Trump sides with an authoritarian — again

Image: U.S. President Donald Trump walks with North Korean leader Kim Jong
U.S. President Donald Trump walks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. Copyright Kevin Lim The Straits Times via Reuters file
Copyright Kevin Lim The Straits Times via Reuters file
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 — Out of everything that took place over the Memorial Day weekend, this might have been the biggest political news: President Trump once again sided with an authoritarian leader over allies, and he took aim at a domestic rival in the exact same breath.

And even more significantly was the extent to which the political world, especially the conservative media, shrugged its shoulders.

"North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me," Trump tweeted on Saturday. "I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that's sending me a signal?"

Afterward, reporters asked Trump why he isn't concerned about North Korea's missile tests.

Trump: Very importantly, there has been no nuclear testing for two years. I looked at a chart the other day. During the past administration, there were many numbers that were very high like 10, 12, 18, having to do with missile launches and nuclear testing. And or the last two years, it had zero and zero. I am very happy with the way it is going. And intelligent people agree with me.

Question: You're not bothered at all by the small missiles?

Trump: No I am not. I am personally not.

One person who was bothered by the missile tests — the man standing next to Trump at the news conference, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (Also, we're old enough to remember when Trump said the Iran nuclear deal was flawed because it failed to address ballistic missiles.)

This isn't the first time Trump has praised/affirmed/sided with an authoritarian figure in his first two-and-half years in office.

  • "I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today" [that Russia interfered in the 2016 election], Trump said in Helsinki last year.
  • "Viktor Orbán has done a tremendous job in so many different ways. Highly respected. Respected all over Europe. Probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that's okay," Trump said in the White House earlier this month.
  • "We've had a great relationship," Trump said of the Philippines' Duterte in 2017.

And what continues to stand out from Trump's remarks on North Korea/Biden is the lack of outrage, as well as the message it sends to other world leaders.

That message: Trash my domestic political opponents, and I'll say nice things about you.

"She's got a plan for that." But is that enough?

NBC's Ali Vitali takes a look at Elizabeth Warren's policy-heavy campaign.

"The Massachusetts Democrat has churned out a consistent stream of policy proposals since getting in the president race, with more than a dozen in-depth plans ranging from leveraging public lands in the fight against climate change to student loan debt forgiveness. While other candidates have worked to increase their name ID, Warren is pushing to make her name synonymous with having 'a plan for that' — the thing that could differentiate her from the Democratic field of more than 20 contenders.

The question, however, is if Democratic voters want MORE than policy specifics from their presidential nominee.

Can policy beat Trump? Especially policy that might have little chance for passage in today's divided Congress?

2020 Vision: Working hard? Or hardly working?

Over the Memorial Day weekend, the Washington Post wrote about Joe Biden's campaign activity - or lack thereof.

"[A]fter a short burst of activity in the early primary states, his schedule the past two weeks or so has mostly involved fundraisers, which — while publicly announced and attended by a pool reporter — are far different from open campaign event," the Post said.

More: "Since entering the race four weeks ago, Biden has held 11 public events, according to his campaign. Former congressman Beto O'Rourke of Texas held nearly four times that number in the same period, according to schedules. And Gillibrand, who is lagging in the polls, planned 11 stops in Iowa just over the holiday weekend."


And: "Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has shown her face to the public at 27 events in the four weeks since Biden entered the race. [Cory] Booker has had at least 27 events scheduled in the same time span, and Sanders has had at least 17 announced engagements."

To be fair, whatever Biden's been doing lately has been working - given his lead in the polls. And there's nothing wrong with pacing yourself when it comes to a very long campaign.

But if he does end up losing in Iowa and New Hampshire in February, we'll look back at this Post story.

Biden DOES have one event today - he attends a teachers' union town hall in Houston at 5:30 pm ET.

On the campaign trail today: In addition to Biden's town hall in Houston, Steve Bullock campaigns in Iowa… Bernie Sanders stumps in New Hampshire… Cory Booker is in Nevada… Seth Moulton is in Massachusetts… And Kamala Harris participates in a town hall with MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell in South Carolina at 10:00 pm ET.


Data Download: The number of the day is … 12 out of 12

That's the ratio of economic models Moody Analytics' Mark Zandi has looked at that forecast a re-election victory by President Trump based on current economic performance, per Steven Rattner in the New York Times.

"If the election were held today, Trump would win according to the models and pretty handily," Zandi said a couple of months ago. "In three or four of them it would be pretty close. He's got low gas prices, low unemployment and a lot of other political variables at his back. The only exception is his popularity, which matters a lot."

Tweet of the day

The Lid: Up and down

Be sure to check out the pod from last Friday, when we looked at Bernie Sanders' difficult month after Joe Biden entered the Dem field.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn't miss

Alex Seitz-Wald looks at how some Democrats are struggling to get attention in the crowded 2020 field.

Rudy Giuliani is stepping up his rolein Trump World.


Does Joe Biden have an enthusiasm problem?

Black Democrats want to make a splashin mostly-white Iowa.

And the Trump administration is trying to undermine the science that shows the starkest consequences of global climate change.

Trump agenda: Trade war consequences

Trump's fight with China might behampering 5G growth in the U.S.

2020: I'm gonna party like it's 1994…

A group of liberal activists are ramping up pressure on House Democrats to start impeachment proceedings.


Meghan McCainisn't happywith Amy Klobuchar for mentioning her father on the campaign trail.

Bernie Sanders is doinga lot more behind-the-scenes political work than he did in 2016.

Trump is going after Joe Bidenfor his work on the 1994 crime bill.

The Washington Post reportson how a voter registration drive in Tennessee led to a crackdown.

Texas's secretary of state is out.

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