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Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during a meeting with journalists after a live broadcast nationwide call-in in Moscow, Russia, April 14, 2016. (Photo by Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

A Watergate comparison that finally makes sense

07/26/16 03:03PM

It is the political scandal to which all others are compared. It's the only scandal to force a sitting American president to resign in disgrace. It's the scandal that has led so many of us to quickly add the "-gate" suffix to practically every new controversy that arises, political or not.
It's Watergate, which ended Richard Nixon's presidency, led to 40 criminal indictments against government officials, and did lasting harm to how Americans think about politics and their own government.
For many in the political world, the search for the next Watergate is practically constant. The last time I counted, there were at least 10 separate "controversies" that President Obama's critics eagerly labeled "Obama's Watergate," each of which turned out to be meaningless, further diluting an already over used cliché.
But what if a story came along that actually resembled Watergate in meaningful and direct ways? Remember, the spark that lit the Watergate fire was a third-rate burglary in which Democratic opponents tried to steal embarrassing information that could be used to help a Republican win a presidential election.
Writing in Slate today, Franklin Foer takes note of the parallels 44 years later: the alleged Russian theft of Democratic emails, published online ahead of the Democratic convention, possibly to help the Republican nominee.
A foreign government has hacked a political party's computers -- and possibly an election. It has stolen documents and timed their release to explode with maximum damage. [...]
The better analogy for these hacks is Watergate. To help win an election, the Russians broke into the virtual headquarters of the Democratic Party. The hackers installed the cyber-version of the bugging equipment that Nixon's goons used -- sitting on the DNC computers for a year, eavesdropping on everything, collecting as many scraps as possible. This is trespassing, it's thievery, it's a breathtaking transgression of privacy. It falls into that classic genre, the dirty trick. Yet that term feels too innocent to describe the offense. Nixon's dirty tricksters didn't mindlessly expose the private data of low-level staff.
Some caveats and caution is in order.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to introduce his wife Melania during the Republican National Convention, July 18, 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump's hidden tax returns take on new significance

07/26/16 12:47PM

A couple of weeks ago, when Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg tried her hand at political punditry, the progressive jurist raised a variety of concerns about Donald Trump. Among them was an issue that's largely faded from the debate.
"How has he gotten away with not turning over his tax returns?" Ginsburg asked. "The press seems to be very gentle with him on that."
For what it's worth, I think the media did a decent job of pressing the issue for quite a while, but as the campaign progresses, and new issues arise, there are only so many times we can run the "Trump Still Hiding His Tax Returns" story. Yes, every major-party nominee has released his or her tax documents for decades, and yes, Trump is breaking new ground with his unexplained secrecy, but it can't dominate coverage every day.
But when circumstances warrant a return to an old story, the coverage can change. The Atlantic's James Fallows noted today, for example, that Russia's alleged intervention in the U.S. presidential election has changed the calculus.
These new developments underscore the importance of an old, familiar point: now, more than ever, Donald Trump must release his tax returns. To put it differently, the press should no longer "normalize" his stonewalling on this issue. [emphasis in the original]
As another veteran figure in the defense world and political affairs wrote to me this morning: "In normal times, this [the Russian hacking] would be the lead on all network news. But these are not normal times. I am having trouble getting through to some people that this is a real thing. The very people who always say "follow the money" with regard to the Pentagon [or other boondoggle bureaucracies] don't see that (a) Trump has been kept afloat for about 15 years by Russian oligarchs; and (b) Russia has a powerful incentive to see a US president who will end economic sanctions.
To be sure, even if these allegations about Russia trying to boost Trump's candidacy didn't exist, Trump would still have a responsibility to honor campaign norms. Indeed, the Russian story isn't the only controversy that Trump's tax returns can help resolve.
But either way, the stakes have changed. Trump's excuses in defense of secrecy have never made any sense, and the need for disclosure is now more acute.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.26.16

07/26/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* The NBC News/SurveyMonkey tracking poll shows Donald Trump getting no real post-convention bounce: he still trails Hillary Clinton in the poll, 46% to 45%, which is where the race stood before the Republican convention.
* On a related note, the YouGov/Economist tracking poll actually found Clinton, not Trump, gaining a little after the GOP's gathering in Cleveland.
* Trump reportedly told a North Carolina audience yesterday that the latest polls show him receiving the "largest bump in the history of conventions." No matter which survey you believe, that's ridiculously untrue.
* At least for now, the Clinton campaign is pulling its television ads in Colorado, confident that the campaign is already doing quite well there, and can safely redirect resources elsewhere.
* After the Democratic convention wraps up on Thursday, Clinton and Tim Kaine are scheduled to begin a bus tour throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania.
* And speaking of Ohio, a PPP poll released yesterday showed Clinton and Trump tied in the state at 45% each. Add third-party candidates to the mix, however, and Trump is ahead by three.
* Though there was some scuttlebutt yesterday that Bernie Sanders supporters want to push Tim Kaine from the Democratic ticket, Sanders and his team have disavowed the idea.
The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

The death of one party, the birth of another

07/26/16 11:20AM

After Donald Trump's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last week, Nicolle Wallace, a longtime GOP strategist, had a memorable exchange with NBC's Chuck Todd.
WALLACE: [T]he Republican Party that I worked for for two decades died in this room tonight. We are now represented as a Party by a man who believes in protectionism, isolationism, and nativism. And those were the forces that George W. Bush, and I believe John McCain too, were most worried about during their times as the leaders of the Republican Party. 
CHUCK TODD: Striking comment. You believe the party died tonight?
WALLACE: Well, the voters picked this guy. This is where the Republican Party is now. They now are attracted to those forces of isolationism and protectionism. But the party I was part of for two decades is dead.
If you feel as if you've run into that sentiment and that phrasing quite a bit lately, it's not your imagination. The headline of David Brooks' New York Times column last week read, "The Death of the Republican Party." Max Boot recently published an L.A. Times piece with the headline, "The Republican Party is dead." The Washington Post's Michael Gerson, George W. Bush's former chief speechwriter, wrote last month that the Party of Lincoln "is dying."
After the GOP's presidential nominating process wrapped up in May, the New York Daily News ran a cover with a cartoon elephant in a casket. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to mourn the GOP, a once-great political party, killed by epidemic of Trump," the cover told readers.
It's important to define our terms a bit, because it's easy to misunderstand what these observers mean by "dead." The Republican Party will, of course, continue to exist no matter what happens in the 2016 elections. When commentators refer to the GOP's "death," they're not talking about its disappearance from the political landscape.
Rather, this is about the passing of a major party as we understand it, giving way to something new. The Republican Party, as an institutional entity, isn't going anywhere, but it's nevertheless transforming into something different from what Americans have been accustomed to.
 Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) visits the Quicken Loans Arena ahead of the Republican National Convention on July 17, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Cotton wants Trump to change his mind about Putin

07/26/16 10:40AM

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.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe, then Democratic nominee, visits former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder's Public Policy class at Virginia Commonwealth University September 5, 2013 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

The 'war on voting' takes some unexpected turns

07/26/16 10:06AM

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 Post reported 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.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a town hall, July 25, 2016, in Roanoke, Va. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump eyes 'expansion' of his proposed Muslim ban

07/26/16 09:26AM

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.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) delivers remarks on the first day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Penn. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Bernie Sanders: Clinton 'will make an outstanding president'

07/26/16 08:45AM

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.
First lady Michelle Obama acknowledges the crowd during her speech on the first day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Penn. (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty)

Michelle Obama: 'When they go low, we go high'

07/26/16 08:00AM

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.
Clinton trust issues may be impenetrable

Clinton trust issues may be impenetrable

07/25/16 11:44PM

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


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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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