Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
* The field of candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination will grow from two to three tomorrow, when former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) kicks off his campaign.
* Is Rand Paul falling out of favor with Fox News? The network showed the latest 2016 poll of Republican presidential hopefuls, and excluded him from the results, even highlighting candidates who had less support in the survey.
* Speaking of Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican has "sought to woo a string of powerful Republican megadonors" in recent months, but he still lacks what some of his GOP rivals already have: a billionaire benefactor.
* Some universities have begun divesting from Israel, and in response, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wants those schools to lose their federal funding. The Republican presidential candidate added that the divestment strategy is "anti-Semitism plain and simple."
* Donald Trump has apparently scheduled a "major" announcement for June 16 at Trump Tower in New York City. He's scheduled an event in New Hampshire for the following day.
* Former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) lost in 2010, won in 2012, lost in 2014, and now hopes to win again in 2016.
* Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said yesterday he doesn't "worry about poll numbers." He might want to start -- most recent national polling suggests the far-right governor is struggling to get past 1% support.
A year ago, Matt Bevin was seen as a rather ridiculous figure in Kentucky Republican politics. He'd launched a primary fight against incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), which led the GOP establishment to go after Bevin with a vengeance.
A year later, however, Kentucky Republicans will have to stop calling him a dishonest con man and start calling him their nominee for governor. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported this morning:
After Thursday's recanvass of votes cast in the Republican primary for governor, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said that there were "no substantial changes" and that she thought Matt Bevin would be the GOP nominee when the vote is certified June 8.
This morning, Bevin's primary rival conceded the race. Bevin will now take on state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) in November, in the race to replace outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear (D).
McConnell, who characterized Bevin as a dangerous loon just last year, issued a statement this morning that said, "I congratulate Matt Bevin on his victory and endorse him for governor."
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) ran into a little trouble this week on one of his most problematic policies. The Republican presidential hopeful chatted with conservative talk-radio host Dana Loesch and defended his law requiring women undergo state-mandated, medically unnecessary ultrasounds before they terminate unwanted pregnancies.
The far-right governor said ultrasound images are "a lovely thing," and the technology itself is "just a cool thing out there," which Walker apparently sees as justification for Wisconsin forcing women to undergo unwanted procedures for no medical purpose.
In response to the controversy, Walker went back to Dana Loesch's show yesterday, where the host complained about the "media rage spiral" and the governor accused the left of "making things up" because liberals "can't win" the argument on the merits. Walker added:
"Who's opposed to an ultrasound? They tried to claim there were certain types. Now, our law says that before someone has that procedure, they have to be given access to an ultrasound. It doesn't designate which type. Most people will do the traditional one that people think of all the time. If they haven't seen it themselves, certainly most people have seen it on TV or in movies."
He added that there's a "Walker Derangement Syndrome" in parts of the media.
It's often amazing to see what willful ignorance can do. In this case, the Wisconsin governor still doesn't understand the basic complaint at the root of the controversy.
A couple of months ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) spoke with Republican donors in South Florida, and delivered a fairly specific message: be wary of presidential hopefuls who've flip-flopped on important issues.
Given the reputation Christie has created for himself, the rhetoric didn't come as too big of a surprise. The New Jersey Republican wants to be seen as a tough, no-nonsense guy, so while other candidates start adding nuance to their finessed positions, the governor's rock-solid consistency is an important selling point.
In the two months since that exclusive donor retreat, however, Chris Christie changed course rather dramatically on immigration. And guns. And now Common Core. MSNBC's Aliyah Frumin reported yesterday:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – who once supported the controversial, national Common Core education standards, unpopular among many conservative Republicans -- declared on Thursday that the program is "simply not working." [...]
Christie called on Department of Education Commissioner David Hespe to assemble a group of parents, teachers and educators to develop new education standards for consideration in New Jersey and "not 200 miles away on the banks of the Potomac River." Critics contend the set of academic guidelines adopted by 46 states since being introduced in 2010 by the National Governors Association, amounts to too much federal government interference on what should be a local issue.
Christie appears to have come to this realization quite recently. NJ.com published an interesting timeline this morning, highlighting the governor's "evolution" on the issue, starting in September 2011, when Christie thought education standards crafted "200 miles away" were a great idea.
As recently as August 2013, the GOP governor insisted, "We're doing Common Core in New Jersey, and we are going to continue." Christie acknowledged opposition from congressional Republicans, but he said his party was guilty of a "knee-jerk reaction," opposing something because President Obama supports it.
The differences, Christie added, were the results of some partisan "war" that he wanted no part of.
The storms in Texas this week have caused deadly flooding, affecting communities across much of the state. According to NBC News' latest reporting, "at least 23 people have died in flooding across the state this week."
Given the disaster, it's hardly surprising to see members of Texas' congressional delegation speaking up in support of federal disaster relief. TPM reported yesterday:
"There are a series of federal statutory thresholds that have to be satisfied. Initially, it appears those thresholds are likely to be satisfied by the magnitude of the damage we're seeing," Cruz said while touring the flooding in Wimberley, Texas, according to Texas television station KSAT.
"Democrats and Republicans in the congressional delegation will stand as one in support of the federal government meeting its statutory obligations to provide the relief to help the Texans who are hurting."
This is, of course, exactly what one expects of a senator after his state is confronted with a crisis. Indeed, note the senator's specific phrase: "statutory obligations." For Cruz, it's not even optional -- Americans have a duty under the law to come to Texas' aid.
But as the TPM report added, Cruz took a very different posture in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, when he opposed federal disaster relief.
"This bill is symptomatic of a larger problem in Washington -- an addiction to spending money we do not have," the Texas Republican said at the time. "The United States Senate should not be in the business of exploiting victims of natural disasters to fund pork projects that further expand our debt."
As best as I can tell, he made no references to "statutory obligations" at the time.
Perhaps no sitting senator is more vulnerable in 2016 than Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson, who'll have to overcome some important hurdles, including his far-right record, to win a second terms.
It's tempting to think, then, that Johnson would be on his best behavior, desperate to put his best foot forward, eager to show Wisconsin voters how much he excels in his job.
Or, alternatively, he can complain bitterly about "The Lego Movie."
The story has followed a curious trajectory. Johnson recently told a local audience that the popular animated film is, in his mind, "insidious" propaganda. When the Huffington Post found this amusing, Johnson apparently took great offense, complaining on Twitter, and publishing a 500-word piece to his official Senate website about how right he is.
Some liberal writer at the Huffington Post was excited to find out that I've been talking to Wisconsinites about how enthusiastically the entertainment media spread a "business is bad" message.
He seems to get hung up on the way I mentioned "The Lego Movie," a children's movie "in which the bad guy is a heartless businessman intent on destroying the world for profit. 'That's done for a reason,' Johnson said. 'They're starting that propaganda, and it's insidious.'"
Johnson encourages readers to watch the video of him complaining about the movie "because I think I'm making a pretty good point" (if he does say so himself).
The GOP lawmaker, recently elevated to chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, repeats his belief that the movie is "anti-business" and added some links to movie reviews that raise similar assertions.
There are two broad areas of concern here, one artistic, the other political. Johnson appears to have failed on both.
From 1998 to 2006, House Republicans suffered one ugly scandal after another. Democrats used the "culture of corruption" label to great effect, precisely because it was true -- from Gingrich to Livingston, DeLay to Cunningham, Ney to Foley, the GOP's House majority just couldn't stay out of trouble.
But Dennis Hastert was always seen as the exception. No matter how many scandals surrounded House Republicans, the party pointed to the humble Speaker from Illinois as the squeaky clean leader, elevated to the post from relative obscurity because of his above-the-fray reputation. Hastert was the island of stability and propriety in a sea of Capitol Hill scandals.
As Rachel reported on the show last night, however, of late yesterday, all of those perceptions have suddenly changed quite dramatically. From Benjamin Landy's msnbc report:
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who led the Republican majority in Congress from 1999 to 2007, was indicted Thursday by the Justice Department for illegally structuring cash withdrawals to evade bank reporting requirements and lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
According to the Chicago U.S. Attorney's Office, the indictment alleges Hastert agreed to pay out $3.5 million to an individual "in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct." Hastert is accused of purposefully structuring the payments in increments, beginning in 2012, in order to avoid triggering bank reports to the IRS that are required for cash withdrawals over $10,000.
Hastert, who became a D.C. lobbyist after retiring from Congress, has resigned from his position in the wake of yesterday's criminal indictment.
The story is still fairly new, and at this point, there are some key questions about the controversy that do not yet have answers.
Rachel Maddow reports on the sordid Republican history that led Dennis Hastert to become Speaker of the House following the infidelity scandal of New Gingrich, and the shocking new federal indictment that suggests secret payments being made, but not why. watch
Danny Vargas, former GOP National Hispanic Assembly chairman, talks with Rachel Maddow about how Republicans can conduct fair debates that don't put too much authority in national polls that are frequently not borne out by actual elections. watch
Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, talks with Rachel Maddow about connecting the dots on the shockingly long list of Russian journalists, activists, and critics of Vladimir Putin who have met with untimely deaths or mysterious illnesses. watch
* Breaking news late this afternoon: "The Justice Department has indicted former House Speaker Dennis Hastert on reporting evasion charges and lying to the FBI as part of an effort to pay off victims of 'prior bad acts.'" I'll have more on this in the morning.
* Silly people and their conspiracy theories: "Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of meddling in FIFA's affairs and hinted that it was part of an attempt to take the 2018 World Cup away from his country."
* Speaking of the Russian autocrat: "The deaths or wounds of Russian soldiers in 'special operations' can be classified as military secrets, even in peacetime, President Vladimir V. Putin decreed on Thursday. The decree comes as Russia faces accusations that it is sending its soldiers clandestinely to fight in Ukraine, an allegation the Kremlin denies."
* FIFA: "Sepp Blatter, the president of world soccer's governing body, acknowledged the 'unprecedented and difficult times' for his organization on Thursday and said it must do a better job of policing itself, but he largely avoided taking responsibility for the actions of 'a tiny minority' arrested in a corruption inquiry this week."
* Baltimore: "A 31-year-old woman and a young boy were shot in the head Thursday, becoming Baltimore's 37th and 38th homicide victims so far this month, the city's deadliest in 15 years."
* IRS: "The FBI has opened an investigation into the recent data breach at the Internal Revenue Service, CNBC has learned Thursday. The FBI said that people contacted by the IRS should take the necessary steps to monitor and safeguard their online presence and information. Any suspicious activity should reported to the FBI at www.ic3.gov."
* A tough year for Senate staffers: "Known as a fixture on Capitol Hill until his January 2010 retirement, longtime Senate staffer Robert Lee Foster is now making headlines for his alleged involvement in a scheme to defraud vulnerable women for approximately $500,000."
We talked earlier about Donald Trump, who announced last night that when it comes to ISIS, he knows of "a method of defeating them quickly and effectively and having total victory." And what, pray tell, is that method? Trump refuses to say.
"If I run, and if I win, I don't want the enemy to know what I'm doing," he told Fox's Greta Van Susteren.
This led my colleague Will Femia to ask a good question: Didn't Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also have "a secret plan to defeat an enemy but he'd only reveal it if America elected him?"
During McCain's 2008 campaign, he frequently reassured audiences that, if elected, he'd implement a secret plan to get Osama bin Laden. Naturally, many soon wondered why McCain didn't just share the secret plan with the Bush/Cheney administration, which had largely given up on targeting the al Qaeda leader. The Wall Street Journalreported in January 2008:
"One thing I will not do is telegraph my punches. Osama bin Laden will be the last to know," he said today while riding on the back of his bus between Florida events. In other words: he's not telling.
Why not share his strategy with the current occupant of the White House? "Because I have my own ideas and it would require implementation of certain policies and procedures that only as the president of the United States can be taken."
That latter part of McCain's response didn't really make much sense, even at the time, but the Republican senator stuck to it and never revealed his secret get-OBL plan. (As it turns out, President Obama had his own ideas on the subject.)
But as long as we're on the subject, it's worth nothing that McCain and Trump aren't alone. Perhaps the most famous example came in 1968, when Richard Nixon told voters he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam, but he wouldn't share it before the election. Nixon won, but there was no secret plan, and the conflict continued.