For months, much of the political world obsessed over primary and caucus polls, eager to know who the party's presumptive presidential nominees would be. Now that this phase of the process is nearing its end, general-election polls are all the rage -- though they probably shouldn't be.
Last week, a New York Times/CBS News poll showed Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by six (47% to 41%), while a Fox News poll showed Trump ahead by three (45% to 42%). Over the weekend, two more major pollsters added some grist for the mill. First, there's the latest data from NBC News/Wall Street Journal:
Clinton, who remains a heavy favorite to win the Democrat nomination, leads the presumptive GOP nominee 46 percent to 43 percent among registered voters, a difference that is within the poll's margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.1 percentage points. In April, Clinton held an 11-point advantage over Trump, 50 percent to 39 percent, and had led him consistently by double digits since December.
And there's the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, which was also released yesterday:
In all, the survey foreshadows a hard-fought, competitive and negative general election. At this point, the two candidates are in a statistical dead heat among registered voters, with Trump favored by 46 percent and Clinton favored by 44 percent. That represents an 11-point shift toward the presumptive Republican nominee since March. Among all adults, Clinton holds a six-point lead (48 percent to 42 percent), down from 18 points in March.
All told, the polling averages compiled by Real Clear Politics show Trump ahead nationally by 0.2%, while the averages compiled by the Huffington Post point to Clinton up by 1.6%. (The latter, for what it's worth, tends to be a bit more comprehensive.)
When Democrats make the case that Donald Trump has a controversial background when it comes to veterans' issues, it's not just wishful thinking. The presumptive Republican nominee, for example, has drawn criticism for supporting a privatization plan for veterans' care. His associations with the sketchy Veterans for a Strong America exacerbated the problem.
And it certainly didn't help matters when Trump, who avoided military service during the Vietnam War, said he "felt" like he'd served in the military because his parents sent him to a military-themed boarding school as a teenager. The Republican went so far as to boast that his expensive prep school gave him "more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military."
Making matters much worse are new questions about Trump and veterans-related fundraising.
In January, the New York Republican skipped a debate in Iowa to instead hold a fundraiser for veterans. Trump repeatedly boasted at the time that, thanks to his bold leadership, he's raised $6 million for vets. Trump added that he'd contributed $1 million out of his own pocket.
Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said the fundraiser actually netted about $4.5 million, or 75 percent of the total that Trump announced.
Lewandowski blamed the shortfall on Trump's own wealthy acquaintances. He said some of them had promised big donations that Trump was counting on when he said he had raised $6 million. But Lewandowski said those donors backed out and gave nothing. [...]
Lewandowski also said he did not know whether a $1 million pledge from Trump himself was counted as part of the $4.5 million total. He said Trump has given that amount, but he declined to identify any recipients.
The number of questions, which the campaign does not want to answer, represents a real problem. Exactly how much did Trump raise for veterans? His campaign doesn't know. How much of it has been allocated? His campaign doesn't know that, either. Who were the beneficiaries of Trump's $1 million contribution? The campaign doesn't want to talk about it.
I'm trying to imagine how the political world would react if Hillary Clinton and her team tried this.
On Friday, Bernie Sanders repeated a familiar complaint: "It's strange and undemocratic that 450 superdelegates backed [Hillary Clinton] even before we got into the race."
This isn't exactly the easiest case to make. For one thing, it's really not that odd for many Democratic insiders to throw their support behind the former Secretary of State, senator, and 2008 runner-up before the primaries got underway. For another, when it comes to the challenges facing the Sanders campaign, superdelegates are practically irrelevant: the senator is trailing among pledged delegates. His deficit among superdelegates is the least of his troubles.
But perhaps most important is the Sanders campaign's broader strategy: the senator and his team are committed to a plan in which they'll ask party insiders to give Sanders the Democratic nomination, even if he comes in second. Given this dynamic, it would seem the senator has an incentive to impress superdelegates, not complain about them.
And yet, over the weekend, Sanders went much further down a confrontational road. The Washington Postreported:
If you want to make a politician really, really angry, endorse their primary opponent. That's exactly what Bernie Sanders did Saturday to Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
"Clearly, I favor her opponent," Sanders said in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper set to air today.
Yesterday, the Sanders campaign, which, with few exceptions, hasn't done much to help Democratic candidates, went so far as to launch a fundraising campaign to help the DNC chair's primary rival in her Florida district, Tim Canova.
As the Washington Post's report added, "You can be certain that Wasserman Schultz has spent the past 12 hours making sure that every one of her colleagues is aware of what Sanders has done. If he is willing to do this to me, don't fool yourself into thinking he won't do it to you too, she'll argue."
And that gets at the heart of Sanders' dilemma: he's identified the people who can rescue his candidacy, and he's poking them with a pointed stick.
Over the last generation or so, presidential elections have generally followed a predictable trajectory when it comes to guns: Republicans have partnered with the NRA, warning voters that Democrats are going to pursue dramatic changes to gun laws, while Democrats, feeling defensive, have insisted that little, if anything, will change.
Indeed, about a year ago, the Washington Postexplained, "For at least the past several decades, Democrats seeking national office have often been timid on the issue of guns for fear of alienating firearms owners." It was an observation rooted in fact: guns have served as a powerful wedge issue, drawing lines Dems were afraid to cross.
This year is poised to be very different.
On the Republican ticket, Donald Trump has abandoned some of his previous positions and sworn fealty to a right-wing vision on gun policy. Late Friday, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee spoke at the National Rifle Association's annual gathering and condemned, of all things, gun-free school zones. Yesterday, Trump went just a little further.
Phoning in to “Fox & Friends” Sunday, Trump contradicted himself multiple times when asked to respond to [Hillary] Clinton, saying, “I don’t want to have guns in classrooms, although in some cases teachers should have guns in classrooms, frankly,” because “the things that are going on in our schools are unbelievable.” Then, he said, “I’m not advocating guns in classrooms, but remember in some cases … trained teachers should be able to have guns in classrooms.”
Hmm. So the GOP's 2016 candidate doesn't want guns in the classrooms, except for all the guns brought into classrooms by teachers.
Not surprisingly, Trump has also spent a fair amount of time condemning Hillary Clinton for advocating progressive gun reforms, but instead of getting into a defense crouch and pretending to love the status quo, Clinton has largely responded by bragging about her support for progressive gun reforms.
First up from the God Machine this week is a bold new faith-based suggestion from the Republican Party's favorite idea man -- Newt Gingrich -- about a new approach to national security. TPM reported yesterday:
After an EgyptAir plane carrying 66 passengers disappeared en route from Paris to Cairo, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested Thursday night the U.S. create a test for airport workers to see if they "believe in Sharia."
Asked by Fox News host Sandra Smith, standing in for Megyn Kelly, whether he's confident in the country's ability to vet airport workers, Gingrich replied, "No, no, no."
The Georgia Republican said he's fairly confident in TSA officials' ability to "stop people who are stupid" from bringing weapons onto airplanes. Gingrich added, however, that airports need to create "the right standards."
More specifically, the former Speaker argued, "You know, the first test -- and this is very hard to do -- the first test ought to be, are we dealing with people who believe in Sharia and who want to impose Islamic supremacism?"
In case the problem with Gingrich's bold new idea wasn't obvious, Wonkette explained, with tongue firmly in cheek, "Because one of the laws of Sharia Law is that if someone asks you if you believe in Sharia Law, you have to say yes."
Right. Applying religious tests to airport workers is a bad idea on its face, but it's especially problematic when trying to identify those who may pose security threats -- because if you ask them, "Hey, do you want to impose Islamic supremacism?" they're very likely to say, "Nope."
There is, of course, a broader context to all of this. The former Speaker is apparently eager to be considered for the vice presidential nomination under Donald Trump, and with the Republicans' presumptive nominee running on a platform with highly controversial anti-Muslim plans, Gingrich has an incentive to push ideas like religious tests for airport workers: they're the sort of thing that might impress the GOP candidate.
That does not, however, mean they're ideas with merit.
Maggie Lamb, schooled in the fine art of news viewing, tests her skills against a set of questions on the week's Rachel Maddow Show news coverage for a chance to win some random thing plus a little leaky metal thing. watch
Chuck Todd, political director for NBC News, talks with Rachel Maddow about the political conditions in 2016 that make a Gary Johnson Libertarian ticket potentially viable for the general election and what effects such a candidacy might have on the race. watch
Rachel Maddow notes that while some organizations have acted to distance themselves from former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, his most famous association, the House of Representatives, has yet to offer any reprimand or censure to the longest serving Republican speaker in U.S. history, the highest ranking American elected official to have been... watch
Raymond Buckley, New Hampshire Democratic Party chair and president of the Association of Democratic Chairs, talks with Rachel Maddow about new proposed rules for state Democratic conventions in the wake of Nevada's contentious convention. watch
* White House: "A man was shot outside the White House grounds after approaching a checkpoint with a gun and refusing commands to drop it, officials said. The White House was placed on lockdown after the shooting near 17th and E streets. The shooting was reported shortly after 3 p.m."
* Flight MS804: "Egypt's military said it found the first pieces of a missing EgyptAir passenger plane -- though there were no signs officials were any closer to solving the puzzle of what sent the aircraft falling out of the sky."
* News out of Oklahoma, Part I: "Gov. Mary Fallin on Friday vetoed a measure that would have banned abortion in Oklahoma, saying the bill was vague and would not withstand a criminal constitutional legal challenge."
* News out of Oklahoma, Part II: "A grand jury investigation into Oklahoma's execution mistakes during 2015 found that the department of corrections and others in the process 'failed to perform their duties' with the care and attention required when attempting to carry out capital punishment."
* News out of Oklahoma, Part III: "No, states can't actually impeach U.S. presidents. But Oklahoma Republican lawmakers are urging Congress to take up their cause. Reuters reports the Republican-dominated state legislature filed a measure Thursday calling for Obama's impeachment over the administration's recent recommendations that public schools accommodate transgender students in bathrooms."
* Maybe someone should let congressional Republicans know: "More than 270 pregnant women in the U.S. are infected with the Zika virus and are at risk of their babies being born with birth defects, federal health officials announced Friday."
* Given California's size, this may be a very important policy: "The state Senate on Thursday approved sweeping new restrictions on using guns in California... Lawmakers approved 11 bills including measures mandating background checks for Californians buying ammunition and outlawing the manufacture and sale of semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines."
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.