Among most congressional Republicans, Vladimir Putin is not a popular figure. The GOP's foreign policy has been largely defined by skepticism of Russia -- even after the Cold War ended -- and the country's authoritarian president has only heightened the party's attitudes.
And so it must come as something of a shock to Republicans to see their party's presidential nominee not only speak highly of Putin, and not only cozy up to Putin, but even surround himself with pro-Putin advisers. By most measures, Donald Trump is running as the most pro-Russia U.S. presidential candidate in generations.
That leaves some in the GOP in an exceedingly awkward position. How does a senator like Tom Cotton (R) of Arkansas reconcile his support for Trump's candidacy with the senator's antipathy towards Russia's autocratic leader? CNBC's John Harwood asked him about this the other day.
HARWOOD: One of the questions that has been raised about Donald Trump is, "Is he more friendly with Russia than it is in America's best interests to be?"
COTTON: Vladimir Putin was a KGB spy and he never got over that. He does not have America's best interests at heart and he does not have any American interests at heart. I suspect, after this week, when Donald Trump is the nominee and he begins to receive classified briefings, similar briefings to what I receive as a member of the Intelligence Committee, he may have a different perspective on Vladimir Putin and what Russia is doing to America's interests and allies in Europe and the Middle East and Asia.
Oh. So according to the Arkansas senator, Trump is only pro-Putin because Trump doesn't know what he's talking about. How reassuring.
For proponents of voting restrictions, last week was one to forget. On Tuesday, for example, a federal court issued a ruling mitigating some of the voter-ID restrictions imposed by Wisconsin Republicans. A day later, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals shot down part of Texas' voter-suppression campaign. By Friday, a federal court issued an injunction blocking a Michigan GOP measure banning straight-ticket voting in the state.
All things considered, it was the kind of successful week voting rights advocates haven't seen in a while.
There was, however, an important exception. The Washington Postreported on a breakthrough voting rights policy in Virginia that was unexpectedly reversed by a federal court.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe's decision to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 felons violates Virginia's constitution, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday, dealing a major blow to the Democratic governor with implications for the November presidential race in the crucial swing state.
In a 4-to-3 decision, the court ruled that McAuliffe overstepped his clemency powers by issuing a sweeping order in April restoring rights to all ex-offenders who are no longer incarcerated or on probation or parole.
Regular readers may recall our coverage of this in April, when the Democratic governor, taking aim at a law with ugly and racist roots, issued a sweeping order to restore the voting rights of more than 200,000 former felons. It was described at the time as "the biggest-ever single action taken to restore voting rights in this country."
Virginia Republicans filed suit almost immediately, and last week, they prevailed. The court found that the governor can restore voting rights for former felons, but it must be done on a case-by-case basis, not through one sweeping executive action.
Which means that Terry McAuliffe is now moving on -- to Plan B.
Back in December, Donald Trump unveiled one of his most outrageous policy proposals: if elected, the Republican intended to implement a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." He put it in writing, and then he read his statement, out loud and in public.
Trump has reiterated his support for this absurd idea several times since, including last month. When there were reports that the GOP candidate was considering changes to his plan, Trump's campaign insisted -- one month ago today -- that his proposal remained intact.
But soon after, the picture blurred. Team Trump said his Muslim ban was being "revised," and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said the candidate had "pivoted" away from one of his signature ideas.
So, what exactly is the current state of Trump's ridiculous proposal? NBC's Chuck Todd sought some clarification from the candidate on "Meet the Press" over the weekend. Here's how the New York Republican explained his thinking on the matter:
"[Y]ou could say it's an expansion. I'm looking now at territories. People were so upset when I used the word Muslim. 'Oh, you can't use the word Muslim.' Remember this. And I'm okay with that, because I'm talking territory instead of Muslim.
"But just remember this: Our Constitution is great. But it doesn't necessarily give us the right to commit suicide, okay? Now, we have a religious, you know, everybody wants to be protected. And that's great. And that's the wonderful part of our Constitution. I view it differently.
"Why are we committing suicide? Why are we doing that? But you know what? I live with our Constitution. I love our Constitution. I cherish our Constitution. We're making it territorial."
It's obviously difficult to know with certainty exactly what Trump was trying to say, but the gist of this seems to be a shift in focus: instead of simply banning a religious minority Trump doesn't like, he intends to impose new immigration restrictions based on geography and nationality.
For much of the Democratic National Convention's first day, there was really only one story that mattered: Bernie Sanders' fans registering their dissatisfaction.
Sanders' fans protested outside the venue and inside. They booed references to Hillary Clinton. They heckled speakers who supported Hillary Clinton. They tried to disrupt the opening prayer. They even booed Bernie Sanders himself when he tried to urge his most ardent backers to be constructive.
At one point, Sanders delegates from California were heard chanting, "Lock her up!" marking the odd moment when far-left activists effectively adopted the mantra of far-right Republicans.
Democratic officials and convention organizers were, to put it mildly, eager to make Sanders' supporters happy. They fired the DNC chairwoman and scrapped her stage appearance. They apologized publicly and in writing for insulting private emails from DNC staffers. They adopted sought after procedural reforms. They changed the platform. They made Sanders the headliner of the entire night.
But for a very vocal minority, it wasn't enough. It was against this backdrop that the Vermont senator himself took the stage last night in Philadelphia.
The audience had been given "Bernie" signs in a font and color reminiscent of Clinton's branding as a subtle nod to unity. He took the stage to deafening applause as he wove Clinton into his stump speech, suggesting she fights for the same issues as he and his movement.
"I understand that many people here in this convention hall and around the country are disappointed about the final results of the nominating process. I think it's fair to say that no one is more disappointed than I am," he said.
"I have known Hillary Clinton for 25 years," he continued. "I served with her in the United States Senate and know her as a fierce advocate for the rights of children."
"Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president and I am proud to stand with her here tonight," he closed.
It's too soon to say with any confidence whether his most energetic backers were moved by his remarks, but let no one say Bernie Sanders didn't try. His speech and his endorsement was unequivocal. There were no winks or nods intended to encourage additional disruptions. The senator has the long game in mind -- he wants to build the foundation for a movement -- and seems to realize that self-indulgent tantrums do little to advance his goals.
In the process, Sanders also created a striking contrast to the developments of a week ago.
Donald Trump seems vastly more interested in punditry than public policy, so as he watched the first night of the Democratic National Convention last night, the Republican nominee, he did what lazy commentators do: Trump made snide remarks about the various Democrats determined to defeat him.
The GOP candidate did not, however, have anything to say about Michelle Obama, perhaps because she never mentioned him by name. The irony, however, is rich: no speaker in Philadelphia offered a more powerful indictment against Trump than the First Lady.
First Lady Michelle Obama gave a rousing and emotional appeal to Democrats on the opening night of their nominating convention by laying out the choice in November in stark terms: Who do you want to mold the next generation?
"I am here tonight because in this election there is only one person who I trust with that responsibility," Obama said. "There is only one person who is truly qualified to be president of the United States, and that is our friend Hillary Clinton."
The New York Times' Gail Collins, capturing the sentiment of many, noted overnight, "O.K., Michelle Obama stole the show."
Put it this way: the First Lady's remarks were so strikingly good, the New York Daily News felt compelled to throw out its original plan for the paper's front page -- which was going to focus on tantrums thrown by Bernie Sanders backers -- and replace it with a new front page celebrating Michelle Obama's emotional address. "The Lady Is Her Champ," the final headline read, adding, "Michelle's speech brings down house."
To understand why, it's worth revisiting, of all things, a recent television commercial.
Rachel Maddow points out that some Sanders supporters won't trust Hillary Clinton even when Bernie Sanders (who they do trust) tells them to, making it perhaps a better strategy for Clinton to focus on something else. watch
MSNBC political analysts Eugene Robinson and Nicolle Wallace react to comedian Sarah Silverman's speech to the Democratic National Convention and her admonition to the Bernie-or-Bust supporters that they're being ridiculous. watch
Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, and Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, discuss the allegations and evidence that Russian military intelligence and intelligence agency hackers are behind the theft of DNC e-mails given to Wikileaks. watch
Ben Jealous, former president of the NAACP, Bernie Sanders supporter and now Hillary Clinton endorser, discusses the hard political work taking place at the Democratic National Convention and why he is satisfied with the progress made with the Democratic Party. watch
Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.