January 5, 2016
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Just weeks ahead of the first primary vote, GOP operatives are reportedly still considering a plan to take down Donald Trump. The latest scheme, Politico reports, would employ Alex Castellanos, former adviser to Mitt Romney and George W. Bush, who has reportedly been meeting with top GOP operatives to "gauge interest in launching an anti-Trump vehicle that would pummel the Manhattan businessman on the television airwaves":

Those who’ve met with Castellanos say he’s offered detailed presentations on how such an offensive would play out. Castellanos has said that an anti-Trump ad campaign, which would be designed to cast him as a flawed strongman, would cost well into the millions. It was unclear, the sources said, whether Castellanos, who did not respond to a request for comment, would ultimately go through with the effort. [Politico]

While this plan centers on Trump, Politico reports that the fear extends beyond just his nomination. The establishment is also reportedly worried about the effects of Ted Cruz winning the nomination. Some contend that if either Trump or Cruz's name tops the ticket, everyone below — be it a GOP candidate for governor, senator, or Congress — is in peril. "At some point, we have to deal with the fact that there are at least two candidates who could utterly destroy the Republican bench for a generation if they became nominee," a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. "We'd be hard-pressed to elect a Republican dogcatcher north of the Mason-Dixon or west of the Mississippi."

Read the full story over at Politico. Becca Stanek

10:40 a.m. ET
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Disney has been slowly reworking many of its animated classics into live-action films, and the next to get the treatment is going to be The Lion King. Disney announced Wednesday it is reteaming with live-action Jungle Book director Jon Favreau for the film.

"The Lion King builds on Disney's success of reimagining its classics for a contemporary audience with films like Maleficent, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book,” the company said in a statement. "The upcoming Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson as Belle, is already one of the most anticipated movies of 2017. Like Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King will include songs from the animated film."

The 1994 animated Lion King was the highest grossing animated film for 16 years; it has also been adapted for Broadway. Jeva Lange

10:23 a.m. ET

It's that time of year again, friends: The infamous pumpkin spice latte is back. And as Starbucks stores nationwide swell with people trying to get their hands on the chain's iconic seasonal beverage, grocery stores and restaurants are bathing themselves in orange, cinnamon-y goodness in a desperate attempt to get a piece of the pumpkin action.

Starbucks has sold more than 200 million pumpkin spice lattes since introducing the autumnal beverage in 2003, and Forbes estimates the company made around $100 million in revenue from pumpkin spice lattes just last fall. So it's not surprising that the drink's popularity has inspired a boom in pumpkin spice products — from vodka to hummus to pumpkin spice Cheerios. This year, Trader Joe's will stock more than 70 pumpkin items during the fall season.

Between the nostalgia factor, the desire to celebrate fall's return, and the allure of the limited-time offer, pumpkin spice anything is a safe bet for boosting fall sales, says The Washington Post. While 72 percent of customers only buy one Starbucks pumpkin spice latte a year, those who come in for such seasonal products spend more on average when they do visit.

Why fight it? Just enjoy all the unnecessarily pumpkin-flavored things your little heart secretly desires. Kelly Gonsalves

10:13 a.m. ET
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Hillary Clinton brought former Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado into the electoral limelight at the presidential debate on Monday, accusing Donald Trump of once having called Machado "Miss Piggy" and "Miss Housekeeping." While in the moment Clinton's evocation worked to destabilize Trump, Machado is now under fire for comments she made about Trump's wife, Melania:

Though Melania, like her, is an immigrant and former model, Machado waves off the comparison immediately. As the wife of a political figure, Melania's job is "to help everybody around you," she said. "It's not to make yourself rich or more powerful." Melania made an appearance at the presidential debate but has largely ducked out of the spotlight since the RNC, where she was accused of plagiarizing parts of Michelle Obama’s speech in her own address. "I think I speak more English than her," Machado said. "I don't see anything about this girl. She's a doll. She's a decoration. That is how I see her." [Cosmopolitan]

Rumors have also come to the surface about Machado's alleged involvement in a murder plot; while admitting she has a past, she has called such stories "speculation." Jeva Lange

9:42 a.m. ET
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During one of the most memorable moments of Monday's presidential debate, Hillary Clinton evoked former Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado to illustrate Donald Trump's misogynistic and racist way of speaking about women. But even as Trump has doubled-down on criticizing Machado's weight, rumors have arisen of the Venezuelan beauty queen's alleged involvement in a murder plot in her home country. Given a chance to respond to the allegations Tuesday, Machado told Anderson Cooper, "You know, I have my past. Of course, everybody has a past. I'm not a saint girl. But that is not the point now."

Cooper had brought up the 1998 incident in which Machado was accused of driving a getaway car for a murder, but was never charged. "The judge in the case also said you threatened to kill him after he indicted your boyfriend for the attempted murder. I just want to give you a chance to address these reports that the Trump surrogates are talking about," Cooper said.

Machado said that the reports "are not the point now." "That moment in Venezuela was wrong, was another speculation about my life because I am a really famous person in my country," she said.

"[Trump] can say whatever he wants to say," Machado added. "I don't care." Jeva Lange

9:41 a.m. ET
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Donald Trump is down a state director in Georgia. On Tuesday, the Trump campaign's Georgia state director Brandon Phillips resigned after local news station Channel 2 Action News uncovered that in 2008, Phillips was arrested and pled guilty to charges of criminal trespassing and battery for destroying a laptop and slashing someone's tires. Phillips was slapped with a $1,500 fine and three years probation, though he was released from probation after a year.

Then, shortly after being released from probation in 2009, Phillips was reportedly arrested for "an alleged altercation involving a gun," Talking Points Memo reported. The charges were later dropped after he completed a "pretrial diversion program."

Phillips played a role in securing Trump's victory in the Georgia presidential primary and he also worked to "wrangle skeptical Peach State Republican delegates to support Trump's nomination at the party's July convention," The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.

Billy Kirkland, a senior adviser for Trump in Georgia, will reportedly take over Phillips' role. Becca Stanek

8:54 a.m. ET

Hillary Clinton has emerged from the first presidential debate with a small bounce in the polls, Politico/Morning Consult has found. In a four-way race for president, Clinton is up three points among likely voters at 41 percent to Trump's 38 percent; in a poll just prior to the debate, Trump was ahead by one point.

There weren't terribly many minds changed after watching the debate, though. Politico/Morning Consult found that only nine percent of likely voters switched who they are going to vote for after what they saw Monday night. Still, the record-breaking audiences were apparently glued to the screen, with 55 percent of viewers polled watching the entire 95 minutes, half saying they would watch it again, and 62 percent agreeing the whole affair was "entertaining." (Comparatively, over a third of people thought it was "depressing.")

Contrary to the Trump campaign's boasts, most viewers in the Politico/Morning Consult poll think Hillary Clinton was the winner of the debate — 49 percent said so, compared to 26 percent who said Trump was the winner. Eighteen percent of Republicans even thought Clinton won.

The polls were conducted online Monday and Tuesday, reaching 1,253 likely voters. The margin of error was 3 points. Jeva Lange

8:39 a.m. ET
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Donald Trump's advisers may have publicly praised his performance in the first presidential debate, but in private they're reportedly fretting about how to fix the candidate's missteps before the second debate on Oct. 9. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Trump's team is rolling out a revamped strategy for Trump's debate prep — and this time, he will be practicing:

Some of the advisers want to practice getting under his skin, as Mrs. Clinton did, to gauge his response, but they offered no details about doing so. Others wanted practice sessions built around the next debate's format, a town-hall-style meeting, where Mr. Trump is likely to engage with undecided voters asking him questions and, at times, move from his chair to walk the stage. Mr. Trump has little experience with the format, which can be challenging for people who do not practice managing their body language and movements.

Several advisers also want to impress upon him the need to stick to a strategy and a plan of battle against a female candidate — the kind of opponent he has less experience facing — rather than spend time polishing a string of disparate zingers that Mrs. Clinton, a skilled debater, was able to easily parry Monday night. [The New York Times]

Unlike Trump's preparation the first time around, which consisted mainly of informal conversations with advisers, his advisers will reportedly encourage him to practice with a podium and do mock debates. And his advisers are going to push him to carry his successes in the first 30 minutes of the debate through to the very end — instead of, as The New York Times put it, growing "erratic, impatient, and subdued."

Head to The New York Times for more on Team Trump's frustrations with the first debate and strategies for the second. Becca Stanek

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