Donald Trump is coming to a striking realization: it's possible, if not likely, that he's going to reach the Republican National Convention this summer with the most pledged delegates, the most votes, and the most state victories -- and the party will nominate someone else anyway.
It's not because the system is rigged against him. The problem is the Trump campaign has failed miserably to do the necessary follow-through at Republican conventions, where Ted Cruz's superior field operation has repeatedly filled delegate slates with its allies. On the first ballot, many of these delegates will be required to vote for Trump, but if the New York developer fails to reach a majority, many of those same delegates will quickly shift their allegiance. After the first ballot, Trump would likely to discover a Republican convention where he has few real friends.
And as this fact sinks in, Trump is beginning to lash out angrily at the process he's never fully understood or taken the time to study. At a New York rally the other day, Trump condemned the "corrupt" system and "crooked shenanigans."
Yesterday, he went further, insisting that the RNC created a system that's been deliberately "stacked against" him. "The Republican National Committee, they should be ashamed of themselves for allowing this kind of crap to happen," Trump said. In an interview with The Hill, the candidate added that the process is a "scam" and a "disgrace."
Ordinarily, RNC officials have bit their tongues and allowed Trump to launch into tirades like these without interference, but conditions have changed.
[Last night] RNC chairman Reince Priebus battled back against Trump's criticism.
"Nomination process known for a year + beyond. It's the responsibility of the campaigns to understand it. Complaints now? Give us all a break," he tweeted.
This represents a clear shift in tone and posture for the Republican National Committee, which has remained neutral. This is easily the most forceful criticism, albeit oblique and without anyone being named specifically, Priebus has made at any point in the cycle.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) removed all doubts yesterday about his 2016 plans. "Let me be clear: I do not want, nor will I accept the Republican nomination," he said.
* Bernie Sanders picked up his very first endorsement from a sitting U.S. senator today, when Oregon's Jeff Merkley (D) announced his support for his Vermont colleague.
* In New York, PPP shows Donald Trump leading the Republican presidential primary with 51% support, followed by John Kasich at 25%, and Ted Cruz at 20%. The latest Quinnipiac poll showed similar results.
* Among New York Democrats, PPP now shows Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders, 51% to 40%, while the Quinnipiac shows her ahead, 53% to 40%.
* When it comes to New York advertising, Sanders is putting his massive fundraising advantage to good use, outspending Clinton in ad buys by a two-to-one margin.
* In Maryland, an NBC4/Marist poll shows Trump ahead in the Republican primary with 41%, followed by Cruz at 29% and Kasich at 24%. The state's primary is April 26.
* Among Maryland Democrats, the same poll found Clinton leading Sanders, 58% to 36%.
Even if current patterns hold and Bernie Sanders comes up short in the race for the Democratic nomination, the Vermonter will still end this process in a strong position. He'll not only have wildly exceeded expectations, the independent senator will also have racked up an impressive number of delegates, votes, and state victories, all while leading a progressive "revolution" that can continue beyond 2016.
The next question is what Sanders and his team intend to do with that influence. In the short term, the Washington Post's Greg Sargent raises an interesting possibility.
...Sanders could demand concessions in the form of reforms to the Democratic nominating process. That's something voting reformers (and a lot of Sanders supporters) would be very grateful to see happen -- and it would make sense, given that one of the big stories of the Sanders challenge is that it has exposed a number of flaws with that process. [...]
[I]f Sanders can keep Clinton short of a majority of delegates going into the convention, he could still try to use whatever leverage he has -- after all, he'll have the support of voters across the country that Clinton wants in her corner -- to prod the Democratic Party to make changes to the way it selects its nominees.
Agreed, that would make a lot of sense. Even the most loyal Democratic partisans would likely agree that the presidential nominating process has its flaws, and a reform-minded campaign like Sanders' has reason to advocate major changes going forward, even if those tweaks won't change the outcome this year.
It's not like the status quo is sacrosanct. On the contrary, the Democratic process has been changed many times over the decades, including progressive reforms such as proportional delegate distribution -- an idea championed by Jesse Jackson and his backers in the 1980s.
So, what kind of changes could Democrats make? Greg highlighted a bunch of them, and the possibilities are likely familiar to those who've watched -- and occasionally been frustrated by -- the process as it currently exists. Caucuses, for example, which nearly always make participation far more difficult, could be replaced with an all-primary system that makes voting easier. Maybe the role of super delegates could be diminished or eliminated.
Perhaps Democrats should have a debate about the role of independents voting in their nominating contests. Maybe the party could talk about spacing primaries out so that it's easier for candidates to focus on one race at a time.
It's been five weeks since Marco Rubio suffered a humiliated defeat in his own home state, forcing his exit from the Republican president race, and creating the three-candidate contest that we see today. His exit, however, hasn't had quite the impact it was expected to.
The Florida senator easily had the most Republican endorsements of anyone in the party's 2016 field. If "the party decides," the party decided ... on Rubio. His failure, however, meant the GOP establishment's backing could shift to a new favorite. Who would be the beneficiary?
As it turns out, the answer, by and large, is no one. In the five weeks since Rubio quit, Ted Cruz has picked up support from three governors, two senators, and seven U.S. House members, which isn't bad, but which is hardly a tidal wave of new backers (and some of these new "supporters" have grudgingly gone with Cruz via process of elimination). Over the same period, Donald Trump has received endorsements from one governor and three House reps, while John Kasich has added one Senate backer and one House backer.
And that's it. The entire rest of the party's top echelon of elected policymakers has decided -- even now, in mid-April -- to sit this one out. There are 53 Senate Republicans other than the one in the race, and as of this morning, 48 of them haven't announced their support for any of their party's presidential hopefuls. There are 30 Republican governors other than the one in the race, and 20 of them are still on the sidelines.
Even in the far-right U.S. House, where there are a whopping 246 Republicans, only 49 of them -- roughly one in five -- have thrown their support behind one of the GOP candidates. The other 80% of the House Republican conference is sitting on its hands.
Four weeks ago today, President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland for the U.S. Supreme Court, effectively offering the Senate Republican majority a compromise choice. GOP senators, some of whom had offered generous praise for Garland, have nevertheless stuck to an unprecedented partisan blockade, and Garland will likely be the first high court nominee in American history to be denied a hearing and a floor vote.
With this in mind, the conventional wisdom is that the Supreme Court vacancy will remain in place through the rest of the year, pushing the issue until 2017, at which point the new president and the next Senate will work on filling it.
But why assume that Republicans will be more responsible next year? The Huffington Post had an interesting piece on this.
Republican Senate leaders may have said repeatedly that they are delaying President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee so the people can have a say through this year's elections — but that doesn't mean they're going to give up their right to block that nominee if they don't like what the people decide. [...]
"Clearly the requirement for 60 votes [to confirm a nominee for] the Supreme Court is going to remain, regardless of whether it's Republicans or Democrats that are in control of the Senate," Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said.
Hmm. So GOP senators believe elections have consequences, except for the 2012 presidential race which doesn't, and "the people" should decide who gets to appoint the next Supreme Court justice, except Republicans may balk if "the people" elect someone the party dislikes.
This, evidently, is not supposed to be a contradiction. "It's based upon what your Constitution will say, and based upon what your previous practices have been," Rounds told the Huffington Post. "In this case, I don't think there's any question but that you'll continue to have 60 votes necessary for a lifetime appointment to the United States Supreme Court."
To the extent that reality matters, the Constitution does not require super-majorities in the Senate to confirm judicial nominees, and "previous practices" have meant confirming justices by majority rule.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), meanwhile, added this baffling perspective: "My theory is we ought to pick the most conservative jurist we can to replace Justice Scalia to maintain the balance of the court. But the principle that the next president should decide is not one that I share."
On the campaign trail the other day, Donald Trump suggested Bernie Sanders is getting a raw deal. "He wins and wins and wins, and I hear he doesn't have a chance?" an incredulous Trump asked his audience. "This is a crooked system, folks. I couldn't care less, but he wins, like me."
The same day, the New York Timespublished a puzzling paragraph:
Backers of Senator Bernie Sanders, bewildered at why he keeps winning states but cannot seem to cut into Hillary Clinton's delegate count because of her overwhelming lead with "superdelegates," have used Reddit and Twitter to start an aggressive pressure campaign to flip votes.
There appears to be some confusion about the state of the race. Sanders has fared well, and won several contests in a row, but at least at this stage in the process, Clinton has won more pledged delegates, more votes, and more states. Just as important is the fact that Clinton has actually won several states with larger populations by wide margins, which explains her significant advantage in the metric that actually decides who wins the presidential nomination.
The role of superdelegates is interesting, and arguably worth keeping an eye on, but they're not the Sanders campaign's principal problem. If we were to rank the key hurdles standing between the senator and his goal, superdelegates would actually be fairly low on the list.
Which is why it's all the more curious that the Washington Postreports that some Sanders boosters have been courting superdelegates so aggressively that some are starting to make claims of "harassment."
On almost every issue, bipartisan compromises in Washington are effectively impossible. The parties are simply too far apart, and Congress' Republican majority has come to believe compromises themselves are a betrayal of deeply held principles. The list of issues in which some kind of agreement is even imaginable is vanishingly small.
But if we were to make such a list, tax reform would probably be on it. After the 2014 midterms, Republican leaders in both the House and the Senate said tax reform would be a real priority in the 114th Congress, and a joint op-ed from John Boehner and Mitch McConnell said addressing "the insanely complex tax code" would be one near the top of the Republicans' to-do list. President Obama said he was more than happy to work with GOP lawmakers on a deal, and there was reason for cautious optimism.
And yet, nothing has actually happened, and chances are, nothing will happen. To understand why, consider this interview CNBC's John Harwood conducted this week with Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. An excerpt from the transcript:
HARWOOD: Do you agree, by the way, that tax reform can only be done with buy-in from both parties?
BRADY: You know, I think at the end of the day, it will be bipartisan. Maybe not at every step in the process, as we lay this out, but at the end of the day, the major changes in American government almost always require buy-in from both parties.
HARWOOD: Could you envision a tax reform that you could go along with that had many elements that you liked that did not decrease the top rate?
BRADY: That'd be difficult to accept, because I think that holds back investment, both by businesses, small businesses, and by families.
Harwood reminded the Texas Republican that even some conservatives believe, given the contentious political environment, focusing on the top rate makes success a lot less likely. "I'd have to disagree," Brady replied.
I can appreciate why tax reform seems like a dry topic, but this exchange helps capture why governing is so excruciatingly difficult right now at the federal level.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) probably thought it would be a one-day story. He'd sign a new anti-LGBT measure into law, effectively overturning most of the state's local anti-discrimination ordinances, and though the left would complain, the hullabaloo would soon fade.
It's not fading. Last week, PayPal canceled its decision to open an office in the state as a result of the Republicans' discrimination measure. This week, Deutsche Bank scrapped plans to add 250 new jobs in North Carolina; Wake County reported economic development losses; and as Rachel noted on the show last night, a pornography website went so far as to block visitors from computers in North Carolina.
Yesterday, the state's Republican governor decided it was time to take some action -- which did little to undo the damage McCrory and his legislative allies have already done.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory on Tuesday attempted to walk back parts of a controversial law that is seen as discriminatory to LGBT people -- yet reinforced a provision in the legislation that restricts transgender people from using the bathroom that aligns with their identification.
McCrory said he's using an executive order to expand government equal employment policies to include sexual orientation and gender.
He also said that he would ask legislators to reinstate the right to sue for discrimination in North Carolina, which was restricted by HB2, the legislation he signed into law last month that overturned many anti-discriminatory practices enforced by local governments in the state.
The point, obviously, is to mitigate some of the problems the GOP governor has created for his state as a result of HB2. McCrory clearly never anticipated the severity of the election-year backlash, so he's scrambling to find some kind of fix, other than simply repealing the controversial law that started this mess in the first place.
But as Slate's Mark Joseph Stern explained, serious problems remain.
Rachel Maddow traces the history of Phyllis Schlafly as the linchpin of the cultural right within the Republican Party and describes how Schlafly's endorsement of Donald Trump has led to a coup attempt within her Eagle Forum organization, pitting her against her own daughter. watch
Joel Ebert, political reporter for The Tennessean, talks with Rachel Maddow about whether the boycotts and economic penalties (including being blocked by a porn site) being suffered by North Carolina over its anti-gay discrimination law helped Tennessee politicians reconsider a pending anti-trans bathroom bill. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on an interview in which Vice President Joe Biden made his staff nervous with a near endorsement of Hillary Clinton by talking about his support for "a woman" president, and President Obama similarly spoke about "a woman" in the Oval Office, but not exactly naming Clinton. watch
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.