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Trump praises a dictator. And that has consequences.

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump take a break in their talks at the hat the Capella Hotel in Singapore on Tuesday.Kevin Lim / The Straits Times via AFP - Getty Images
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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — Yes, he praised Putin during the 2016 presidential campaign. And yes, as president, he’s spoken favorably of the Philippines’ Duterte. But for anyone who’s covered American politics over the last few decades — or who has studied the American presidency — President Trump’s remarks about Kim Jong Un to Fox News’ Brett Baier were jaw-dropping:

BAIER: He is a killer.

TRUMP: He's a tough guy. When you take over a country, a tough country, tough people — and you take it over from your father — I don't care who you are, what you are, how much of an advantage you have. If you can do that at 27 years old, that's one in 10,000 who could do that. So he's a very smart guy. He's a great negotiator. But I think we understand each other.

BAIER: But he's still done some really bad things.

TRUMP: Yeah, but so have a lot of other people done some really bad things. I could go through a lot of nations where a lot of bad things were done.

Besides the shoulder-shrugging or the muted reaction from GOP lawmakers (that’s now the best way to know when they’re comfortable with something the president said), there’s an important consequence to Trump’s praise of dictators and authoritarian strongmen: What happens when the United States is no longer the world’s moral compass?

Of the three major military powers over the last 70 years — the United States, Russia and China — the U.S. was the only one that promoted democracy, human rights and individual freedoms. Of course, the U.S. didn’t always live up to those ideals (the wars, the coups, the strongmen it backed), but it was the only power talking about them.

So what happens when the United States stops talking about them? What does that mean for world affairs? Does anyone else fill the void?

While Trump praises dictators, he calls the news media an “enemy”

Here’s another question: What’s the consequence of an American president praising Kim Jong Un but labeling the American news media as the “country’s biggest enemy”?

Trump tweeted this yesterday: “So funny to watch the Fake News, especially NBC and CNN. They are fighting hard to downplay the deal with North Korea. 500 days ago they would have “begged” for this deal-looked like war would break out. Our Country’s biggest enemy is the Fake News so easily promulgated by fools!”

NYT: Here’s what to watch for in that inspector general report on the FBI

The New York Times previews today’s release of that inspector general report into the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation. Here are some of the things the paper says to watch:

Did the FBI really put the fix in to save Mrs. Clinton?

“Mr. Trump has pushed a theory that a secret cabal of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters inside the F.B.I. conspired to clear her of wrongdoing over her handling of classified information. This same group of agents, Mr. Trump argues, then cooked up a phony investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia as a way to undermine his presidency. No public evidence has surfaced to prove this theory, and the inspector general is unlikely to claim a wide-ranging political conspiracy at the heart of the F.B.I. There is evidence that at least some agents on the Clinton investigation disliked Mr. Trump. But look for Mr. Trump to seize on aspects of the report that support him, and probably discard those that do not.”

Is this about Mueller’s investigation? Or not?

“Neither the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, nor his investigation is the focus of the report. But it looms over everything that will happen Thursday around the release the report. When the Russia investigation began, Mr. Comey made a decision that ultimately proved fateful. Rather than assign the case to agents in the field, he gave it to the same team at headquarters that had investigated Mrs. Clinton. So, any criticism of decisions in the Clinton case — no matter how unrelated to the Russia investigation — will ultimately be used by Mr. Trump challenge the integrity of the team that began investigating his campaign.”

Don’t miss this dispatch on minors living in detention centers at the border

NBC’s Jacob Soboroff: “Life inside the biggest licensed child care facility in the nation for undocumented immigrant children looks more like incarceration than temporary shelter. The kids, a mix of those who crossed into the U.S. unaccompanied and those who were separated from their parents under Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ new zero-tolerance policy, spend 22 hours per day during the week (21 hours on weekends) locked inside a converted former Walmart, packing five into rooms built for four. It currently houses nearly 1,500 boys ranging from 10 to 17 years old.”

The true swing voters? Watching the voters who disapprove of both parties:

In our review of the 2016 election, one of the clues we missed on Donald Trump was his overperformance among voters who disliked BOTH Trump and Hillary Clinton. These voters made up 18 percent of voters in our merged NBC/WSJ polls of 2016, and they disproportionately broke for Trump and Republicans on the generic ballot.

Well, learning from that 2016 lesson, here is the merged congressional preference among voters with a negative view of BOTH parties:

  • 2010 merged NBC/WSJ: 49 percent GOP, 23 percent DEM (R+26)
  • 2014 merged NBC/WSJ: 51 percent GOP, 24 percent DEM (R+27)
  • 2018 merged NBC/WSJ (so far): 50 percent DEM, 36 percent GOP (D+14)

Are Dem prospects looking up in Ohio?

As one of us wrote yesterday, “A day after a Cincinnati Enquirer/Suffolk poll showed Democrats ahead in Ohio’s Senate and gubernatorial contests, a new Quinnipiac poll released [Wednesday] finds the same result, although the gubernatorial contest is within the margin of error. According to the Quinnipiac survey, Democrat Richard Cordray gets support from 42 percent of registered voters in the gubernatorial race, versus 40 percent for Republican Mike DeWine. (The Enquirer/Suffolk poll had it Cordray 43 percent, DeWine 36 percent among likely voters.)”

“And in Quinnipiac’s test of the Senate race, it’s Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, at 51 percent among registered voters and Republican challenger Jim Renacci at 34 percent. (The Enquirer/Suffolk poll had it Brown 53 percent, Renacci 37 percent.)”

“In maybe the Quinnipiac poll’s most striking numbers, President Trump’s job-approval rating in Ohio is at 43 percent, while outgoing Republican Gov. John Kasich’s is at 52 percent.”

Another poll: Democrats ahead by double digits in Pennsylvania

And a Franklin & Marshall poll finds Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., ahead of GOP Senate nominee Lou Barletta by 17 points, 44 percent to 27 percent, with 28 percent undecided. And in the gubernatorial race, it’s incumbent Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf at 48 percent, Republican Scott Wagner at 29 percent.

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