In presidential elections, Utah is such a Republican stronghold, it's practically the basis for clichés. The state has backed the GOP candidate in 12 of the past 12 campaign cycles. Over the last half-century, the closest any Democrat has come to winning Utah was in 1992, when Bill Clinton lost by 19 points.
And Clinton finished third in Utah that year, trailing Ross Perot.
But this is an odd year for all sorts of reasons, and Utah suddenly finds itself receiving far more attention than state voters are accustomed to. Polls show Donald Trump leading Hillary Clinton in the state, but by modest margins, and state GOP officials have been quite candid in their warnings that Clinton has a credible chance of winning Utah's six electoral votes.
As The New Republicnoted the other day, the unusual circumstances have not escaped the attention of the GOP candidate.
The Republican nominee spoke Thursday in Florida to a right-wing evangelical Christian group, the American Renewal Project, and couldn't help but take a dig at another state and a demographic of voters with whom he's slipping.
"You've gotta get your people out to vote. And especially in those states where we're represented," Trump said. "I'm having a tremendous problem in Utah. Utah's a different place. I don't know -- is anybody here from Utah?" [Silence.] "I mean, it's -- I didn't think so."
His rival seems aware of the opportunity. In fact, Trump's "tremendous problem in Utah" comments came a day after Hillary Clinton published an op-ed in Utah's Deseret News, a project of the Church of Latter Day Saints. In it, the Democratic nominee emphasized Mitt Romney's condemnations of Trump, Clinton's record in support of religious freedom, and the parallels between her vision and Mormon traditions.
"Generations of LDS leaders, from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young to Gordon Hinckley and Thomas Monson, have noted the infinite blessings we have received from the Constitution of the United States," Clinton wrote. "The next president will swear an oath to preserve, protect and defend that document for successive generations. And if you give me the honor to serve as your president, I will fight every day to carry out that sacred responsibility."
Yesterday, Trump had an op-ed of his own in the same church newspaper, reinforcing the perception that he's having to focus attention on a state that most Republican presidential candidates feel free to overlook.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In Virginia, which is supposed to be a battleground state, a new Washington Postpoll shows Hillary Clinton with a pretty healthy lead over Donald Trump among likely voters, 51% to 43%.
* The latest NBC News/SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll shows Clinton with a nine-point advantage over Trump nationally, 50% to 41%. At least for now, the Democrat's post-convention bounce hasn't faded.
* The presidential election, by the way, is 12 weeks from today.
* President Obama headlined a Massachusetts fundraiser yesterday, and urged Democrats not to be complacent in the face of positive polls. "If we are not running scared until the day after the election, we are going to be making a grave mistake," the president said.
* Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), the only sitting senator in New England who supports the Republicans' presidential nominee, wants voters to perceive a "big distinction" between endorsing Trump and her stating publicly that she intends to vote for Trump.
* In North Carolina, the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll found Deborah Ross (D) leading incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R) in their match-up, 46% to 44%, while Roy Cooper (D) leads incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory (R) by an even wider margin, 51% to 44%.
* In Colorado, the same poll showed Sen. Michael Bennet (D) with a comfortable, double-digit lead over challenger Darryl Glenn (R), 53% to 38%.
* The news was better for Republicans in Florida, where the poll found Sen. Marco Rubio (R) with a growing lead over Rep. Patrick Murphy (D), 49% to 43%.
* Will Georgia become a 2016 battleground? It's worth noting that the Clinton campaign is staffing up in the Peach State, which probably isn't what Republicans wanted to see.
In March 2015, Oregon became the first state in the nation to embrace automatic voter registration, California adopted the same idea soon after. This year, West Virginia, Vermont, and Connecticut joined the small-but-growing club.
The AVR road, however, is not without roadblocks. A bill passed in New Jersey, for example, only to be vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie (R). Late last week, as the Chicago Tribunereported, Illinois' Republican governor also balked, at least for now.
Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill aimed at making voter registration automatic in Illinois, citing concerns about potential voting fraud and conflicts with federal law.
The first-term Republican governor said he wanted to continue negotiations with supporters to work out those issues, but groups backing the measure accused him of playing politics with his veto and said they would seek an override.
Note, automatic voter registration faced little resistance in Illinois' Democratic-led state legislature. AVR passed the state House 86 to 30, in the state Senate, it was even more lopsided, 50 to 7.
Given those totals, state lawmakers will likely have the support necessary to make the legislation law anyway, overriding the GOP governor's veto.
That said, Rauner insists he remains open to the idea, his veto notwithstanding, and in a statement, he said he intends to "continue working" on the idea.
The latest revelations surrounding Donald Trump's presidential campaign team and ties to pro-Putin forces abroad have sparked plenty of interest. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, yesterday urged the Republican nominee to "immediately disclose any payments by pro-Putin groups to his campaign chairman or other key staff, and assure the American public that these payments have not influenced his campaign proposals or any action he might take in the White House.”
Schiff isn't the only one looking for answers. CNN's Jake Tapper asked Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) yesterday about the allegations surrounding Paul Manafort and his financial ties to pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. The Republican congressman responded:
"Yes, look, I think Donald Trump ought to really investigate this and where his chief adviser, what his association with the Russians are. [...]
"[W]e do know that there was a push for some reason at the RNC to take offensive weapons out of our platform. That wasn't anything anybody was talking about it. It just happened. That has been this affection in the campaign for Russia and Vladimir Putin.
"In my thought, I have concerns for the chief adviser of Donald Trump, you know, having done work for a pro-Russian government in Ukraine, and, then, all of a sudden, there is this real affection for Russia in the campaign."
This morning, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) also appeared on CNN and said, "I want to know what money [Manafort] got from a pro-Russian organization in the Ukraine."
It's a safe bet that you have a pretty clear preference in this year's presidential race. In fact, it's also likely that nearly everyone you know -- at least those who intend to cast a ballot -- already has a good idea about who'll they'll support. The number of true undecided voters, folks who just aren't sure which candidate to back, is fairly small.
But these Americans still exist. In fact, we can even find them on Capitol Hill.
Take Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), for example. The Republican senator, facing a tough re-election fight in a blue state, announced his support for Donald Trump's candidacy several months ago, but in June, Kirk became the first and only GOP senator to withdraw that endorsement and declare he wouldn't support his party's nominee after all.
Soon after, the Illinois senator said he'd write in former CIA Director David Petraeus' name rather than support Trump.
Last week, Kirk changed his mind again, announcing he'll instead write in former Secretary of State Colin Powell's name on his presidential ballot. As the Chicago Tribunereported, this didn't turn out well.
Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, who has unendorsed Donald Trump, said Wednesday he "can't support" Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton or anyone for president who backs the Iran nuclear agreement.
But Kirk's stated choice as a write-in candidate for president, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, also supported the U.S.-led multinational agreement aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program.
In a CNN interview, Kirk specifically said, in reference to the international nuclear agreement with Iran, "Hillary Clinton was for the Iran agreement. And I can't support someone who is for the Iran agreement." (Powell, whom Kirk had just endorsed, is a rather enthusiastic proponent of the Iran agreement.)
Which means it's time for the Republican senator to come up with his fourth presidential preference in the last three months. And who might that be?
It's hardly an unfamiliar dynamic. Many times, high-profile rivals for a presidential nomination have waged bitter primary fights, only to grudgingly come together for the general election. Inevitably, the candidates who came up short are asked about the nasty things they said in the heat of electoral battle, and they respond with an obvious retort: those previous comments were hyperbolic and not a true reflection of their respect and affection for the party's nominee.
The comments generally aren't sincere, but it's the script candidates read, not only in the name of party unity, but also to help justify a post-primary endorsement.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) may not fully understand this.
In the heat of the Republican presidential primary, Marco Rubio called Donald Trump a "con man." And he doesn't take it back. "I've stood by everything I ever said in my campaign," Rubio told the Miami Herald editorial board Monday.
But Rubio still supports Trump for president.
During the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Rubio was quite candid in his condemnations of Trump. The Floridian referred to Trump as a "lunatic" and a "con man." Rubio's campaign, quite literally, sold #NeverTrump swag on its website. The senator told audiences that Trump might urinate on himself, mocked Trump's hair and face, and even made vulgar jokes about Trump's genitals.
The GOP senator has had multiple opportunities to walk all of this back, and chalk it up to overheated campaign rhetoric, but Rubio doesn't want to do that. On the contrary, he keeps saying that he "stands by everything" he said while condemning Trump's fitness for office.
And in the next breath, Rubio also says he supports Trump's presidential candidacy. He doesn't seem to appreciate how foolish this sounds.
President Obama and his national security team have wanted to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay for many years. Congress has stood in the way. But while lawmakers have succeeded in preventing sweeping action, they have not been able to stand in the way of incremental progress.
As Rachel noted on the show last night, the Obama administration has taken another big step towards its larger goal with another big detainee transfer. The Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg reported late yesterday:
The Pentagon disclosed Monday that it sent 15 detainees from Guantanamo to the United Arab Emirates this weekend, part of an ongoing, dramatic downsizing that could see the prison population dip to fewer than 50 war prisoners in Cuba by summer's end.
The 12 Yemeni and three Afghan men sent to the Emirates range in age from 36 to 66. Most arrived at Guantanamo when they were in their early 20s a dozen or more years ago. None was ever convicted of a crime although the Bush-era prosecutor briefly swore out charges against two of the Afghans in cases the Obama war crimes prosecutor never pursued.
Updating the tally we've been keeping an eye on, the detention facility's population peaked in 2003 with 680 prisoners. As of today, the Obama administration has reduced that total to just 61 people -- the lowest number we've seen since the first detainees arrived 14 years ago.
What's more, we can expect that total to shrink further. The Miami Herald's report added that 20 of the remaining 61 should leave the prison "soon," as a result of "resettlement or repatriation through agreements."
As we discussed in April, the point of the gradual reductions, obviously, is to reduce the overall population, but it's also intended to appeal to Congress' sense of fiscal sanity: the smaller the number of detainees, the harder it is to justify the massive expense of keeping open a detention facility that houses so few people. Even if congressional Republicans are inclined to ignore the White House, military leaders, and Bush/Cheney administration veterans, the hope is that GOP lawmakers will at least care about wasteful spending.
Most of Donald Trump's big speeches tend to raise questions about his competence, but yesterday's address on foreign policy and national security was stranger than most. It left many wondering, for example, if the Republican presidential candidate is familiar with his own past opinions.
Trump, for example, is on record supporting the war in Iraq, the ouster of the Mubarak government in Egypt, and the U.S. military offensive in Libya. Yesterday, Trump not only pretended he never held those positions, he also blamed these policies for contributing to the rise of ISIS.
It led MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin to note that the national security framework he described "was so contradictory and filled with so many obvious falsehoods that it's virtually impossible to tell what he would do as president."
There was, meanwhile, one part of the speech that deserves closer scrutiny. NBC News reported:
Donald Trump on Monday promised "extreme vetting" of immigrants, including ideological screening that that will allow only those who "share our values and respect our people" into the United States.
Among the traits that Trump would screen for are those who have "hostile attitudes" toward the U.S., those who believe "Sharia law should supplant American law," people who "don't believe in our Constitution or who support bigotry and hatred."
All of this is intended to shed light on Trump's proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States, unveiled in December. A month ago, the GOP nominee added a geographic "expansion" to his idea, saying he wants closer scrutiny of immigrants from countries "compromised by terrorism" -- a policy that would apparently include most of the planet.
Now, evidently, there's a new prong to the policy: an ideological test. Those immigrants who declare their hostility for American law and their contempt for pluralism won't be allowed in.
Aisha Turner, producer of the 'Precious Lives' radio series about gun violence and young people in Milwaukee, talks with Rachel Maddow about the context of the racial protests taking place in Milwaukee. watch
Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, talks with Rachel Maddow about whether Donald Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort should be required to disclose the details of his employment with Ukraine's Russia-backed former president. watch
Rachel Maddow relays new reporting from the New York Times about Ukrainian investigations into Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's recent employment with Ukraine's Russia-backed former president. watch
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.