Donald Trump has said so many outlandish things over the course of his presidential campaign -- conspiracy theories, rhetoric that encouraged violence, ugly remarks about women and minority groups -- that it's daunting to identify the worst of the worst.
But by any measure, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee's call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States has to be near the top of the list.
To briefly recap, Trump announced in December that he wants a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." A day later, Trump's national spokesperson was reminded that such a policy would block lots of peaceful people who have nothing to do with violence. "So what?" the spokesperson replied. "They're Muslim."
At the time, Trump's proposal was condemned by the left and right, in addition to criticisms and fears raised by many abroad. That was, however, nearly six months ago. Does Trump still stand by such bigotry? Consider this exchange between the Republican candidate and NBC News' Lester Holt:
HOLT: Do you stand by them? Do you stand, for example, by the idea of a ban against foreign Muslims coming here?
TRUMP: I do. We have to be vigilant. We have to be strong. We have to see what's going on.
In case this isn't obvious, there's nothing "strong" about ignorance and discrimination.
Regardless, Trump remains fully committed to his ridiculous proposal. In addition to the Lester Holt interview, the GOP candidate was asked on MSNBC yesterday about his idea of a Muslim ban. Trump once again replied, "We have to be very vigilant, find out what's going on."
In other words, Trump's position hasn't changed. The same radical nonsense he touted in December remains a key element of his platform. There appears to be some sense among campaign observers that Trump may try to moderate his image and broaden his appeal as he transitions to the general election, but there's little evidence to support the thesis.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* The latest national CNN poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by 13 points, 54% to 41%. That's up slightly from her 12-point lead in the same poll in March.
* Despite obvious misgivings, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a tepid written statement last night, pledging support for Trump.
* Bernie Sanders told NPR yesterday that he intends to stay in the Democratic race "until the very last vote is counted" in the D.C. primary in mid-June. That represents a shift from his position from a few days ago, when the senator vowed to keep fighting well after the D.C. primary.
* Trump said yesterday he's "open to doing something with" the minimum wage. During a GOP debate last year, Trump said he opposes an increase because, as he put it, wages are already "too high."
* Both President Bushes will reportedly stay out of the 2016 race altogether, and they won't publicly endorse Trump's candidacy.
* Sanders' campaign manager said 120 Democratic superdelegates changed their minds about which presidential candidate to support in the 2008 race. As it turns out, the actual number was 28.
It's one of the year's strangest rhetorical tricks: Republicans keep announcing which presidential candidate they support, only to simultaneously insist that the announcement shouldn't be seen as an endorsement. Rachel did a great segment on this just last week, noting how common this tactic has become in 2016, with GOP officials at multiple levels going out of their way to parse the meaning of the word "support."
Yesterday, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R), facing a tough re-election fight in New Hampshire this year, became the latest to push the same talking point. The Union Leaderreported:
[Wednesday], her campaign office released a statement saying Ayotte will support Donald Trump, who became the presumptive Republican nominee Tuesday night with Sen. Ted Cruz's departure from the Republican primary race.
"As she's said from the beginning, Kelly plans to support the nominee. As a candidate herself, she hasn't and isn't planning to endorse anyone this cycle," said Liz Johnson, communications director for Kelly for New Hampshire.
Johnson said the senator is not endorsing Trump.
Hmm. Ayotte supports Trump; she presumably intends to vote for Trump; and she's willing to let the public know about her backing for Trump. She just doesn't want that to be perceived as an "endorsement."
And what, pray tell, is the difference? I haven't the foggiest idea, and as best as I can tell, neither Ayotte not anyone on her staff has elaborated on the subtle nuances.
Looking at the 2016 Senate elections, Democrats have an obvious goal: a net gain of five seats would give the party its majority back. And as things stand, Dems feel they have a credible shot.
It's probably best to think about the landscape in tiers. There are several states in which Dems are optimistic about flipping red seats to blue seats: Illinois, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania. The second tier features seats currently held by Republicans that could be quite competitive if the prevailing political winds shift in Democrats' favor: North Carolina, Iowa, and Missouri.
And then there's John McCain, whose lock on his Arizona seat has been a foregone conclusion for decades, but who's feeling quite a bit of anxiety right now about his 2016 odds. Politicoreported overnight:
Publicly, John McCain insists Donald Trump will have a negligible effect on his campaign for reelection. But behind closed doors at a fundraiser in Arizona last month, the Republican senator and two-time presidential hopeful offered a far more dire assessment to his supporters.
"If Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket, here in Arizona, with over 30 percent of the vote being the Hispanic vote, no doubt that this may be the race of my life," McCain said, according to a recording of the event obtained by POLITICO. "If you listen or watch Hispanic media in the state and in the country, you will see that it is all anti-Trump. The Hispanic community is roused and angry in a way that I've never seen in 30 years."
According to the Politico report, McCain made the comments at an April 8 event. Despite his public confidence, he conceded when talking to supporters behind closed doors, "[T]his is going to be a tough campaign for me" -- largely because of his party's presidential nominee.
Two weeks after the event, McCain announced he will skip this year's Republican National Convention, insisting he's "always done that when I'm up." (Unfortunately for the senator, that claim is plainly untrue.)
All of which leads to a dynamic in which it's hard to know just what to make of McCain's chances, and what "tier" he belongs in.
One of the right's strangest lines of attack against President Obama has always been the "vetting" charge. For many conservatives, even now, the president's background and career was never fully scrutinized before Obama's 2008 election, which according to the right, led Americans to vote for him without actually knowing who he is.
In January, for example, Chris Christie went so far as to say, "We have a guy in the Oval Office who we don't know. He's been serving us for seven years and we don't know him." None of this has ever made any sense, but it's nevertheless a staple of anti-Obama rhetoric on the right.
As the president's second term wraps up, questions about his 2008 vetting have obviously lost their salience, but for some conservatives, the talking point is so compelling, they're ready to recycle it. Donald Trump's national spokeswoman argued on MSNBC yesterday, for example, that Hillary Clinton, despite nearly four decades in the public eye, has "never been truly vetted." TPM reported:
Asked by MSNBC's Tamron Hall if Trump was looking forward to a head-to-head matchup against Clinton in the fall, Katrina Pierson replied, "Oh, absolutely. Mainly because Hillary Clinton has never been truly vetted before. Particularly by the media."
After Hall expressed skepticism, Pierson repeated, "Never been truly vetted before."
The MSNBC host, understandably incredulous, pressed on. "I just want to make sure that we're clear on this," Hall said. "The former secretary of state, you talk about the money spent against Donald Trump to perhaps demonize him. The millions of dollars that have been spent against the Clintons, both as a first lady and the secretary of state and a senator for the state of New York, which she has received contributions from your candidate, that this -- that Hillary Clinton has not been properly vetted?"
Pierson responded, "No."
As the video shows, Trump's spokesperson did not appear to be kidding.
FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver noted yesterday that there was a "big spike in Google searches" for Gary Johnson since Donald Trump locked up the Republican nomination. That's exactly what Johnson was hoping for. The conservative Washington Timesreported this week:
With Sen. Ted Cruz's departure Tuesday from the GOP presidential race, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is intensifying his push for the #NeverTrump crowd.
Mr. Johnson, a one-time Republican who's running for the Libertarian Party nomination, urged disaffected Republicans and conservatives to support his presidential bid after real-estate mogul Donald Trump's big win Tuesday in the Indiana primary.
At this point, some readers may be saying to themselves, "That's great, but who's Gary Johnson?"
Johnson was a two-term governor of New Mexico, first elected in 1994, and he served as a Republican. In 2012, he briefly sought the GOP presidential nomination, though after struggling to gain traction, Johnson switched parties -- and became a Libertarian.
As the Libertarian Party's nominee four years ago, Johnson didn't seriously compete in any state, but he did manage to earn about 1% of the national popular vote.
But as the former governor sees it, things are different now. Republicans were generally united around Mitt Romney in 2012, but Trump's rise creates a very different kind of opportunity.
For quite a while, Donald Trump has led the race of the Republicans' presidential nomination, earning him the "frontrunner" label. But that, of course, applied to a lengthy period in which he had several opponents. Now, Trump is the last man standing in the GOP field, which has led to a new label: "presumptive nominee."
And while use of the phrase and its precise meaning can vary, "presumptive nominee" tends to be a term of art that refers to something specific in advance of a national nominating convention: the person who will be a major-party presidential nominee in the general election.
And more important than the title are the benefits presumptive nominees receive. As Rachel noted on the show last night, one benefit in particular stands out:
"Now, today, as the presumptive nominee, [Trump] does start to get treated differently. Now starts a process that will see him ultimately get RNC staff and RNC money. He will start to get control of the Republican Party's bureaucratic apparatus to use for his own purposes.
"Yesterday he was accusing Ted Cruz's dad on being in on the JFK assassination. Now, he's about to start getting classified CIA briefings as the Republican Party's nominee for president."
That last one is easy to overlook, but it's quite important. Federal officials -- non-partisan, career personnel -- begin a process every four years of preparing would-be presidents for their prospective responsibilities.
And that means, among other things, classified intelligence briefings, which Trump is eager to receive. By some accounts, Obama administration officials have already begun preparations to provide regular updates to both parties' presidential nominees, including Trump, with sensitive national security information.
And this opens the door to some interesting possibilities.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R), still struggling with the backlash to his new anti-LGBT law, popularly known as HB2, appeared on a Charlotte radio station this week, where he seemed to acknowledge some societal headwinds.
"Society is changing quickly and anybody who gets in the way is in trouble," the Republican governor said. "And I might be in trouble."
That seems like a fair assessment. The editorial board of the News & Observer in Raleigh heard the full interview and wasn't impressed with the governor's thoughts on how best to get out of trouble.
Between laughs, McCrory continued to misrepresent the bill as simple protection of privacy rather than what it is: a green light to discriminate against gay and transgender people.
After weeks of damaging national publicity and setbacks for the state's economy, most governors would be hard at work figuring out a way to fix the HB2 mess.
At least for now, that doesn't appear to be happening. Instead, the governor who "might be in trouble" continues to find himself in the middle of a national controversy for which he was unprepared; his discriminatory law continues to undermine North Carolina's economy; and as of yesterday, McCrory's office received some unwelcome news from the Justice Department.
MSNBC's Emma Margolin reported that federal officials notified the governor that HB2 may violate civil-rights laws.
Rachel Maddow reports on President Obama's visit to Flint, Michigan to talk with people there about the government-created toxic water crisis they've been dealing with. Obama was preceded by Governor Rick Snyder, making his first public address to the people of Flint, and received with jeers and boos. watch
Katie Packer, found of the anti-Trump "Our Principles" PAC, talks with Rachel Maddow about Donald Trump's primary success and the new mission to protect down-ballot Republican candidates from the anticipated anti-Trump backlash. watch
Rachel Maddow looks at some past presidential candidacies by party outsiders that were not able to break through party establishment firewalls to win the nomination - until the Republican Party last night was too weak to fend off the candidacy of Donald Trump. watch