For much of 2015, Donald Trump's standing primary stump speech included quite a few references to public-opinion polls. The New York Republican saw all the surveys showing him dominating GOP polls for months, and he was eager to tout his advantage on a daily basis.
That bravado, like his polling edge, is long gone. Though national surveys showed Trump neck and neck with Hillary Clinton a month ago -- some polls even showed him inching ahead -- the Republican's recent antics have pushed his support to depths unseen in quite a while.
On Friday, Trump was reduced to tweeting about a dubious national poll -- which showed him losing. (As a rule, presidential candidates don't brag about survey results in which they're behind.)
The New York Times, which noted that Trump "rarely, if ever, acknowledges he might be losing at anything," reported that the candidate conceded late last week that he's not, at present, winning.
"I'm four down in one poll, three and a half in another that just came out, and I haven't started yet," Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said in a phone interview on Thursday night, a thought he volunteered as he dismissed concerns from Senate Republicans that he may be a drag on their candidacies in the fall.
"And I have tremendous Republican support," Mr. Trump said.
And if the race for the presidency was limited to Republican voters, that might be a relevant observation.
As for the assertion that Trump hasn't "started yet," he's now been running for president for a full year, and he wrapped up the GOP nomination in early May. I'm reasonably certain he has "started," but if he hasn't, perhaps Trump might want to explain exactly what he's waiting for.
Over the weekend, Trump added that the latest polling shows he's "essentially even" with Clinton, which is true if you define "even" as "not particularly close." In fact, the Washington Postreported over the weekend, "Not only are Trump's poll numbers slipping, they are at a low that no one, Republican or Democrat, has seen in the past three election cycles.... The margin by which he trails Hillary Clinton now mirrors McCain's deficit to Barack Obama in 2008. McCain rebounded after the Republican convention — but it's important to remember that we're comparing Trump to the worst Republican performance in a general election since 1996."
But perhaps most interesting of all was something Trump told an audience in Denver.
Bernie Sanders is, as of this morning, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. What that means in practical terms, and when this fact will no longer be true, is a little murky.
For all intents and purposes, the Sanders campaign appears to have run its course. There are no more primaries. There are no more caucuses. The senator's campaign manager has conceded that Team Sanders is making no effort to woo superdelegates. Many of the Vermonter's most notable supporters have urged him to wrap things up, have already switched their backing to Hillary Clinton, or both.
And yet, when Sanders delivered a lengthy video address on Thursday night, he described his vision for a progressive national platform, but he did not concede the race despite his second-place finish; he didn't endorse Clinton; and he gave no indication of when he might drop out. Making matters a little more complicated, Sanders' campaign manager told MSNBC on Friday that the senator is still an "active candidate for president."
Bloomberg Politics had a good report the other day on whether Sanders' strategy is his smartest play given the circumstances.
Representative Peter Welch, a fellow Vermonter who endorsed Sanders in February, fretted that continuing his campaign could be counterproductive to Sanders' goal of securing policy and procedural commitments.
"Some believe -- and it appears this is Bernie's view -- that the longer he stays in, the more effective he'll be in negotiating. My view is that the sooner we get unified the better," Welch said on Thursday before Sanders spoke. "Bernie doesn't give up any leverage by acknowledging explicitly that Hillary will be the nominee."
Jim Manley, a former communications strategist for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, said Sanders risks "marginalizing" himself, both in the campaign and upon returning to the Senate, if he doesn't accept that he has lost.
I can appreciate why some of this may seem counter-intuitive. Sanders likely believes he has more leverage by withholding his support and remaining an "active candidate for president." The moment he concedes and/or endorses Clinton, the argument goes, Democrats will effectively declare, "Now that we got what we want from Sanders, we can start ignoring him." The longer he holds out, the more he protects his relevance.
But if that is what the senator and his team are thinking, it's probably backwards.
When the NRA's reaction to a brutal mass-shooting is slightly more progressive than the Republican Party's presumptive presidential nominee, something very odd is happening. And yet, here we are.
Unlike Donald Trump, top leaders of the National Rifle Association said Sunday they don't believe patrons at a nightclub where 49 people were killed last weekend should have been armed for self-protection.
"I don't think you should have firearms where people are drinking," said NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre on CBS's Face the Nation.
On ABC's "This Week," Chris Cox, the head of the NRA's lobbying arm, adopted the same line. When Jonathan Karl asked Cox about whether nightclub attendees should be "armed to the teeth" in order to protect themselves, the NRA lobbyist replied, "No one thinks that people should go into a nightclub drinking and carrying firearms. That defies commonsense. It also defies the law. It's not what we're talking about here."
But the point is, at least one person -- the presidential candidate who enjoys the NRA's formal backing -- is talking about exactly that.
First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the reactions to the mass-shooting in Orlando from some evangelical Christian leaders, who didn't exactly respond with compassion and grace. Take TV preacher Pat Robertson, for example.
[Tuesday] on "The 700 Club," televangelist Pat Robertson reacted to the massacre at an Orlando gay club by making the absurd claim that liberal LGBT rights advocates have aligned themselves with radical Islamists and are now reaping what they have sowed.
Robertson said that liberals are facing a "dilemma" because they love both LGBT equality and Islamic extremism, and that it is better for conservatives like himself not to get involved but to instead just watch the two groups kill each other.
"The left is having a dilemma of major proportions and I think for those of us who disagree with some of their policies, the best thing to do is to sit on the sidelines and let them kill themselves," he told his audience.
As the Right Wing Watch report added, Robertson's show later clarified that the televangelist was "referring to politics -- killing themselves politically." I'm not entirely sure what that means.
He was not, however, alone. As Rachel noted on Tuesday's show, Pastor Roger Jimenez from Verity Baptist Church in Sacramento told his congregation that Christians "shouldn't be mourning the death of 50 sodomites." From the pulpit, Jimenez called the massacre "great," adding, "The tragedy is that more of them didn't die. The tragedy is -- I'm kind of upset that he didn't finish the job!"
The same day, preacher Steven Anderson in Tempe also celebrated the mass-murders, saying that he thinks it's "good news" that "there are 50 less pedophiles in this world."
For the overwhelming majority of Americans, the massacre was a gut-wrenching tragedy, but for some Christian extremists, this attack was a blessing to be cheered. That shouldn't be considered the norm among Christian preachers, but this doesn't make their radicalism any less offensive.
Rachel Maddow looks at the role of self-hatred as a motivating factor in homophobia, even virulent, violent homophobia, and introduces Sohail Ahmed as a case where the dynamics of that self-hatred and Islamic extremism intersect. watch
Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow about her interview with self-described reformed Islamic extremist Sohail Ahmed and how Ahmed's experience fits the profile of Islamic extremists. watch
Sohail Ahmed, a self-described reformed Islamic extremist, talks with Rachel Maddow about the terror attacks he had considered and what ultimately changed his mind, including the role of the 7/7 London attack and his own homosexuality. watch
Sohail Ahmed, a self-described reformed Islamic extremist, talks with Rachel Maddow about his motives and mindset as he considered committing acts of terror, and how being gay deepened his radicalization. watch
* Iraq: "Iraqi forces advanced into the center of Fallujah on Friday, liberating a majority of the city from ISIS and raising the national flag over a government building, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials."
* London: "Investigators confirmed Friday they were looking into whether the man suspected of assassinating a respected British lawmaker had ties to right-wing extremists."
* California: "A wildfire near Santa Barbara continued to grow Thursday and spread deeper into the Los Padres National Forest as crews struggled to find hilltops and trailheads where they could mount a strong defense, officials said."
* Split the difference? "With Congressional leaders once again at a stalemate over how to respond to a mass shooting, the Senate’s most moderate Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, is developing a compromise measure that would prevent some terrorism suspects from purchasing weapons, while sidestepping partisan flash-points that have doomed similar legislation in the past and threaten to do so again next week."
* Add retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, to the list of prominent Americans urging Congress to approve new measures to address gun violence.
* Speaking of deadly issues Congress would prefer to ignore: "For the second straight year, the Earth sweat through its warmest spring on record, federal scientists announced Thursday."
This week offered a dramatic Democratic filibuster on gun reforms. Next week will offer the results of the Senate Dems' efforts.
The Senate will vote on four gun control measures Monday after being prodded by a 15-hour filibuster in the wake of the shooting massacre at a Florida nightclub.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, filed cloture motions Thursday on four gun-related amendments to a spending bill, a day after Democrats ended their filibuster to force some sort of action on gun restrictions.
Democrats, who've struggled to get gun-related bills onto the Senate floor since Republicans took control over the majority, demanded votes on two measures, which GOP leaders accepted as part of an agreement to end Wednesday's filibuster. But Republicans are packaging these two votes with two amendments of their own on the same issue.
To clear the chamber, each will need 60 votes. There are 46 Senate Democrats. (For context, note that the bipartisan background-check bill considered after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre received 54 votes in a Democratic Senate in 2013, while the terror-watch-list bill received 45 votes two years later.)
Any measure approved by the Senate would face fierce resistance in the GOP-led House.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. What exactly will senators be voting on when the chamber reconvenes on Monday?
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In Florida, Rep. David Jolly (R) ended his Senate bid this morning, announcing he would run for re-election to his House seat instead. The move sets up a big showdown pitting Jolly against former Gov. Charlie Crist (D). [This item has been updated.]
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, Bernie Sanders delivered a lengthy address to supporters last night, describing his vision for a progressive national platform. Despite the end of the primary process, and his second-place finish, the senator did not concede, did not endorse Hillary Clinton, and made no indication of when he might drop out.
* Sanders campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, said Team Sanders is not lobbying superdelegates in the hopes of convincing them to oppose Clinton.
* It's unlikely we'll see him publicly hit the campaign trail, but former President George W. Bush is headlining some fundraisers for vulnerable GOP senators, including New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte, Arizona's John McCain, and Missouri's Roy Blunt.
* To no one's surprise, the Wall Street Journalreported yesterday that the Clinton campaign is not considering Sanders as a possible running mate, but it is vetting Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
* This has to be one of my favorite sentences of the year to date: "A spokesman for [Gov. Chris] Christie denied he was a manservant." Good to know.
* In statewide polling, PPP has Clinton leading Trump in Iowa by three points (44% to 41%); PPP shows Clinton leading Trump in Virginia by the same margin (42% to 39%); and Marquette University has Clinton leading Trump in Wisconsin by seven points (42% to 35%).
* In Iowa's U.S. Senate race, PPP's survey shows incumbent Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) leading Patty Judge (D), 48% to 41%.
* While most congressional GOP leaders have gotten in line, grudgingly supporting Trump's candidacy, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has decided to remain neutral.
The day of the mass-shooting in Orlando, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) saw a partisan opportunity. In a striking statement, the far-right Texan effectively challenged his foes on the other side of the aisle: "If you're a Democratic politician and you really want to stand for LGBT, show real courage and stand up against the vicious ideology that has targeted our fellow Americans for murder."
Soon after, this became a surprisingly common talking point among Republicans, including Donald Trump. As we talked about the other day, the pitch is ugly but straightforward: a Muslim killed 49 people in a gay nightclub; Republicans are anti-Muslim; therefore LGBT voters should support Republicans.
The trouble is, the house of cards collapses pretty quickly for anyone who pauses to think about the argument. Indeed, to take the pitch seriously, one has to find arguments like this one from Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) persuasive.
Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks said on Thursday that the American Muslim community would "kill every homosexual in the United States of America" if it had its way.
Brooks, a Republican, made the comment after being asked on the Matt & Aunie show on WAPI radio about why the left refuses to acknowledge that it is "mainstream Muslim thought" to put homosexuals to death.
As the BuzzFeed report noted, Brooks said on the radio show that Democrats "are in a perplexing position. On the one hand, they're trying to appeal to the gay community, but, on the other hand, they're trying to also appeal to the Muslim community, which, if it had its way, would kill every homosexual in the United States of America."
Mo Brooks has a deeply unfortunate habit of saying all kindsofbizarrethings, but this one has to be right up there on his Greatest Hits list.
There's a school of thought that says presidential campaigns shouldn't go on the offensive too early. The election season is a marathon, the argument goes, and campaigns that do too much, long before the electorate is fully engaged, risk running low on resources when crunch time hits in the fall.
Hillary Clinton's campaign has no use for these assumptions. NBC News reported yesterday that the Democrat's "first battleground advertising blitz of the general election" has begun.
The TV ad buy -- in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia -- has a price tag of at least $7.3 million. And it uses the TV ad it unveiled on Sunday hitting Trump ("What kind of America do we want to be? Dangerously divided or strong and united?"), as well as two new positive bio spots on Clinton (here and here). [...]
More than anything else, the ad blitz demonstrates Clinton's financial superiority right now. How long will she have the battleground-state airwaves to herself? Remember, the pro-Clinton Super PAC is already on the air in these states. But where's the Trump/GOP cavalry?
The answer, of course, is that this cavalry doesn't exist. On the contrary, as we discussed last week, Trump is falling behind financially -- and disputes the idea that he'll need to catch up.
But what about the long-held assumptions about campaigns wasting money by going on the air too early? Team Clinton doesn't buy it, and they have some recent evidence to back up their plans.
Way back in February, when most congressional Republicans were still hoping Donald Trump's presidential campaign would collapse, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) became only the second federal lawmaker to throw his support behind the controversial candidate.
"We don't need a policy wonk as president," Hunter said at the time. "We need a leader as president.... I don't think Trump wants my endorsement. And that's one reason why I like him."
"I am not a surrogate. I am a congressman. I can't speak for anybody else but me," Hunter told The Hill later Thursday, explaining his comments to the reporters.
"Everybody's asking me to explain all these things that he said," Hunter added. "Some of these things, I don't know what Donald Trump is thinking. ... I don't know where Donald Trump is coming from."
The Hill's report added that Hunter said he was confronted by "like seven reporters" after leaving the House floor yesterday. "I just said, 'Time out. I am a congressman. I am done talking [about Trump].'"
Under the circumstances, that's a curious message. Hunter not only endorsed Trump, the congressman is literally the co-chair of Trump's U.S. House Leadership Committee, serving as a liaison between the presumptive nominee's campaign and Capitol Hill.
In fact, The Hill's report said Hunter took it upon himself to lead Trump's outreach efforts to Congress and currently "feeds national security information to the Trump campaign."
The Washington Post recently described Hunter as one of the six members of Congress Trump trusts most.
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.