Donald Trump's line on tax returns has taken several twists and turns, but in recent months, he and his team have settled on a single talking point: the Republican presidential candidate would release the materials, but an IRS audit makes that impossible.
Is there any evidence Trump is actually being audited? No. Does an audit prevent Trump from disclosing the documents? No. But the candidate and his campaign have nevertheless stuck to the line, even if that means he'll be the first major-party nominee since Watergate to hide his tax returns from public scrutiny.
Occasionally, however, the Republican campaign forgets what it's supposed to say. Trump conceded last week, for example, that he could release his returns "immediately" -- audit or no audit -- but he's choosing not to. Yesterday, Donald Trump Jr., a prominent voice in his father's campaign, also strayed from the script in an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
When asked why his father has not released his tax returns as presidential candidates have traditionally done, Trump Jr. said, "Because he's got a 12,000-page tax return that would create ... financial auditors out of every person in the country asking questions that would detract from (his father's) main message."
Well, yeah, but that (a) isn't a credible excuse for secrecy; and (b) further proves that the "audit" justification is a sham.
Consider what Trump Jr. is arguing here: the campaign could share relevant information, but then people might ask inconvenient questions, so Team Trump prefers secrecy to disclosure. In effect, Trump Jr. tried to say with a straight face, "If we release his tax returns, a bunch of people might ask annoying questions. No thank you."
Donald Trump made the curious decision yesterday to visit Flint, Michigan, despite the wishes of the local mayor. As Rachel explained on last night's show, the Republican presidential candidate showed up anyway, toured a water facility, and delivered remarks at the Bethel United Methodist Church, where he'd been invited to make an appearance.
It didn't go well. Trump, predictably, went after Hillary Clinton in his brief speech, right up until the Rev. Faith Green Timmons, the church's pastor interrupted him. "Mr. Trump, I invited you here to thank us for what we've done in Flint, not give a political speech," she said.
Trump, clearly surprised, quickly responded, "Okay, that's good. Then I'm going to go back to Flint."
Of course, Trump has a long track record of not responding well to public rebukes, so no one should have been surprised this morning when the Republican candidate turned his attention to the pastor. The Wall Street Journalreported:
Donald Trump on Thursday said the pastor who interrupted him as he launched into an anti-Clinton speech at an African-American church the day before was "so nervous she was shaking" when she introduced him to her congregation.
In an interview on Fox News, the Republican presidential nominee suggested Faith Green Timmons, pastor of Bethel United Methodist Church in Flint, Mich., had planned to disrupt his remarks ahead of time.
"When she got up to introduce me, she was so nervous she was shaking and I said, 'Wow this is sort of strange,'" he said. "And then she came up. So she had that in mind, there's no question about it.... Everyone plays their games."
Yes, Donald Trump believes the smart move this morning is to target the African-American woman who invited him to address her congregation.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) dealt with the "John Doe" investigations into alleged political misconduct for quite a while, and despite troubling evidence, the Republican governor's allies on the state Supreme Court ended the probe last summer.
But while the investigation may no longer exist, the revelations from the controversy continue. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinelreported yesterday:
Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature approved a measure aimed at retroactively shielding paint makers from liability after a billionaire owner of a lead producer contributed $750,000 to a political group that provided crucial support to Walker and Republicans in recall elections, according to a report released Wednesday.
Citing leaked documents gathered during a now-shuttered investigation into the governor's campaign, the Guardian U.S., an arm of the British newspaper, reported that Harold Simmons, owner of NL Industries, a producer of the lead formerly used in paint, made three donations totaling $750,000 to the Wisconsin Club for Growth between April 2011 and January 2012.
The provision intended to help the Republican donor's business, the article added, "was inserted in a budget bill in the middle of the night despite warnings about its constitutionality."
To briefly recap what the "John Doe" controversy was all about, Wisconsin election laws prohibit officials from coordinating campaign activities with outside political groups. There was, however, ample reason to believe Walker and his team were directly involved in overseeing how outside groups -- including some allegedly non-partisan non-profits -- spent their campaign resources during his successful recall election.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected the allegations, adopting a rather extreme approach to campaign-finance laws, giving Walker a free pass. But the Guardian's reporting nevertheless sheds light on the Republican governor's behind-the-scenes efforts -- and what kind of benefits Walker's supporters received.
In this case, Walker reached out to Simmons, encouraging him to donate generously to the right-wing Club for Growth, which helped keep the governor in office. Soon after, Walker and his GOP allies helped Simmons' business, shielding it from lead-paint lawsuits.
The blunt assumption has dominated much of the political world's thinking for months: "There's simply no way Americans will elect an unqualified, racist television personality to be president of the United States. That's just not just who we are as a people."
And throughout most of the 2016 election season, there's been a steady stream of evidence to bolster the thesis. Hillary Clinton's lead over Donald Trump has never reached insurmountable heights, but her national advantage has nevertheless had the benefit of longevity.
But as summer gets ready to turn to fall, it's time to take a fresh look at old assumptions about the presidential race.
Yesterday afternoon, the latest national Quinnipiac poll showed Clinton leading Trump by five, 48% to 43%, which is half the advantage she enjoyed in the same poll in late August. Once third-party candidates are added to the mix, the Democrat's lead shrinks to just two points, 41% to 39%.
This morning, another major national poll pointed to an even closer contest.
With less than eight weeks before Election Day, Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton are locked in a tight contest, with both candidates still struggling to win the confidence of their respective bases, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll finds.
Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic nominee, has the support of 46 percent of likely voters nationwide, to 44 percent for Mr. Trump, the Republican, including those who said they were leaning toward a candidate.... In a four-way race, Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton are tied at 42 percent each.
Note, both of these polls were conducted late last week through early this week, so respondents were likely aware of intense media coverage of Clinton's pneumonia and "deplorables" comment in reference to Trump's extremist supporters.
And if these survey results weren't quite enough to cause Democratic handwringing, new state-based polling from CNN almost certainly did the trick.
Mayor Karen Weaver of Flint, Michigan talks with Rachel Maddow about the bill currently moving through the Senate that could mean significant assistance to Flint, and how Donald Trump could help by encouraging House Republicans to pass the bill instead of with last minute photo ops in Flint. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on Donald Trump's awkward visit to Flint, Michigan, during which a pastor interrupted his speech to remind him why he was there, all as potential real help for Flint is making its way through Congress. watch
Rachel Maddow looks at the Donald Trump's business interests like those highlighted in Kurt Eichenwald's Newsweek piece and notes that a blind trust would not resolve conflicts for a "President Trump" and neither would handing the company to his kids. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the winding path of Donald Trump's health disclosure, beginning with a farcical letter from his gastroenterologist and coming to a head with an appearance on a daytime TV doctor show where not much new light is shed despite a lot of hype. watch
* Refugees: "The Obama administration is pressing ahead with plans to boost the number of refugees it will allow into the U.S. as a national debate rages over immigration and security. The increase to 110,000 represents a nearly 30 percent increase over the current fiscal year."
* By announcing this so soon before an election, Ford is just asking to be vilified: "Ford announced Wednesday that it will move its entire small car operation from America to Mexico.... Lower profit margins for small cars are an industry-wide issue, and have led to many automakers shifting manufacturing to lower-cost zones."
* The House Dems' sit-in earlier this summer wasn't the end: "House Democrats made a renewed push for votes on gun control measures on Wednesday -- nearly three months after they staged a sit-in on that chamber's floor demanding action."
* The right insists the Obama administration is anti-Israel. Reality keeps pointing in the opposite direction: "Israel and the United States have reached an agreement that will provide Israel an unprecedented amount of military aid over a decade."
* It's an angle that will go overlooked, but Hillary Clinton's diplomatic efforts paved the way for this: "President Obama pledged on Wednesday to lift all remaining sanctions against Myanmar, seeking to reward the country's recent moves toward democracy after decades of brutal military rule."
* North Carolina: "The Atlantic Coast Conference announced Wednesday that it would move neutral site championships for this academic year, including the football title game in December and the women's basketball tournament in March, out of North Carolina in reaction to a state law that curbed anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people."
The issue of Donald Trump's personal health was already one of the stranger stories of the 2016 presidential race, as Rachel explained at the top of last night's show. This morning, however, the story got even stranger.
The original plan, according to the Republican candidate himself, was to release "very detailed" information about his health "this week," following a physical exam Trump underwent last week. The vow was itself something of a reversal: the only information Americans have seen about Trump's health to date was a laughable letter from the candidate's gastroenterologist, Dr. Harold Bornstein, which the physician concedes was thrown together in five minutes without careful review, and which included language the doctor himself did not take seriously.
Yesterday, however, we were told Trump would discuss the results of last week's physical on Dr. Oz's television show -- a curious choice given Oz's controversial background and a reversal from the campaign's previous position -- as part of what the host described yesterday as a "no-holds-barred conversation." Oz added, however, that Trump would control the release of the information and the host wouldn't ask any questions that the candidate "doesn't want to have answered."
On a related note, Oz conceded he would do this interview despite having no direct communications with the doctor who actually did the physical exam.
This morning, the Trump campaign said the entire plan had been changed and the candidate wouldn't release any medical records through Dr. Oz's show. The GOP candidate would have a conversation about general well-being, but Americans would have to wait for specific information related to Trump.
After a whiplash-inducing morning of mixed messages, Donald J. Trump on Wednesday gave a small window into some of the results from his most recent physical examination in a taped appearance with the television celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz.
The quick run-through of results, which Mr. Trump is said to have given to the doctor to read from a piece of paper, came after the Republican presidential nominee's aides had said he would, and then that he wouldn't, broach the topic with the celebrity doctor on the "Dr. Oz Show."
According to CNN's report, Trump's "surprise" disclosure was "a one-page summary of the physical exam he underwent last week." The physical, the CNN piece added, was conducted by -- wait for it -- Dr. Harold Bornstein.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Hillary Clinton has been off the campaign trail for a few days, but as Rachel noted at the top of last night's show, she's scheduled to appear at an event in Greensboro, North Carolina, tomorrow night.
* In Ohio, polling averages suggest Clinton has a narrow advantage over Donald Trump, but a new Bloomberg Politics poll shows the Republican ahead by five, 48% to 43%.
* It wasn't easy, but Rep. Frank Guinta (R) managed to narrowly win his Republican primary in New Hampshire yesterday. Though the race was too close to call last night, Guinta's challenger conceded the race this morning.
* The Clinton campaign this morning released a new 30-second ad, contrasting the Clinton Foundation with the Trump Foundation. It's a brief-but-unflattering look at the latter.
* The Democrats' Senate Majority PAC is launching television ads in Indiana this week in support of former Sen. Evan Bayh (D). Though Bayh is generally seen as the favorite, he's been heavily outspent in recent weeks by Republicans.
* In Virginia, the latest PPP poll shows Clinton with a pretty comfortable lead over Trump, 50% to 42%. That eight-point advantage shrinks to six points with the third-party candidates in the mix.
* In Maine, a new Colby College-Boston Globepoll found Clinton with a modest advantage over Trump, 42% to 39%. Note that Democrats have prevailed in Maine -- one of only two states to divide their electoral votes by congressional district -- in each of the last six election cycles.
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.