It's been nearly three months since Justice Antonin Scalia's passing, and nearly two months since President Obama named Judge Merrick Garland as his nominee to fill the Supreme Court's vacancy. The Republican position on the matter, however, has remained largely the same: the GOP-led Senate will continue to impose an unprecedented partisan blockade with no parallel in the American tradition.
According to Republicans, no other consideration -- Garland's qualifications, the process laid out by the Constitution, Americans' attitudes -- will matter.
But as of last night, this posture is facing a new test. Media Matters noted this morning:
Editors of the conservative RedState blog are warning that since Donald Trump is now the GOP's presumptive nominee for president, Senate Republicans should move to confirm Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland "before it is too late."
Redstate Managing Editor Leon H. Wolf, who has said that he will never vote for Trump, wrote in a May 4 post that Garland "is not a great choice, but is not a terrible one, either." He continued that Senate Republicans should thus confirm Garland rather than allowing Hillary Clinton to name her own nominee after what he depicted as Trump's almost certain defeat in November. Fellow editors Ben Howe and Dan McLaughlin have also expressed support for the position.
There are two basic elements to this dynamic. The first is the fact that Republicans find themselves in a deeply uncomfortable situation: they feel compelled to block a highly qualified nominee, offered as a compromise, because they want to let President Trump fill the Supreme Court vacancy.
There are quite a few vulnerable GOP incumbents in the Senate right now, and this is a tough pitch for them to make to voters in an election year.
The second element is more of a gamble: Republicans are blocking Garland, despite their previous praise for his work, because they hope to win the White House. If they lose, Hillary Clinton will very likely send a younger and more liberal nominee to the Senate in 2017.
That was a chance the GOP Senate majority was eager to take in February and March, when Republicans still liked their chances in the 2016 elections, but are they feeling equally confident about their odds now?
Or put another way, just how sure are Senate Republicans that Trump is going to win in November? If the answer is "not very," Merrick Garland is going to start looking far more appealing to GOP senators.
Republican-led legislatures in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Tennessee recently approved "religious liberty" bills intended to make discrimination against LGBT residents easier. Georgia was set to join this club, but Gov. Nathan Deal (R) vetoed his own party's bill in March, citing the potential of adverse economic consequences.
Yesterday, the Atlanta Journal Constitutionreported that Georgia's Republican governor, to the surprise of many, used his veto pen to disappoint his ostensible allies once more.
Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed legislation Tuesday that would allow college students to carry concealed guns onto campuses after lawmakers defied his personal request for changes that would make exceptions to the gun rights expansion. [...]
"If the intent of HB 859 is to increase safety of students on college campuses, it is highly questionable that such would be the result," Deal wrote in his veto message.
The "campus carry" bill would have permitted students with gun licenses to carry loaded weapons on college campuses -- including in classrooms -- though dormitories, fraternities, sorority houses, and athletic venues would have been excluded.
The NRA, which championed the proposal, expressed its disappointment yesterday and vowed to try again next year.
A similar "campus carry" policy is already law in Texas -- much to the chagrin of university administrators -- despite the evidence that these policies do little to improve public safety and actually put more people in harm's way.
But just on a purely political level, why in the world is Georgia's far-right governor rejecting conservative ideas from a legislature run by his own party?
A couple of months ago in Ohio, a man rushed the stage where Donald Trump was speaking, prompting Secret Service agents to intervene to protect the Republican candidate. Trump soon after claimed the man has ties to ISIS, pointing to online evidence that turned out to be a hoax.
On "Meet the Press," Chuck Todd asked the candidate about his wiliness to substantiate odds claims with bogus proof. "I don't know," Trump replied. "What do I know about it? All I know is what's on the Internet."
That phrasing came to mind again this morning when Trump appeared on "Good Morning America" and was asked about his latest conspiracy theory involving Ted Cruz's father and the JFK assassination. TPM reported:
Donald Trump on Wednesday morning would not apologize for referencing a National Enquirer story alleging that Rafael Cruz, the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), was seen with Lee Harvey Oswald before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
"All I was doing was referring to a picture that was reported and in a magazine, and I think they didn't deny it. I don't think anybody denied it," Trump said on ABC's "Good Morning America" when asked if he owed Rafael Cruz an apology. "I don't know what it was exactly, but it was a major story in a major publication, and it was picked up by many other publications."
It's easy to roll one's eyes at stuff like this, but I think it matters. Trump's conspiracy theories are key to understanding who he is and how he sees the world. His bizarre affinity for ridiculous ideas isn't just some random personality quirk; they're definitional.
MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin did a nice job yesterday cataloging Trump's "obsession with race-baiting conspiracy theories" -- it's not a short list -- but Sarlin raised a related point that stood out for me: "Even by normal political standards, Trump's relationship with the truth is abusive.... The GOP presidential front-runner, whether by choice or by nature, appears fundamentally unable to distinguish between credible sources and chain e-mails."
That's both true and important. Donald Trump, the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party, bears a striking resemblance to that weird friend you have on Facebook who keeps sharing wild-eyed, all-caps tirades about some new conspiracy uncovered in the fever swamps.
After all, Trump only knows "what's on the Internet."
Social conservatives were confident they'd finally figured it out. The 2016 race would finally be their year. They had a strategy, a candidate, and an opportunity to wield the power and influence that has long eluded them.
Instead, the Republican presidential race went to a guy who thinks "II Corinthians" is read as "Two Corinthians."
Revisiting our coverage from last year, the pattern started in earnest in 1996. Social conservative leaders and the religious right movement weren't sold on Bob Dole as the Republicans' presidential nominee, but they struggled to rally behind a credible alternative.
In nearly every election cycle that followed, a similar dynamic unfolded. In 2000, the religious right wanted John Ashcroft, who didn't run. In 2008, the religious right hated John McCain, but it couldn't settle on a rival. In 2012, social conservatives were skeptical about Mitt Romney, but again, it failed to coalesce behind someone else.
The movement and its leaders were absolutely determined not to repeat their mistakes. This would finally be the cycle, the religious right's heavyweights insisted, in which social conservatives en masse made an early decision, chose a competitive GOP candidate, and helped propel him or her towards the convention.
After careful consideration and months of deliberation, they chose Ted Cruz to be the religious right's standard bearer. He then came in second.
Bloomberg View's Francis Wilkinson wrote last week, when the writing was obviously on the GOP's wall, "The rout of social conservatives in this campaign is absolute. Their future looks grim."
The problem isn't that Trump has a disco ball where his moral compass should be. It's that he isn't particularly interested in the social conservative agenda -- or even in pretending that he is.
Aside from a few comic forays into biblical scholarship early in his campaign, and later comments about abortion that were so off message that they merely confirmed his lack of interest in the topic, Trump is running free and clear of the entire movement. He's leaving social conservatives in the dust.
Worse, Trump's general indifference towards the religious right's agenda doesn't appear to have cost him much of anything.
After losing five out of six primaries over the last two weeks, Bernie Sanders was eager to win Indiana. While Hillary Clinton shifted her focus to Donald Trump and the general election, the Vermont senator made a real effort in the Hoosier state, investing nearly $400,000 in television advertising -- Clinton spent literally $0 -- and holding multiple events to rally the faithful.
The good news for Sanders is that his efforts were successful enough to deliver a primary victory. The bad news for Sanders is that the delegate math required him to win by a huge margin, and that didn't happen. MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald reported overnight:
Every time the [Democratic] race seems headed to the finish, voters decide to extend it, as they did in Michigan in March. But that could change now that Ted Cruz has dropped out and Donald Trump has effectively secured the Republican nomination, putting Hillary Clinton squarely in the billionaire's sights.
Sanders' win does nothing to knock Clinton off her glidepath to the nomination, since the few delegates he picks will barely dent her massive 300-plus pledged delegate lead. But it will be a much-needed fundraising and momentum boost to a fading candidate who has pledged to stay in the race until the Democratic National Convention in July, even though his only path to victory involves improbable landslides and fanciful schemes to flip superdelegates.
It's a dynamic that causes endless frustration for Sanders' die-hard supporters. He'll win a race, which raises his backers' hopes, only to learn soon after that the victory wasn't significant enough to change the trajectory of the race.
So let's be more specific about Sanders' quantitative challenge. The senator can try to win the nomination by convincing party insiders to overrule the will of the voters, but even Sanders' top aides recognize this is unrealistic. The other avenue is catching up to Clinton among pledged delegate -- he'll need roughly 66% of those still available -- by racking up some big wins in the calendar's remaining contests.
How big? If Sanders won each of the remaining primaries and caucuses by 30 points each -- an improbable task, to be sure -- he'd still come up short. That's how significant his current deficit it. None of this, by the way, factors superdelegates into the equation. I'm referring only to pledged delegates, earned exclusively through nominating contests decided by rank-and-file voters.
On April 5, one month ago tomorrow, Ted Cruz easily won the Wisconsin presidential primary, leading the Texas senator to declare that the race for the Republican nomination was on an entirely new trajectory.
Indeed, a month ago, there were certain things much of the political world simply accepted as fact. Everyone knew there would be a contested GOP national convention. Everyone knew Cruz's advantage at state conventions was likely to pay dividends. And everyone knew the Texan was in this for the long haul.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz ended his presidential campaign on Tuesday after failing to top Donald Trump in the Indiana Republican primary.
"From the beginning, I've said that I would continue on as long as there was a viable path to victory," Cruz told supporters at an election night rally in Indianapolis. "Tonight, I'm sorry to say it appears that path has been foreclosed."
The senator's campaign went all out to win Indiana -- a state Team Cruz saw as friendly territory, and where polls showed him ahead a month ago -- but he ended up losing by nearly 17 points. Cruz could have turned the next couple of months into some kind of vanity exercise, dragging out the process unnecessarily, but given the arithmetic, the Texan no longer saw the point of waging a fight with a predetermined outcome.
Also note, adding Carly Fiorina to the ticket for a week was not the silver bullet Team Cruz was looking for. The California Republican is now the only candidate to seek national office twice in 2016, only to fail spectacularly both times.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus agreed last night that Trump is now the party's "presumptive" presidential nominee -- a message he couldn't have enjoyed writing -- which seems like the appropriate label. John Kasich's campaign was quick to protest, but the fact remains that the Ohio governor is still trailing Marco Rubio in the overall delegate count, and Rubio quit in mid-March.
Kasich, in other words, is running fourth in a three-man race, which makes it difficult for him to complain about the RNC's embrace of Trump.
We'll talk about Trump's road ahead a little later, but let's first take a moment to consider Cruz as he exits the stage.
Steve Kornacki shows how Donald Trump will likely pursue a general election strategy of winning upper-Midtwest industrial states with large white populations rather than follow the Republican plan devised after their 2012 loss that looked to expand the party's appeal to Latino voters. watch
Nicolle Wallace, Republican strategist, talks about the low expectations Donald Trump had for his own chances of winning the Republican nomination when his campaign first began, and how he was motivated by his loss in Wisconsin. watch
Rachel Maddow and an MSNBC panel react to Ted Cruz suspending his campaign for president and what it means for the Republican Party that Donald Trump now apparently has an unobstructed path to the Republican nomination. watch
Steve Schmidt, Republican strategist, talks with an MSNBC panel about the challenge Donald Trump faces to heal the political rift within the Republican Party, and the opportunity that presents to Hillary Clinton to draw some bipartisan support. watch
Will Republican leaders rally around Trump if he is the party's nominee? And how might a Trump nomination affect local and state races? Steve Schmidt talks to Chris Matthews about what could happen leading up to November. watch
Jeff Weaver, campaign manager for the Bernie Sanders campaign, talks with Rachel Maddow about the tight race in Indiana and the Sanders campaign's criticism of how the Clinton campaign works with the DNC to raise money. watch