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As Trump rages, Democrats wonder how to harness the chaos

Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump delivers remarks in support of farmers and ranchers in the Roosevelt Room on May 23, 2019. Copyright Chip Somodevilla Getty Images
Copyright Chip Somodevilla Getty Images
By Chuck Todd and Mark Murray and Carrie Dann with NBC News Politics
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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 — As President Trump rages, Democrats have a dilemma on their hands.

In the last 48 hours, the president of the United States has:

  • Walked out of an infrastructure meeting with Democratic leaders;
  • referred to the House Speaker as "Crazy Nancy" after she asked the country to pray for him and for his staff to intervene;
  • called himself (again) a "stable genius";
  • asked his staff to testify about his temperament in that short-lived infrastructure meeting;
  • tweeted an edited/deceptive video of Pelosi;
  • and, oh, gave his attorney general sweeping powers to investigate the investigators into Russian interference in the '16 election.

While this kind of behavior is a significant reason why Trump's job rating is stuck in the 40s — despite a humming economy — it presents quite the quandary for Democrats.

Do they fight fire with fire? (How did that work out for Hillary Clinton?)

Do they ramp up the impeachment talk? (Trump and the GOP clearly want Dems to go there, thinking it will lead to his exoneration or suck Dems into their chaos.)

Or do they try to rise above the noise and focus on the issues they want to talk about? (Remember health care?)

Trump has successfully dragged Democrats into his vortex of chaos, as our friends at Politico have observed.

When Democrats were in the minority in 2017-2018, they got to avoid some of this chaos. But now with a House majority, they're sharing it.

And it does present the Democratic presidential candidates with a real opportunity to focus on matters outside of Washington's mess.

Their challenge: Can they get enough voters to pay attention?

Private testifier

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., told MSNBC Rachel Maddow last night that Robert Mueller will testify before Congress — but in private.

"Mueller has told … Nadler that he is willing to make a public opening statement, but leave his testimony behind closed doors," per NBC News.

That isn't a positive development for Democrats — if they're looking for a moment to change the public's mind about the Russia investigation.

In the Trump Era, images are much more important than transcripts.

Bernie's bad month

Joe Biden's first full month as a 2020 presidential candidate has been mostly bad news for Bernie Sanders.


Before Biden got into the race, Sanders was within single digits of the former vice president in national polls.

Now it's double digits.

A month ago, Elizabeth Warren was running behind Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg.

Now she's running ahead of the two in recent polls - arguably at Sanders' expense.


And to top it off, last week, Sanders gave a very prickly interview to the New York Times' Sydney Ember that didn't get that much attention.

Imagine the reaction if, say, Amy Klobuchar, had said this:

NYT: In the top of our story, we talk about the rally you attended in Managua and a wire report at the time said that there were anti-American chants from the crowd.

Sanders: The United States at that time — I don't know how much you know about this — was actively supporting the Contras to overthrow the government. So that there's anti-American sentiment? I remember that, I remember that event very clearly.


NYT: You do recall hearing those chants? I think the wire report has them saying, "Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die."

Sanders: They were fighting against American —— Huh huh —— yes, what is your point?

NYT: I wanted to ——

Sanders: Are you shocked to learn that there was anti-American sentiment?



NYT: Do you think if you had heard that directly, you would have stayed at the rally?

Sanders: I think Sydney, with all due respect, you don't understand a word that I'm saying.

There's a divergent view of Sanders in Democratic and political circles: Is he merely an insurgent candidate?


Or is he someone — despite Biden's current lead — who could very well win the Democratic nomination, or at least come close? (Remember his base, his money and his name ID.)

If it's the latter, you have to conclude he's had a really bad month.

2020 Vision: A fairly busy Memorial Day weekend

On the campaign trail today: Kirsten Gillibrand spends the day in Iowa, hitting West Des Moines, Gowrie, Storm Lake and Fort Dodge… Pete Buttigieg is in New Hampshire, making stops in Londonderry and Exeter… And Jay Inslee stumps in Nevada.

Saturday: Gillibrand remains in Iowa… Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren also campaign in the Hawkeye State… Buttigieg stays in New Hampshire… And Bernie Sanders holds a rally in Vermont.


Sunday: Gillibrand, Klobuchar and Warren all remain in Iowa.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 17 percent

Seventeen percent.

That's the share of Democrats who say they would be "less enthusiastic" about a white male candidate becoming the party's presidential nominee, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Overall, a majority of Democrats indicated that the race and gender of the nominee wouldn't make a difference to them.


But a significant third said they would be more enthusiastic about a female nominee.

The Lid: Women rule

Don't miss the pod from yesterday, when we asked whether female presidential candidates might be getting a boost — and why.

ICYMI: New clips you shouldn't miss

Theresa May is stepping down.

Trumpis trying to speed up the investigation of intelligence agencies and the Russia probe.


The administration is announcing another $16 billion in aid to farmers as the trade war continues.

And Trump is preparing to announce executive action on health care price disclosure.

The Washington Post reports that Trump has been pushing for a border wall contract to be given to a North Dakota firm whose chief executive is a donor and frequent guest on Fox News.

Trump agenda: Deceptive video

Here's NBC's reportingon the president's tweet of an edited video of Nancy Pelosi tripping over her words.


The Senate has finally passed a $19 billion disaster bill (that excludes border funding.)

Republican governors are trying to figure outtheir relationship with China without displeasing the president.

2020: Booker's new hires

The IRS could end up being forcedto release Trump's taxes in the heat of 2020.

Cory Booker announceda slew of new hires.


Bill Weld is targeting open primary states.

And Betsy DeVos is becoming a favorite villain for 2020 Democrats on the stump.

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