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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, April 25, 2016, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (Photo by Mel Evans/AP)

Trump wants to take 'the woman card' off the table

04/28/16 12:49PM

Following this week's primaries, the 2016 presidential general election is, after more than a year of campaigning, coming into focus. It's not yet a done deal in either party, but odds are, Donald Trump will face Hillary Clinton in the fall. What's less clear is what Trump intends to do about it.
In recent months, the Republican frontrunner has prioritized insulting labels for his rivals, hoping to define them quickly in voters' eyes. Jeb Bush was "low energy"; Ted Cruz is "Lying Ted"; Marco Rubio became "Little Marco"; and so on. Trump's message about the Democratic frontrunner is still taking shape, but he's clearly begun trying out some lines of attack.
"If Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get 5 percent of the vote," Trump declared Tuesday night. The "only card she has is the woman's card," the Republican frontrunner added. On NBC this morning, Trump stuck to the line.
A day after his chief rival picked a woman as a running mate, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump defended comments he made about Hillary Clinton playing "the woman card" saying the Democrat couldn't even win a local election if she were a man.
"The primary thing that she has going is that she's a woman and she's playing that card like I have never seen anybody play it before," he said Thursday on TODAY.
Co-host Savannah Guthrie noted, "But Mr. Trump, for you to say, 'If she were not a woman, she would be getting 5 percent' suggests the only thing she has going for her is that she's a woman -- not that she was a former senator, a former Secretary of State and a lawyer. Do you understand why people find that to be a kind of demeaning comment?"
Trump was unfazed. "No, I find it to be a true comment," he replied. "I think the only thing she's got going is the fact that she's a woman."
Trump added, "Nobody respects women more than I do. And I wasn't playing the woman's card; it's true she is playing the woman's card. Everything she says is about the woman's card."
If there's a smart political strategy lurking somewhere in all of this nonsense, it's hiding well.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.28.16

04/28/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Despite talk from some of his supporters about rejecting the Democratic ticket in the fall, Bernie Sanders told MSNBC yesterday, "I will do everything that I can, and I think Hillary Clinton and I agree on this, that we will do everything we can to make sure that a Republican does not win the White House. I will knock my brains out, I will work seven days a week to make sure that that does not happen if I am the nominee and if I am not the nominee. That's what I will do."
*  Donald Trump's success in Pennsylvania is even more impressive than it initially appeared: "NBC News reached out to all 54 delegate winners after the polls closed Tuesday night. Interviews reveal that as of Wednesday afternoon 35 said they intend to support Trump on the first ballot at the convention -- a number that could rise north of 40 when the final 10 delegates are reached."
* For the record, I don't care that Trump used a teleprompter yesterday. I do care that he used a teleprompter after saying a few months ago, "When you're really, really, really smart like me ... I don't need teleprompters."
* Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), a former Marco Rubio supporter, officially threw his backing to Ted Cruz yesterday. Believe it or not, for all the Capitol Hill anxiety surrounding Trump, Gardner is only the fourth of 54 Senate Republicans to back Cruz, and only the second since mid-March.
* Despite the agreement that was supposed to help give Ted Cruz a "clear path" in Indiana, John Kasich continues to campaign in the Hoosier State.
* Rep. Marlin Stutzman's Republican Senate campaign in Indiana appears to be moving in the wrong direction: he reportedly "failed to report $1,100 in expenses to federal campaign officials, including a private plane trip last month from a friend with a real estate development business."
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) holds up hands his new running mate, Carly Fiorina, at a campaign rally at the Pan Am Plaza on April 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Ind. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty)

The fine art of picking a good running mate

04/28/16 11:24AM

Everything about Ted Cruz creating a "ticket" with Carly Fiorina is a mistake. While a vice-presidential vetting process usually requires months of scrutiny, Cruz tapped Fiorina after about a week and a half, suggesting very little care even went into the decision.
It was an odd decision, made in haste, that does little for Cruz, all while reflecting a lack of seriousness of purpose. The Texas senator did, however, manage to tell the public something important about himself.
I've seen some suggestions that the political world's general fascination with the "Veepstakes" process is misplaced, since so few voters consider running mates when deciding how to vote. But I'm inclined to defend the preoccupation: presidential hopefuls face a series of important tests ahead of an election, and none is more important than their VP selection.
This one decision speaks volumes about a candidate's judgment and priorities in ways no other campaign development can match.
For Cruz, it made yesterday something of a disaster. Fiorina is not only unqualified for national office, but the way in which Cruz made the announcement -- as part of a rushed, desperation ploy, intended as a gimmick to boost a struggling campaign -- points to a candidate who isn't taking the race as seriously as he's supposed to. We're finally learning something useful about Cruz's judgment under fire, and it's not at all encouraging.
If the Texas senator thinks he can ride a wave of cynicism to the nomination, after coming up far short in the primaries and caucuses, he's likely to be disappointed.
All of which serves as a news peg for a thesis longtime readers may recognize. Running mates tend to fall into one of three categories: August, November, and January.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) at the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Cedar Rapids, Iowa April 11, 2014.

Paul Ryan has a message for those with pre-existing conditions

04/28/16 10:45AM

After seven years of waiting for a Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) at least claims to be moving closer to a resolution. The GOP leader appeared on MSNBC yesterday and said his party's plan might even be ready in time for the Republican National Convention, which begins in July.
There's ample reason for skepticism, but who knows, maybe Ryan will manage to pull something together. But while we wait, it's worth appreciating the fact that even if an "Obamacare" alternative emerges -- it's unlikely, let's imagine it for the sake of conversation -- Americans probably aren't going to care for it. Consider this new Reuters report:
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan called on Wednesday for an end to Obamacare's financial protections for people with serious medical conditions, saying these consumers should be placed in state high-risk pools.
In election-year remarks that could shed light on an expected Republican healthcare alternative, Ryan said existing federal policy that prevents insurers from charging sick people higher rates for health coverage has raised costs for healthy consumers while undermining choice and competition.
"Less than 10 percent of people under 65 are what we call people with pre-existing conditions, who are really kind of uninsurable," Ryan told a Georgetown University audience yesterday. "Let's fund risk pools at the state level to subsidize their coverage, so that they can get affordable coverage. You dramatically lower the price for everybody else."
Ryan doesn't talk about health policy details often, so these comments were a welcome contribution. They were also an important hint of what's to come.
Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Sept. 10, 2015. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Boehner calls GOP candidate 'Lucifer in the flesh'

04/28/16 10:00AM

Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) occasionally dropped his guard during his tenure, and offered some candid, often pointed, barbs towards his Republican colleagues. But now that he's no longer in office, the former GOP leader has even less of an incentive to be guarded.
The Stanford Daily, the university's student paper, reported today on Boehner's on-campus appearance last night, during which the former Speaker shared some thoughts on the 2016 presidential race.
Much of the discussion -- and laughs -- focused on Boehner's views on the current presidential candidates. Segueing into the topic, Kennedy asked Boehner to be frank given that the event was not being broadcasted, and the former Speaker responded in kind. When specifically asked his opinions on Ted Cruz, Boehner made a face, drawing laughter from the crowd.
"Lucifer in the flesh," the former speaker said. "I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life."
All right, but why don't you tell us how you really feel, Mr. Speaker.
I should note that the Boehner quote hasn't been independently verified and there doesn't appear to be a video of his Stanford appearance. But it's also incredibly easy to believe that the reporting is accurate given the former Speaker's longtime hatred of Ted Cruz, even before the senator launched a presidential campaign.
Note the pride in which Boehner described Cruz as a "jackass" last year.
As for why, exactly, the former Speaker hates the Texan quite so much, there's no great mystery here: Cruz has never had much influence with the Senate Republicans he ostensibly works with every day, but he's enjoyed considerable influence over House Republicans, who he repeatedly urged to ignore their own Speaker during Boehner's tenure.
Senator Tom Cotton listens during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. USA on Feb. 9, 2016. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty)

Tom Cotton, White House spar over sparkling water

04/28/16 09:23AM

During his brief tenure in Congress, Sen. Tom Cotton's (R-Ark.) most notable contribution has been an ignominious one. During the international nuclear negotiations with Iran, the right-wing Arkansan wrote a letter to Iranian officials, telling them not to trust the United States. It wasn't subtle: Cotton and his Republican allies tried to sabotage their own country's foreign policy during delicate diplomatic negotiations.
Cotton's gambit, we now know, failed, but yesterday we were reminded that the policy remains very much on the senator's mind. The New York Times reported:
The first appropriations bill taken up this year by the Senate -- in what was supposed to a be a new spirit of bipartisan cooperation on financing the government -- crashed and burned on Wednesday because of a dispute over an amendment that Democrats and White House officials said would undermine President Obama's nuclear accord with Iran.
The amendment, offered by Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, would bar the United States from purchasing heavy water -- which is used in producing nuclear energy and nuclear weapons -- from Iran. Under Mr. Obama's nuclear accord, Iran must reduce its supplies of heavy water.
The spending bill was supposed to pass with relative ease, but Cotton decided he wanted to add his amendment first. The problem, of course, is if the bill includes a measure preventing the United States from purchasing heavy water from Iran, the White House will veto it.
And why does the United States want to buy heavy water created through Iran's nuclear program? Because the alternative is allowing the water to go onto the open market, which the administration sees as a potential security threat.
But even more interesting still was the nature of the argument that followed between the White House and Cotton.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to speak about foreign policy at the Mayflower Hotel April 27, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

If this was Trump at his 'presidential' best, he's in big trouble

04/28/16 08:43AM

After Donald Trump's big speech yesterday on foreign policy, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Twitter, "Washington elites mock Trump for mispronouncing Tanzania. They don't get it. He said the most important word correctly: America. He gets it."
I suppose this is true in a literal sense. It is "important" for an American presidential candidate to pronounce the name of their own country correctly, and if this is the new standard for success, I'm pleased to report that Gingrich is correct: Trump cleared this absurdly low bar.
But aside from pronouncing "America" correctly, the rest of Trump's remarks were an unnerving mess. MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin reported:
Looking to soothe fears that he lacked the experience and gravitas necessary to manage the most powerful military in the world, Donald Trump delivered a rare pre-written speech Wednesday in Washington outlining his foreign policy vision.
In many ways it raised more questions than it answered, bouncing between typical anti-Obama talking points, jarring threats to America's friends and rivals, and soothing talk of peaceful global cooperation.
"Jarring" is the ideal adjective in this case. At one point, Trump said the United States must be prepared to tell our old allies that they should "defend themselves" and not look to us for support. In the next breath, Trump expressed dismay that so many U.S. allies feel abandoned by President Obama.
How did the Republican frontrunner reconcile the contradiction? He didn't -- Trump simply transitioned to new contradictions before anyone could fully come to terms with the last one.
Americans were told, for example, that a Trump administration would replace "randomness with purpose" through "a disciplined, deliberate and consistent foreign policy." He then insisted, "We must as, a nation, be more unpredictable."
Trump opposes the idea of a foreign policy based on "ideology," rejecting the idea of exporting Western-style democracy abroad. He then emphasized the importance of "promoting Western civilization" around the globe.
Trump lamented the way in which our "resources are overextended." He also believes the United States must "continually play the role of peacemaker" and "help to save lives and, indeed, humanity itself."
Trump boasted about all of the leverage we have over China, around the same time as he complained about how we no longer have leverage over China.
And don't get me started about Trump's ridiculous factual errors.
So, what does Donald Trump believe about foreign policy? He believes in nothing and everything, all at once. As president, he would do more and less, wage war and peace, reach out and push away, all while being unflinchingly consistent and wildly unpredictable.
Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks during a rally at Roger Williams Park on April 24, 2016 in Providence, R.I. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty)

As race enters new phase, Sanders lays off staffers

04/28/16 08:00AM

After this week's primary results, the unyielding arithmetic left Bernie Sanders and his team with few options. They could launch some kind of scorched-earth campaign, or they could grudgingly concede that they're likely to finish a competitive second in the race for the Democratic nomination.
By yesterday afternoon, it was clear that Team Sanders had decided on the latter.
A day after Bernie Sanders won only one of five northeastern primary contests against rival Hillary Clinton, his campaign will lay off more than two hundred staffers in the effort to concentrate its remaining resources on upcoming contests, particularly the June 7 California primary.
Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs told NBC News that the layoffs are part of a "right-sizing" in light of the dwindling number of remaining primary contests. "It's a posture of reality," Briggs said.
A total of 225 staffers were apparently let go yesterday during a brief conference call led by Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver. Joy Reid noted on the show last night that many of these paid aides were disappointed, not just by the loss of their job and the wind down in a campaign they believe in, but also because of the surprise: these staffers assumed they'd remain on the team through June, and they'd hoped to hear the bad news from Sanders himself.
Regardless, the senator told the New York Times that he would "refocus his efforts chiefly on the June 7 primary in California," even while competing in the other remaining states.
"If we can win the largest state in this country, that will send a real message to the American people," Sanders said, "and to the delegates that this is a campaign that is moving in the direction it should."
It's worth pausing to appreciate what, specifically, he means when he talks about "sending a message."
Trump invokes infamous 'America First' slogan

Trump invokes infamous 'America First' slogan

04/27/16 09:39PM

Presidential Historian Michael Beschloss speaks to Rachel Maddow about the historical significance of “America First” which was invoked by Charles Lindbergh in 1941 to urge the U.S. to stay out of World War II and refrain from helping allies defeat Adolf Hitler. watch

Sanders follows up losses with staff layoffs

Sanders follows up losses with more than 200 staff layoffs

04/27/16 09:28PM

MSNBC National Correspondent Joy Reid tells Rachel Maddow the Sanders campaign cut staffers to marshal resources for big, upcoming contests in California and New Jersey. The Sanders campaign, she says, is in it for the long haul and could use their influence to make structural changes to the party. watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 4.27.16

04/27/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Flint: "President Barack Obama is planning to visit Flint on May 4 to spotlight the city's lead-contaminated water that has deprived the city's 100,000 residents of reliable access to drinking and bathing water."
* Related news: "A key figure in the Flint water crisis has been killed -- a young mom who was one of the first to sue after her baby boy came down with lead poisoning."
* A case we've been following: "Supreme Court justices on Wednesday seemed highly skeptical of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell's 2014 corruption conviction for actions he took on behalf of a businessman who provided his family with more than $175,000 in benefits."
* It's a changing military: "When Capt. Kristen M. Griest made history last summer by becoming one of the first two women to graduate the Army's legendarily difficult Ranger School, she made her intentions clear: She was considering joining a Special Operations unit. Now, she has accomplished another first with some similar demands: becoming the U.S. military's first female infantry officer."
* Rio's Olympics start in 100 days. Consider the local turmoil: "Brazil's president is facing impeachment. The country's economy is in sharp decline. Bodies of water that will be used for Olympic competitions are polluted, and global public health officials are trying to tamp down the Zika virus epidemic."
* This should never have been so difficult: "The United States is finally about to get an ambassador to Mexico. Senate Republicans who have been negotiating a way to confirm Roberta Jacobson as the nation's top diplomat to Mexico have reached the contours of an agreement that would allow Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla) -- Jacobson's chief obstacle -- to secure renewed sanctions against Venezuela in exchange for lifting his objections."
* Cotton's antics do not go unnoticed: "The White House blasted Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton for how the Republican lawmaker used his opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran, the U.S. and other world powers in an appropriations bill Wednesday."
Former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina joins Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas during a campaign rally in Miami, Fla., March 9, 2016. (Photo by Paul Sancya/AP)

Looking past their many losses, Cruz taps Fiorina for ticket

04/27/16 04:01PM

When Ted Cruz's campaign announced this morning that it would make a "major" announcement today, it was easy to assume that the far-right senator was pulling the plug on his campaign. After all, the Texan has already been mathematically eliminated from winning a majority of pledged delegates, and Cruz's third-place finishes in several recent primaries -- including four of yesterday's five contests -- suggest his entire operation is steadily moving closer to failure.
But in an unusually brazen display of chutzpah, Cruz, instead of quitting, has decided to introduce his running mate.
Ted Cruz will tap Carly Fiorina to be his running mate if he is the Republican Party's nominee for president, NBC News confirms.
Fiorina, a former HP CEO who highlighted her business background during her own 2016 run, dropped her unsuccessful White House bid in February. She endorsed Cruz one month later and has been a frequent surrogate for him on the campaign trail.
I'm not generally in the habit of agreeing with Newt Gingrich, but he said on Fox News last night, "The idea that the guy who's losing is now gonna announce his vice presidential nominee doesn't make any sense at all to me because it makes it look like the person's out of touch with reality. Aren't they aware of the fact that they're not winning?"
It's a fairly compelling point. Ordinarily, the presidential candidates who introduce their running mates are the candidates who are actually going to win their party's nomination.
The only modern exception is Ronald Reagan's 1976 campaign -- he named Sen. Richard Schweiker as his running mate ahead of the convention in the hopes of satisfying the GOP's centrist wing, which existed at the time -- but that year, Reagan was on his way to competing in a contested convention he had a credible chance of winning.
Cruz, on the other hand, has about 560 delegates -- far short of half of his 1,237 goal -- which makes this entire gambit appear extraordinarily audacious. While the senator may be looking to change the subject after his recent failures at the ballot box, and may also hope that a VP announcement represents a display of strength, given the circumstances it's actually a move that reeks of desperation.
The question, of course, is whether it'll work.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert arrives at the federal courthouse, in Chicago, for his arraignment on federal charges that he broke federal banking laws and lied about the money when questioned by the FBI, June 9, 2015. (Photo by Paul Beaty/AP)

After admitting sex crimes, former House Speaker headed to prison

04/27/16 01:16PM

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been accused of sexually abusing four teenaged boys during his tenure as a high school coach many years ago, but the statute of limitations has expired and he cannot face charges for these misdeeds. The Illinois Republican was, however, arrested for lying to the FBI about covering up his sex crimes.
And this afternoon, it was this misconduct that will put Hastert behind bars.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert was sentenced Wednesday to 15 months in prison for illegal cash withdrawals he made for payoffs to cover up sex-abuse allegations after the judge called him a "serial child molester."
Before issuing his sentence, Judge Thomas M. Durkin pressed the former House Speaker on the details of his misconduct, asking Hastert directly if he sexually abused his victims. "Yes," Hastert said, publicly acknowledging this for the first time. He added, "What I did was wrong and I regret it. They looked to me and I took advantage of them."
In an additional gut-wrenching detail, one of these victims, Scott Cross, testified today that Hastert molested him when Cross was a teenager. Cross is the younger brother of former Illinois House Republican leader Tom Cross, who looked up to Hastert as a political mentor.
Hastert actually asked Tom Cross for a letter of support as part of his criminal case, despite the fact that Hastert molested his younger brother.
As part of this morning's proceedings, the judge in the case explained, in reference to Hastert's political career, "Sometimes actions can obliterate a lifetime of good works." The judge referred to Hastert three times as a "serial child molester."
In a breathtaking letter to the judge, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) recently wrote, "We all have our flaws, but Dennis Hastert has very few." DeLay added that Hastert "doesn't deserve what he is going through."
Evidently, that didn't prove persuasive.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.27.16

04/27/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Ted Cruz is scheduled to make a major announcement this afternoon at 4 p.m. (ET). As of now, no one outside his campaign's inner circle seems to know what the announcement might be.
* In yesterday's closely watched U.S. Senate primaries, Chris Van Hollen won the Democratic nod in Maryland with relative ease, while Katie McGinty did nearly as well in the Democratic race in Pennsylvania.
* In the latter case, McGinty has already been welcomed to the general election with a new attack ad from the far-right Club for Growth. The incumbent senator, Republican Pat Toomey, was the head of the Club for Growth before getting elected to the Senate.
* Oregon's official voting pamphlet, featuring the presidential contenders in both primaries, will not include John Kasich -- because his campaign "missed a key deadline to submit information to the state." Oregon is supposed to be one of the governor's stronger states.
* The American Conservative Union has released its annual rankings for the most and least conservative members of Congress. The new list says Ted Cruz is the Senate's most far-right member, scoring a perfect 100% rating.
* At a rally in Indiana yesterday, Ted Cruz talked about "Hoosiers" in the same gym where the movie was shot. But in an unfortunate slip-up, while trying to recite a line from the film, the senator referred to the hoop as a "basketball ring." Maybe he meant "rim"?


About The Rachel Maddow Show

Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.



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