Photo: Kevin McCarthy/Instagram

A little over a week ago, when Kevin McCarthy was in Ohio campaigning for Troy Balderson, his phone rang. It was President Trump. McCarthy quickly put Trump on speakerphone for a conversation with Balderson and the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Steve Stivers.

Why this matters: What happened next highlights Trump’s freewheeling approach to electoral politics this year. Most presidents don’t get involved in primaries, but Trump — to the horror of some top Republican officials — relishes his role as party kingmaker. And while his political team gives him advice, they can’t control him.

The details of the McCarthy call:

  • The three men discussed Balderson's upcoming race, and McCarthy asked Trump to tweet his support for incumbent Rep. David Kustoff, who a few days later won the Republican primary in Tennessee’s 8th congressional district.
  • Trump was in a great mood. He told Stivers he'd been doing a good job. "Maybe I will do one [a tweet] for you, Steve," he said, per two sources familiar with the call. Stivers had won his primary months ago, but listeners could have guessed Trump would tweet praise for his work at the NRCC.
  • Six days later, Trump mistakenly encouraged Ohio voters to "get out and vote" for Stivers on August 7. The president quickly deleted the tweet.

Sources who've spoken to Trump say that one of his favorite recent interventions was in Florida, where a Trump tweet sent little-known Rep. Ron DeSantis soaring over his well-respected primary opponent Adam Putnam in the Florida gubernatorial race.

  • Trump thinks it's fun to have a stake in these elections, according to sources familiar with his thinking. And he sometimes seems awe-struck by the way his endorsements can move a stunning percentage of Republican voters.

What's next? Senior Republican officials have told me they're holding their breath, hoping Trump won't endorse hardliner Kris Kobach in Tuesday's Kansas gubernatorial primary. Kobach is as far right as a Republican gets on immigration and voting rights, and Democrats view his potential victory as an opportunity to steal centrist voters.

  • A source close to Trump told me they thought the president had been convinced to hold off on supporting Kobach. But he added he couldn't be confident, given that Trump is in Bedminster with a cell phone and plenty of Executive Time.

Go deeper

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 12,009,301 — Total deaths: 548,799 — Total recoveries — 6,561,969Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 3,053,328 — Total deaths: 132,256 — Total recoveries: 953,420 — Total tested: 37,532,612Map.
  3. Public health: Houston mayor cancels Republican convention over coronavirus concerns Deaths are rising in hotspots — Déjà vu sets in as testing issues rise and PPE dwindles.
  4. Travel: United warns employees it may furlough 45% of U.S. workforce How the pandemic changed mobility habits, by state.
  5. Education: New York City schools will not fully reopen in fallHarvard and MIT sue Trump administration over rule barring foreign students from online classes.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: A misinformation "infodemic" is here.

Transcripts show George Floyd told police "I can't breathe" over 20 times

Photo: Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Newly released transcripts of bodycam footage from the Minneapolis Police Department show that George Floyd told officers he could not breathe more than 20 times in the moments leading up to his death.

Why it matters: Floyd's killing sparked a national wave of Black Lives Matter protests and an ongoing reckoning over systemic racism in the United States. The transcripts "offer one the most thorough and dramatic accounts" before Floyd's death, The New York Times writes.

11 hours ago - Health

Fighting the coronavirus infodemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An "infodemic" of misinformation and disinformation has helped cripple the response to the novel coronavirus.

Why it matters: High-powered social media accelerates the spread of lies and political polarization that motivates people to believe them. Unless the public health sphere can effectively counter misinformation, not even an effective vaccine may be enough to end the pandemic.