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Trump's Presidency Enters Uncharted Waters

All the latest on Donald Trump's reaction to the violence in Charlottesville and what it means for his presidency
President Donald Trump speaks about the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 14, 2017, in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington.Evan Vucci file / AP file

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.

Trump’s presidency enters uncharted waters

WASHINGTON —� The president’s job approval rating hovers between 35 percent and 40 percent. Key American corporations have withdrawn from his business-advisory councils after the response to Charlottesville. He’s regularly lashing out at members of his own party. His top advisers are calling up liberal publications — and letting loose. Forty percent of Americans want him impeached, according to a new poll.

And we’re on the 210th day of his time in office (without a major legislative accomplishment under his belt, and with a special counsel already investigating him and his team).

Here’s the thing: We have no idea how this all plays out for President Trump and his administration. We’ve seen Trump survive past controversies (Khizr Khan, Access Hollywood), but he no longer has an opponent/foil like Hillary Clinton.

We’ve seen past presidents (LBJ, Nixon, Clinton) endure their share of turbulent times, but it’s never come this early in a presidency. And we’ve never seen so many members of the president’s own political party openly criticize him, but still vote for his agenda most of the time.

Using the words “uncharted waters” has become a bit cliché during the Trump Era — everything has been so different. But there also are no better words to use right now. And the turmoil comes at a pressing time: escalating tensions with North Korea, a debt ceiling that needs to be raised, and midterm elections that are right around the corner.

Trump draws a line in the sand: You’re either with me or against me

That’s the only way to view Trump’s attacks this morning against GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. Here’s what the president tweeted:

While Graham and Flake criticize Trump, they also almost always vote for his agenda. Trump right now seems more comfortable than ever in picking a fight. (Yes, Phoenix’s mayor doesn’t want Trump campaigning in his city next week, but that will probably only further embolden the president.)

But be careful with “You’re either with me or against me” warnings: More politicians and business leaders might call your bluff. Yet there’s also a significant danger here for Republicans: If they take a stand against Trump, they and their party might be the real losers.

How Big Business broke up with Trump

Here’s the reporting from NBC’s Stephanie Ruhle: “The advisory councils seem to have been largely symbolic, with few substantive initiatives on the table, according to people close to the CEOs and the White House who spoke to NBC News. The business leaders had joined with the intention to do good work, one source said, but the president's lackluster response to Charlottesville, among other issues, made it hard to stay on board.”

More: “At least one chief executive of a large consumer-facing company had considered dropping out since Trump announced a ban on transgender service members in a tweet last month, according to sources close to the council. But Steve Schwarzman, the chief executive of the Blackstone Group and chairman of the Strategic and Policy Forum, urged members to hang in there, sources said.”

“Most leaders on the councils thought Trump's statement on Monday, in which he condemned the hate groups by name, was sufficient. But they were furious and disgusted with Trump's follow-up remarks on Tuesday, according to the offices of two CEOs.”

“By Tuesday night, at least nine members decided to drop out individually, and reached out to Schwarzman, who then proposed dismantling the council entirely.”

Bannon lets loose to liberal publication

White House strategist Steve Bannon called up the liberal American Prospect and made, well, quite a bit of news.

  • He admitted there’s no military solution to North Korea: “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”
  • He said he’s moving Trump personnel in and out of key departments: “I’m changing out people at East Asian Defense; I’m getting hawks in. I’m getting Susan Thornton [acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs] out at State.”
  • He dismissed the white nationalists: “Ethno-nationalism—it's losers. It's a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.” He added, “These guys are a collection of clowns.”
  • He believes he’ll win the fight over identity politics: “The Democrats,” he said, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

Axios reports that Bannon never intended his call to the American Prospect to be an interview. But c’mon — anyone who’s run a news company like Bannon has should know the repercussions of calling someone from a news organization, especially someone you don’t know well.

Bannon’s comments about North Korea (“They got us”) should be a fire-able offense; they undercut almost everything the president and his administration has said to date. Then again, his praise of Trump could end up saving him.

40 Percent of Americans support Trump’s impeachment, per new poll

“Four in ten Americans now support the impeachment of President Donald Trump — a ten point jump in the last six months — according to a new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI),” one of us writes.

“The survey found that 40 percent of Americans — including nearly three-quarters of Democrats but just seven percent of Republicans — back impeaching the president and removing him from office. That’s compared to 30 percent who said the same in February. Trump’s overall favorability rating in the poll stands at 38 percent favorable, 56 percent unfavorable.”