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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.5.16

12/05/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* In a bit of a surprise, former Gov. Howard Dean, who had hoped to reclaim his job as DNC chair, suddenly withdrew his candidacy on Friday afternoon.

* On a related note, one of the concerns surrounding Rep. Keith Ellison's (D-Minn.) DNC bid is that he'd be a part-time chairman, splitting his time between the party and his congressional duties. On Friday, Ellison said he's considering resigning from his House seat to focus on the DNC leadership post.

* The executive editor of the Associated Press acknowledged the other day that at least one of its reporters had to be pulled off the campaign trail due to a "dangerous situation." In context, the situation appeared to involve threats posed by Donald Trump supporters.

* The president-elect once again turned to his phone late on Saturday night to complain about NBC's "Saturday Night Live" being "totally biased."

* On a related note, Alec Baldwin, a former MSNBC host who portrays Trump regularly on the sketch-comedy show, said he'd stop impersonating Trump if the president-elect agreed to release his tax returns.

* Trump made a surprise appearance over the weekend at a "Heroes and Villians" costume party hosted by an influential Republican megadonor, billionaire Robert Mercer. Kellyanne Conway used the occasion to refer to Trump as "the ultimate hero."

* With time running out in Louisiana's U.S. Senate runoff, Pence appeared on behalf of John Kennedy (R) on Saturday, the same day Trump used his Twitter account to declare his support for the far-right candidate.

* On Friday, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) became the first member of Congress to announce he's boycotting Trump's presidential inauguration.
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Republican rhetoric on jobs at odds with data, reality

12/05/16 11:20AM

On Friday, Americans saw the nation's unemployment rate drop to 4.6%, its lowest point in more than nine years, as job growth continued for the 74th consecutive month, the longest on record. On Sunday, Americans also saw House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) tell CBS that the Obama administration's regulatory agenda is "really just crushing jobs."

Hmm. Maybe the Speaker hadn't seen the latest jobs report.

The same goes for Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who told ABC's George Stephanopoulos yesterday why Donald Trump and his team are so eager to destroy the Affordable Care Act.
"[W]e're working on President-Elect Trump's commitment to repeal and replace ObamaCare. It's all going to begin right out of the gate by repealing this disastrous policy that's been killing jobs."
Really? The Affordable Care Act has been "killing jobs"? Let's take a closer look to see if Pence has any idea what he's talking about.
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Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn arrives at Trump Tower, Nov. 17, 2016. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Some conspiracy theories come with real consequences

12/05/16 10:44AM

There was a very scary scene in Washington, D.C., yesterday, when a North Carolina man, armed with an assault rifle, walked into a popular pizza place and pulled the trigger. Incredibly, no one was killed, but what makes this story especially notable is the gunman's motivation.

The Washington Post reported that the man told police officers he had come to the restaurant, Comet Ping Pong, in order to "'self-investigate' a false election-related conspiracy theory involving Hillary Clinton that spread online during her presidential campaign."
The popular family restaurant ... was swept up in the onslaught of fake news and conspiracy theories that were prevalent during the presidential campaign. The restaurant, its owner, staff and nearby businesses have been attacked on social media and received death threats. [...]

The restaurant's owner and employees were threatened on social media in the days before the election after fake news stories circulated claiming that then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief were running a child sex ring from the restaurant's backrooms. Even Michael Flynn, a retired general whom President-elect Donald Trump has tapped to advise him on national security, shared stories about another anti-Clinton conspiracy theory involving pedophilia. None of them were true. But the fake stories and threats persisted, some even aimed at children of Comet Ping Pong employees and patrons. The restaurant's owner was forced to contact the FBI, local police, Facebook and other social-media platforms in an effort to remove the articles.
The ridiculous conspiracy theory, which came to be known as "pizzagate," was clearly on the fringes of political thought, but there was a striking contingent of conservatives who genuinely believed Hillary Clinton and her aides were overseeing a child sex ring out of the back of a pizza shop in D.C. Some on the right took this quite seriously -- and one man showed up at the restaurant yesterday with an AR-15.

But reading the Post's reporting, it was Michael Flynn's name that stood out as especially noteworthy.
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Ivanka Trump, right, listens as her father Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a policy speech on child care, Sept. 13, 2016, in Aston, Pa. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

GOP assumptions about Trump's conflicts of interest put to the test

12/05/16 10:00AM

The list of Donald Trump's conflict-of-interest controversies is painfully long, and there are all kinds of relevant questions that need answers. For example, when the president-elect met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, why in the world did the meeting include Ivanka Trump?

The president-elect's daughter, after all, will soon help oversee her father's business empire, and to avoid improprieties, she's supposed to have no official governmental role. So what explains her participation in the post-election meeting between Trump and Abe? A New York Times report published yesterday adds some key details:
When Donald J. Trump hosted a foreign leader for the first time as president-elect, the guest list included a curious entry: Mr. Trump's daughter Ivanka, who looked on last month while he and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan chatted on a white couch high above Manhattan.

Some 6,700 miles from Trump Tower, in Tokyo, another exclusive gathering was already underway: a two-day private viewing of Ivanka Trump products, teeming with Trump-branded treasures like a sample of the pale pink dress Ms. Trump wore to introduce her father at the Republican National Convention.

Ms. Trump is nearing a licensing deal with the Japanese apparel giant Sanei International, both parties told The New York Times. The largest shareholder of Sanei's parent company is the Development Bank of Japan, which is wholly owned by the Japanese government.
These are exactly the kind of conflicts a responsible leader is supposed to avoid. Ivanka Trump was finalizing a Japanese business deal, with a bank owned by the Japanese government, and neither she nor her father saw anything wrong with her participating in a meeting with the Japanese prime minister -- for no reason that has anything to do with U.S. interests.

As Rachel noted on the show a couple of weeks ago, Trump simply does not appear to care about the blatant appearance that he's using the presidency as a means of making him and his family more rich: "These are the types of things we assume a president or a president-elect would hide, and eventually some intrepid journalist would uncover them and win a Pulitzer Prize. But in this case, no Pulitzer. Donald Trump is not hiding this. Everybody gets to report it. He is doing all of this stuff in plain sight."

Congressional Republicans are aware the problems, of course, but they're prepared to look the other way. Politico reports that GOP officials are willing to bet Americans just don't care.
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Donald Trump shakes hands with Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon and former 2016 Republican presidential candidate, during a news conference at the Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fl., March 11, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Ignoring qualifications, Trump nominates Carson for cabinet

12/05/16 09:22AM

Donald Trump has made all kinds of dubious cabinet selections. This is probably the most ridiculous.
President-elect Donald Trump will nominate "tough" former Republican primary rival Ben Carson as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the transition team announced Monday.

A statement described Carson as a "distinguished national leader who overcame his troubled youth in the inner city of Detroit to become a renowned neurosurgeon."
The news does not come as a surprise, since Trump and Carson signaled their plans two weeks ago, but that doesn't make the announcement any less outrageous. It's difficult to even know where to start.

1. Carson is spectacularly unqualified. Carson has literally no background in housing policy, urban development, or running a large organization. In fact, as recently as a few weeks ago, Carson said he didn't even want to try. By his own admission, Carson believes his qualifications are rooted in the fact that he lived in an inner city as a child. (In related news, I've driven on a variety of highways and can't imagine why I wasn't considered for the Secretary of Transportation.)

It's part of a broader push on the part of the Trump/Pence team to reject the importance of expertise and competence among policymakers. As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, the president-elect has no governing experience; his White House chief of staff has no governing experience; his chief strategist has no governing experience; and now much of Trump's cabinet will be led by officials with no relevant knowledge of their subject matter, no background in public service, or both.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

To explain Trump's Taiwan move, there are 3 alarming possibilities

12/05/16 08:40AM

It's been a long while since a phone call, in which nothing of significance was said, rattled international affairs quite this much.
President-elect Donald Trump spoke Friday with Taiwan's president, in a move that broke with decades of U.S. policy and could put a strain on the relationship between the U.S. and China.

The U.S. has not had diplomatic relations with Taiwan since 1979. As part of the agreement establishing official diplomatic relations with China, the U.S. government established a "One China" policy, recognizing the People's Republic of China as the sole legal government and ceasing all diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.
I hope you watched Rachel's segment on this on Friday night, because while some Americans may not appreciate why the call was such a big deal, this was a dramatic moment for U.S. foreign policy. As Rachel explained, it took decades for bipartisan policymaking to carefully craft America's approach to China, but Trump "took that silverware drawer out of the kitchen cabinet today and turned it upside down, over his head, and just started shaking the silverware.... It took decades to develop the grounds on which we talk to China -- and Donald Trump tore it up."

The next question is pretty straightforward: why in the world did the president-elect, who's never demonstrated any interest in or knowledge of foreign policy, make such a radical move. There are three possible answers, though none of them is especially encouraging.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., during a town hall, July 25, 2016, in Roanoke, Va. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump allies defend his election lie as 'refreshing'

12/05/16 08:00AM

Throughout his time in public life, Donald Trump has never been truth-oriented, but last week the president-elect told a rather specific lie: "I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally." This was a demonstrable falsehood, and neither Trump nor any of his allies have been able to bolster the bogus claim with evidence.

So instead, Team Trump has apparently embraced a post-modern debate about the inherent value and meaning of truth.

One pro-Trump pundit argued last week, for example, that there's "no such thing" as facts anymore. Corey Lewandowski added that American voters "understood that sometimes, when you have a conversation with people, whether it's around the dinner table or at a bar, you're going to say things, and sometimes you don't have all the facts to back it up."

Outgoing RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who'll soon become the White House chief of staff, was asked on CBS's "Face the Nation" yesterday about Trump lying about voter fraud. Priebus, without proof, said it's "possible" that millions of illegal ballots were cast. When host John Dickerson noted that there is no evidence to support such a claim, Priebus responded, "I think the president-elect is someone who has pushed the envelope and caused people to think in this country."

This is, of course, bordering on madness. Asked to defend his boss' demonstrable lie, the incoming White House chief of staff thinks it's great that the president-elect is "pushing the envelope" -- as if making transparently false claims to the nation is somehow cutting-edge.

On ABC's "This Week," George Stephanopoulos asked Vice President-elect Mike Pence about Trump's lie, and Pence pointed to a Pew Research Center report as proof to bolster the bogus claim. Given that the Pew report doesn't support the claim at all, the incoming VP defended a lie with a lie.

Pence then tried to change the subject, which led to this exchange:
STEPHANPOULOS: [C]an you provide any evidence to back up that statement?

PENCE; Well, look, I think he's expressed his opinion on that. And he's entitled to express his opinion on that. And I think the American people find it very refreshing that they have a president who will tell them what's on his mind.
This is no small moment. Americans are being told that their incoming president lied to them, got caught, and this is somehow a positive development that should inspire confidence in our reality-challenged leader.
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About The Rachel Maddow Show

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.

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