Donald Trump has a handful of core issues that help define his political identity. Indeed, one need not be a political news junkie to be able to rattle off the list: the New York Republican wants to "make America great again" by banning foreign Muslims from entering the country and addressing immigration by building a wall along the U.S./Mexico border.
It was literally in his surreal campaign kick-off speech that Trump made international headlines by declaring, "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists."
For anti-immigration voters, Trump quickly became the presidential candidate they've been waiting for. But what does the presumptive Republican nominee actually know about his signature issue? Joshua Green has a fascinating new piece in Bloomberg Politics, which is largely about Trump undoing RNC Chairman Reince Priebus' years of work, but the article included one anecdote in particular that amazed me.
He explained the genesis of his heterodox views. "I'm not sure I got there through deep analysis," he said. "My views are what everybody else's views are. When I give speeches, sometimes I'll sign autographs and I'll get to talk to people and learn a lot about the party." [...]
I asked, given how immigration drove his initial surge of popularity, whether he, like [Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions], had considered the RNC's call for immigration reform to be a kick in the teeth. To my surprise, he candidly admitted that he hadn't known about it or even followed the issue until recently. "When I made my [announcement] speech at Trump Tower, the June 16 speech," he said, "I didn't know about the Gang of Eight.... I just knew instinctively that our borders are a mess."
For quite a while, it's obviously been a problem that Donald Trump lacks a basic understanding of government and public policy. But anecdotes like these are a reminder about an alarming, related detail: he's not particularly interested in current events, either.
I'm not even sure he's clear on the meaning of "instinctively."
When the Koch brothers' political operation targets a Democratic candidate, no one bats an eye. When it goes after a conservative Republican in a red state, something odd is going on.
The Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity is pulling out all the stops to end Rep. Renee Ellmers' career in Washington.
The group founded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch has dozens of field workers descending on the lawmaker's district in the Raleigh suburbs, all of whom are working to brand the three-time incumbent as a fake conservative who has too often voted for legislation reaffirming Washington's crony capitalism.
According to The Hill's report, this is "the first time the Koch network has ever opposed a sitting Republican lawmaker facing a primary fight." The article added, "If successful, the AFP campaign against Ellmers will become a cautionary tale for other congressional Republicans who don't vote in line with the Koch network's agenda."
But it's not just the Koch brothers' operation. Right Wing Watch reported earlier this month, "The Susan B. Anthony List, which serves as the electoral arm of the anti-abortion movement and is particularly focused on electing anti-choice women, is for the first time endorsing a male candidate over an anti-choice woman in a Republican primary, backing Rep. George Holding against Rep. Renee Ellmers in a recently redrawn congressional district in North Carolina."
CDC Director Tom Frieden has a background in science and medicine, not politics and messaging. So when he uses the kind of language he repeated yesterday, it's worth appreciating just how franticly Frieden is trying to ring a national alarm. The Huffington Postreported:
Dr. Tom Frieden has dealt with a number of epidemics during his seven-year tenure as director of the Centers for Disease Control. But the rapidly spreading Zika virus, the terrifying birth defects it causes and Congress' inexplicable foot-dragging on funding anti-Zika efforts has him feeling downright desperate.
"Imagine that you're standing by and you see someone drowning, and you have the ability to stop them from drowning, but you can't," Frieden told a packed room of reporters and potential donors at the National Press Club on Thursday. "Now multiply that by 1,000 or 100,000. That's what it feels like to know how to change the course of an epidemic and not be able to do it." [...]
"I'm often asked how I feel as CDC director," he said. "In the heat of the moment, you're mostly concerned about getting the job done.... but for me, when faced with emergencies like this, the greatest emotion has been frustration."
When politicians speak this way, it's routine, but when the director of the CDC uses language like this, it's effectively the equivalent of a medical professional running around with his hair on fire.
Frieden was cautious about pointing fingers, but his desperation and frustration is the direct result of Congress' indifference to the Zika threat, which he characterized yesterday as an "extraordinary and unusually urgent" crisis.
It was his CDC that authored the Obama administration's emergency budget request of $1.9 billion -- a request Republicans have decided not to meet. Instead, the GOP-led Senate approved a $1.1 billion package, while the GOP-led House passed a bill about half as large. Under the current Republican approach, it may be "well into the summer, or even longer" before Congress approves an inadequate final bill to address the Zika virus.
The Huffington Post piece added, "Frieden said his 'jaw dropped' when he realized how long it would take Congress to move on the issue. 'Three months in an epidemic is an eternity,' he said."
Part of the problem, of course, is the congressional calendar. In fact, after taking the first week in May off, they've also decided to take the last week in May off -- members left town yesterday and won't return to work until June 6.
Donald Trump has never had much of a policy agenda, and his campaign has no real policy platform, so when the presumptive Republican presidential nominee announces plans to deliver a substantive speech, it's generally a good idea to take notice. Yesterday, for example, Trump traveled to North Dakota to outline his approach to energy.
But if anyone was looking for something new or interesting in the candidate's thinking, they came away empty handed. MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin reported:
Trump is known for bucking conservative orthodoxy but, on Thursday, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee largely hewed to the typical Republican line. Reading from a teleprompter, Trump called for reducing restrictions on energy exploration, opening up more federal lands to drilling, and reducing dependence on foreign oil. He said he would try to reopen negotiations to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which President Obama rejected.
Trump railed against the "totalitarian tactics" of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Seventeen Republicans ran for president this cycle, and literally all of them could have delivered the exact same speech. The GOP candidate likes oil drilling, hates the EPA, hates the Paris climate agreement just as much, loves coal and fracking, couldn't care less about renewable energy, and prefers to pretend climate change doesn't exist. He vowed to prioritize clean air and clean water, while at the same time, scrapping pretty much every environmental safeguard that helps guarantee clean air and clean water.
If it sounded like the kind of speech an energy lobbyist might write, that's probably because it was.
All of which served as a reminder: for all the talk about how different Donald Trump is, he's evolving into yet another conventional Republican candidate. Last year, he was a presidential hopeful with no mega-donors, no pollsters, and no need to stick to GOP orthodoxy. Now, Trump is relying on mega-donors and pollsters, while saying the same things every Republican says.
As we discussed last week, Trump is now just an inexperienced, unqualified version of his GOP predecessors.
And that, alas, includes his sudden embrace of teleprompters.
Two weeks ago, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) fielded a question from a Capitol Hill reporter who asked whether he might change his mind about retiring at the end of the year. The far-right senator demurred, but noted that the filing deadline in Florida isn't until June 24 -- a date he'd apparently memorized.
His staff insisted soon after that Rubio was only kidding. As of yesterday, that seems far less certain.
Facing the very real possibility that Republicans may lose Florida's open U.S. Senate seat, an organized effort is underway to convince Rubio to break his word, go back on his promise, and seek a second term after assuring voters he wouldn't. GOP senators are reportedly leaning heavily on Rubio, and even Donald Trump has joined the lobbying campaign.
Ten days ago, facing media speculation about his future, Rubio sounded annoyed. "I have only said like 10,000 times I will be a private citizen in January," the senator said on Twitter. Yesterday, however, instead of sticking to his position, the Floridian seemed to open the door a crack. Bloomberg Politics reported:
Now, Rubio -- who said he would not stand for Senate re-election when he announced his failed presidential bid -- said it is "unlikely" he will change his mind before the Florida filing deadline on June 24. The state's primary will be held Aug. 30.
"This is just something that happened today or what have you. For me, I need time to even talk to anybody about it, but my sense of it is nothing has changed in my thinking," he told reporters at the Capitol.
That may not sound like much of a shift, but let's not overlook recent history. Rubio, in a rare display of integrity, publicly promised when launching his presidential campaign that it was White House or bust. After his candidacy failed, the Republican repeatedly said, in no uncertain terms, that he's looking forward to being a private citizen in the new year. Rubio became irritated by any suggestions to the contrary.
And yet, yesterday, his answer to the same question was far from categorical, which as he must have realized, renewed speculation about whether the Florida senator is willing to break his promise.
Complicating matters, this was arguably the second most controversial thing Rubio said yesterday. This Washington Postreport was almost hard to believe.
Jennifer Bendery, White House and Congressional reporter for The Huffington Post, talks with Rachel Maddow about what has become a series of videos produced by House Speaker Paul Ryan that have the ring of presidential campaign videos even though Ryan insists that is not the case. watch
Rachel Maddow looks at the history of presidents leaving Washington, D.C. when their time in office runs out, and notes that President Obama will break that tradition, at least for a few years until his daughter Sasha graduates from high school. watch
Rachel Maddow explains what the nuclear football is and its corresponding "biscuit" and notes that when President Barack Obama makes his historic visit to Hiroshima, Japan, the nuclear football will not be far from hand. watch
Rachel Maddow celebrates the fact that even if nothing good ever comes of the Donald Trump presidential candidacy, at least we'll have #TrumpYourCat, and at least we'll have these weird hair socks. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the newly discussed possibility of a debate between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and what that would mean for each candidate's profile in the race, particularly Hillary Clinton's. watch
Director Rob Katko found me the kind of 8" floppy they run nuclear ICBMs on. Label says ours has a Reagan gfx on it: pic.twitter.com/9NBRGkuEqp
* Syria: "American Special Operations forces and the Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters they are advising this week pushed closer to Raqqa, the Islamic State's de facto capital in northern Syria."
* Migrant crisis: "More than 4,000 would-be refugees were rescued at sea Thursday in one of the busiest days of the Mediterranean migrant crisis, and at least 20 died trying to reach Europe as Libyan-based smugglers took advantage of calmer seas to send desperate migrants north."
* Republican radicalism sure is odd: "The House rejected a sweeping $37.4 billion spending bill Thursday with conservative Republicans saying they opposed the inclusion of an amendment related to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity."
* Baylor University "football coach Art Briles was fired Thursday in the wake of a scandal surrounding the school's poor handling of sexual assault and domestic violence allegations against members of the powerhouse football team, NBC News confirms. Kenneth Starr, the former special prosecutor best known for his role in the Bill Clinton impeachment saga, has been removed from his role as university president"
* Someone might want to let Congress know: "Pregnant women infected with the Zika virus during their first trimester face as high as a 13 percent chance that their fetus will develop a severe and rare brain defect, according to research published Wednesday."
* Louisiana: "Hate crime statutes originated as a response to bigotry, a special penalty for singling people out for abuse based on factors like race, ethnicity, sex, religion, sexual orientation or, most recently, gender identity. On Thursday, Louisiana became the first state to add law enforcement officers to that list."
* Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) "said federal authorities have told his attorney there's no indication the governor did anything wrong related to an ongoing campaign finance investigation."
* Alabama: "The investigation into Gov. Robert Bentley, and the fallout of his relationship with former adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason, is apparently moving to the grand jury."
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.