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Podiums stand empty prior to the start of a South Carolina Republican presidential debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C. on Jan. 16, 2012 (

The debates leading up to the debates

09/23/16 01:02PM

The first presidential debate featuring Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is scheduled for Monday night, which means assorted partisans are hard at work, furiously trying to shape public perceptions ahead of the big showdown.

There are three broad angles to this that are worth keeping in mind between now and showtime.

1. Donald Trump is terrified of real-time fact-checking.

Republicans are still angry with CNN's Candy Crowley fact-checking Mitt Romney during a debate four years ago, and Donald Trump spent some time this week lobbying NBC News' Lester Holt, among other moderators, to let the candidates argue among themselves.

"You're debating somebody, and if she makes a mistake, or if I make a mistake, we'll take each other on," Trump said during one of his several Fox News appearances this week. He added that he and Clinton should simply "argue it out."

It's bound to be tricky. If a moderator, such as Crowley, provides the public with information that contradicts a candidate, he or she is the target of intense criticism. Note, however, that NBC News' Matt Lauer also faced equally intense rebukes recently for hosting an event in which he let some brazen Donald Trump lies go without pushback.

Trump clearly prefers the latter, creating a "he said, she said" dynamic in which viewers aren't sure who to believe. Whether Holt and other moderators stick to that model remains to be seen.

2. The expectations game is getting ridiculous.

I wrote a piece a few weeks ago about the campaigns going to borderline silly lengths to set expectations ahead of the debate -- "Our candidate is going to do terribly, and our rival will be amazing" -- and the problem has only intensified. The New York Times reported today:
Mr. Trump is largely shunning traditional debate preparations, but has been watching video of Mrs. Clinton's best and worst debate moments, looking for her vulnerabilities. [...]

Mr. Trump ... is approaching the debate like a Big Man on Campus who thinks his last-minute term paper will be dazzling simply because he wrote it. He has paid only cursory attention to briefing materials. He has refused to use lecterns in mock debate sessions despite the urging of his advisers. He prefers spitballing ideas with his team rather than honing them into crisp, two-minute answers.
The Associated Press has a similar report today. Take both with many grains of salt.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.23.16

09/23/16 12:00PM

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

* Hillary Clinton's campaign released a hard-hitting new ad this morning, highlighting Donald Trump's most offensive rhetoric towards women. The spot, titled "Mirrors," apparently began airing today in Ohio, New Hampshire, Iowa, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and on national cable.

* The Trump campaign announced a new campaign chair for Mahoning County, Ohio, after the previous chair resigned following racist comments. The successor, Ohio GOP Treasurer Tracey Winbush, reportedly deleted 17,000 tweets yesterday, including one in which she described Trump as a "racist, sexist demagogue."

* Trump's campaign unveiled a new list overnight of 10 additional conservatives the Republican would consider for the U.S. Supreme Court if elected. The list includes Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who's said a few unflattering things about Trump.

* In Alaska, former Sen. Mark Begich (D) openly flirted with the idea of running a write-in Senate campaign this year, but yesterday, he announced that he's decided against it.

* Trump talked a bit about his approach to energy policy yesterday in Pittsburgh, and vowed to be an ambitious industry ally -- which means scrapping regulations on the oil and gas industry, boosting coal, and opening more public lands to drilling.

* The Washington Post reported this week that a group of 75 "retired career Foreign Service officers, including ambassadors and senior State Department officials under Republican and Democratic presidents over nearly a half-century, has signed an open letter calling Donald Trump 'entirely unqualified to serve as President and Commander-in-Chief.'"
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to retired and active law enforcement personnel at a Fraternal Order of Police lodge during a campaign stop in Statesville, N.C. on Aug. 18, 2016. (Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP)

Donald Trump's stop-and-frisk policy raises eyebrows

09/23/16 11:20AM

At a Fox News event this week, Donald Trump seemed to endorse taking "stop-and-frisk" policies to a national level to address urban crime. "I would do stop-and-frisk," the Republican said. "I think you have to. We did it in New York, it worked incredibly well and you have to be proactive and, you know, you really help people sort of change their mind automatically."

Of course, what Trump doesn't seem to understand is that stop-and-frisk didn't work "incredibly well" at all, and when challenged in the courts, the policy was ruled unconstitutional.

When Trump recently told African-American communities, "What do you have to lose?" he neglected to mention the answer: Fourth Amendment rights.

Nearly as important, however, is how the Republican candidate tried to clean up his latest mess, calling into Fox News yesterday to elaborate on his preferred approach.
"[Police officers are] proactive, and if they see a person possibly with a gun or they think they have a gun, they will see the person and they'll look and they'll take the gun away. They'll stop, they'll frisk and they'll take the gun away, and they won't have anything to shoot with."
I have a strong hunch Trump doesn't appreciate how interesting his comments are.
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Omarosa Manigault arrives at the 44th Annual NAACP Image Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Feb. 1, 2013. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Trump aide: Critics will 'bow down to President Trump'

09/23/16 10:40AM

Perhaps now would be a good time to talk a bit about Donald Trump's messianic streak.
Donald Trump's director of African-American outreach has an ominous warning for all who dared to criticize the Republican presidential nominee: Soon, they will have to bow down to "the most powerful man in the universe."
No, really. Omarosa Manigault, a reality-show personality who joined the Trump campaign as a staffer in July, told PBS -- out loud, on the record, on camera -- "Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump. It's everyone who's ever doubted Donald, who ever disagreed, who ever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe."

Eight years ago, one of the more common Republican criticisms of then-Sen. Barack Obama was that he had a messianic streak. Talk of "Greek columns" at the Democratic convention was one of the most popular GOP talking points of 2008.

Try to imagine what the reaction might have been if an Obama campaign aide had said, "Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Obama."
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Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson gives acceptance speech during National Convention held at the Rosen Centre in Orlando, Fla., May 29, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Kolczynski/Reuters)

Gary Johnson isn't doing himself any favors

09/23/16 10:10AM

Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson spoke at a Bloomberg Politics event this week, where he made quite an impression. If you watch this clip, note the part in which Johnson, a former Republican governor, makes a strange face and starts shaking his chair for reasons that aren't altogether clear.

This week, Johnson also sat down with NBC News' Kasie Hunt, and during the interview, the presidential candidate apparently thought it'd be funny if he spoke -- for a surprisingly long time -- with his tongue out. As the video shows, Hunt seemed baffled, as any normal person would be.

The clips are a reminder of Johnson's unusual position as a presidential hopeful right now. On the one hand, polls show the former governor doing quite well for an underfunded Libertarian, and this year he'll be the first third-party candidate to appear on the ballot in all 50 states since Ross Perot in 1996.

On the other hand, Johnson isn't exactly taking full advantage of the opportunity he's been given. It's not just the goofy persona, either -- this week, the national candidate said how relieved he was that "nobody got hurt" when a bomb exploded in New York and a man with a knife attacked people in a Minnesota mall. In reality, dozens of people were injured in the incidents.

Stories like these don't help, either.
Peter Schulman of Mother Jones has found a remarkable video from 2011 where Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson dismissed concerns about climate change because, countless generations from now, the earth will be destroyed. As Johnson explained to the National Press Club in 2012, "In billions of years the sun is going to actually grow and encompass the Earth, right? So global warming is in our future."

As Schulman notes, this absurd argument is in keeping with Johnson's general opposition to doing anything about climate change.
This is the guy many young, liberal voters are gravitating towards?
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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton pauses while speaking during the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Gala on Sept. 15, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

Latest polls show Clinton hanging on after rough patch

09/23/16 09:20AM

Last week wasn't exactly easy for Hillary Clinton and her campaign team. The Democratic presidential hopeful got pneumonia; she and her aides didn't handle the disclosure well; there was an embarrassing video of Clinton feeling ill at a 9/11 event; and much of the political conversation focused on her criticism of Donald Trump's most racist and "deplorable" supporters.

Clinton, off the trail for a few days, saw the polls tighten and her odds of success fall. There was a renewed sense that Trump had a credible chance of becoming president after all.

With this in mind, it's likely some Democrats are breathing just a little easier in light of the latest national polling. For example, a new McClatchy/Marist poll, out this morning, has the race shaping up this way:

Hillary Clinton: 45%
Donald Trump: 39%
Gary Johnson: 10%
Jill Stein: 4%

In a head-to-head match-up, Clinton's lead in this poll is seven points, 48% to 41%.

The results are largely in line with the latest national Associated Press poll, which was also released this morning, and which also shows Clinton with a six-point advantage over her Republican rival in a four-way contest.

All of this also coincides with the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, released late Wednesday, which was nearly identical to the McClatchy/Marist results. Taken together, that's three major national polls over the last three days -- conducted after last week's difficulties for the former Secretary of State -- each of which found Clinton leading Trump by six points, even with the third-party candidates in the mix.

As for the overall averages, the major poll aggregators now point to Clinton ahead by three or four points. That's hardly an overwhelming advantage, but after hitting last week's rough patch, it's likely the Democratic campaign is relieved to be leading at all.
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Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., speaks during a news conference on Feb. 26, 2014.

A big step backward for the GOP's African-American outreach

09/23/16 08:40AM

After the 2012 elections, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus made a concerted effort to overhaul his party's outreach to the African-American community. He couldn't offer much in the way of substance, and he couldn't point to any policy shifts in his party's agenda, but Priebus nevertheless showed real effort, hoping to make new inroads among black voters.

As of last night, it became hard not to imagine Priebus watching the news and smacking his forehead.

Let's put aside, at least for now, the latest missteps on race from the Republican presidential nominee and his running mate, and instead focus on some other GOP officials who made headlines over the last 24 hours for their own racially charged rhetoric.

In Ohio, for example, Kathy Miller, a county chair for the Trump campaign, told The Guardian there was "no racism" during the 1960s; the Black Lives Matter movement is "stupid"; and there was no racism in the United States "until Obama got elected." She added, "If you're black and you haven't been successful in the last 50 years, it's your own fault. You've had every opportunity, it was given to you.... You had all the advantages and didn't take advantage of it. It's not our fault, certainly."

Miller resigned her post yesterday afternoon, right around the time Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) shared some thoughts of his own about race during a BBC interview.
"The grievance in their mind is the animus, the anger," Pittenger told the program, referring to the protesters in Charlotte. "They hate white people because white people are successful and they're not."

The comments sparked an immediate backlash, with fellow North Carolina Congressman G.K. Butterfield -- a Democrat -- calling the remarks "disgusting" and "appalling."
On Twitter, the far-right Republican congressman expressed "regret" for his on-air comments, saying they didn't "reflect" his true beliefs. "My intent was to discuss the lack of economic mobility for African Americans because of failed policies," Pittenger said, adding, "I apologize to those I offended."

Hmm. So the congressman was trying to condemn progressive investments in struggling communities, and he somehow ended up saying protesters in Charlotte "hate white people because white people are successful."
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Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence speaks at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Ariz., Aug. 31, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Trump's running mate: Talk of racism, police should end

09/23/16 08:00AM

Donald Trump's presidential campaign is clearly aware of this week's tragedies in Tulsa and Charlotte. But as this NBC News report suggests, the Republican ticket's reaction to the developments may not be entirely constructive.
GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence called on the country to end debate about "institutional racism" among law enforcement officers as protests in Charlotte flared this week following the shooting of another black man by a police officer.

"We ought to set aside this talk, this talk about institutional racism and institutional bias," Pence said during a roundtable with pastors in a Colorado Springs church on Thursday afternoon.
According to the Associated Press' report, the far-right Indiana governor also said, "Donald Trump and I both believe that there's been far too much of this talk of institutional bias or racism in law enforcement."

In fairness, Pence also reportedly acknowledged, in his best passive voice, that "mistakes are made" in law enforcement, and he agrees that "people have to be held to strict account." Trump's running mate added that "there will be a thorough investigation and that justice will be served and high standards will be upheld."

But this doesn't negate the fact that Pence nevertheless wants less "talk about institutional racism and institutional bias" in law enforcement. Evidently, according to the GOP's vice presidential nominee, the problems might improve if we'd only agree to end conversations about them.

One of the striking aspects of this is how much further Pence is going than the usual response from many conservatives.
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About The Rachel Maddow Show

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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