Two weeks ago, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders posted impressive wins in Wisconsin's presidential primaries, and "momentum" was all the rage. The national frontrunners -- Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump -- were still comfortably ahead in their respective races, but the challengers hoped Wisconsin would be a turning point that set the cycle in a whole new direction.
Voters in New York, however, had their own ideas. Let's start with the Democratic primary, which was the more competitive contest.
Hillary Clinton took a major step toward securing the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday night with a critical win in New York, leaving underdog Bernie Sanders to complain about the refs.
The Clinton victory – by a decisive double digit margin according to early returns – interrupts Sanders' eight-contest winning streak and blocked a key opportunity for Sanders to eat into Clinton's large pledged delegate lead.
The latest tallies show Clinton beating Sanders by roughly 16 points, slightly ahead of what pre-primary polls projected. The results also halt the senator's winning streak: Clinton's double-digit victory was her first win in any contest in nearly a month, with her most recent victory coming in Arizona on March 22.
And for Sanders, the timing couldn't be much worse. With the number of contests narrowing, the Vermonter faced long odds before last night's results, but the window of opportunity is nearly shut now, at least if Sanders intends to catch up to Clinton in pledged delegates.
Using recent history as a guide, Sanders' best chances of success come in caucus states with less racial diversity. There is such a contest remaining -- North Dakota's caucuses are on June 7 -- but much of the remaining calendar appears to favor Clinton. To secure the nomination, Sanders will either have to win practically every remaining contest by double digits, or he'll have to try to override the will of the voters. More on that later this morning.
Complicating matters, Sanders and his aides built up expectations in New York, repeatedly arguing that the senator was poised for a historic victory. Sanders spent two full weeks on the trail in the Empire State, where he outspent Clinton by a two-to-one margin, but in the end, he couldn't narrow the gap.
Tad Devine, Sanders' senior adviser, told reporters last night that after next week's five primaries, the campaign will "assess where we are." That's often a campaign euphemism for "acknowledging that we've come up short."
Robert Costa, national political reporter for The Washington Post, talks with Rachel Maddow about already-perceptible changes in the Trump campaign and Donald Trump's personal tone since the addition of new, more experienced advisers. watch
Steve Schmidt, Republican strategist, explains the political conditions in California and why Donald Trump's big win in New York, with its many strong Democratic districts, could be a sign of likely success winning similar districts in California for a big delegate win. watch
Rachel Maddow and Steve Kornacki explain that for all of the dramatic headlines about Ted Cruz taking delegates away from Donald Trump at state conventions, for the most part the loyalties of those delegates only come into play for the second ballot at the national convention, which may not happen if Trump wins outright. watch
An MSNBC panel discusses whether the Sanders campaign will really try to contest the Democratic presidential nomination at the convention even if they lack the pledged delegates and raw vote numbers. watch
This is amazing -- @SteveKornacki and Sanders Campaign Manager Jeff Weaver right now on MSNBC...
Jeff Weaver, Sanders campaign manager, shows Steve Kornacki exactly where the campaign sees a path to winning the Democratic nomination, and how they hope to convert Democratic super-delegates to their side ahead of the party's national convention. watch
An MSNBC panel discusses whether Bernie Sanders attacks on Hillary Clinton are likely to linger and be a burden to Clinton in the general election, and what Sanders' role will be in the race and the Democratic Party if he does not win the nomination. watch
Ben Ginsberg, Republican attorney, talks with Rachel Maddow about Donald Trump hiring Ginsberg's legal colleagues as advisers and what it means for the Trump campaign that he has retooled his staff with more experienced members. watch
Nicole Wallace, Republican strategist, makes the case that the #StopTrump effort started too late to be effective, while Rachel Maddow argues that Donald Trump has been impervious to attacks all along because Republican voters simply like him. watch
* Afghanistan: "More than 28 people were killed and almost 200 injured after militants set off a suicide bomb and stormed a government building in the Afghan capital Tuesday, officials said."
* Ecuador: "Earthquake-stricken Ecuador faced the grim reality of recovering more bodies than survivors as rescue efforts moved into a third day on Tuesday and the death toll climbed to nearly 500."
* When this first happened, the Taliban falsely claimed credit: "A solid plastic case designed to hold a set of night-vision goggles was ultimately responsible for causing the crash of an Air Force transport plane that killed 14 people in October, the Air Force announced in a statement last week."
* Cooler heads prevail in Tennessee: "The House sponsor of a bill that would require students in public school grades K-12 and higher education institutions to use the restroom that corresponds with their sex at birth is killing the controversial legislation."
* Brazil: "In her first public remarks since losing a critical impeachment vote, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said Monday she would not go down without a fight and insisted there was no legal basis for her removal."
* Unexpected: "Sen. Lindsey Graham has placed a hold on legislation that would open the door for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to sue Saudi Arabia. Graham (R-S.C.), who is a co-sponsor of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, put the hold on his own bill over concerns that new changes could expose the U.S. to legal attacks."
* Another 4-4 Supreme Court split: "Ruling in a case over a tax dispute involving a man who moved from California to Nevada, the justices said they could not muster a majority to resolve whether to overrule a 1979 Supreme Court precedent that permits state courts in one state to assert jurisdiction over state agencies in another. As a result, that precedent, Nevada v. Hall, will remain on the books."
In the last presidential election, Mitt Romney chose to float a provocative idea on Veterans' Day. "Sometimes you wonder," the Republican asked, "would there be some way to introduce some private sector competition" into veterans' care?
A spokesperson for Veterans of Foreign Wars very quickly made clear the VFW "doesn't support privatization of veterans' health care," and Romney backpedaled soon after, saying he was just kicking around a hypothetical scenario he didn't intend to pursue.
Four years later, however, as Rachel has noted on the show, some of the 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls have included at least partial VA privatization plans in their platforms -- Ben Carson went so far as to say, "We don't need a Department of Veterans Affairs" -- despite the VA's record of excellence, and the fact that the VA system as a whole "outperforms the rest of the health care system by just about every metric. Surveys also show that veterans give VA hospitals and clinics a higher customer satisfaction than patients give private-sector hospitals."
It's important to remember, though, that GOP proposals are part of a broader ideological campaign. In their latest issue, my friends at the Washington Monthly published a fascinating investigative report on the effort to privatize the VA launched by Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), a conservative outfit that's received support from the Kochs' operation.
Over the last year, every major GOP candidate with the exception of Donald Trump has made a pilgrimage to gatherings put on by Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), a group that had barely formed during the 2012 primary cycle. Whereas candidates back in the day were under pressure from the old-line veterans' groups to promise undying support for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its nationwide network of hospitals and clinics, the opposite has been true this season. Candidates at CVA rallies have been competing with each other to badmouth the VA and its allegedly shabby treatment of veterans. And all have pledged fealty to the CVA's goal of moving as many vets as possible out of the VA into private care. Even Trump is calling for more "choice."
And while that's certainly of interest when it comes to the 2016 campaign and the scope of the Republican agenda looking ahead, there's an even more timely aspect to this that matters right now.
When Bernie Sanders says current polling shows him as a strong general-election candidate, a point he emphasizes in nearly every speech, interview, and public appearance, he's 100% correct. The polling data is readily available, and it says exactly what he claims it says. Political scientists are quick to point out that the evidence isn't quite what it appears to be, but for Team Bernie, those details don't negate the survey results themselves.
And yet, Republicans can see the same polling results as everyone else, and they appear to be convinced that Sanders would be vastly easier to defeat.
Indeed, Republicans aren't just operating under those assumptions, they're acting on them. Karl Rove's Crossroads operation started boasting in February about its efforts to boost Sanders, and other Republican outfits have launched similar efforts to help the Vermont senator. In January, the RNC's chief strategist conceded he was eager to "help" the Sanders campaign.
So, what explains the discrepancy? With so many polls showing Sanders faring better than Hillary Clinton in general-election match-ups, why would Republicans go out of their way to try to line up a race with the candidate who appears stronger?
Bloomberg Politics reported yesterday that Republican operatives "are chomping at the bit to face Sanders," because they believe it would be easy to change the trajectory of those polls.
"Republicans are being nice to Bernie Sanders because we like the thought of running against a socialist. But if he were to win the nomination the knives would come out for Bernie pretty quick," said Ryan Williams, a former spokesman for 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney's campaign. "There's no mystery what the attack on him would be. Bernie Sanders is literally a card carrying socialist who honeymooned in the Soviet Union. There'd be hundreds of millions of dollars in Republican ads showing hammers and sickles and Soviet Union flags in front of Bernie Sanders."
"Hillary Clinton is a much more centrist candidate in comparison," Williams said, and she would have a better chance of winning over moderate and undecided voters, despite numerous polls showing that many Americans, even in the Democratic Party, don't view her as honest and trustworthy. "Bernie's numbers are better than hers right now because she's been in the political arena for 30 years getting beat up," he said.
Former RNC spokesperson Doug Heye added that Republicans look at some of Sanders' success "with bemusement," because they think it would be easy to define Sanders as "out of the mainstream."