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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen through the audience before participating in a roundtable event, Sept. 27, 2016, in Miami. (Photo by John Locher/AP)

Donald Trump's unpopularity runs into 'Limbaugh Standard'

02/17/17 10:50AM

Shortly after the 2014 midterms, federal policymakers were facing a funding deadline and a possible government shutdown. Some on the far-right believed President Obama was so weakened by the election results that GOP lawmakers should push him to accept conservative demands.

Rush Limbaugh told Fox News' Chris Wallace at the time, "]T]he Republicans are running around like a fool saying the American people are not going to like them if they shut down the government is absurd. Barack Obama's approval is in the 30s."

Limbaugh's assessment wasn't actually true at the time, and Congress ultimately didn't take his advice, but the radio host's rhetoric was nevertheless memorable. If a president's approval rating dips below 40%, according to the Limbaugh Standard, that president is by definition weak and vulnerable.

This came to mind yesterday when reviewing the new polling report from the Pew Research Center.
Overall, 39% say they approve of how Trump is handling his job as president, while 56% say they disapprove and 6% do not offer a view. Job ratings for Trump are more negative than for other recent presidents at similar points in their first terms.
To be sure, there are plenty of other polls offering a range of data, but the Pew results are roughly in line with the latest Gallup daily tracking poll, which yesterday put the president's approval rating at 40%. [Update: The newest Gallup data, published after this piece originally went live, shows Trump sinking to 38%.]

In case this isn't obvious, since the dawn of modern polling, no new president has been this unpopular, this early in his presidency.

Why does this matter? A couple of reasons. First, Donald Trump, elected in such a way that raise questions about his presidency's legitimacy, is governing as if he earned a mandate by winning in a landslide. Public-opinion data, however, is a reminder that Americans are, at least at this point, wildly unimpressed with their new Republican leader.
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House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) sits in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill March 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Ignoring Trump, Chaffetz seeks charges related to Clinton emails

02/17/17 10:14AM

On Nov. 9, literally the day after the election, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said his pre-election plans had not changed: he remained focused on Hillary Clinton and her email server management. In December, he said it again. In January, he said it again.

Yesterday, as the Associated Press reported, the Republican congressman took the next ridiculous step.
The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who has refused Democratic requests to investigate possible conflicts of interest involving President Donald Trump, is seeking criminal charges against a former State Department employee who helped set up Hillary Clinton's private email server.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday asking him to convene a grand jury or charge Bryan Pagliano, the computer specialist who helped establish Clinton's server while she was secretary of state.
So let me get this straight. There's evidence that Russia launched an illegal espionage operation to help put Donald Trump in the Oval Office. There's evidence that Team Trump was in communications with officials in Vladimir Putin's government at the time. There's evidence that leading members of Team Trump lied about these contacts. There's evidence that the communications continued during the presidential transition process, which Trump administration officials lied about, and which led to the White House National Security Advisor resigning.

There's evidence that this entire scandal, possibly the most serious since Watergate, is part of an ongoing U.S. counter-espionage investigation.

It's against this backdrop that Jason Chaffetz, just yesterday, contacted the Justice Department seeking criminal charges related to ... wait for it ... Hillary Clinton's email server.

Do you ever feel like you're stuck in a deeply stupid nightmare?
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Image: POLITICS/US/TRUMP/PENCE

Trump struggles to give a straight answer on Russia scandal

02/17/17 09:20AM

Last summer, when Republican officials were putting together the party platform, Donald Trump and his campaign team were completely indifferent towards the document and the process -- with one notable exception.

The only thing Team Trump quietly pushed was a subtle change to make the Republican platform more in line with Russia's foreign policy preferences. One GOP congressman was quoted saying soon after that the "most under-covered story" of the Republican convention" was Team Trump's efforts to change the party platform to be more pro-Putin.

About a month later, ABC News' George Stephanopoulos asked the then-candidate about this. "I wasn't involved in that," Trump said. "Honestly, I was not involved." Told that members of his team were responsible for pushing the platform in a direction Russia wanted, Trump added, "Yeah. I was not involved in that."

It was an awkward moment, but it was also oddly clarifying. In Trump's mind, if he wasn't personally involved in doing Moscow's bidding, that effectively ended the conversation. His aides, staffers, and associates may have done all sorts of things, but like Reagan during the Iran-Contra affair, Trump remained "out of the loop" -- blissfully ignorant of what was going on around him.

This came to mind yesterday when the president was asked about the latest developments in Trump's Russia scandal. A reporter asked, "Can you say definitively that nobody on your campaign had any contacts with the Russians during the campaign?" Trump avoided the question, which led to this exchange:
Q: The first part of my question on contacts. Do you definitively say that nobody --

TRUMP: Well, I had nothing to do with it.
He then started talking about Hillary Clinton getting a question to a primary debate last March.

In other words, in Trump's mind, he personally "had nothing to do with" contacting Vladimir Putin's government, which should serve as a persuasive answer.

It's not. There are now multiple reports indicating that while Russia was illegally intervening in our election, trying to help put Trump in the White House, several people from Team Trump were in regular contact with Putin's government -- a fact that Trump and other White House officials appear to have lied about repeatedly.

"I had nothing to do with it" isn't much of an answer.
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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Trump's choice for National Security Advisor turns him down

02/17/17 08:42AM

When Michael Flynn resigned from the White House this week, it was good news for the nation overall for an important reason: Flynn was a ridiculous choice for National Security Advisor. His departure opened the door for a more qualified and sensible choice.

When we learned this week that retired Navy Vice Adm. Robert Harward was offered the job, there were bipartisan sighs of relief. Harward is broadly respected, highly qualified, and exactly the kind of person who would help set minds at ease in this otherwise volatile and erratic administration.

It was therefore an important development yesterday when Harward turned down the job.

Officially, the retired military leader cited family obligations, but a Financial Times report suggested conditions at the increasingly troubled White House played an important role in Harward's thinking.
...Mr Harward is said to have turned Mr Trump down. "Harward is conflicted between the call of duty and the obvious dysfunctionality," said one person with first hand knowledge of the discussions between Mr Trump and Mr Harward.
CNN's Jake Tapper, quoting a source close to Harward, said he was reluctant to join Team Trump because the White House seems so chaotic. Harward reportedly characterized the job offer as a "s**t sandwich."

At this point, it's understandable for Trump's critics to feel a sense of schadenfreude. The flailing White House is in so much trouble that its breakdowns are becoming a self-perpetuating cycle: Trump World is failing to govern, which creates chaos, which creates a need for mature officials to fill key positions of authority, which can't happen because capable people see Trump World failing to govern and run in the opposite direction. That in turn creates chaos, which creates a need for mature officials....

The consequences of this, however, are real and alarming.
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Donald Trump holds a press conference with his VP Choice, Gov. Mike Pence, July 16, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

Trump's minority outreach efforts take a painful step backwards

02/17/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump managed to win the 2016 presidential election, despite receiving far fewer votes than his opponent, thanks to the strong support of his overwhelmingly white base. By his own admission, the Republican president would like to expand his group of backers, making inroads with communities that have rejected him.

For example, Trump has predicted that when he runs for re-election, he expects to receive 95% of the African-American vote -- up from the 8% he received in 2016.

It's safe to say the president should start lowering his expectations. Two weeks ago, Trump hosted an event in which he referenced Frederick Douglass, while making clear he had no idea who the legendary abolitionist is (or the fact that Douglass is dead). Yesterday, he asked an African-American reporter to help set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus -- apparently working from the assumption that all black people know each other.

Trump added:
"I would love to meet with the Black Caucus. I think it's great, the Congressional Black Caucus. I think it's great. I actually thought I had a meeting with Congressman [Elijah] Cummings, and he was all excited. And then he said, 'Well, I can't move, it might be bad for me politically. I can't have that meeting." I was all set to have the meeting. You know, we called him and called him. And he was all set. I spoke to him on the phone, very nice guy.

"He wanted it, but we called, called, called and can't make a meeting with him. Every day I walk and say I would like to meet with him because I do want to solve the problem. But he probably was told by Schumer or somebody like that, some other lightweight. He was probably told -- he was probably told 'don't meet with Trump. It's bad politics.' And that's part of the problem in this country."
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who is black, later explained that Trump simply made all of this up.

But let's not forget that African Americans aren't the only ones the president is offending.
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Thursday's Mini-Report, 2.16.17

02/16/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Big news on the Muslim ban: "The Justice Department told a federal court Thursday that there's no point in further court battles over President Trump's executive order on immigration, because it will soon be replaced by a different one."

* Iraq: "At least 48 people have been killed in Baghdad in the third blast in the Iraqi capital in three days, security and medical sources say. A car packed with explosives blew up near car dealerships in the Shia area of Bayaa in the south of the city. More than 50 people were injured. The Islamic State (IS) group claimed the attack, saying it targeted 'a gathering of Shias.'"

* More on him tomorrow: "President Donald Trump announced Alexander Acosta as his new pick to head the Department of Labor, less than a day after his first choice for the job, Andy Puzder, withdrew from consideration."

* David Friedman: "President Donald Trump's controversial pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel said Thursday he regretted calling former President Barack Obama an anti-Semite and making other inflammatory remarks about the State Department and liberal Jewish groups."

* The final vote was 51-49: "The Senate confirmed Rep. Mick Mulvaney as the new director of the Office of Management and Budget on Thursday morning, allowing the budget process to move forward."

* Alabama: "New Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Wednesday officially recused himself from an investigation of Gov. Robert Bentley. The recusal confirms that the attorney general's office is investigating the governor."

* South Carolina: "Union organizers fell far short on Wednesday in a bid to enlist workers at Boeing's South Carolina facilities in what was widely viewed as an early test of labor's strength in the Trump era."

* An ugly trend: "The number of hate groups in the United States rose for the second straight year in 2016, with a sharp spike in those spreading anti-Muslim messages, according to a civil rights group."
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U.S. President Donald Trump looks at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S.

After ranting and raving, Trump declares, 'I'm not ranting and raving'

02/16/17 04:30PM

When Donald Trump spoke to the CIA the day after his inauguration, I genuinely believed it was the strangest speech I've ever seen an American president deliver. When he did some television interviews in the days that followed, I concluded, quite sincerely, that they were the strangest interviews I've ever seen conducted with an American president.

And when Trump hosted a White House press conference this afternoon -- his first major media event since taking office -- it was hard not to conclude that it was the strangest press conference ever held by an American president.
President Donald Trump defended his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn during a fiery and wide-ranging press conference Thursday afternoon, saying the retired general "did nothing wrong" and blasting the press for its reporting on the scandal.

Flynn "was doing his job. He was calling countries," Trump said of Flynn's conversation with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak. "I didn't direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn't do it," Trump said.
In terms of the substantive news this afternoon, that was certainly one of the more relevant takeaways. As far as Trump is concerned, he had to fire his National Security Advisor for lying about benign actions that the president supported, but was unaware of.

This, of course, still doesn't add up: the White House was notified weeks ago that Flynn lied, but Flynn nevertheless remained in his position until this week.

But while Trump's Russia scandal continues to unfold, today's press conference was absolutely stunning, not necessarily because of the news the president broke, but because he was so wildly unhinged.

At one point, he declared, "Tomorrow, they will say, 'Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.' I'm not ranting and raving. I'm just telling you. You know, you're dishonest people. But I'm not ranting and raving. I love this. I'm having a good time doing it. But tomorrow, the headlines are going to be, 'Donald Trump rants and raves.' I'm not ranting and raving."

This was near the end of a lengthy media event in which he was clearly both ranting and raving. It was hard to tell if we were watching a president or a performance artist offering a powerful commentary about the cringe-worthy absurdities of our modern political lives.
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Then, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio, on Oct. 22, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Trump contradicts his own talking points on Russia scandal

02/16/17 12:49PM

For months, Donald Trump rejected the idea that Russia intervened in the American presidential election. A month after his improbable victory, the Republican called the allegations "ridiculous."

In time, however, even Trump couldn't deny the evidence put together by the U.S. intelligence community, and a month after dismissing the controversy as absurd, the president was compelled to acknowledge reality. At a pre-inauguration press conference, a reporter asked Trump if he accepts the findings that show "Vladimir Putin ordered the hack of the DNC."

Grudgingly, at long last, he replied, "As far as hacking, I think it was Russia."

This morning, Trump has apparently gone back to his original posture. The president tweeted:
"The Democrats had to come up with a story as to why they lost the election, and so badly (306), so they made up a story - RUSSIA. Fake news!"
As part of the same series of messages, Trump also complained about "illegal leaking" and his belief that media "makes-up stories and 'sources.'" The president added that "low-life leakers ... will be caught!"

Let's get a couple of things out of the way. First, Trump's obsession with his underwhelming electoral-vote totals is becoming increasingly pitiful. The president seems to think he's helping himself with this sad rhetoric, but he couldn't be more wrong.

Second, the contradictions are starting to pile up. If we're talking about stories that the media "made up," then there are no leakers to catch. He's really going to have to get this story straight: are the recent reports the result of leaked information or are they fake news? They can't be both, so Trump is going to have to pick one and go with it.
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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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