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.
WASHINGTON — On Monday afternoon, President Trump had his do-over in responding to Charlottesville: “Racism is evil,” he said via remarks from the White House. “And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
But then Trump tweeted this just hours after his do-over response: “Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied...truly bad people!” And then he retweeted this from an alt-right figure who pushed the “PizzaGate” conspiracy theory: “Meanwhile: 39 shootings in Chicago this weekend, 9 deaths. No national media outrage. Why is that?”
And before those tweets — and before his “racism is evil” remarks — Trump lashed out at Merck CEO Ken Frazier, who resigned from Trump’s presidential manufacturing council due to Trump’s original response to Charlottesville: “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”
As CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski observed, “Trump is doing a good job of making it look like he only gave [Monday’s] remarks under political pressure.”
And that observation came before Trump’s retweet of a Fox report that he’s considering pardoning Joe Arpaio, and before he retweeted an image of a Trump train smashing into a person with a CNN logo over his/her face (that tweet was deleted).
Here’s maybe the fairest way to judge Trump’s remarks from yesterday: What does he say next time? Unfortunately, there is going to be a next time when the nation is gripped by another news story about racial strife and unrest. Does he learn from this experience? Or was Monday’s do-over statement something he did only begrudgingly? We’ll find out the next time.
Experts: Trump must confront hate groups
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“President Donald Trump’s slow response to the deadly white-nationalist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, was shocking to many politicians, experts on extremism and even members of his own party, but nobody could call it surprising,” NBC’s Benjy Sarlin says. “Groups and researchers that track hate had sounded the alarm throughout Trump’s campaign and presidency, warning that his rhetoric and actions were empowering the racist fringe. They’re now demanding Trump finally confront a growing threat from hate groups who they say have been energized by his political rise.”
More from Sarlin’s piece: “‘I believe we’re at a pivotal movement here, one where the forces of hatred in this country are feeling unfettered to act and emboldened to move out of the shadows,’ Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told reporters in a conference call. He called Trump's failure to adequately confront those forces a ‘serial issue’ as a candidate and as president.”
Three CEOS so far have quit Trump’s manufacturing council
Merck’s Frazier wasn’t the only CEO who left Trump’s manufacturing council. NBC’s Adam Edelman: “[O]n Monday night, the founder and CEO of Under Armour, Kevin Plank, also quit the council… Later, Intel CEO Brain Krzanich announced he was also leaving the council. 'I resigned to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues, including the serious need to address the decline of American manufacturing,' Krzanich wrote on an Intel blog. 'Politics and political agendas have sidelined the important mission of rebuilding America’s manufacturing base.'"
The battle over Trump — and Mitch McConnell — in Alabama’s GOP Senate primary
Meanwhile, today is the Republican Senate primary in Alabama, which features appointed Sen. Luther Strange, Rep. Mo Brooks, and former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. The Cook Political Report’s Jennifer Duffy writes, “The race has had two themes. The first is a battle over which of the candidates is the staunchest supporter of President Trump. The second is which candidate is most opposed to the current Republican Senate leadership. Strange is the incumbent and thus has the support of the GOP leadership, the NRSC and the Senate Leadership Fund. At the same time, he has been the subject of attacks from both Moore and Brooks as being a denizen of Washington’s swamp and thus part of the problem. The Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund have endorsed Brooks.”
Everybody’s flawed in this Alabama race
It’s worth noting that all three major Republicans have flaws in this GOP Senate contest: Strange was appointed by a scandal-ridden governor; Brooks seems to have little room for growth beyond his Tea Party base; and Moore appears to have little room for growth beyond his evangelical base.
Will Trump’s endorsement of Strange vault him to the top?
NBC’s Adam Edelman and Ali Vitali have more on the race: “If no candidate hits 50 percent on Tuesday, only the top two candidate will move on to a runoff on Sept. 26, before the general election in December. A senior Alabama GOP official told NBC News last week following Trump’s endorsement that the president’s move was ‘monumental,’ and said that if Strange does better than the polls suggest, it would indicate Trump still holds substantial sway in the Yellowhammer State. ‘If [Strange] is No. 1 one in the runoff, there’s the story,’ the official said. But if Strange doesn’t make the runoff, it could erode the narrative of Trump’s influence in the state, the official said.”
But the polls have had Moore in front, Duffy notes. “Public polling has tended to show Moore in first place with about 30 percent, with Strange in second with support in the mid- to high-20s, and Brooks in the teens.”
The Democratic primary in the race to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions features former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who has been endorsed by former Vice President Joe Biden, and a mystery candidate named Robert Kennedy Jr. — who shares a famous name, but who isn’t THAT Kennedy.
This Dem contest hasn’t received as much attention as the GOP race. But if Republicans end up with the wrong candidate for the general, Democrats might want to pay attention to who wins tonight’s Dem primary.
Polls close in Alabama at 8:00 pm ET.
If he runs, Kid Rock probably won’t be able to use his stage name on the ballot
Finally, Nathan Gonzales writes that, if Kid Rock does run for the Senate in Michigan, he probably won’t be able to use his stage name. If Robert Ritchie – who goes by Kid Rock – “were to submit enough valid signatures to make the ballot and indicate that he wanted to be listed as ‘Kid Rock,’ the Michigan Bureau of Elections staff would have to research the question of whether that name would be allowed. At an initial glance, Ritchie’s stage name isn’t an obviously acceptable one under the state’s criteria.”
Gonzales adds, “According to Michigan law via the ‘Affidavit of Identity and Receipt of Filing,’ there are five stipulations regarding the manner in which a candidate can have his or her name printed on the ballot. For example, a candidate ‘may specify that both his or her given name and middle name, or only a middle name, shall appear on the ballot,’ or ‘may specify a name that constitutes a common law name in accordance with the Michigan Department of State Guidelines.’ But according to the rules, candidates may not use a ‘nickname that is not a recognized diminutive of the candidate’s given name.’”