When Donald Trump and his campaign team told reporters on Tuesday that he wouldn't participate in tonight's debate on Fox News, it was hard to know whether or not to believe him. Maybe it was just a little cry for attention. Perhaps he'd seek some kind of concession from the network. Maybe this was the latest move to dominate the news cycle for another day or two.
In the end, it's not like the Republican frontrunner would just blow off a prime-time event on the party's most important news network, right? Wrong. The NBC First Read crew noted this morning:
Today isn't just four days out until the Iowa caucuses; it's also the final GOP debate before Monday's contest. But as you know by now, there's a TAD bit of drama on that front. After refusing to participate in tonight's debate, Trump is holding a competing event in Des Moines to benefit veterans' organizations.
Blowing off a debate poses a potential headache, but blowing off a charitable event for veterans isn't really an option. When the Trump campaign organized this alternative event, it effectively committed the candidate to skipping the debate. It was the point at which the conversation shifted from "he'll eventually agree to participate in the debate" to "he's really not going."
The drama, however, is ongoing and multifaceted. During an interview with the candidate last night, Fox's Bill O'Reilly implored Trump to participate in the debate. Trump wouldn't budge. Fox's Roger Ailes reportedly reached out to Trump's daughter, which also did not change the dynamic.
Ted Cruz's super PAC has offered to donate $1.5 million to a charity of Trump's choosing if the Republican frontrunner agrees to a one-on-debate ahead of Monday's caucuses -- this is a trick that should be familiar to Trump -- but such an event appears unlikely.
Meanwhile, according to Trump, two of his 2016 rivals reached out to him last night to ask if they, too, could skip the debate and join him at his veterans' event. Whether or not this happened in reality is unclear, though if we're talking about candidates stuck at the kids-table debate, it certainly seems possible.
What we don't know is what effect this is going to have on the race itself. The latest polls show Trump in a dominant position, but those surveys were conducted before this debate drama.
At a Republican event in May, a reporter asked several of the GOP presidential candidates to name the greatest living president. Bobby Jindal, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz all mentioned Ronald Reagan -- who died in 2004.
This week, BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray raised a related question while interviewing Cruz, making a deliberate effort to get a better answer. It didn't go well.
Asked by BuzzFeed News to cite his greatest foreign policy influence apart from Reagan, Cruz cited Reagan anyway.
"If you ask the question, the answer is Ronald Reagan," Cruz said. "You might not like that answer, but that is the truth."
On the surface, it's hard not to marvel at the knee-jerk response. The senator heard the question, and probably could have named some other people who've influenced his thinking on foreign policy, but the poor guy just can't help himself. If Cruz were asked about his greatest influences on other policy areas, I suspect we'd hear the same answer.
But just below the surface, I can't help but wonder just how much Cruz knows about Reagan's foreign policy.
The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is not a political story, per se. It's a man-made catastrophe affecting real people and endangering a real community. Families who have to fear the water coming out of their tap in their own home probably couldn't care less about election results, talking points, or the latest pitch from a public-relations agency.
When you're worried about your safety and that of your children, politics must seem very small.
That said, Flint's crisis isn't a natural disaster; it's a disaster that was imposed on the city by politicians. It's difficult to separate politics from the scandal because it was the decisions from political officials that created the crisis in the first place.
And with that in mind, the Detroit Free Pressreported yesterday on the results of a new EPIC-MRA poll of Michigan residents, which is the first statewide survey since the public at large first became aware of the Flint disaster (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the heads-up).
Gov. Rick Snyder's popularity and job approval numbers have plummeted as a result of the Flint drinking water catastrophe, with 69% of those surveyed saying the Republican governor has handled the crisis poorly. [...]
Overall, when more than just the Flint drinking water issue is considered, only 39% say Snyder is doing a good job as governor and 58% say he is doing a poor job, according to the poll of 600 likely voters, made available exclusively to the Free Press, WXYZ-TV (Channel 7), and statewide media partners.
Snyder, who was re-elected to a second term in late 2014 with 51% of the vote, had a 45% approval rating last summer. His favorability ratings are also now underwater.
Most Michigan voters, who also elected a Republican-led legislature in the last cycle, are not, however, eager to see the governor forced from office. The same poll found that 29% of those surveyed want Snyder to resign, while 61% do not.
As additional details come to light about culpability in this scandal, that number may yet change.
After a year of chatter, the political world has finally reached the point at which actual voters will express actual preferences in the presidential race in ways that will actually matter. The Iowa caucuses are four days away; the New Hampshire primary is 12 days away.
On the eve of actual voting, polls can help offer valuable clues about late surges. Never mind what the results showed months ago; what matters now is whether a candidate is closing strong. Plenty of candidates have won Iowa, quickly overcoming significant deficits, and surveys from this stage in the process often let us know which candidates are making gains as voters make up their minds.
So, where do things stand? Let's start with the Hawkeye State, where there are two major new Republican surveys to consider. The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll has the race shaping up this way:
1. Donald Trump: 32% (up from 24% in early January)
2. Ted Cruz: 25% (down from 28%)
3. Marco Rubio: 18% (up from 13%)
4. Ben Carson: 8% (down from 11%)
Trump's 32% showing is the strongest support any Republican has had in Iowa from this poll all cycle. The latest results from Monmouth University point in a similar direction.
1. Donald Trump: 30% (up from 19% in December)
2. Ted Cruz: 23% (down from 24%)
3. Marco Rubio: 16% (up from 17%)
4. Ben Carson: 10% (down from 13%)
Note, in both of these cases, each of the remaining candidates was below 5%.
It's hard to say with confidence whether Trump voters intend to show up when it counts, and the lingering questions about the efficacy of the candidate's on-the-ground operation matter, but if the polls are correct, there's no question as to who's favored to win on Monday night.
But what about the New Hampshire race nine days later? The NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll also shows:
After well-armed militants took over a building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2, the group's leadership told the Oregonian, "We're planning on staying here for years, absolutely."
As things stand, the standoff will wrap up much sooner. It's not over, but as of this morning, we appear to be witnessing the beginning of the end.
Late Tuesday, Ammon and Ryan Bundy were arrested, and as part of the confrontation, a shootout left one of their allies, Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum, dead. Three other militants were arrested at the scene, and two more were taken into custody in related incidents.
NBC News reported earlier this morning that more members of the group continue are finding themselves in handcuffs.
The FBI arrested three more people who occupied the Oregon federal wildlife refuge.
One of the trio arrested Wednesday was 43-year-old Jason S. Patrick, who The Oregonian newspaper reported had assumed the role of leader for the remaining protesters after the original ringleaders were detained on a highway the previous day.... About four hours earlier, Duane Leo Ehmer, 45, of Irrigon, Oregon, and Dylan Wade Anderson, 34, of Provo, Utah, also were arrested after leaving the compound, the FBI said.
Those three were part of an eight-person group who decided to leave the refuge yesterday. The other five were released without charges.
By all accounts, there was no violence during any of these arrests.
Ammon Bundy issued a statement through his attorney late yesterday, urging his remaining partners to end the standoff. "Please stand down," he said. "Go home and hug your families." He added that the fight would move forward "in the courts."
President of the National Action Network of Michigan Reverend Charles Williams and Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow join Rachel Maddow at the MSNBC town hall “American Disaster: The Crisis in Flint" to share their visions for short and long-term solutions to the Flint crisis. watch
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver joins Rachel Maddow at the MSNBC town hall “American Disaster: The Crisis in Flint" and explains the breakdown of democracy in her city and the need for Flint residents to reclaim their voice. watch
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha joins Rachel Maddow at the MSNBC town hall "American Disaster: The Crisis in Flint” and discusses how educators can play a vital role in the development of children who have been exposed to lead. watch
NBC News' Stephanie Gosk reports on how lead poisoning has taken a catastrophic toll on Flint, Michigan's children. Plus: Rachel Maddow and panel discuss the dearth of resources in Flint for the city's children, and how to solve that problem. watch
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow talks to Flint Mayor Karen Weaver during the MSNBC town hall "American Disaster: The Crisis in Flint” about whether it's sustainable for residents to live on bottled water. The audience yelled an emphatic "no!" 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.