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Trump Has Work to Do to Erase His Asterisks

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Donald Trump boards the elevator
President-elect Donald Trump boards the elevator after escorting Martin Luther King III to the lobby after meetings at Trump Tower in New York City on Jan.16, 2017.Dominick Reuter / AFP - Getty Images

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Trump has work to do to erase his asterisks

Let’s be crystal clear: Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, and he’s set to become the nation’s 45th president three days from now. But it’s also hard to ignore the huge asterisks next to his victory. Despite winning the Electoral College, he lost the popular vote and saw just 46% of the country vote for him (versus 53% for Barack Obama in 2008 and 51% in 2012). In addition, the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia’s government interfered in the election to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Trump -- which Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) cited as his rationale to cast doubt on Trump’s legitimacy. Throw in FBI Director James Comey’s own intervention in the waning days of the election, and you have a good chunk of the country who doesn’t think Trump won either A) fair and square, or B) decisively enough to have a broad mandate to govern. And now following Lewis’ lead, more than 40 congressional Democrats say they won’t be attending Friday’s inauguration.

Politico: Trump has done more to court Putin than the millions of Americans who didn’t vote for him

On “Meet the Press” last Sunday, incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus called on President Obama to rein in Democrats like Lewis. “Barack Obama should step up, as well, and call it what it is. It's wrong what is happening. It's wrong how some of these Democrats are treating President-elect Trump.” But as the nation’s next president, Trump has the ability to erase these doubts about his win -- by including members of opposition in his government (so far, there’s not a single Democratic politician in his cabinet), by taking Russia’s intervention seriously (instead of saying his relationship with Putin is an “asset”), and by treating his opponents with respect (rather than saying, inaccurately, that John Lewis’ congressional district is “falling apart” and crime infested). As Politico puts it, “Donald Trump has done more since being elected to court Vladimir Putin than the 74 million Americans who voted for other presidential candidates—or the tens of millions who didn't vote at all.”

Why Trump’s outreach to his opponents pales in comparison to Obama’s in Jan. 2009 or even Bush 43’s in Jan. 2001

Now you might ask: Why didn’t you say something similar about GOP opponents to Obama in Jan. 2009? Well, for starters, Obama won 53% of the vote in the 2008 election, and he included a handful of prominent Republicans in his administration (like Bob Gates as Defense secretary, Ray LaHood as Transportation secretary, Jon Huntsman as ambassador to China, and John McHugh as Army secretary). Moreover, Obama threw an inaugural ball in honor of opponent John McCain. And even going back to the disputed 2000 election, George W. Bush at least met with Al Gore (on Dec. 19, 2000), and picked a Democratic politician (Norm Mineta) to be a part of his cabinet. To recap: Decisive victory for Trump? Nope. Democratic politicians in the cabinet? Nada (though he did invite Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp and Tulsi Gabbard to Trump Tower). A single meeting with the opponent he beat? No. And a serious willingness to further investigate Russia’s role in the 2016 election. Not yet. You want to know why Trump’s approval rating is in the 40s, per CNN and Washington Post/ABC? Just look at the outreach -- or lack thereof. Indeed, there are more questions about Trump’s victory today than there were a month ago. Wonder why…

WaPo: How Team Trump has been tone deaf on race

The Washington Post notes one other area where Trump’s outreach has been lacking so far: on race. “Trump has often used racially-charged rhetoric, and his ill-informed attacks on beloved civil rights icon John Lewis this weekend underscored how unserious he is about redemption. But the incoming president is also surrounded by people who have, at times, been tone-deaf and tin-eared when race relations come up” -- naming incoming White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Attorney General pick Jeff Sessions. And, of course, the Washington Post reminds us that it was Trump himself who was a leading voice in the so-called “birther” movement to delegitimize the nation’s first African-American president. On yesterday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President-elect Trump did meet with King’s son, Martin Luther King III, for a closed-door meeting.

Naming names

Everyone Trump has criticized as president-elect: By the way, courtesy of the “Meet the Press” team, here’s an exhaustive list of the people, organizations, and institutions Trump has criticized since winning the presidential contest on Nov. 8, 2016:

  • The New York Times
  • The cast of “Hamilton”
  • “Saturday Night Live”
  • Bill Clinton
  • Boeing
  • Lockheed Martin
  • The Green Party
  • CNN
  • Chuck Jones (local union president)
  • NBC News
  • Vanity Fair magazine
  • President Obama
  • China
  • General Motors
  • Obamacare
  • Chuck Schumer
  • Toyota
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • The DNC
  • The U.S. intelligence community
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Meryl Streep
  • John Lewis

CIA director fires back at Trump

The head of one of those criticized institutions -- the CIA -- is firing back at Trump in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “‘It’s when there are allegations made about leaking or about dishonesty or a lack of integrity, that’s where I think the line is crossed,’ [CIA Director John Brennan said], taking particular umbrage at Mr. Trump’s comments last week that leaking intelligence on political figures was something that Nazi Germany ‘would have done and did do.’” More: “’Tell the families of those 117 CIA officers who are forever memorialized on our wall of honor that their loves ones who gave their lives were akin to Nazi,’ Mr. Brennan said. ‘Tell the CIA officers who are serving in harm’s way right now and their families who are worried about them that they are akin to Nazi Germany. I found that to be very repugnant, and I will forever stand up for the integrity and patriotism of my officers who have done much over the years to sacrifice for their fellow citizens.’”

The Uncertainty Principle

Remember those days six or seven years ago when critics complained that Obama had created uncertainty? Well, check out the uncertainty that foreign nations are feeling about Trump’s statement on international affairs. “The Germans are angry. The Chinese are downright furious. Leaders of NATO are nervous, while their counterparts at the European Union are alarmed,” the New York Times writes. “Just days before he is sworn into office, President-elect Donald J. Trump has again focused his penchant for unpredictable disruption on the rest of the world. His remarks in a string of discursive and sometimes contradictory interviews have escalated tensions with China while also infuriating allies and institutions critical to America’s traditional leadership of the West.” More: “He repeated past criticisms that NATO is ‘obsolete’ for supposedly not confronting terrorism, only to quickly add that ‘with that being said, NATO is very important to me.’”

“In Trump They Trust”

Finally, don’t miss a new three-part series from TODAY called “In Trump They Trust.” NBC News political analyst Nicolle Wallace traveled to Erie County, PA, Pasco County, FL and Lake County, OH to speak with Trump voters who had previously voted for Barack Obama to understand the factors that impacted their vote and what they now expect from the President-elect. Check out Part One here.