering amendments on a bill. Ryan has yet to allow a single piece of legislation to be governed by an open rule, which allows members to propose changes on the floor. That makes Ryan the only speaker in modern history to forgo the open process entirely so far, according to senior House Democratic sources.”

NYT: “President Trump arrived in China on Wednesday backed by campaign-trail promises to get tough against the United States’ largest trading partner. He is accompanied by the chiefs of some of the most ambitious and influential American companies: Boeing, Goldman Sachs, Westinghouse Electric and Qualcomm, among others. The expected outcome? Not much, to the frustration of some American business executives. Mr. Trump’s meetings this week with Xi Jinping, China’s president, and other Chinese leaders come at a difficult time for both countries. Each has been consumed with domestic issues, from West Wing infighting and a special counsel investigation in Washington to a sensitive leadership transition in Beijing. The Trump administration in particular has been stretched thin on trade. It has been slow to fill important trade-related positions, because of distractions and the lengthy congressional confirmation process. The administration has been preoccupied with rewriting the North American Free Trade Agreement and a United States trade deal with South Korea.”

While visiting China, Twitter expands to 280 characters for all - WaPo: “On the eve of President Trump’s first visit to China’s capital, his favorite social media platform, Twitter, doubled its character limit for tweets to 280, offering twice the fun for America’s tweeter in chief. Not so much for his hosts in Beijing. Twitter, like Facebook, is banned in China, where President Xi Jinping has overseen a deepening crackdown on the Internet, using the ‘great firewall’ to stifle self-expression in the name of bolstering the already tight grip over society by the Communist Party. Foreigners are generally still able to tweet via their cellphones, and Trump promptly resumed tweeting after a short respite while touring the Forbidden City and having dinner with Xi.”

Trump takes tough ground in speech on NoKo and nuclear weapons - WaPo: “President Trump on Wednesday warned against the threat posed by ‘a country ruled by a cult’ in a hard-line speech aimed at rallying international pressure against North Korea over its escalating nuclear weapons program. Trump, in an address to South Korea’s National Assembly, said the ’rogue regime’ was putting itself at risk by continuing to pursue its nuclear ambitions and test ballistic missiles. … In a 35-minute speech here, for which he received a standing ovation, Trump offered a tough and blunt message to Pyongyang and dictator Kim Jong Un: ‘Do not underestimate us. And do not try us. We will defend our common spirit, our shared prosperity and our sacred liberty.’”

Trump’s visit to the DMZ cancelled due to ‘mother nature’ - AP: “Donald Trump, America’s showman president, hatched a secret plan to visit the Korean Peninsula’s demilitarized zone before he ever left Washington last week on a five-nation tour of Asia, the White House said. … With reporters sworn to secrecy and a beefed-up security retinue in tow, his helicopter took off in the dim early morning light Wednesday bound for the heavily fortified border. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had announced the destination by scrawling the letters ‘DMZ’ on a notepad, saying that was how she was told to communicate the sensitive information. But plans for the grand reveal were botched by Mother Nature, and Sanders described Trump as disappointed — and ‘pretty frustrated.’

Politico: “The federal judge overseeing the criminal case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates has issued a gag order limiting comments to the media and the public by lawyers, defendants and witnesses in the case. U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s directive Wednesday doesn’t ban such statements outright, but prohibits any remarks that ‘pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case.’ At a hearing last week, Jackson urged lawyers to make their arguments in court and ‘not on the courthouse steps.’ She also appeared to criticize a statement one of Manafort’s lawyers made outside court calling the charges against his client ‘ridiculous.’ Jackson offered both defendants and the government a chance to weigh in about the order before she issued it. No one did.”

Sessions to testify on the Hill Tuesday - The Hill: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee next Tuesday as part of its probe into Russian interference in the presidential election, The Hill confirmed on Tuesday. Sessions’s appearance will allow Democrats on the panel to pepper the Justice Department chief about his past statements concerning exchanges with Russian officials during the time he served the Trump campaign last year. Democrats are particularly interested in his ties to former Trump campaign staffer George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about contacts with Russians.”

Politico: “Obamacare’s open-enrollment season is off to a booming start despite widespread fears the Trump administration is seeking to sabotage the sign-up period. The number of individuals signing up for coverage through HealthCare.gov during the first week of open enrollment is ‘roughly double’ the pace of the previous year, according to an HHS source familiar with the enrollment data. It’s way too early to determine whether more Americans will ultimately sign up for coverage this season. One big reason to treat the initial surge with caution: The enrollment period is just six weeks long, half the length of last year’s sign-up period. But the early outpouring suggests that fears that the Trump administration’s actions — particularly gutting federal spending on outreach and marketing — would lead to a lackluster sign-up period may be overblown. Analysts at Standard & Poor’s projected that up to 1.6 million fewer Americans could sign up for coverage through HealthCare.gov this year…”

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, won’t seek reelection in 2018 - Politico

VP Pence heads to Texas after Sunday’s church shooting - Dallas Morning News

“Korean golfers are some of the best on Earth. And you know what I’m going to say — the women’s U.S. Open was held this year at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.”President Trump said in his opening remarks in South Korea. He continued to commend South Korean Sung Hyun Park who won the tournament. Seven of her fellow citizens finished in the top 10.

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The [UK] Sun: “It’s the movie moment that has sparked debate for over two decades – could Rose have saved Jack on that door in Titanic? And now a group of school girls say they’ve proven that it was possible for Leonardo DiCaprio’s character to have survived the famous ship’s sinking, if the pair had used one simple trick. … Year 10 pupils Abigail Wicks, Christy Zhang and Julia Damato from Westminster School in Adelaide used a math formula to show they could have both survived if they had put their life jackets under the floating door. This would have supported the wood and the pair could have floated to safety. …Wicks, 15, said: ‘We looked at how buoyant the door would have been and how that would have changed if there were people on top of that.’ … The students presented their theory at the National Maths Talent Quest and won an award for their work.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.