Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: October 29, 2018 Guest: Clint Watts
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, nine families prepared to bury 11 victims of a massacre inside a congregation. Eleven Jews killed for being Jews, and our country has never seen anything like it. The President heading there tomorrow, and as "The Washington Post" puts it tonight, "Trump and aides struggle to balance midterm attacks with empathy after synagogue massacre."
And one hour and one week to election day, Democrats are nervous and Republicans are nervous, and Steve Kornacki is at the big board with tonight`s new wave of polling numbers as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Monday night.
And good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 648 of the Trump administration as the nation has now witnessed in the space of just days two acts of domestic terrorism, the second vastly darker than the first. The White House is now consumed by its effort to defend itself from those who see the link between the President`s words and what we`ve witnessed.
Tomorrow the President and First Lady will visit Pittsburgh where 11 worshippers were murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue. That attack came just days after two black shoppers were killed in Kentucky in a shooting being investigated as a hate crime. In the past week, of course, has seen that series of mail bombs sent to Trump`s political opponents and to CNN. In the wake of all of this, Trump and his White House are trying to turn the spotlight on the news media.
This morning he wrote, "There is great anger in our country caused in part by inaccurate and even fraudulent reporting of the news. The fake news media, the true enemy of the people, must stop the open and obvious hostility and report the news accurately and fairly. That will do much to put out the flame of anger and outrage, and we will then be able to bring all sides together in peace and harmony. Fake news must end."
Then tonight he sent this, "CNN and others in the fake news business keep purposely and inaccurately reporting what I said, that I said the media is the enemy of the people." Wrong. I said that the fake news media is the enemy of the people."
Earlier today the White House Press Secretary lashed out at reporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The very first thing that the President did was condemn the attacks, both in Pittsburgh and in the pipe bombs. The very first thing the media did was blame the President and make him responsible for these ridiculous acts. That is outrageous that that would be the very first reaction of so many people across this country.
The only person responsible for carrying out either of these heinous acts were the individuals who carried them out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Tonight Phil Rucker of "The Washington Post", who is standing by to join us in just a moment, reports along with his colleagues on the administration`s struggle to respond to the attacks days before the midterm elections. "Behind the scenes at the White House, aides have been debating how to strike the right tone between Trump`s closing campaign pitch and playing the role of national consoler, according to people familiar with the conversations."
Trump`s campaign appearances have not been dialed back. The White House says he plans to show up for rallies in eight states between now and election day.
This past weekend the President held a campaign rally in Illinois just hours after the shooting in Pittsburgh. He complained to the audience at one event that day that it was a bad hair day for him because he had paused in the rain to respond to the massacre. That`s when he suggested we might need guns in our houses of worship. He ended the day on Twitter criticizing a pitching change in the World Series game that night.
Tonight he explained to Laura Ingraham on "Fox News" why it was important not to call off his rally that day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- once you cancel, so you`re doing a rally and rallies are meant to be fun. Rallies are meant to be everything, and I said, tone it down, and then you saw the group saying, "No, don`t tone it down, don`t tone it down." So we had a great rally in Illinois for some great people.
And, frankly, I think that`s probably the way it should be. You should go about your life. You can`t let these people disrupt anymore than they already have, which is disgraceful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The President has, of course, continued to attack at least three of the recipients of pipe bombs in his speeches at his rallies, and the White House was asked today about those continuing attacks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JILL COLVIN, ASSOCITED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: In his rallies since the suspicious packages began being made the President has called out Maxine Waters by name at his rallies. He stood there as his supporters chant "lock her up" in reference to Hillary Clinton who he continues to call "crooked Hillary Clinton." Will the President stop using that kind of language in light of the fact that these individuals were targeted?
SANDERS: The President is going to continue to draw contrast. Let`s not forget that these same Democrats have repeatedly attacked the President. The President is going to continue to fight back when these individuals not only attack him but attack members of his administration and supporters of his administration.
HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF WH CORRESPONDENT: At what point does a national tragedy take precedence over the President needing to punch back? If not now, when?
SANDERS: I think you saw the President do exactly that in the wake of a national tragedy, not just this week but every time our country has experienced the type of heartache and pain that we have over the last week.
JACKSON: Is he incapable of, in the words of some, toning it down and toning down the rhetoric?
SANDERS: You guys have a huge responsibility to play in the divisive nature of this country when 90 percent of the coverage of everything this President does is negative despite the fact that the country is doing extremely well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: This all comes as the President is moving forward with his plan to move more than 5,000 active duty U.S. military troops to our southern border by the end of the week, a show of force against migrants moving north through Central America, who he has characterized as, "an invasion of our country."
Here is what he told Laura Ingraham earlier tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: When you look at that caravan and you look largely very, you know, a big percentage of men, young, strong, a lot of bad people, a lot of bad people in there, people that are in gangs. We don`t want them in this country. We have a very strong border. I called up the military. This caravan is not -- they`re wasting their time. They are not going --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Of course the caravan is not a threat to the United States, nothing close to it. It`s not a threat to our country or our democracy. You don`t need to believe me, we heard it on "Fox News".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: There is no invasion. No one is coming to get you. There`s nothing at all to worry about. We`re America, we can handle it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: To be fair, a guest on the program after Shepard Smith warned the immigrants in the caravan are going to infect our country with leprosy, tuberculosis and smallpox.
On that note, let`s bring in our lead off panel on a Monday night the aforementioned Philip Rucker, a Pulitzer Price Winning White House Bureau Chief for "The Washington Post". Kimberly Atkins, Washington Bureau Chief for the Boston Herald. And Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times".
Phil Rucker, I`d like to read more of the writing you contributed to tonight. "As the mail bomb and synagogue shooting crises unfolded over the past week, Trump received advice from allies who urged the importance of sounding presidential, though he was at times annoyed by what he viewed as unnecessary and gratuitous counsel, said one Republican in frequent contact with the White House."
Phil, why this struggle over the center of the President, how the President portrays himself not to the base but to all-Americans?
PHILIP RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, Brian, well, the first thing that we should clear up is that even the President`s advisers acknowledge that he struggles with these sorts of moments of national tragedy and terror, that he struggles to show any empathy of any kind. This is not his forte. It`s not what he is good at doing. It`s not a natural thing for him to be trying to do.
And so he effectively doesn`t really try. He sort of reads through the scripts, he sends out the necessary tweets that his advisers tell him to do to try to comfort the country, to try to unite people, to heal wounds, but then he reverts right back to politicking. And that`s the real balance that you see right now between the President and his aides as they`re a week before the midterm elections. They want to be focused on the campaign, they want to continue what has been a scorched earth strategy of trying to tear down the Democrats to protect the Republicans in the House and the Senate majorities.
And they`re not able to do that because they keep getting interrupted by these tragedies, the mail bomber situation last week and then, of course, the massacre at the synagogue in Pittsburgh. And the President is completely unwilling to veer off course from his campaigning and from his politicking to focus on these tragedies and sort of act in the way we`ve become accustomed to Presidents acting all through history.
WILLIAMS: Kim, think of the time, the effort and the cost of moving 5,000 active duty U.S. troops to our southern border, which, by the way, is 2,000 miles long, for a fake invasion days before the midterms, an arrival of people weeks, some have said months away if ever. Think of the President at the end of an emotional day in this country, not treating -- tweeting words of comfort but criticizing a pitching change in the World Series.
KIMBERLY ATKINS, THE BOSTON HERALD CHIEF WASHINGTON REPORTER: Look, I`m a baseball fan and the World Series is important, but I had to double check to make sure that that tweet was real when I saw it come up at the Twitter feed at that time.
Yes, I mean keep in mind not only are we spending 5,000 -- more than 5,000 arm troops to the border when 2,000 national guardsmen are already there, that`s a bigger military presence than are in some foreign countries like Afghanistan right now. This is not an invasion, as you noted. These are people who are fleeing poverty and violence, taking a walking trek that will take them weeks, more than a month to complete, if they complete it, coming to the United States asking for asylum, knowing that most of them won`t get it.
This is not an invasion. The idea that this is a vehicle for terrorists or criminals or others, most criminals and terrorists tend to use more efficient ways to try to get to the United States if they`re trying to do that.
So -- but this is, of course, something that he wants done by the end of the week before election day. We are at a point where it is all or nothing when it comes to politics. And he is all in on this issue of immigration. Republican strategists have been telling me and other reporters for months now that that is the key issue heading into the midterms.
The economy is good. It`s hard to get people angry about the economy when it`s good. They thought it might be about impeachment, but Democrats really aren`t talking about that, and so immigration is the issue and the President wants to keep the headlines on that. And he seems to be pulling out all of the stops to make sure that this narrative that America is under invasion carries through even though that`s not the case.
WILLIAMS: Peter, don`t tell Kearns Goodwin or Meachem or Beschloss I said this, but it`s much easier to be a historian because you can get comfortable and look back on something that was years earlier and say, "Yes, that right there, that was a moment, that was a --
PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
WILLIAMS: -- moment for our country." And here is my underlying proof."
My question to you is, you combine what we witnessed last week with this weekend, with everything we`re talking about, real and shiny objects both, is this another -- yet another moment?
BAKER: Well, I think it is. I think it kind of brings back to the conversation a discussion about what a President means to us, what we want our President to be. I actually think that in the most recent few months leading up to this last 10 days or so President Trump had begun to kind of change the conversation. He made it about the Democrats and their handling of the Kavanaugh hearing. He made it about this caravan.
He was successfully changing the nature of the election to some extent. It was less about him than it was about his opponents, at least with his core supporters.
Now the conversation is turning back to what we expect out of our President. Do we want our President to be a uniter or a divider? And he has made it very clear, Phil said correctly, that this is not his wheelhouse, it`s not his strength or his -- even really his desire to play, you know, consoler in chief. National harmony is not what he came to office promising nor has it been what he has sought to deliver.
What he likes to do is to draw contrast, to use Sarah Huckabee Sander`s phrase, to show people who is on the right side and the wrong side as far as he is concerned. And in many ways what Dorris Kearns Goodwin and Michael Beschloss, and the others that you mentioned, Jon Meacham would tell you is that is a historic anomaly. That our Presidents in times of crisis recognize that they have a higher calling than simply being another partisan.
It doesn`t mean that you can`t be a tough and vigorous campaigner, but it does mean that at moments like this the typical President has sought at least to try to bring us together rather than continue to divide us.
WILLIAMS: Peter, let`s talk about how much prodding this President took. He has a -- it has been widely chronicled, a Jewish son-in-law also his adviser, his daughter, converted to Judaism and they are raising the Presidents grandchildren in the Jewish faith. Did it take that -- did it take them to say to him this is the right path oppose Pittsburgh?
BAKER: Yes. He was on Air force One on Saturday heading to this speech to the future farmers of America, I believe it was, and he called and talked to his daughter and son-in-law. They were back in Washington observing the Sabbath. Normally you don`t get on the phone but it was a crisis moment, and they encourage him, they urged him to be as strong as possible in condemning anti-semitism.
His first statement in the rain under the wing of Air Force One really didn`t accomplish that. It didn`t get that message through. And they told him he really had to be unstinting in his outrage that he was expressing over the synagogue murders. And you saw they did that.
At the next stops he made clear, strong statements about anti-semitism, but he couldn`t stick to the script. Once he was done reading the words that have been provided for him, he then began to say what he wants to say which is, again, about the caravan, about the Democrats, the fake news media and all of the things that seem to contrast with the moment where the country is supposed to be brought together.
WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, 11 rallies ahead of us between now and the midterms in eight states we are told. Sarah Sanders today said the President has not launched what she would call attacks so much as he is showing contrast. I imagine we can expect a lot of contrast in the days ahead.
RUCKER: I think, Brian, it will be six final days of contrast. He`s going to be doing, at least one rally a day, some days two, some days even three as we head into next Tuesday`s election. He has been hungry to get out on the trail and sort of relive that glory home stretch of his from October, November of 2016 when he was barnstorming the country campaigning for himself. He wants to feel that way again. He`s been telling his aides in the White House to book as many rallies as possible.
He`s also been pouring over polling data from these states. He is focused acutely on some of the key Senate battlegrounds. There`s almost a belief inside the White House that the House is most likely to flip to Democratic control. But what they can really do is gen up the Senate races in red states, states that are Trump states and improve perhaps the Republican majority in the Senate. And the President is going to be pretty committed to doing that.
Whether his tone changes, I don`t think it will on the campaign trail. In fact, I wouldn`t be surprised if he ratchets it up even further with some of the attacks that we`ve seen on Twitter today at the news media amplified at those rallies.
WILLIAMS: Kim, the aforementioned historians are quick to remind us, Eisenhower got dinged for not working hard enough, at least playing too much golf on the job. Carter got dinged for working too hard and too much detail without result. And I say that because I read this to you from "Politico". They have had access to this President`s once-private schedules.
"President Donald Trump had about three times as much free time planned for last Tuesday as work time, according to his private schedule. The President was slated for more than nine hours of "Executive Time," a euphemism for the unstructured time Trump spends tweeting, phoning friends and watching television." Kim, your reaction.
ATKINS: I mean, look, we`ve seen this from the beginning. Donald Trump himself was a chief critic of President Obama over his golfing schedule and the amount of time that he spent on vacation, and we are seeing that at the same time. Look, no one begrudges a president for taking some down time, but at a point in our history where it is pretty much universally accepted that we have not seen the things happening in our country right now in our generation and that that calls for the President to respond to and react to and at least be present for this conversation, he doesn`t seem to show much of a desire to do that just as Peter said.
So, you know, I just think it speaks to his own value, where he plays it. And right now it is on being on Twitter, focusing on the midterms and trying to get a political win out of this and peg the entire -- this entire last week, where we`ve seen attacks on Jewish people in their place of worship, on black people shopping when a shooter couldn`t get into their place of worship, of pipe bombs being sent to members of the media and former political figures that President Trump likes to target. This is something that has wounded this country, but he sees it as a political strategy. He sees this as an attack on him and a diversion from his campaign message.
WILLIAMS: With that, our thanks on a sad Monday night, Philip Rucker, to Kimberly Atkins, to Peter Baker. Appreciate you coming by and being part of the broadcast.
Coming up, this massacre in Pittsburgh yet again demonstrates how easily messages of hate are spread in the darker portions of the web where most people dare not go.
And later, if not President Trump, who is out there to deliver a calming message to a rattled community or perhaps a rattled nation.
THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Monday night.
WILLIAMS: Earlier today the man accused of killing 11 Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh on Saturday faced a courtroom for the first time. 46-year- old Robert Bowers entered court in a wheelchair after he was treated for gunshot wounds he sustained during that gun battle with police.
Bowers was ordered held without bail. He`s facing 29 counts including a hate crime charge. The feds said they plan to pursue the death penalty in this case.
Meanwhile, we are learning more about the suspect`s online presence including his use of a social network called Gab.
"New York Times" reports Gab has attracted extremist including white nationalists. "The site`s guidelines prohibit threats of violent but not hateful speech. Gab`s reputation for accommodating extremism may have been what drew Mr. Bowers to the site. In January he signed up for an account and began sharing anti-Jewish images, conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the world, and criticism of President Trump, whom he implied was too accommodating of Jewish influence."
NBC News reports the shooting suspect frequently wrote on Gab where he, "made a specific threat against Jews hours before Saturday`s attack, alleging that the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, H-I-A-S, a humanitarian nonprofit group that assists refugees, brought immigrants to the United States to do violence. Screw your optics, I`m going in," he wrote.
Gab said the data from Bowers` account was backed up and then suspended. Lots to talk about, and with us tonight to do that Jeremy Bash, Former Chief of Staff at the CIA and the Pentagon and Clint Watts, a Former Special Agent and Member of the Joint Terrorism task force. Gentlemen, good evening to you both.
Clint, because it was the last thing we mentioned I`d like to begin with you. How on earth do the good guys, and by that I define as the feds, the FBI, et al, your former colleagues, stay ahead of this stuff? How on earth would you have found this guy living in a ram shackle apartment, posting hate on the web?
CLINT WATTS, FMR. FBI SPECIAL AGENT: It`s much more difficult in the domestic extremism case to be honest. I mean what we see is whether it is Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, whether it`s international terrorist or domestic extremist, eventually they get pushed off these platforms. And they look for a place where their speech is not moderated at all, the terms of service aren`t enforced in any way that moderates them. Encrypted communications and anonymity where they can sort to say what they want and not really be pinned down from law enforcement.
So that means if you are the FBI or state and local law enforcement, you have to be developing human sources or putting yourselves into the conversations. To just know have -- you have to know where to go. So sometimes we are very excited about pushing them off the mainstream applications.
But what we tend to do is push them to these closed groups, more closed platforms, or, you know, smaller platforms that are emerging like Gab, telegram during the ISIS days, and its even more difficult for us to track them. So there`s always consequences to success of really pushing them off mainstream You can actually blind yourself to many threats, it becomes harder to pick off these people that are mobilizing towards violence.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, because so much of the American Jewish community came to this country as part of the -- I guess you`d call it the "Diaspora of the World War II," having witnessed or survived or both, an attempt at genocide, they came here to this country because it was safe, because what could be safer than sitting in synagogue (ph) at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Because you were basically raised in temple as the son of a rabbi, I`d like to play for you two things the President said the day of the shooting, starting with what he found to be a potential solution to this problem.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: This is a case where if they had an armed guard inside, they might have been able to stop him immediately. So this would be a case for if there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him, maybe there would have been nobody killed except for him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM: The President in the rain, prior to departing his suggestion that houses of worship should get an armed guard. Then this happened to an audience he addressed in Illinois.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: There somebody just said, "Your hair looks different today". So while I was standing under the wing of Air Force One, doing a news conference early this morning, a very unfortunate news conference, and the wind was blowing and the rain -- and I was soaking wet. And that`s what I ended up with today.
And I said, at least you know it`s mine. And I said, maybe I should cancel this arrangement because I have a bad hair day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, you can react to whichever comment you like.
JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHEF OF STAFF: Well Brian, as you noted, my siblings and I were literally raised in synagogue. My father, no doubt watching tonight, served as a congregational rabbi for 40 years.
And so we relied on the regulars of our synagogue of our congregation to be the stalwarts, to be there early and lead the services. And the idea that`s someone could burst in with an automatic weapon, and gun them down, people who had survived the show at a holocaust, to stabled brothers, people who are elderly, people who are infirm, people who relied on that community, and that, there was nothing that could be done to stop them, I mean it`s heartbreaking.
But what I think is even more heartbreaking, because we`re not going to arm every synagogue, we`re not going to arm every rabbi, and Kanter and ritual leader, that`s just unrealistic and frankly nobody wants to worship under those circumstances. And I don`t want to send my own children to synagogue under those circumstances.
What is more heartbreaking, is that the President, his rhetoric has been so divisive. And apparently the shooter was motivated by a harsh anti- immigration sentiment. And you reference in the set up here that basically he said, "I`m going in", because he thought immigrants who are coming across the border were coming to, "slaughter his people," of course, a conspiracy theory that`s been only fueled by the anti-immigrant sentiment are coming out of the White House. The President has basically called them, the immigrants, invaders, he sent the military to the border.
And Brian, something is profoundly wrong in the rhetoric, in the approach, in the ability of a President not -- he`s not healing our nation, he is dividing it.
WILLIAMS: I have one more for you and that`s Laura Ingraham, asking the President tonight on "Fox News" about nationalism. Let`s roll that and we`ll talk about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: The word "nationalism" has taken on for the left this connotation of fueling anti-Semitism, hate, even violence. Do you think that is fair, and do you want --
INGRAHAM: -- to further clarify what nationalism means to you?
TRUMP: No. To me, I don`t have to clarify. It means I love the country. It means I`m fighting for the country. I look at two things, globalists and nationalists. I`m somebody that wants to take care of our country because for many, many years, you know this better than anybody, our leaders have been more worried about the world than they have about the United States and they leave us in a mess.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Jeremy, what would worry you most if he knew better or if he doesn`t?
BASH: I mean, Brian, that`s right out of the protocols of the elders of Zion, anti-Jewish creed that`s been used to justify anti-Semitic, raises bigotry throughout recent history. The idea that globalists are taking over our country, again, that just feeds the conspiracy-minded individuals. And nationalism is not something our country should aspire to. Patriotism, yes, love of country, standing up for the ideals that make our country great. One of those ideals is welcoming in people from around the world who seek asylum here on our shores.
WILLIAMS: Clint, this is so important tonight because the president has named would-be targets. The has president called out an entire community. You`re sitting in the middle of one, as enemies of the people.
CLINT WATTS, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, it`s pretty remarkable that he doesn`t seem to see himself as the leader of all of the country, only those that vote for him. He repeatedly will do this. Did you vote for me, yes or no, as if you didn`t vote for me, it`s not my responsibility.
WILLIAMS: Absolutely unique among presidents.
WATTS: Yes, it`s a remarkable turn in which you see there`s -- he`s always an entertainer but never a leader. He never wants to take the next step and sort of rise above that. You know, what he could be doing is putting enough resources, enough focus on domestic extremism. It`s been on the rise basically for the last decade.
In terms of actual deaths to Americans, it`s almost on par since 9/11, after 9/11 period with what we saw from Jihadi extremism. And we can treat all of these individuals as if they`re one offs. But that`s not really the case. They share an ideology. They communicate with each other. They help inspire each other, and it looks remarkably similar to the inspired Jihadist attacks that we saw from ISIS just a few years back.
There`s no core. There`s no center. We don`t have a terrorist group operating like we do in a cell, but what we do have is a violent ideology which has many splinters. It`s anti-Semitic, it`s white supremacist, it`s race-based, it`s socioeconomic and anti-immigration is at the core of all of those almost always.
So we could be putting resources against this. Where it`s a really tough mission for the FBI if you don`t give them the strength to actually put that network together, the resources to do it and the mandate to get after it, and that`s what we should expect from our leaders.
WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, I`m sorry for the run-said topics we had to talk about tonight, but very grateful to both Jeremy Bash and Clint Watts for joining us this evening.
Coming up, eight days until the midterm elections. The president`s approval numbers have taken a turn south. Steve Kornacki back at the big board to break it all down for us tonight when we come right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are they trying to hobble you in the midterms because you`re best --
TRUMP: Oh 100%.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- closer for this party? That`s what the Republicans were saying.
TRUMP: They`re going out of the way and I`m getting 25,000 and 30,000 people to these rallies. Nobody has ever seen it. There has never been -- this isn`t bragging. There has never been anything like what`s happening.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: After the White House claimed he won the popular vote, President Trump once again exaggerating turnout numbers at his rallies during his "Fox News" interview tonight. He insists the crowds can only mean good things for Republican candidates in the midterms, yet with eight days to go before Election Day, there`s a new poll showing Trump`s approval rating is slipping. Political correspondent Steve Kornacki is back at the big board for us tonight.
Hey, Steve, what do you have?
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brian, I want to try to put this in some context here because we`ve been talking about this in recent days, about Trump`s approval rating being one of the single biggest variables in the home stretch of this campaign.
So what you`re seeing here, this is the average approval rating for Donald Trump throughout his presidency. This is graph, every day, "Real Clear Politics" averages the polls that are out there and you see a trend line. Now, a thing to keep in mind, the readout at the end of last week had his average approval rating at 44.7%. And you can see throughout his entire presidency that is as close to as good as it`s been for Donald Trump and about 44.7%, that`s the range Republicans were saying, hey, maybe we got shot to keep the House if Trump can be there.
But take a look at this trend line throughout his presidency and one thing that jumps out to you is when there have been moments in Trump`s presidency where past presidents have traditionally tried to offer, you know, broadly unifying messages, moments of crisis. Trump has steadfastly refused to do that. He has taken a very different approach. It`s often generated controversy. We`ve seen that in the last week certainly, but I can show you on this right here.
Look at this drop in his polling we saw at the end of the summer. You know what this was? This was the controversy over Trump`s handling of John McCain`s passing, John McCain`s funeral. How about if we went back to the summer of 2017? This drop right that corresponds with Charlottesville. So we`ve seen his numbers take a turn when that happened before. The question`s become his handling of the past week, of these crises of the past week, what will that do.
So take a look, Gallup does a weekly approval rating. Last week it was sitting right where that average was of 44% approval rating. Today they came out with their latest weekly update, 44% has fallen to 40%, a drop of four points. If that is replicated in other polls -- and that`s the key question now in the home stretch of this race. If this is a trend, if this is not an outlier, if Trump does loses the three or four points, whatever it ends up being, that could have enormous electoral implications for Republicans on election day.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Steve, a final quick audible lightning round, people keep asking me Georgia governor, Florida governor, Texas Senate?
KORNACKI: Yes. Let`s take you through what we know about the numbers in those key races. The Texas Senate race, a brand-new poll out today you can see from Quinnipiac Cruz leading Beto O`Rourke by five points. Quinnipiac said a number of polls. The good news for O`Rourke is this is a little closer than Quinnipiac has been showing. The bad news, obviously he continues to trail just about every poll that`s been taken this fall has had Ted Cruz leading in this race.
In Florida, a bunch of polling. If you average them all together, Andrew Gillum, the Democrat, leading by about three points. Again, basically every poll since the primary in this race has had Gillum ahead, Desantis in striking distance but he has not been leading in these polls.
And in Georgia, our most recent poll here, we got Brian Kemp, the Republican, one point ahead. We have the libertarian here with 4%. Remember, Georgia unique among states. They do have that run-off provision. If neither Kemp nor Abrams gets 50% plus one on election day, because the libertarian is drawing some votes, they go to a run-off on December 4th. So a real close race here with the libertarian gobbling up a few points. You`re looking potentially at a December 4th run-off in Georgia.
WILLIAMS: Steve Kornacki at the big board as crunch week began. Steve, can`t thank you enough. Really appreciate it.
Coming up for us in times of tragedy, shaken Americans once looked to the White House for words of comfort. The president`s critics say it`s time to look elsewhere for that when we come back.
WILLIAMS: President Trump has long struggled with his role as consoler in chief. It`s a post-tragedy pattern we are familiar with by now. He reads prepared remarks, usually from the teleprompter, and then returns often only minutes later to what he really wants to say to a given audience. Here now a reminder of what it is we`re talking about.
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TRUMP: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence.
I think there`s blame on both sides. You look at -- you look at both sides, I think there`s blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it and you don`t have any doubt about it either.
In recent days, we`ve had a broader conversation about the tone and civility of our national dialogue. Everyone will benefit if we can end the politics of personal destruction.
Maxine waters -- but I`m going to be nice tonight, so I won`t say it. I won`t say it. I won`t say it. I`m going to be nice.
This evil anti-Semitic attack is an assault on all of us. It`s an assault on humanity.
And if you don`t mind, I`m going to tone it down just a little bit. Is that OK? No? OK, you`re from Illinois. I had a feeling you might say that.
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WILLIAMS: With us tonight to talk about this is our friend Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for "The Washington Post".
And, Eugene, tonight Jay Rosen over at NYU kind of nicely deconstructed this on Twitter. And he said in effect the dog whistle here is the president through his delivery, which he calls listless, saying to the crowd, they made me say this. Then he comes off of that and goes into his familiar cadence. And Jay Rosen says the White House aides always point back to the president`s remarks that were designed to read like traditional president`s remarks. What we`ve seen lately though goes beyond dog whistle, does it not?
EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Yes, it does. I`m not sure that listless sort of, you know, dutiful eating my spinach delivery, I`m not sure that`s an intentional dog whistle. That`s just the way he is. They did make him say it. They told him that you have to say this, Mr. President, and so he went out and he said it.
But it goes against his every instinct, his way of being a politician is to drive the wedge, drive the wedge, always drive the wedge, and to embrace and to wrap your arms around people who might even disagree with you, might not have voted for you. Just goes against every political instinct that President Trump has, and he just can`t do it.
WILLIAMS: I want to read something I`ve never read to you before, a quote from Patty Davis. She writes in your newspaper in an op-ed piece, "This president will never offer comfort, compassion or empathy to a grieving nation. It`s not in him. When questioned after a tragedy, he will always be glib and inappropriate. So I have a wild suggestion, let`s stop asking him. His words are only salt in our wounds."
Eugene, the natural question coming out of that is who then to fill the role for a nation that was shaken by pipe bombs being distributed all over the place, saddened by this horror we watched in Pittsburgh?
ROBINSON: There`s no one figure. You know, hearing that quote, I think back to Ronald Reagan. I think back to Ronald Reagan on one specific moment after the Challenger disaster.
WILLIAMS: Let me stop you there and roll it for our audience. Let me roll it of our audience. We`ll talk about it on the other side.
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RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger honored us with the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them nor the last time we saw them this morning as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the bonds of earth to touch the face of God.
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WILLIAMS: Everyone in politics and speech writing has committed that last sentence to memory, the work of Peggy Noonan.
ROBINSON: Absolutely. And I remember it so vividly. When I think back to the Reagan years, that`s one of the things along with, you know, "Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev." But that moment I remember because it was necessary in that moment. We have watched that -- this great pageant of American technology. We watched that space shuttle take off, and we had watched those astronauts die. It was a shock. And the nation was stunned.
We hadn`t seen anything like this. And at that moment, that speech, very brief by President Reagan, was absolutely the -- it was perfect. It was just what the nation needed to hear and it certainly made me feel better, and I think it made a lot of people feel better, put it in some sort of context.
And again, President Trump is not going to do that. Vice President Pence, I don`t know. I don`t think President Trump, frankly, wants the vice president out there taking a central role, and he does tend to be a bit old testament. He talks about evil a lot. I wish he were a bit new testament sometimes. We don`t have a central religious figure. There`s no one person to fill the role that the president does in our society at these moments but can`t do now.
WILLIAMS: Eugene Robinson filling the role on this broadcast. We often ask him to fill and he does so admirably. Eugene, thank you very much for coming on with us tonight.
ROBINSON: Thanks, Brian.
WILLIAMS: More of our broadcast right after this.
WILLIAMS: Because the news starts to feel so consequential coming up to these midterm elections, I just want to take a quick second with some reminders for members of our audience, especially for those of you who time shift "The 11th Hour." You can watch us any time you please by downloading the MSNBC app on your phone, that way you just open it and pick your prime- time broadcast. If you`re on the move, you can listen live each night on Sirius XM Satellite Radio. We are also available as a podcast. And as we like to say, there`s really no reason why you`d ever have to miss a single broadcast of "The 11th Hour."
Quick break for us and then we`re back, we`ll take you to the town where kindness was born at least for young members of the television generation when we continue.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight is about the city of Pittsburgh and what this act of unspeakable violence has revealed about Pittsburgh that those who know and love the city already know. Pittsburgh is a great place. It`s tight and it`s close and it`s extremely proud. They are especially proud of Fred Rogers, Pittsburgh was his home. He did a show from there and Squirrel Hill the home of this congregation where the massacre took place, Squirrel Hill was the neighborhood. And so they`ve been thinking about him a lot there and the kindness he taught that doesn`t seem to represent these times we`re living in right now.
Tonight NBC`s Harry Smith reports on the sadness that has fallen upon the section of town that was indeed Mr. Rogers` neighborhood.
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HARRY SMITH, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: There was a two-hour wait to give blood in Pittsburgh today. It`s what neighbors do. We couldn`t help but notice Fred Rogers. Mr. Rogers lived just blocks from the synagogue. He had a message about the tragedy for the children who watched his show.
FRED ROGERS: My mother would try to find out who was helping the person who got hurt. Always look for the people who are helping she`d tell us. You`ll always find somebody who is trying to help.
SMITH: The helpers didn`t hesitate Saturday. Scores of first responders rushed to the emergency, selflessly facing danger head on already inside was Dr. Rabinowitz, who was believed to have been gunned down as he helped those who are wounded, even more help came from the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh calling their Jewish neighbors family, brothers and sisters, they`ve already raised a significant amount of money for the victims but want to do more.
WASI MOHAMED, ISLAMIC CHURCH OF PITTSBURG, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: We just want to know what you need. You know, if it`s more money, let us know. If it`s people outside your next service, you know, protecting you, let us know, we`ll be there.
SMITH: The people of Pittsburgh are making it clear that hate won`t win. Not here, not in their neighborhood.
Harry Smith, NBC News.
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WILLIAMS: And that is our broadcast on this Monday night as we begin a new week here. Thank you so very much for being here with us tonight and goodnight from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END