As much of the political world shifts its attention towards the South Carolina primary, MSNBC's Steve Kornacki checked in this morning with Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), the state's former governor. Sanford noted he'd heard from a lot of locals that supporting Donald Trump would help "send a message" to Washington. The Trump candidacy, the congressman added, has "tapped into" Republicans' "frustrations."
KORNACKI: What about your role in all of this? I saw you over the summer when Donald Trump made some comments about Megyn Kelly, you seemed to say at the time that would rule out Donald Trump for you. Is that still true?
SANFORD: I like every other [several painful seconds of unintelligible sounds] what's the word I'm looking for? Well, anyway, I couldn't, uh....
He then changed the subject, shifting to more general thoughts on Trump. When Kornacki pressed further about Sanford's personal perspective, the South Carolinian eventually said he doesn't "think" he'll support Trump, but he's leaving it to "voters to decide."
Sanford's troubles were understandable. There were plenty of Republicans who effectively, if not literally, ruled out Trump as a possibility in 2015, when they still assumed the New York developer's support would collapse. But many of those same GOP officials and lawmakers are now confronted with the real possibility that Trump will be their party's presidential nominee.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, Bernie Sanders' campaign has been raising money hand over fist since cruising to an easy win in the New Hampshire primary.
* In a bit of a surprise, Donald Trump's campaign has reportedly pulled an attack ad targeting Ted Cruz in South Carolina, replacing it with positive spot about Trump. The Wall Street Journal reported that the shift came after aides concluded "efforts to be more positive" played well in New Hampshire.
* Rush Limbaugh didn't endorse Ted Cruz yesterday, but he came close. "If conservatism is your bag, if conservatism is the dominating factor in how you vote, there is no other choice for you in this campaign than Ted Cruz, because you are exactly right: This is the closest in our lifetimes we have ever been to Ronald Reagan," the radio host said.
* American Future Fund, a secretive far-right group, is reportedly going to invest $1.5 million in attack ads targeting Cruz, labeling him "weak" on national security because of his support for bipartisan reforms to NSA powers.
* Ben Carson, who claims he's being "pressured" to stay in the GOP race -- by whom, he did not say -- is willing to talk to Trump about possibly being the Republican vice presidential nominee. As a rule, candidates confident about their chances don't say things like this.
* No one seems to have any idea what's going to happen in Nevada's Democratic caucuses, but it's worth remembering that Robby Mook, Clinton's 2016 campaign manager, "first rose to fame in Clintonland after he oversaw Clinton's 2008 Nevada caucus campaign, where she won 51 percent of the popular vote."
About a month ago, Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign seemed to make a deliberate decision: turn the Democratic presidential primary into a referendum on the Obama presidency. The strategy makes quite a bit of sense, given that President Obama remains a very popular figure in Democratic circles, and Clinton, far more than Bernie Sanders, is in a position to claim the president's mantle.
To that end, during one of the recent debates, Clinton not only celebrated Obama's many accomplishments, the Clinton campaign also issued a press release, criticizing Sanders over multiple instances in which he distanced himself from the Obama administration. The independent senator, Team Clinton said, "has a troubling history of questioning President Obama and his achievements."
As the Democratic race has intensified, this referendum has become an even more obvious fulcrum. The Washington Post's Greg Sargent had a good piece on this late yesterday.
[T]he big picture here is that Sanders has gotten as far as he has by offering up a serious, if partial, indictment of the Obama years. He is arguing that Obama era reforms -- Dodd-Frank, Obamacare, his climate agenda -- ended up being woefully inadequate to the scale of our challenges, because he failed to sufficiently rally the grassroots against the power of the oligarchy and because the Democratic establishment still remains in thrall to oligarchic money.
Clinton full-throatedly defends Obama's accomplishments as very much worth preserving, rejects the Sanders-promulgated notion that Obama could have gotten a whole lot more than he did, and vows to build on those achievements. The bigger, more diverse, more moderate electorates in the contests to come might be more receptive to Clinton's arguments along these lines.
I think that's exactly right. For Democrats who believe the Obama era has been a great success, there's no great appetite for a radical shift in direction. Clinton has an agenda of her own, but it intends to use Obama's accomplishments as a foundation for progress.
For Democrats who believe the Obama era has fallen short, in part because the president's agenda hasn't been nearly as progressive or as bold as they'd like, Sanders is the more obvious choice -- he doesn't want to build on Obama's record; the senator wants to replace that record with some vastly more ambitious.
There's just one angle to this that I think has been largely overlooked: the irony.
In the 2000 race for the Republican nomination, George W. Bush won the Iowa caucuses, but John McCain won the New Hampshire primary soon after. All eyes turned towards South Carolina for one obvious reason: the winner of the third contest would be well positioned for the road ahead.
But in the lead-up to the primary, South Carolinians saw one of the ugliest dirty tricks in modern presidential history. Bush supporters launched rumors targeting McCain's adopted daughter, with fake pollsters calling voters to ask, "Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?"
It may be the most awful example, but it's not the only one to come out of South Carolina. Politicoreported this morning that locals are getting ready for what's likely to come.
In the run-up to their big presidential campaign moments, the big media players in Iowa and New Hampshire gave voters a useful online feature, an interactive calendar that let them track where candidates were appearing in person.
Down in South Carolina, it's different. The interactive site du jour launched last week is the Charleston Post and Courier's 'Whisper Campaign" -- a digital tool that begs the public to help keep tabs on the coming blizzard of dirty tricks.
Yes, the Post and Courier is not only expecting dirty tricks, it's also created this website to encourage South Carolinians to "submit examples of questionable campaign activity."
And while we don't yet know whether dirty tricks will be part of the 2016 cycle, it's worth watching one campaign in particular.
As results from the New Hampshire primary were still being tallied, Marco Rubio's communications director urged Jeb Bush to drop out of the race in order to prevent Donald Trump's nomination. As Team Rubio sees it, the Republican "establishment" should simply rally behind the Florida senator, and Jeb stubbornly stands in the way.
It's a common refrain from Rubio, but it's also kind of hilarious -- because in this week's high-profile primary, Bush beat Rubio. Though polls showed the senator finishing second, he actually came in fifth. The former governor narrowly edged past him for a fourth-place finish.
In other words, Team Rubio's pitch is, "That guy who just beat us should quit, so it'll be easier for us to do better."
Wouldn't it be just as easy for Team Jeb to say the same thing about Rubio? Maybe the guy who finished fifth and made himself a national punch-line should get out of the way so that the establishment can consolidate around the candidate who finished ahead of him?
New York's Jon Chait noted yesterday, "Before New Hampshire, National Review's Tim Alberta reported that, if Bush finished ahead of Rubio, it might 'prove crippling' to the younger Floridian. That proved prophetic. After Rubio's debate choke, Bush can claim vindication that Rubio is not up to the challenge of a presidential campaign, let alone the presidency."
The senator, obviously, doesn't quite see the race this way. But how does Rubio intend to succeed? The Associated Press published a piece this morning that I had to triple check to make sure it wasn't intended as satire.
The best hope of the Republican establishment just a week ago, Marco Rubio suddenly faces a path to his party's presidential nomination that could require a brokered national convention.
That's according to Rubio's campaign manager, Terry Sullivan, who told The Associated Press that this week's disappointing performance in New Hampshire will extend the Republican nomination fight for another three months, if not longer. It's a worst-case scenario for Rubio and many Republican officials alike who hoped to avoid a prolonged and painful nomination fight in 2016.
On a flight from New Hampshire to South Carolina yesterday, Rubio's campaign manager sincerely argued, "We very easily could be looking at May -- or the convention. I would be surprised if it's not May or the convention."
After months in which Chris Christie practically lived in New Hampshire -- he spent more days in the state than any other Republican candidate -- he would have felt good about a third-place finish. The New Jersey governor probably could have been satisfied with the top four. Given the pre-primary polling, even finishing fifth would have likely kept him in the game.
But when the dust settled, the Republican governor found himself running sixth in the Granite State, a week after coming in 10th in Iowa. Out of options, and facing exclusion from the next GOP debate, Christie had no choice but to call it quits.
"[W]hile running for president I tried to reinforce what I have always believed - that speaking your mind matters, that experience matters, that competence matters and that it will always matter in leading our nation," he said in a statement to reporters. "That message was heard by and stood for by a lot of people, but just not enough and that's ok."
David Plouffe, perhaps best known for his work as President Obama's 2008 campaign manager, noted yesterday that it's "rare to see the best political athlete" in a presidential race "never get traction." Democrats, Plouffe added, "should breath sigh of relief" that Christie won't be the Republican nominee.
There's some truth to that. In the crowded GOP field, Christie probably had the best raw political skills of the bunch -- he's more comfortable on the stump than Jeb Bush, more human than Marco Rubio, more likable than Ted Cruz, more disciplined than John Kasich, and more measured than Donald Trump. There's a reason, as of a couple of years ago, Christie was seen as a likely frontrunner.
But a combination of factors made it practically impossible for Christie to get ahead. For example, his poor governing record, low popularity, and ongoing scandals in New Jersey made the governor's "electability" pitch very hard to believe. Making matters worse, Christie's relative moderation led many of the GOP's factions, most notably social conservatives, to write him off entirely.
His departure from the race, however, need not be irrelevant.
It's been nearly six weeks since a group of well-armed militants drove to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, took control of its headquarters, and posted guards in camouflage outside. As regular readers know, the militia members, led in part by to Ammon and Ryan Bundy, controversial rancher Cliven Bundy's sons, said they were willing to kill and be killed if necessary in their effort to have federal land turned over to local authorities.
As of last night, the standoff appears to be nearly over. Ammon and Ryan Bundy were taken into custody, and late last night, their notorious father was also arrested. The Oregonianreported:
Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who touched off one armed showdown with federal authorities and applauded another started in Oregon by his sons, was arrested late Wednesday at Portland International Airport and faces federal charges related to the 2014 standoff at his ranch. [...]
He faces a conspiracy charge to interfere with a federal officer -- the same charge lodged against two of his sons, Ammon and Ryan, for their role in the Jan. 2 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns. He also faces weapons charges. The Bundy Ranch Facebook page reported Cliven Bundy was surrounded by SWAT officers and detained after his arrival from Nevada.
For those needing a refresher, two years ago, there was an armed confrontation between federal law enforcement and Cliven Bundy's well-armed supporters in Nevada. The Obama administration, in the interest of public safety, chose not to escalate matters against the rancher, who claims not to recognize the legitimacy of the United States government, and the underlying dispute went unresolved.
Bundy continued to ignore multiple court orders and he still owes the United States more than $1 million after he was fined for grazing on protected land.
Last spring, he seemed to realize he was in an unsustainable position. "It's hard to tell, but the feds, they're probably going to do something," Bundy told the L.A. Times. "[T]hey're probably just standing back, looking at things."
And speaking of things being over, the standoff in Oregon is likely to wrap up today. NBC News reported overnight: