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U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept.22, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

On Trump, Paul Ryan's new posture looks a lot like the old

10/10/16 12:37PM

From late Friday to late Saturday, dozens of Republican officials dropped their support for Donald Trump's presidential candidacy, and many publicly called for him to end his campaign altogether. But even as the stampede unfolded, many watched House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to see if the latest revelations, including Trump's comments on sexual assault, would be enough to prompt the GOP leader to finally give up on the controversial nominee.

It was not. Ryan criticized Trump's remarks -- a step the Speaker has taken several times over the course of the campaign -- and said he wouldn't appear alongside the White House hopeful at a Wisconsin event over the weekend, but the congressman couldn't bring himself to withdraw his presidential endorsement.

People close to the Speaker told Politico Ryan "discussed" dropping his support for Trump with aides over the weekend, but ultimately did not. This morning, however, NBC News reports that the House Republican leader is trying to adopt a slightly different posture.
Hours after a contentious second presidential debate, House Speaker Paul Ryan told Republicans Monday he will not be defending Donald Trump or campaign with him for the next 30 days and instead will focus on down ballot races. [...]

"You all need to do what's best for you in your district," Ryan said on a call with House Republicans.
Ryan spokesperson AshLee Strong added that the House Speaker "is going to spend the next month focused entirely on protecting our congressional majorities."

And while I imagine this will draw some praise from pundits, it's hard not to notice that Ryan's new position looks an awful lot like his old one.
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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.10.16

10/10/16 12:00PM

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

* Mike Pence, Donald Trump's running mate, insisted this morning that ABC's Martha Raddatz "misrepresented" his Syria policy during last night's presidential debate. For the record, Raddatz quoted Pence literally word for word.

* The latest NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Trump by five, 46% to 41%, in a four-way match-up. Note, the poll was conducted from October 3 through 9, which means many of the responses came before Trump's sexual-assault tape.

* On MSNBC last night, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said she intends to remain in her current post "unless." Unless what? She didn't say.

* Trump and his business enterprises have faced quite a few lawsuits in recent years, and as USA Today reported over the weekend, "allegations outlined in at least 20 separate lawsuits accuse Trump and managers at his companies of discriminating against women, ignoring sexual harassment complaints and even participating in the harassment themselves."

* In 1964, five sitting Republican senators opposed Barry Goldwater's candidacy, a modern record. As of this morning, 16 sitting Republican senators either oppose Trump's candidacy, have called for him to drop out of the race, or both.

* In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie's (R) lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno (R), has withdrawn her support for Trump.

* In Florida, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll found Clinton leading Trump by three in the presidential race, and Marco Rubio (R) leading Patrick Murphy (D) by two in the U.S. Senate race. The poll was conducted ahead of Hurricane Matthew -- and before Trump's sexual assault story.
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A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, May 14, 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)

Trump's odd new line: 'Maybe there is no hacking'

10/10/16 11:20AM

Given months of speculation about Donald Trump's ties to, and affection for, Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Republican presidential hopeful took another risk in last night's debate, defending the Russian autocrat against hacking allegations.

"I notice, anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are -- she doesn't know if it's the Russians doing the hacking," Trump said, pointing at Hillary Clinton. "Maybe there is no hacking."

No, really. The GOP nominee actually said, "Maybe there is no hacking."

The comments came two weeks after Trump's other debate appearance, in which he defended Russia. "I don't think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC," he said. "She's saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don't – maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?"

Trump's efforts to defend his Russian allies continue to be bizarre, but putting the politics aside for a moment, the evidence is increasingly pointing in a rather obvious direction. CNBC reported on Friday:
The U.S. has formally blamed Russia for recent political hacking attacks, saying they were "intended to interfere with the U.S. election process."

U.S. intelligence officials said they are "confident" that the Russian government directed those attacks on American political organizations, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security said Friday in a joint statement.
"The U.S. Intelligence Community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations," the agencies' statement said. In added, "These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process."

As the Washington Post noted, congressional Republicans welcomed the findings from the DHS/DNI investigation. "Today was just the first step," said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a member of the Homeland Security Committee. "Russia must face serious consequences. Moscow orchestrated these hacks because Putin believes Soviet-style aggression is worth it. The United States must upend Putin's calculus with a strong diplomatic, political, ­cyber and economic response."

But remember, as far as the Republicans' presidential candidate is concerned, not only should Russia not be blamed for the hacking, but "maybe there is no hacking."
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A sign at an Affordable Care Act outreach event in Los Angeles, California, September 28, 2013.

Unwrapping Donald Trump's health care confusion

10/10/16 10:44AM

Last night's debate featured a question from an audience member about the Affordable Care Act, and Hillary Clinton answered first, demonstrating real fluency with health care policy. She talked about the ACA's strengths and weaknesses, and her intention to build on what works.

Then it was Donald Trump's turn. Count the number of times he used the word "lines."
"We have to get rid of the lines around the state, artificial lines, where we stop insurance companies from coming in and competing, because they want -- and President Obama and whoever was working on it -- they want to leave those lines, because that gives the insurance companies essentially monopolies. [...]

"Once we break out the lines and allow the competition to come ... President Obama, by keeping those lines, the boundary lines around each state, it was almost gone until just very toward the end of the passage of Obamacare..."
Trump went on to insist that Clinton is pushing a single-payer plan, which is demonstrably wrong, and that Canadians love the U.S. health care system, which is also untrue.

But putting that aside, it's clear that Trump had no idea what he was talking about. President Obama doesn't want insurance "monopolies"; he wants the opposite, with exchange marketplaces where insurers compete for consumers' business.

But what about these "lines" Trump seemed so excited about? The Republican nominee was trying and failing to explain a bad idea. Let's take a minute to explain what the GOP candidate couldn't.
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Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump take the stage and begin the second presidential debate without shaking hands, Oct. 9, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

Trump fesses up to tax scheme, blames Clinton

10/10/16 10:11AM

When the New York Times first broke the news about Donald Trump's $916 million annual loss in 1995, the article raised a possibility that hadn't been definitely proven: Trump's deduction was so substantial, the Times reported, "it could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years."

"Could have," of course, left a fair amount of ambiguity in the controversy, and the only way to know for sure was to get the information from Trump himself. With that in mind, in last night's debate, co-moderator Anderson Cooper sought some clarity on the subject.
COOPER: You've said you pay state taxes, employee taxes, real estate taxes, property taxes. You have not answered, though, a simple question. Did you use that $916 million loss to avoid paying personal federal income taxes for years?

TRUMP: Of course I do. Of course I do.
There's a bit of a present-tense/past-tense problem with the exchange -- Cooper asked about events from the recent past and Trump answered to suggest he's still exploiting loopholes to avoid a federal tax bill -- but it was nevertheless the first time the Republican nominee publicly acknowledged the accuracy of the original report.

Soon after, the CNN anchor added, "Can you say how many years you have avoided paying personal federal income taxes?" Trump replied, "No, but I pay tax, and I pay federal tax, too."

Again, there's a syntax problem -- "I pay tax" sounds about as clumsy as Brick Tamland's "I love lamp" -- that makes it difficult to say with confidence what exactly Trump is trying to say. But in context, it seemed relatively clear that the Republican nominee was saying he used a massive loss in 1995 to avoid paying at least some of his tax bill over the course of some period of time.

For more clarity, Trump would have to release his tax returns -- which Hillary Clinton has already done, and which Trump had previously promised to do.

But the real punch-line to all of this was Trump blaming Clinton for his tax avoidance.
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Kellyanne Conway, new campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Aug. 17, 2016. (Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP)

Team Trump wants to debate the nuances of 'sexual assault'

10/10/16 09:28AM

When Donald Trump, newly married for the third time, boasted about his sexual exploits in 2005, he went further than routine braggadocio. As we discussed yesterday, Trump described situations in which he kissed women without their consent and grabbed them by their genitals. For reasons that should be obvious, it's led many to accurately characterize Trump's actions as sexual assaults.

Yesterday morning, Rudy Giuliani, one of the Republican candidate's top surrogates, conceded the point without pushing back. Indeed, in last night's debate, co-moderator Anderson Cooper was rather direct on this point, asking Trump, "You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?"

It's quickly become clear that Trump and his team do not understand that. In the debate, the GOP nominee insisted he "didn't say" anything about sexual assault. After the debate, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), another leading Trump surrogate, told the Weekly Standard, in reference to the candidate's own claims, "I don't characterize that as sexual assault. I think that's a stretch."

When the Weekly Standard followed up, "So if you grab a woman by the genitals, that's not sexual assault?" Sessions reportedly replied, "I don't know. It's not clear that he -- how that would occur."

As Vox noted, Kellyanne Conway, Trump's campaign manager, apparently hopes to remove the phrase from the campaign conversation altogether.
"That's a very unfortunate phrase, and people really should stop using it," Conway said.

"Why?" Bash said.

"Because I know him better, and I know better," Conway said.
Of course, in reality, whether or not someone knows Donald Trump has no relevance to whether or not he was describing sexual assault.
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A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on July 14, 2016 shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaking during an interview with NBC News in the capital Damascus. (Photo by SANA/Handout/AFP/Getty)

In debate, Trump defends Assad, rebukes Pence

10/10/16 08:48AM

One of the underappreciated fears surrounding Donald Trump's presidential candidacy is his repeated praise for dictators and foreign authoritarian regimes. At various points during the campaign, the Republican nominee has praised Saddam Hussein, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, and even China's handling of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

In a normal year in a normal party, such rhetoric would automatically disqualify someone seeking the U.S. presidency. In 2016, Republicans don't seem to care.

So perhaps it shouldn't have been too big a surprise last night when Trump threw his own running mate under the bus -- a development never before seen in a presidential debate -- while tacitly defending Syria's brutal dictator.

The discussion began with a question from a voter who asked about the candidates' proposed solution for Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. Trump responded by talking about Russia's nuclear arsenal and Hillary Clinton's Libya policy. It led to this exchange:
RADDATZ: Mr. Trump, let me repeat the question. If you were president (LAUGHTER) what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo? And I want to remind you what your running mate said. He said provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength and that if Russia continues to be involved in air strikes along with the Syrian government forces of Assad, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime.

TRUMP: OK. He and I haven't spoken, and I disagree. I disagree.
As part of the same answer, the GOP candidate added, "I don't like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS."

As a rule, any sentence that begins, "I don't like Assad at all, but..." probably isn't going to end well.
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Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at the second presidential debate, Oct. 9, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

Clinton vs. Trump becomes chess vs. professional wrestling

10/10/16 08:00AM

Traditionally, the point of presidential debates has been fairly straightforward. Candidates and their campaign teams saw the events as opportunities to demonstrate a command of the issues, tout the strengths of their platforms, knock the flaws in their opponents' platforms, all while appearing presidential on a national platform.

Donald Trump neither knows nor cares about the traditional point of presidential debates, and the result was a genuinely bizarre spectacle unlike anything Americans have ever seen.

Given Hillary Clinton's obvious advantages -- on competence, stature, coherence, etc. -- it's tempting to describe this year's second presidential debate as an example of chess vs. checkers, but that would understate matters. Last night was a more an example of chess vs. professional wrestling.

It started with a ridiculous photo-op with several '90s-era Bill Clinton accusers ahead of the debate, only to intensify during the debate itself. Trump ignored questions, whiffed on substance, lied repeatedly, delivered gutter attacks, all while trashing democratic norms in ways fair-minded observers should have found terrifying.

Trump has apparently earned some pundit praise for delivering a "spirited" performance, which is true, though hardly admirable. A toddler throwing a tantrum may appear spirited in the midst of a meltdown, but Americans shouldn't want the child making life-and-death decisions from the Oval Office. Others have lauded Trump's willingness to be "aggressive" during the debate, which is also true, but more worrisome than impressive. A blind-folded person swinging a stick at a pinata may also appear aggressive, but it's not a qualification for international leadership.

There was an obvious cloud hanging over the debate, which is inevitable when one of the candidates is heard bragging about sexual assault. Asked about the 2005 recording, Trump insisted it was "locker-room talk," before trying to change the subject to ISIS.

He eventually said he didn't do the things he claimed to have done. It's a curious defense when a candidate says, in effect, "Don't worry, I was lying."

But perhaps no moment was as striking as Trump's vow to abuse the powers of the presidency. As part of the discussion of his record of abusive conduct, the Republican candidate turned his attention to Clinton's emails.
"I'll tell you what. I didn't think I'd say this, but I'm going to say it, and I hate to say it. But if I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it, and we're going to have a special prosecutor.... It's a disgrace, and honestly, you ought to be ashamed."
When Clinton said it's a good thing "someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country," he interrupted to declare, "Because you'd be in jail."

The GOP nominee did get at least part of this right: there's "never been anything like" this.
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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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