IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump Returns to Campaign Mode — and Lashes Out

In Phoenix, Trump lashed out at fellow Republicans, Senate filibuster rules and, of course, the media.
Image: President Trump Holds Rally In Phoenix, Arizona
President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up to a crowd of supporters at the Phoenix Convention Center during a rally on Aug. 22.Ralph Freso / Getty Images

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 — Remember when we wrote that Unscripted Donald Trump is vastly different from Teleprompter Trump? Well, as expected, Unscripted Trump spoke in Arizona last night — and he lashed out at fellow Republicans, Senate filibuster rules and, of course, the media.

  • He took not-so-veiled shots at the state’s two GOP senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake: "One vote away [from passing health care], I will not mention any names — very presidential. And nobody wants me to mention your other senator, who's weak on border, weak on crime. Nobody knows who the hell he is! See, I haven't mentioned any names, so now everybody's happy."
  • He threatened a government shutdown if his border wall isn’t funded: "If we have to close down our government, we're building that wall," he said. "We're going to have our wall. The American people voted for immigration control. We're going to get that wall."
  • He called for changing the filibuster rules in the Senate: "For our friends in the Senate, oh boy. The Senate, we have to get rid of what's called the filibuster rule. If we don't the Republicans will never get anything passed. Eight Democrats are controlling all of this legislation."
  • He talked about terminating NAFTA: "Personally, I don't think we can make a deal [in renegotiating it]. I think we'll end up probably terminating NAFTA at some point."
  • He strongly hinted that he would pardon Joe Arpaio, the convicted former sheriff, per NBC’s Ali Vitali: "Do the people in this room like Sheriff Joe?" he asked. "Was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job? He should have had a jury. I'll make a prediction. I think he's going to be just fine."
  • And he attacked the media: "These are truly dishonest people," he said. "They're bad people. I really think they don't like our country."

President Trump’s main beef with the media was how they covered his highly criticized remarks on Charlottesville. "They don't report the facts. Just like they don't want to report that I spoke out forcefully against hatred, bigotry and violence, and strongly condemned the neo-Nazis, the white supremacists and the KKK.”

What Trump didn’t mention

He also said — a week ago — that some of the white nationalists who assembled in Charlottesville were “very fine people”; he said the counterprotesters were just as responsible for the violence as the white nationalists; and he conflated Confederate monuments with Revolutionary War monuments.

Oh, and there was this remark from former KKK grand wizard David Duke: "Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville."

More Trump vs. Mitch McConnell

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports on the tensions between Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“In a series of tweets this month, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. McConnell publicly, and berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match.

“During the call, which Mr. Trump initiated on Aug. 9 from his New Jersey golf club, the president accused Mr. McConnell of bungling the health care issue. He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader’s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to Republicans briefed on the conversation.”

Understanding what happened in 2016

Maybe the biggest unanswered question in American politics is this one: How did Hillary Clinton lose, and how did Donald Trump win? Well, nine months after the election, one of us takes a stab at answering this question.

The conclusion after speaking with top Clinton and Trump aides: What happened in the last 12 days of the race — from October 28 (Comey!) to November 8 (Trump clobbering Clinton in day-of voting in key battlegrounds) — transformed a contest that seemed out of reach on October 27, to one that ultimately was decided by fewer than 80,000 votes in three states.

So what happened during those 12 days? You had:

  • Comey's announcement that they were looking — again — at Hillary's emails;
  • Trump pouncing on the news, calling it “the biggest political scandal since Watergate”;
  • Trump being more disciplined than he had been the entire campaign (of the 138 tweets and retweets he fired off in those 12 days, none was off message);
  • Clinton and her campaign looking for any issue to regain momentum;
  • Trump seizing on WikiLeaks ("Boy, I love reading WikiLeaks");
  • And, finally, Trump besting Clinton in Election Day voting (in Florida, for example, Clinton won the early vote by 4 points; Trump won day-of voting by 13).

Here’s Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway on the last 12 days of the 2016 contest: "I’ve always said, 'God is looking out for us' when Election Day was so much later than usual — Nov. 8th, not Nov. 4th, not Nov. 3rd," she said. "It really helped to have that [extra] week."

And here’s Clinton manager Robby Mook: "A lot of things came together to create what happened," he told NBC News. "We had a bunch of black swans that converged on us."

Clinton recounts Trump “looming” behind her at second debate

Speaking of Clinton, MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” got the scoop on the first excerpts from her upcoming book “What Happened.”

Here’s one excerpt: “It was the second presidential debate, and Donald Trump was looming behind me. Two days before, the world heard him brag about groping women. Now we were on a small stage and no matter where I walked, he followed me closely, staring at me, making faces. It was incredibly uncomfortable he was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled.”

More Clinton: “It was one of those moments where you wish you could hit pause and ask everyone watching ‘Well, what would you?” Do you stay calm, keep smiling and carry-on as if he weren't repeatedly invading your space? Or do you turn, look him in the eye, and say loudly and clearly, “Back up you creep, get away from me.”… I chose Option A.”

Beware of fake polls

Don't miss Harry Enten's look at what appears to be bogus polls at FiveThirtyEight.

“Is Kid Rock leading the U.S. Senate race in Michigan? A story like that is essentially designed to go viral, and that’s exactly what happened when Delphi Analytica released a poll fielded from July 14 to July 18. Republican Kid Rock earned 30 percent to Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s 26 percent.”

Enten continues, “The result was so amazing that the poll was quickly spread around the political sections of the internet. Websites like Daily Caller, Political Wire and Twitchy all wrote about it. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted it out. And finally, Kid Rock himself shared an article from Gateway Pundit about the poll.”

“There was just one problem: Nobody knew if the poll was real. Delphi Analytica’s website came online July 6, mere weeks before the Kid Rock poll was supposedly conducted. The pollster had basically no fingerprint on the web... If you’re a political observer interested in polls or a journalist who writes about them, you need to be more careful than ever.”

A friendly reminder about Trump’s poor poll numbers

He had them in 2016, too: Also don’t miss our colleague Steve Kornacki’s take on President Trump’s rough poll numbers. Kornacki’s reminder: Trump had terrible poll numbers in 2016, too, and he still won.

“Recall some of the dire polling he faced as a candidate. More than 60 percent of voters didn’t think he was qualified to be president; not even 20 percent thought he had the temperament and personality to serve; more than half of Republicans said they weren’t satisfied with him as their nominee. On Election Day, 60 percent of the electorate said it didn’t like him,” Kornacki writes

The DNC is struggling to raise money; but Democrats at large are not

“Fundraising has been sluggish all year at the DNC, as the Republican National Committee has been eager to point out in press releases and jeers at a recent softball game between the party staffs,” NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald writes.

“The RNC raised $86.5 million so far this year and has $47.1 million in the bank, compared to the DNC’s $41.9 million fundraising haul and $6.9 million in the bank, offset by $3.4 million in debt.

“But the DNC’s fundraising struggles make it the exception, not the norm, of Democratic groups in the Trump era, many of which have been inundated by donations from the energized liberal base.”