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After finally denouncing racists, Trump steps on his message

08/15/17 08:45AM

It took far longer than it should have, but Donald Trump finally denounced white supremacists yesterday, two days after the president responded to Saturday's deadly violence in Charlottesville by condemning bigotry "on many sides." And while I think it's generally wise to steer clear of questioning others' motives, it's also fair to consider the broader context of Trump's brief public statement to get a sense of his sincerity.

For example, the president's use of Twitter last night shed light on what was on his mind. The Chicago Tribune reported:

[Trump] retweeted a post from an eyebrow-raising Twitter account: that of right-wing provocateur Jack Posobiec, a Trump supporter known for advancing a number of conspiracy theories, such as those tied to "Pizzagate" and the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

His tweet had nothing to do with Charlottesville, instead linking to a story about Chicago homicides.

Posobiec's tweet linked to a story from the Chicago ABC affiliate and read, "Meanwhile: 39 shootings in Chicago this weekend, 9 deaths. No national media outrage. Why is that?"

The implication wasn't exactly subtle: Trump promoted a message that suggested there was too much coverage of Charlottesville violence.

That, of course, followed Trump telling Fox News he's considering pardoning Arizona's Joe Arpaio, a notorious birther and hero to fringe far-right activists.

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Image: President Trump Meets With The National Association of Manufacturers

CEOs start running away from away from Donald Trump

08/15/17 08:00AM

When Donald Trump unveiled his White House American Manufacturing Council in January, it had 28 members, each of whom were prominent business or labor leaders. In June, Tesla's Elon Musk resigned from the panel after the president abandoned the Paris climate accords, and yesterday, it shrunk a bit more.

Ken Frazier, the CEO of Merck, got the ball rolling yesterday morning, announcing that he'd stepped down from Trump's council, following the president's reaction to white-supremacist violence in Charlottesville. True to form, Trump responded by lashing out at Frazier -- twice.

Nevertheless, by last night, Frazier had some company. The New York Times reported:

Brian Krzanich, C.E.O. of Intel -- one of the most important global manufacturers of computer chips -- announced his departure from President Trump's advisory council on manufacturing in a late-night blog post on Monday.

The decision followed similar moves from Kenneth C. Frazier, the chief executive of drugmaker Merck, who was the first executive to leave the advisory group on Monday, and Kevin Plank, the founder and chief executive of athletic apparel maker Under Armour, who also announced his decision on Monday evening.

Taken together, the executives' decisions are the business community's strongest rebuke to date of a president who has courted controversy for his entire career.

Other members of the American Manufacturing Council -- and other White House panels featuring plenty of other private-sector chiefs -- have plenty of reasons to do the same thing.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 8.14.17

08/14/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* James Alex Fields Jr. in court: "The Ohio man accused of killing a woman when he allegedly rammed his car into a group protesting against white nationalists rallying in Virginia was denied bail Monday in his first court appearance since the chaos in Charlottesville."

* Justice Department: "Late on Saturday night, the Department of Justice announced that it was opening a civil rights investigation into 'the circumstances of the deadly vehicular incident,' to be conducted by the F.B.I., the United States attorney for the Western District of Virginia, and the department's Civil Rights Division."

* Iraq: "Two American soldiers have been killed while conducting combat operations in Iraq, the U.S. military said Sunday, adding that 'initial reports indicate the incident was not due to enemy contact.' Five other soldiers were wounded, it said in a statement, without providing further details. It did not identify the soldiers."

* A story to watch: "President Trump told Fox News he is 'seriously considering' issuing a pardon for former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted last month of criminal contempt for ignoring a judge's order to stop detaining people because he merely suspected them of being undocumented immigrants."

* I wonder what Priebus has to share: "In a sign that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election will remain a continuing distraction for the White House, the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is in talks with the West Wing about interviewing current and former senior administration officials, including the recently ousted White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, according to three people briefed on the discussions."

* This was pretty weird: "President Trump called Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo to express his support to the U.S. territory amid the threats of an imminent strike from North Korea. But the commander in chief told him not to worry because the threat of a nuclear attack would only help Guam woo tourists."

* Add this to the list of failed predictions: "Doctor Shortage Under Obamacare? It Didn't Happen."

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Image: U.S. President Trump delivers statement following a shooting at a Congressional Republicans baseball practice, at the White House in Washington

Two days later, Trump tries to get Charlottesville right

08/14/17 02:27PM

When Donald Trump was given an opportunity to comment on Saturday's deadly violence in Charlottesville, it didn't go well. The president condemned bigotry "on many sides," which delighted white supremacists and sparked bipartisan pushback.

And so, under significant pressure, Trump spoke from the White House today and gave this another try.

For reasons that aren't entirely clear, the president began his remarks by referencing trade, tax cuts, the stock market, and unemployment, which made it seem as if these were the issues that were foremost on his mind. Trump, carefully following his trusted teleprompter, eventually got around to addressing Saturday's violence.

"We must love each other, show affection for each other and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans.

"Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.... Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America."

The president did not take questions.

What was wrong with Trump's prepared remarks? Nothing. It was a perfectly fine speech. What's hard to brush aside, however, is what it took to get him to that podium.

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Has Trump reached the bottom, or can he fall further?

08/14/17 12:41PM

On Friday afternoon at one of the golf resorts he still owns and profits from, Donald Trump fielded some reporters' questions on a variety of topics. For example, with the crisis in Venezuela continuing to unfold, the president was asked about what options he's considering to "deal with this mess." Trump, for the first time, publicly raised the specter of U.S. military intervention.

"We have many options for Venezuela. And by the way, I'm not going to rule out a military option. We have many options for Venezuela. This is our neighbor. This is -- you know, we're all over the world. And we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away. And the people are suffering. And they're dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary."

The president wouldn't go into any details, but he added moments later that "a military operation, a military option is certainly something that we could pursue."

By all appearances, Trump just blurted all of this out without any real thought or planning. The United States hasn't actually taken any steps to prepare for military intervention in Venezuela, and Vice President Mike Pence soon after sent a very different signal about U.S. intentions -- Trump and Pence routinely say very different things to different audiences -- but the damage was already done.

As a Slate report explained, "Throughout his power grab that has accompanied Venezuela's descent into chaos, Maduro has long warned the United States was planning to invade the country. Trump's words seemed to play straight into his narrative.... 'Maduro must be thrilled right now,' said Mark Feierstein, who was a senior aide on Venezuela to former president Barack Obama. 'It's hard to imagine a more damaging thing for Trump to say.'"

That sentiment -- "It's hard to imagine a more damaging thing for Trump to say" -- keeps coming up, in all kinds of contexts.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.14.17

08/14/17 12:00PM

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

* The Republican primary in Alabama's U.S. Senate special election is tomorrow, and a pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, has made a last-minute, six-figure ad buy in support of appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R).

* On a related note, Donald Trump himself reiterated his support for Strange yesterday on Twitter. If no candidate gets 50% tomorrow, as seems likely, the top two Republicans will face off in a primary runoff on Sept. 26. The general election is scheduled for Dec. 12.

* Speaking of special election primaries, Republicans in Utah's 3rd district will choose the party's nominee to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R) tomorrow. The general election is Nov. 7, and Kathie Allen, a physician, is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

* In Wisconsin, Kevin Nicholson, a Republican U.S. Senate hopeful, has pulled his first campaign ad last week because it inappropriately featured footage from a veterans cemetery. The commercial has been edited and re-released.

* A day after the president called for national unity, Trump's re-election campaign released a new 30-second commercial, attacking Democrats and journalists as the president's "enemies."

* Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) faces a tough re-election challenge in Missouri next year, and to complicate matters, the incumbent senator now has a primary rival. 31-year-old Angelica Earl kicked off her campaign last week. Earl, running for the Democratic nomination, describes herself as a "big Bernie Sanders supporter" and "more of an independent than a Democrat."

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Image: First Lady Melania Trump Hosts A Celebration Of MilitaryMothers Event

Trump slams Merck CEO after resignation from White House council

08/14/17 10:47AM

Kenneth Frazier, the CEO of Merck, one of the nation's largest pharmaceutical companies, announced this morning that he's resigning as a member of Donald Trump's American Manufacturing Council. Apparently, the president's reaction to white-supremacist violence in Charlottesville was simply too much.

"As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism," Frazier explained.

With remarkable efficiency, Trump returned fire with an angry tweet.

"Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!"

It's hard not to appreciate the irony: Merck's CEO resigned because Trump wouldn't denounce white supremacists. The president responded, not by condemning dangerous radicals, but by blasting ... Merck's CEO.

Also note the speed with which Trump can move when he wants to. Facing criticism that he was slow to speak out on Saturday's deadly violence -- the president published an underwhelming tweet hours after the fact, and still hasn't condemned the white supremacists who gathered in Charlottesville -- Trump went after Ken Frazier by name less than an hour after the Merck chief's statement.

If he'd invested this much energy in condemning white supremacists on Saturday, Trump wouldn't be in this mess.

It's a reminder, of course, that nothing motivates this president like a sense of grievance in response to a personal slight. Trump isn't especially concerned by criticisms of the United States, but affronts to him personally are nearly always met with swift and angry rebukes.

Those who praise Trump, meanwhile, can feel confident that they will remain in the president's good graces -- indefinitely and unconditionally.

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After Trump's Charlottesville debacle, Pence admonishes media

08/14/17 10:00AM

Vice President Mike Pence is in Colombia today, where he specifically condemned the American radicals responsible for Saturday's deadly violence in Charlottesville. "We will not tolerate hatred and violence of groups like white supremacists, the KKK and neo-Nazis," he told NBC News. "These extremist fringe groups have no place in the American debate."

Had Donald Trump said the same thing on Saturday, the White House wouldn't be scrambling to mitigate the damage done by the president's fiasco.

But the vice president didn't just condemn the racists the president chose not to single out; Pence also tried to redirect the criticisms towards the media.

Pence said he took issue with "the fact that many in the media are spending more time criticizing how the president addressed the issue yesterday."

"Many in the media spent an awful lot of time focusing on what the president said and criticisms of what the president said instead of criticizing those who brought that hatred and violence to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia," Pence said.

It's a problematic defense. Trump faced criticism -- from the left, right, and center -- because much is expected from a president, especially after developments like those we saw on Saturday, and Trump failed to clear a low bar. For Pence to suggest everyone leave the president alone, and focus criticisms solely on the white supremacists, misses the point.

But just as important, it wasn't just "the media" that recognized Trump's failure.

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Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy

Revisiting an old Trump question: 'Are we living in Nazi Germany?'

08/14/17 09:20AM

Donald Trump's criticisms of U.S. intelligence agencies have been provocative for quite a while, but perhaps the lowest point came when Trump suggested American intelligence professionals had acted like Nazis.

In January, shortly before the president was inaugurated, the public learned about Christopher Steele's dossier, which claimed, among other things, that Russia had compromising information on Trump. The Republican did not take the news well, launching into one of his more vituperative Twitter tantrums, which culminated in this missive:

"Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to 'leak' into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?"

A few hours after publishing his tweet, the then-president-elect re-emphasized his argument during a press conference, insisting that he believes it was "disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out." He added, "That's something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do."

As regular readers may recall, this didn't make sense for a wide variety of reasons, including basic historical details: of all the nightmares associated with Nazi Germany, leaks from intelligence agencies weren't the principal problem.

But Saturday's events in Charlottesville got me thinking anew about Trump's message from January.

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GOP senator: racist groups think 'they have a friend' in Trump

08/14/17 08:40AM

In the wake of the deadly violence in Charlottesville on Saturday, Donald Trump had an opportunity to condemn white supremacists and their agenda. He instead denounced hatred "on many sides."

Those who might want to give the president the benefit of the doubt have an added challenge to contend with: the context created by recent history.

Trump, who rose to political prominence by peddling a racist conspiracy theory, was a different kind of presidential candidate in a variety of ways, but his overt use of racial politics was a radical departure from what Americans have grown accustomed to in recent years. In February 2016, for example, after Trump balked at denouncing David Duke and the KKK, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said, "We cannot be a party [that] nominates someone who refuses to condemn white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan."

Rachel had an op-ed in the Washington Post the same day, asking what it said about the contemporary GOP that Trump enjoyed such enthusiastic support from white nationalists and neo-Nazis.

Republican voters, however, were unmoved. As 2016 progressed, and Trump secured his party's nomination, the campaign became a source of inspiration for white nationalists, culminating in the KKK's official newspaper expressing support for the Republican nominee just a week before Election Day.

Those attitudes haven't faded.

During a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke said the event is in line with President Trump's "promises."

"This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back," Duke said. "We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That's what we believed in. That's why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he's going to take our country back."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) explained yesterday, "These groups seem to believe they have a friend in Donald Trump in the White House."

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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks on the protests in Charlottesville Virginia from his golf estate in Bedminster New Jersey

Donald Trump can't stop failing tests of moral leadership

08/14/17 08:00AM

The American presidency, Franklin Roosevelt once said, is "preeminently a place of moral leadership." It helps explain why Donald Trump is failing so spectacularly: the current occupant of the Oval Office has no real interest in providing moral leadership, or even learning how.

The president was already scheduled to speak on Saturday afternoon -- his remarks were supposed to focus on veterans' issues -- and interest in his remarks grew in the wake of the deadly violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia. This was a unique opportunity for Trump to speak out clearly and forcefully against a societal scourge.

But instead of being the president America needed, Donald Trump was Donald Trump

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence -- on many sides, on many sides."

After referencing low unemployment and other economic developments he's eager to take credit for, the president added, "We must love each other, respect each other, and cherish our history." Trump then transitioned back to his original remarks, explaining how pleased he with a new law that makes it easier for him to fire people who work at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The president made no specific reference to the white supremacists responsible for Saturday's violence. Trump, preferring to remain maddeningly vague, could've condemned neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and terrorists -- when someone deliberately uses a car as a weapon, driving into a crowd, no other word is appropriate -- but he chose not to.

Instead, Trump turned his attention to hatred, bigotry, and violence "on many sides," as if white supremacists and their opponents are equally culpable for the unrest in Charlottesville.

In the face of bipartisan rebukes, the White House eventually condemned white supremacists in a written statement, but it was not only too late, it was also attributed to an unnamed White House official -- not the president. The attempt at damage control did little to stem the tide of public revulsion. On the contrary, phrases such as "cherish our history" were seen as possible dog-whistle comments, intended to pander to the same people he should've been denouncing.

Faced with yet another test of presidential leadership, Trump flunked -- again.

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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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