Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) leaves the Republican policy luncheon on Capitol...

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) leaves the Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Wednesday. Credit: AP/Cliff Owen

Red wave? Surf's down

Just a month ago, President Donald Trump was predicting a "red wave" in November that would not only preserve but perhaps even expand the Republican majorities in both the House and Senate.

But with Republican pessimism deepening on keeping the House, Trump may be defining winning more narrowly. "Republicans are doing really well with the Senate Midterms. Races that we were not even thinking about winning are now very close, or even leading. Election night will be very interesting indeed!" he tweeted Sunday.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, on CBS' Face the Nation, put her party's chances of maintaining control of the House at "50-50." Democrats need to flip 23 seats to claim the majority. Strategists on both sides say a spike in Democratic enthusiasm that has Republicans fearful of losing the House is driven largely by opposition to Trump personally, The Washington Post writes.

In a private weekend meeting with GOP donors and officials, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney suggested Republicans would fare better if they could “subtract” the president’s divisive persona from voters’ minds, and stress instead that the country is in a “pretty good” condition, The New York Times reported.

Republicans began 2018 with a better shot at keeping or growing their 51-49 Senate majority because 10 Democratic incumbents are fighting for re-election in states that Trump won. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri are rated among the most vulnerable. But Democrats still have opportunities to capture Republican seats, and the GOP worry is growing about Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas.

"This is real, and it is a serious threat,” fellow Texas senator John Cornyn told Politico. Mulvaney said in the private meeting Saturday that Cruz could lose because he is not seen by voters as “likable” enough.

When they were the bitterest of rivals in the 2016 primaries, Trump called him "Lyin' Ted." But Cruz eventually fell in line, and Trump is planning to hold a giant rally for him in Texas next month.

No-name in the news

Vice President Mike Pence and top aide Kellyanne Conway went on the Sunday talk shows to tag-team the anonymous senior official who wrote of "unsung heroes" acting as check on the president's "half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions."

Pence said whoever wrote The New York Times op-ed, which was published on Thursday, should resign and called it "un-American. "I think the motivation is to sow discord and create chaos," Conway said.

The identity of the author remained a mystery. Also unclear, despite Trump's call for a Justice Department investigation, was whether any crime might have been committed. When pressed, Conway couldn't name one but speculated the writer could have done something else.

Pence said he'd agree to take a lie-detector test "in a heartbeat" to rule out his involvement and said he was confident it wasn't anyone on his staff, though he hasn't asked them. "I don't have to ask them because I know them," he said. For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez and David M. Schwartz.

Fit to print?

How's this for Trump-era divisiveness? The Times' decision to publish the anonymous op-ed was criticized by Bob Woodward, whose new book "Fear" depicts in much more detail an untethered presidency.

"I wouldn't have used it," Woodward said in an interview on "CBS Sunday Morning." The article was "too vague and does not meet the standards of trying to describe specific incidents," he said. "Specific incidents are the building blocks of journalism." Times op-ed editor James Dao has said the unnamed official "was staking out what we felt was a very principled position that deserved an airing,” 

From his own reporting, Woodward found plenty to be alarmed about. “You look at the operation of this White House and you have to say, ‘Let’s hope to God we don’t have a crisis’,” he said.

Janison: Bannon pursues relevance

Getting jettisoned from Trumpland and cast out by Breitbart and his former patrons, Long Island's right-wing billionaire Mercer family, hasn't stopped Steve Bannon from trying to position himself as one of the president's most important allies, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Last month, Bannon, created something called Citizens of the American Republic, purportedly devoted to promoting the congressional midterms as a "referendum" on Trump. "You cannot run from that; you have to embrace it,” Bannon told The New York Times. Some in the GOP aren't all that eager to embrace the nabob of nationalism. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said last year that Bannon "looks like some disheveled drunk that wandered onto the political stage.” 

His pal in Pyongyang

Trump tweeted his gratitude that the North Korean dictator formerly known to him as Little Rocket Man didn't show off his latest missiles at a major military parade in Pyongyang marking the communist nation's 70th anniversary.

"Thank you To Chairman Kim. We will both prove everyone wrong! There is nothing like good dialogue from two people that like each other!" said Trump.

Why 'coffee boy' didn't spill

George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts with Russian operatives, said Sunday he didn't respond truthfully to federal investigators in part because he believed he was protecting Trump.

"I found myself pinned between the Department of Justice and the sitting president and having probing questions that I thought might incriminate the sitting president," Papadopoulos said on ABC’s “This Week.” Papadopoulos was sentenced Friday to 14 days in prison and fined $9,500. For more see Figueroa's story for Newsday.

 What else is happening:

  • After failing to stop the lawsuit, Trump has agreed to provide written answers under oath in a defamation lawsuit brought by Summer Zervos, a former "Apprentice" contestant he accused of lying when she claimed he sexually assaulted her in 2007.
  • A Trump tweet credited his tariff threats for Ford killing a plan to sell a Chinese-made small vehicle in the U.S., adding "This car can now be BUILT IN THE U.S.A." Nope, said Ford — "it would not be profitable to build the Focus Active in the U.S." given its forecast of less than 50,000 in yearly sales.
  • A tweet from Anthony Scaramucci, the short-tenured former White House communications director, said that while the "sanctimonious" people in the White House who "undermine" Trump's agenda don't belong there, "Problem is there are too many of them to open the drain."
  • Trump was bluffing when he tweeted that he knows who he will choose to succeed to White House counsel Don McGahn, and is still vacillating about possible replacements, Axios reported.
  • Tax experts give high-income New Yorkers little hope of avoiding higher federal tax bills next spring, reports Newsday's Michael Gormley. That's because the Trump administration recently created rules designed to thwart Gov. Andrew Cuomo's attempt to get around the new limit of a $10,000 deduction for state and local taxes. 
  • The White House and top congressional Republicans want to push for a House vote on a second round of tax cuts ahead of the midterms, but have run into opposition from some House GOP members in high-tax states such as New York that got burned by last year's bill, Politico reports.