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Chaos, confusion, infighting: Woodward's book confirms a familiar story about Trump's White House

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.
by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /
Image: Trump is introduced by Mattis
In this file photo U.S. President Donald Trump is introduced by Defense Secretary James Mattis during the commissioning ceremony of the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S. on Jul. 22, 2017.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

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WASHINGTON — The news from the Bob Woodward book is the same story that’s been told over and over about the Trump White House: chaos, confusion and infighting.

The Washington Post on the book: “At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all. ‘We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,’ Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him. After Trump left the meeting, Woodward recounts, ‘Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — “a fifth- or sixth-grader.”’” (Mattis released a statement denying he said those words.)

More from the Post: “White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly frequently lost his temper and told colleagues that he thought the president was ‘unhinged,’ Woodward writes. In one small group meeting, Kelly said of Trump: ‘He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.’” (Kelly released a statement denying he called the president an “idiot.”)

And: “A near-constant subject of withering presidential attacks was Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump told Porter that Sessions was a ‘traitor’ for recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, Woodward writes. Mocking Sessions’s accent, Trump added: ‘This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner. . . . He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.’” (Trump tweeted that he’s never used the “mentally retarded,” but the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale has found examples of Trump saying “retarded” on the radio.)

And if you want confirmation of the chaos, confusion and infighting inside the Trump White House, look no further than the recording of Trump calling Woodward.

The questions we have:

1. How is there any trust left at the White House — after this book, Michael Wolff’s, Omarosa’s and other tell-alls?

2. How do Kelly and Mattis survive? (Remember, others who have criticized Trump or have appeared to break with him — Rex Tillerson, Gary Cohn, now Don McGahn – eventually exit the White House.)

3. Does Woodward’s book — because of his reputation — move the needle of public opinion more than after the Wolff/Omarosa books?

It’s clear Trump and the White House are worried about this new book; Trump has tweeted EIGHT times about it since 6:30 pm ET last night, including this from earlier in the morning: “Isn’t it a shame that someone can write an article or book, totally make up stories and form a picture of a person that is literally the exact opposite of the fact, and get away with it without retribution or cost. Don’t know why Washington politicians don’t change libel laws?”

Kavanaugh to face direct questions on Day 2 of his confirmation hearings

Meanwhile, it’s Day 2 of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Senators are expected to question Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Wednesday, the second day of his confirmation hearings, about his years in the George W. Bush White House and his views on Roe v. Wade and executive power,” NBC’s Rebecca Shabad writes.

“Democrats on the panel launched a coordinated attack as the hearing began Tuesday in which they repeatedly raised objections with Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., blasted Republicans both for a lack of documentation related to Kavanaugh and for failing to delay proceedings after the last-minute release of 42,000 documents on Monday night, just hours before the hearings began.”

“Republicans are aiming to confirm Kavanaugh by the end of the month, before the high court’s next term begins in October. It appears almost certain that he will be confirmed, especially if Republicans stick together.”

In the battle for the Senate, it’s Dem enthusiasm versus the GOP-friendly map

The NBC/Marist poll of Missouri that we released Tuesday morning – showing a tie between Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican challenger Josh Hawley – epitomizes the battle for the Senate: Dem enthusiasm versus the GOP-friendly Senate map.

And it’s very likely that Senate control will hinge on which force is more powerful come November 6, 2018.

From our story on the NBC/Marist poll: “McCaskill benefits by having the more enthusiastic supporters: According to the poll, 68 percent of her backers strongly support her, compared with 46 percent of Hawley’s backers who strongly support him. But McCaskill also has a net-negative favorable/unfavorable rating, with 49 percent of likely voters having a negative view of her, versus 41 percent who view her positively.”

By the way, if Republicans do lose the Senate, that could have some serious consequences for Trump and the GOP in 2019-2020. They will have lost the Senate by NOT WINNING STATES AND VOTERS TRUMP WON IN 2016.

Looking inside the NBC/Marist poll of Missouri

Meanwhile, here are some crosstabs in the two-way McCaskill-vs.-Hawley race (among likely voters):

  • Democrats: McCaskill, 93 percent to 5 percent
  • Republicans: Hawley 89 percent to 9 percent
  • Independents: Hawley 48 percent to 41 percent
  • Whites: Hawley 51 percent to 44 percent
  • Non-whites: McCaskill 60 percent to 30 percent
  • Men: Hawley 55 percent to 39 percent
  • Women: McCaskill 54 percent to 40 percent
  • Whites with college degrees: McCaskill 50 percent to 48 percent
  • Whites without college degrees: Hawley 52 percent to 41 percent
  • White women with college degrees: McCaskill 56 percent to 42 percent.

Pressley defeats incumbent Capuano in Massachusetts

Last night, challenger Ayanna Pressley beat 10-term incumbent Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., by 18 percentage points, 59 percent to 41 percent. Capuano becomes the fourth sitting member of Congress to lose a primary, joining Republicans Mark Sanford and Robert Pittenger and Democrat Joe Crowley.

And much like Crowley’s loss to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Capuano represented a district that increasingly didn’t look like him anymore. Indeed, here’s the demographic breakdown of the MA-7 congressional district, per the Almanac of American Politics:

  • White: 42 percent
  • African American: 24 percent
  • Latino: 21 percent
  • Asian: 10 percent.

So it’s a majority-minority district. This — maybe more than ideology — is the true change taking place inside the Democratic Party.

What’s more, last night’s outcome could have implications for 2020. “You gotta wonder if this iteration of the Democratic Party is hungering for an old, white, male standard-bearer in 2020,” the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel tweeted last night.

First Read’s Top 10 GOV takeovers

Finally, we take a look at the 2018 gubernatorial races where party control could switch parties. Here’s our list of the Top 10 gubernatorial takeovers, with the No. 1 ranking going to the state most likely to switch parties. The number is parenthesis is our ranking from March, and current party control is listed – either D, R or I.

1. New Mexico – R (1)

2. Illinois – R (2)

3. Alaska – I (4)

4. Maine – R (3)

5. Michigan – R (7)

6. Nevada – R (6)

7. Wisconsin – R (unranked)

8. Florida – R (8)

9. Connecticut – D (5)

10. Iowa – (unranked)

Other races worth watching (in alphabetical order): Colorado (D), Georgia (R), Kansas (R), Ohio (R) Oregon (D) and Rhode Island (D).

So that’s eight potential Dem takeovers on this Top 10 list (NM, IL, ME, MI, NV, WI, FL and IA), and two for Republicans (AK and CT), with Alaska also being a potential pickup opportunity for Democrats in the three-way indie-vs.-GOP-vs.-Dem race. “A three-way race for governor of Alaska is underway as the Democratic candidate announced he's sticking with the race Tuesday afternoon,” per Alaska NBC affiliate KTUU. Democrat Mark Begich held a press conference Tuesday to announce that he will stick with his campaign for governor. His announcement comes on the last day for candidates to withdraw their names from the November general election ballot.”

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