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Image: Donald Trump

GOP base comfortable with Trump's racially inflammatory posture

08/21/17 08:40AM

More than a few political observers, hopeful that American politics was still driven by decency and principle, saw last week as a deal-breaker of sorts for Donald Trump. The amateur president could spend months testing the limits of the fabric that holds the country together, the argument went, but he couldn't expect to get away with offering a tacit defense of white supremacists.

And yet, here we are. The Washington Post reported yesterday:

A GOP strategist working campaigns in red and purple states said that while support for Trump generally declined slightly since Charlottesville, support rose among his base, after a decline last month because of the failure on health care and revelations about the Russia investigation. This strategist said many Trump supporters applaud the president's continuing desire to shake up Washington, favor his economic priorities and admire his willingness to speak his mind.

Hugh Hewitt, a conservative pundit who hosts an MSNBC weekend show, added on Twitter the other day that he spoke to a group of influential California Republicans, and he came away convinced that Trump's support "has increased" within the party in the wake of the president's racially inflammatory comments.

I wish this were more surprising, but it's important that the political world start adjusting its expectations for what constitutes "the Republican mainstream" in 2017. This radicalized GOP is Donald Trump's party, and with that comes a degree of comfort and acceptance with presidential antics many other Americans consider contemptible.

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Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University speaks during a Liberty University Convocation in Lynchburg, Va., on Sept. 14, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

As others flee, Trump's top evangelical ally comes to his defense

08/21/17 08:00AM

After Donald Trump publicly defended racist activists, to the delight of prominent white supremacists, the White House hoped the president's Republican allies would rally to his defense. That clearly didn't happen.

Last week, bookers and producers for a variety of news programs -- including colleagues of mine at MSNBC -- reached out to dozens of GOP officials about appearing on camera to defend Trump's comments, and Republicans simply weren't interested. That continued yesterday: in an exceedingly rare sight, there were no elected GOP officials on any of the Sunday shows.

In an interesting twist, when ABC News' "This Week" asked the White House for a spokesperson willing to appear as a guest, officials directed the show's producers to, of all people, Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University and a member of the White House's Evangelical Advisory Board. Falwell was one of the few people to defend Trump last week, and he did so again yesterday with ABC's Martha Raddatz.

RADDATZ: [Trump] said, there were "very fine people" on both sides. Do you believe there were very fine people on both sides?

FALLWELL: He has inside information that I don't have. I don't know if there were historical purists there who were trying to preserve some statues. I don't know. But he had information I didn't have. And I believe that he spoke what was...

RADDATZ: What made you think he knew that...

FALLWELL: I think he saw videos of who was there. I think he was talking about what he had seen, information that he had that I don't have.

This is a curious line of defense. On Friday, Aug. 11, tiki-torch-wielding activists were filmed chanting, "Jews will not replace us." Other participants at that Charlottesville rally were photographed making a Nazi salute. Trump said of these activists, “Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.”

Were we supposed to "believe" him because, as Falwell put it, Trump has unique "information" about these activists' motivations? From Falwell's perspective, does the president have some kind of special insights into what the torch-wielding racists were thinking?

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Friday's Mini-Report, 8.18.17

08/18/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Barcelona: "Thousands of Spaniards set out on a pilgrimage of peace Friday along the same street that was a scene of horror less than 24 hours before."

* Related news: "Spain was seized Friday with the realization that it had incubated a large-scale terrorist plot, as authorities across Europe mounted a manhunt following the deadliest attacks to strike the country in more than a decade: two vehicle assaults in Barcelona and a Catalan coastal town."

* Susan Bro: "The mother of the woman who was run down by a car during violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., said Friday that after seeing President Trump's comments equating white supremacist protesters with those demonstrating against them, she does not wish to speak with him."

* Not surprisingly, they sent a great letter: "All seventeen members of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned en masse Friday, citing President Donald Trump's comments ascribing blame to 'both sides' for violence in Charlottesville."

* Mar-a-Lago: "The Salvation Army, the American Red Cross and Susan G. Komen on Friday joined a growing exodus of organizations canceling plans to hold fundraising events at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, deepening the financial impact to President Trump's private business amid furor over his comments on Charlottesville."

* Related news: "Thursday afternoon, the Cleveland Clinic and American Cancer Society announced they were leaving the president's Palm Beach estate."

* Those rumors were wrong: "Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said he has no plans to become Donald Trump's Energy Secretary, an idea that was floated as a way to let the state's Republican governor name a successor and advance the president's stalled agenda in Congress."

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Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-TRUMP-BANNON

Donald Trump keeps parting ways with 'the best people'

08/18/17 04:48PM

Remember when Donald Trump, as a presidential candidate, vowed to surround himself "only with the best and most serious people" if elected? It was right around the time he promised via Facebook to "hire the best people."

Whether he's kept that promise or not is a subjective matter, but given the volatility in the White House, it's hard not to get the impression that Trump doesn't believe he's hired "the best people" -- or he wouldn't have gotten rid of so many of his top aides.

Revisiting a recent item, Trump World has been in office for almost seven months, and we've seen a startling number of departures among leading officials, including:

- Reince Priebus, chief of staff

- Katie Walsh, deputy chief of staff

- Michael Flynn, national security advisor

- Sean Spicer, press secretary

- Michael Short. assistant Press Secretary

- Mike Dubke, the first communications director

- Anthony Scaramucci, the second communications director

- K.T. McFarland, deputy national security advisor

- Monica Crowley, advisor to the National Security Council

- Ezra Cohen-Watnick, director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council

- Tera Dahl, deputy chief of staff at the National Security Council

- Rich Higgins, director of strategic planning at the National Security Council

- Josh Pitcock, chief of staff to the vice president

- Sally Yates, acting U.S. attorney general

- James Comey, director of the FBI

- Walter Shaub, director of the Office of Government Ethics

- Steve Bannon, chief White House strategist

- Dozens of U.S. Attorneys

This does not include the various shake-ups we've seen on Trump's outside legal team.

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Image: White House Senior Advisor Bannon attends a roundtable discussion held by U.S. President Trump with auto industry leaders at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township

Steve Bannon, Trump's chief strategist, exits stage right

08/18/17 02:18PM

At his now-infamous press conference this week, Donald Trump was asked if he still has confidence in Steve Bannon, the chief White House strategist. The president's perspective seemed pretty clear.

"Well, we'll see," Trump said. "Look, I like Mr. Bannon. He's a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came on very late, you know that. I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that, and I like him. He's a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that. He's a good person.... But we'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon."

Keep this in mind when reading today's big news out of the White House.

Steve Bannon, the embattled White House chief strategist, is leaving President Donald Trump's administration, two senior White House officials told NBC News.

Bannon's departure brings to a close his rocky tenure in the West Wing in which he clashed with many of Trump's other top aides, including the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner.

For Trump's progressive critics, there's reason to see this as a positive development. Trump's campaign adopted a more radical and nationalistic posture when Bannon joined the team, and his role as the president's chief strategist meant Bannon's brand of extremism had a high-profile advocate in the West Wing.

And if Bannon's ouster was motivated by Trump's desire to be a more mainstream president, that'd be even more encouraging. But that's almost certainly not what today's news is all about.

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Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy

The worst week of Trump's presidency keeps happening

08/18/17 01:01PM

It's been nearly 20 years since its release, but there's a scene early on in "Office Space" that keeps coming to mind. Peter Gibbons, feeling depressed, goes to see a therapist and explains his state of mind.

"So I was sitting in my cubicle today," our protagonist says, "and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life."

The intrigued therapist asks, "What about today? Is today the worst day of your life?"

Without hesitation, Peter responds, "Yeah," to which the therapist replies, "Wow, that's messed up."

I was reminded of the scene this morning reading NBC News' First Read, which labeled this the worst week of Donald Trump's presidency.

For a presidency that's contained some ups and many more downs, this has been President Trump's worst week in office -- highlighted by his controversial comments about Saturday's violence in Charlottesville.

The analysis strikes me as entirely fair; this week has been truly abysmal. Trump's response to the violence in Charlottesville, for example, has been a debacle for the ages. As the backlash to his defense of racists continued, the president also feuded with his ostensible Republican allies, and saw his corporate allies flee White House councils, deeming Trump too toxic to be around.

An ABC News piece this morning added, "This week has arguably been the worst in his presidency and has left members of his party unsure how to pick up the pieces."

Which brings us back to "Office Space" and Peter Gibbons.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.18.17

08/18/17 12:00PM

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

* The latest national Quinnipiac poll shows Donald Trump's approval rating at 39%, which is awful, but higher than some other recent polling for this president. He's buoyed by support among Republicans, which now stands at 81%.

* On a related note, Julius Krein, a prominent Trump cheerleader during the campaign, has a new piece in the New York Times explaining why he's giving up: "It is now clear that my optimism was unfounded. I can't stand by this disgraceful administration any longer."

* With only a few months remaining in Virginia's gubernatorial race, Confederate monuments have become a key dividing line. Ralph Northam (D), a native Virginian, wants the statues moved into museums; Ed Gillespie (R), a transplant from New Jersey, wants to maintain the status quo.

* Efforts to trim Alabama's voter rolls have become so problematic that Rep. Mo Brooks (R) discovered he was listed as "inactive" when he went to vote for himself in this week's Senate primary.

* In the wake of events in Charlottesville, the Democratic National Committee hopes to take advantage of progressive activists' heightened passions and direct it into electoral politics. "In addition to calling on Republicans to denounce Trump, the next step is getting people to commit to vote," DNC chief executive Jess O'Connell told the Washington Post. "This is a galvanizing moment."

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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

The awkward timing of the RNC's African-American outreach efforts

08/18/17 11:21AM

When Reince Priebus was the chair of the Republican National Committee, he'd occasionally make an effort to reach out to African-American voters. Especially after the 2012 election, Priebus was convinced his party faced demographic challenges that needed to be addressed, and so we'd see the RNC chair make visits to inner-city churches, for example, urging communities of color to keep an open mind.

It was a tough sell  Not only did Priebus have to contend with Republicans' recent history of exploiting racial animus for partisan gain, but even as the RNC conducted the outreach, Republican officials were waging a political war against the first African-American president and taking steps that directly hurt black voters, such as approving new voter-suppression measures.

But as difficult as this was for Reince Priebus, the RNC's job is even harder now. The Detroit News had this report earlier in the week:

The timing couldn't have been more awkward.

Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, came to Detroit on Monday to try to reach out and attract African-American voters to the GOP.

But her visit came 48 hours after a violent and deadly weekend of rioting in Charlottesville, Va., where white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered to protest the removal of a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

At that point, Donald Trump -- best known for using a racist conspiracy theory to rise to prominence in Republican politics -- had already condemned "both sides" for violence in Charlottesville. But the day after Ronna Romney McDaniel's outreach effort in Detroit, the president publicly defended the "very fine people" among the racist activists.

And all of this was before Trump started expressing his affection for Confederate monuments -- the "beauty" of which, he said, is irreplaceable.

I don't imagine this make the RNC's outreach efforts any easier.

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Image: Neil Gorsuch speaks after U.S. President Donald Trump announces his nomination of Gorsuch to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at the White House in Washington

Neil Gorsuch to headline an event at Trump-owned hotel

08/18/17 10:40AM

Pretty much everything about Neil Gorsuch's role on the Supreme Court is a matter of some controversy. The fact that Senate Republicans effectively stole a seat and held it for him, for example, remains outrageous.

Now that he's on the bench, Gorsuch has raised eyebrows as the far-right stalwart that GOP partisans hoped he'd be. An NPR analysis last month found that the high court's newest justice has taken the conservative position on literally 100% of the cases on which he's ruled.

But there's also his decisions away from the bench that are starting to draw scrutiny. The New York Times reports:

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, President Trump's Supreme Court appointee, is scheduled to address a conservative group at the Trump International Hotel in Washington next month, less than two weeks before the court is set to hear arguments on Mr. Trump's travel ban.

Stephen Gillers, an expert on legal ethics at New York University, questioned the justice's decision to speak at the hotel, which is at issue in lower-court cases challenging the constitutionality of payments to Mr. Trump's companies.

"At this highly divisive political moment, especially as many Trump decisions are likely soon to reach the court's docket, one just days later, a healthy respect for public confidence in the court should have led Justice Gorsuch to demur," he said.

The Times spoke to a variety of experts in legal ethics, and in fairness, it's worth emphasizing that they were not unanimous in their concerns.

That said, the assessment from Stanford law professor Deborah Rhode rings true: "It's a terrible signal for this group to be holding their meeting at the Trump International Hotel and for a Supreme Court justice to legitimate it by attending. It just violates basic ethical principles about conflicts of interest."

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Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin responds to US President Donald Trump ordering missile strikes on Syria

Some U.S. allies trust Putin more than Trump

08/18/17 10:02AM

The Pew Research Center published a new report this week on international attitudes towards Vladimir Putin, and not surprisingly, the Russian president is not a popular global figure. The report explained, "Around the world, few people trust Russian President Vladimir Putin to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs. A global median of roughly one-in-four (26%) say they have confidence in the Russian leader."

This is certainly in line with expectations. For much of the world, Putin is an autocratic thug, unworthy of respect. This, however, was the part of the new Pew report that was startling:

Although confidence in Putin's handling of foreign affairs is generally low, in many countries he is more trusted than American President Donald Trump.

And that doesn't just refer to traditional Russian allies; it actually refers to traditional American allies.

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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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