A few weeks ago, in an unusually silly display, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) formally urged Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to block Hillary Clinton's intelligence briefings ahead of the election. It didn't take long for Clapper to dismiss the appeal as nonsense.
But the practice of providing intelligence briefings to the major-party nominees remains very much on the political world's mind. Donald Trump, for example, during his ridiculous press conference yesterday, argued that Clinton shouldn't have access to sensitive information because her top aide, Huma Abedin, is married to Anthony Weiner, who's a sleazeball and a pervert.... I don't like Huma going home at night and telling Anthony Weiner all of these secrets, OK?"
Remember, this was an actual argument, presented publicly, by the Republican Party's national nominee.
Soon after, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the Huffington Post that Trump's Russian ties create an alarming complication when it comes to these pre-election briefings. "I would suggest to the intelligence agencies, if you're forced to brief this guy, don't tell him anything, just fake it, because this man is dangerous," Reid said. "Fake it, pretend you're doing a briefing, but you can't give the guy any information."
Soon after, a House Democrat took the additional step of formally requesting the executive branch "withhold classified materials and briefings from Donald Trump." Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced the move in a press release late yesterday:
"The Republican nominee's call for hostile foreign action represents a step beyond mere partisan politics and represents a threat to the republic itself. It suggests that he is unfit to receive sensitive intelligence, and may willingly compromise our national security if he is permitted to do so," wrote Cicilline. "With this in mind, I respectfully ask that you withhold the intelligence briefing to Mr. Trump in the interests of national security."
The letter went on to say Trump's volatile actions "warrant a re-examination of his access to this sensitive intelligence. [Yesterday's remarks from Trump] reflect more than just a lack of good judgment -- it is an explicit call for intervention from an adversarial foreign power to undermine the American democratic process, and represents an action just short of outright treason."
Clearly, foreign-policy experts weren't impressed when Donald Trump publicly called on Russia to intervene in the American presidential election. But what about Republican officials themselves?
NBC News' Chuck Todd noted on the air yesterday, "What surprised me today is the lack of Republican outrage.... This is a violation of the sovereignty of this country." The "Meet the Press" host added, in reference to GOP officials, "I'm surprised, frankly, that they haven't dropped the hammer and sickle on him."
Those who wondered whether Trump may have finally gone too far this time quickly learned, however, that Republican leaders would not let principle and propriety get in the way of partisanship. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for example, made clear he's sticking with Trump, even after yesterday's jaw-dropping rhetoric.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said through a spokesperson, "Russia is a global menace led by a serious thug. Putin should stay out of this election." The GOP leader was not, however, willing to comment on Trump's remarks -- which is no small detail given that the presidential hopeful, whom Ryan supports, pushed the opposite line yesterday.
And then there was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), making the case yesterday that Trump will become more competent eventually. BuzzFeedreported:
"I view the Senate as a place that can always act as a check and balance on whoever the next president is," Rubio said on WGN radio on Wednesday. "I also think there's something to be said for, once you're actually in that position, once you're actually working at this thing, and you're in there, and you start to have access to information that perhaps you didn't have before, especially for someone that's never been in politics, I think it starts to impact your views a little bit."
"And that's my sense of it, as he settles into this role as the nominee and ultimately the president, access to these issues is going to begin to, in some ways, kind of shape some of the policy positions given reality versus perhaps what you might read about on a blog somewhere."
As BuzzFeed's report added, Rubio went on to say it's an "open question" whether Trump will become more informed on the issues.
It's generally difficult to surprise hardened, cynical political observers who feel, justifiably, that they've seen it all. But yesterday, much of the political world seemed genuinely caught off guard when Donald Trump publicly called for Russia to intervene in an American election.
As MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin summarized, "The charge that Donald Trump has effectively allied his campaign with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin would sound like a crackpot conspiracy theory if it didn't come from Trump's own mouth."
There is simply no precedent for this: A presidential candidate publicly appealing to a foreign adversary to intervene in the election on his behalf.
"This is unprecedented — it is one of those things that seems to be genuinely new in international relations," said Paul Musgrave, a University of Massachusetts professor who studies American foreign policy.
After a long pause, Mr. Musgrave added, "Being shocked into speechlessness is not the sort of thing you're really used to in the business of foreign policy analysis."
Musgrave isn't the only expert who seems gobsmacked. Dr. Eliot A. Cohen, a veteran of the Bush/Cheney State Department, told the Washington Post's Greg Sargent Trump's comments were "appalling."
William Inboden, who served on George W. Bush's National Security Council, told Politico the comments were "an assault on the Constitution." The same article quoted Philip Reiner, a former National Security Council official in the Obama administration, saying of Trump's rhetoric, "Of course it's a national security threat."
Michael Hayden, the former head of the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency under George W. Bush, told BuzzFeed what Trump said was "incredibly stunning" and "very dangerous."
One of the challenges Democrats face when taking on Donald Trump is choosing which of his many flaws to focus on first. The list is daunting: Do you go after the Republican nominee's inexperience? His ignorance? His brazen dishonesty? Do you target his bigotry? His private-sector failures? What about his radical ideas? And his affection for authoritarian dictators?
At the Democratic National Convention, President Obama didn't choose any of these, preferring a broader theme: Donald J. Trump just doesn't understand what make America great. In fact, the GOP candidate is so wrong about the country, that his election would threaten the American experiment itself.
Much of the speech was focused, appropriately, on the president's praise of Hillary Clinton, and by any measure, Obama made the case for his former Secretary of State better than anyone has before.
But the president's denunciation of Trump's vision and values was as complete as any you have (or will) hear.
"Ronald Reagan called America 'a shining city on a hill.' Donald Trump calls it 'a divided crime scene' that only he can fix.... He's just offering slogans, and he's offering fear. He's betting that if he scares enough people, he might score just enough votes to win this election.
"And that's another bet that Donald Trump will lose. And the reason he'll lose it is because he's selling the American people short. We're not a fragile people. We're not a frightful people. Our power doesn't come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way. We don't look to be ruled. Our power comes from those immortal declarations first put to paper right here in Philadelphia all those years ago: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that We the People, can form a more perfect union.
"That's who we are. That's our birthright -- the capacity to shape our own destiny."
It's important to appreciate the irony: Trump has spent much of the last eight years questioning whether the president actually appreciates what it means to be an American. Last night was Obama's opportunity to not only answer the question, but also to turn the table.
Nicolle Wallace and Steve Schmidt, Republican strategists, talk about how President Obama's address to the DNC addressed not just Donald Trump, but his political philosophy and why it is contrary to what it means to be an American today. watch
President Obama delivered a speech that was starkly different than Donald Trump's address at the RNC; it was one that painted an inspired and strong America, rather than a dark and desperate one. MSNBC's Joy Reid thinks it may have been his best speech yet. watch
Lawrence O'Donnell reacts to President Barack Obama's speech to the Democratic National Convention, noting his outreach to party idealists and Bernie Sanders supporters, as well as his explanation of the slow pace of progress. watch
Steve Schmidt, Republican strategist, praises President Barack Obama's address to the Democratic National Convention. Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washing Post remarks on Obama's outreach to the center. watch
Senator Elizabeth Warren talks with Rachel Maddow about Hillary Clinton's selection of Tim Kaine as running mate, the risks to the U.S. of a potential Trump presidency, and her plans to help Democrats win a majority in the Senate. watch