Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* After the remaining Republican presidential candidates effectively shredded the party's "loyalty pledge" this week, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee issued a statement yesterday that said, "The pledge is simple, each candidate agreed to run as a Republican and support the nominee. We are confident that Republicans will unite to defeat Hillary Clinton."
* Bernie Sanders continues to push for a ninth debate against Hillary Clinton, and a Clinton spokesperson said yesterday that she's "perfectly willing" to participate "if they can find a mutually agreeable date."
* In New York, which hosts its primary on April 19, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Clinton leading Sanders, 54% to 42%.
* Among Republicans in the Empire State, the same poll found Donald Trump with a big lead in New York, leading the field with 56%. Ted Cruz was second with 20%, followed closely by John Kasich with 19%.
* Speaking of Trump, the Republican frontrunner picked up an endorsement yesterday from a union representing 16,500 Border Patrol agents.
* In Wisconsin, the new Marquette University Law School poll shows an increasingly competitive U.S. Senate race, with former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) leading incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R) by just five points, 47% to 42%.
* John Kasich said this week that it was "stupid" for Republicans to promise voters in 2014 that they'd repeal the Affordable Care Act once the GOP took over Congress, with President Obama still in the White House.
It's called "Rule 40." Four years ago, Mitt Romney's allies at the Republican National Committee added what seemed like a minor tweak to the party's presidential nominating rules: in order to be eligible for the nomination, a candidate has to win a majority of the delegates from at least eight states.
At this point in the 2016 process, that means Donald Trump would be eligible to win the Republican nomination ... and no one else.
But the funny thing about the RNC's rules is how easy they are to change based on circumstances. Politicoreported yesterday on the precarious future facing this obscure party rule.
All four early appointees to the rules committee for this year's Republican National Convention told POLITICO they're prepared to weaken or scrap a rule that could limit the convention's alternatives to Donald Trump. [...]
"I'm not a big fan of the eight-state threshold. I think that's an artificial number," said David Wheeler, a rules committee member from South Dakota. "It was designed to prevent Ron Paul delegates -- their votes from being counted. I don't think it's necessary to do that this year."
This is one of those arguments that partisan activists are supposed to think, but not say out loud. It's certainly true that Rule 40 was created to undermine Ron Paul, but when Republican officials publicly acknowledge this, it raises questions about the integrity of the entire process.
In effect, the argument is, "We manipulated the rules last time to undermine a candidate the party didn't like, and now that circumstances have changed, it's time to manipulate them again to undermine a different candidate the party doesn't like."
Interestingly enough, one might expect Ted Cruz to oppose Rule 40, but as of yesterday, the Texas senator was actually making the opposite case. Consider what Cruz told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt yesterday:
When it comes to abortion rights, Donald Trump's controversial comments to MSNBC's Chris Matthews generated all kinds of attention, and for good reason. The Republican presidential frontrunner called for banning abortions and punishing women who seek them, before walking back most of what he'd said.
But as that news was unfolding, there was an unrelated announcement related to abortion rights that was, as a substantive matter, arguably more important, though it caused less of a stir. Irin Carmon reported:
The federal Food and Drug Administration has made a major change in how it labels medication that induces abortion, robbing anti-abortion lawmakers of a key tool they have had to limit access. [...]
According to the manufacturer, since its approval, more than 2.75 million women in the United States have taken mifepristone to end a pregnancy early in its gestation, choosing it over "surgical" abortion that involves dilation and curettage. The FDA's new labeling for mifepristone approves using it for 21 more days into pregnancy -- from 49 days gestation to 70 -- and lowers the overall dosage, making it less expensive and reducing side effects.
The shift may seem like a minor tweak, but yesterday's announcement is likely to make a big difference.
Running for president is incredibly difficult, but like most tasks, it's one of those things that people get better at over time. It's a cliche, but practice makes perfect -- the more a candidate spends time on the trail, fielding questions, talking about their priorities, learning details about a broad range of issues, etc., the more they learn how to be good at the task at hand.
At least, that's usually how it works.
Mother Jones' Kevin Drum posed a question yesterday that's quite relevant: "I know that mocking Trump for his policy ignorance is sort of boring. I mean, what else is new? But is it possible that he's actually getting dumber over time?"
Kevin was making a point about something Trump said on Tuesday, but the Republican's comments yesterday about the Supreme Court also bolster the thesis. Politiconoted, for example, Trump's plan for the next high-court justice.
"Well, I'd probably appoint people that would look very seriously at her email disaster because it's a criminal activity, and I would appoint people that would look very seriously at that to start off with," Trump said in a phone interview with ABC's "Good Morning America."
Regardless of whether or not you consider Clinton's email server management important, Trump's rhetoric was nonsense. Supreme Court justices are not responsible for evaluating controversies surrounding politicians. It's just not in their job description -- it's not how the court works. Trump seems to believe jurists on the nation's highest court play some kind of prosecutorial role, which is a failure of Civics 101.
But to the broader point, it's important to realize that Trump's rhetoric about the Supreme Court used to be smarter.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) held an event yesterday unveiling the site of a future interstate, and the governor noted that more reporters were on hand than he'd ordinarily expect. "I'm just amazed how many of y'all are interested in roads," the governor said. "This is fantastic."
The praise, of course, was insincere. McCrory realized that the media's interest is in H.B. 2, a controversial new anti-LGBT measure the governor signed into law late las week, and as the Kinston Free Pressreported, he's eager for the questions to just go away.
[A]fter three questions, he was ready to leave.
"I know the media loves these created controversies, but the people of North Carolina want to talk about roads and jobs and education, and that's what I'm going to focus ...," McCrory said.
Moments later, the report added, the governor "swiftly turned," walking away from reporters with questions.
McCrory's rhetoric would be more persuasive if it were consistent with reality. If the people of North Carolina are focused on roads and jobs and education, why is North Carolina's Republican-led state government -- led by Pat McCrory -- focused on bathrooms and blocking communities from protecting civil rights?
As for the controversy itself, the governor may be disappointed if he's waiting for the story to fade away. The New York Timesreported yesterday:
Given the seriousness of the scandal surrounding Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R), many observers have been watching other state Republicans closely, looking for cues about the state of the governor's support from his ostensible allies. If Bentley is going to somehow survive the controversy, he'll need Alabama Republicans to rally to his defense.
That's clearly not happening. Not only is Bentley facing resignation calls from many Republican officials, but the Alabama Media Group reports that one state GOP lawmaker is moving forward with impeachment plans.
State Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, is moving to start impeachment against embattled Gov. Robert Bentley amid the scandal engulfing the governor's office surrounding his former senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. If the House impeaches Bentley, it would bring the governor one step closer to being removed from office by the legislature.
House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, confirmed to AL.com that Henry was planning on bringing the articles of impeachment against the governor as early as next week.
The same report noted that by Ford's assessment, more than half of the state House's members are in favor of impeachment, though this will be clearer next week when the chamber returns from its spring break.
Also yesterday, Bentley's top political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, announced her resignation. Mason is the woman with whom the governor admitting having inappropriate communications, though he claims not to have had a "physical relationship" with her.
"I have resigned as Senior Political Advisor to Governor Bentley and will no longer be paid from his campaign fund," Mason's statement read. "I have also ended my work with the Alabama Council For Excellent Government. My only plans are to focus my full attention on my precious children and my husband who I love dearly. They are the most important people in my life. Thank you for your prayers for our family."
Given that there's no evidence of official misconduct from Mason, it's not altogether clear why she has to go while the governor doesn't.
As the race for the Democratic nomination has progressed, there's been a fair amount of commentary about the similarities between Hillary Clinton's and Bernie Sanders' platforms. They bring very different backgrounds to the table, but when it comes to many of their top policy priorities, the presidential contenders tend to have similar goals, even if they disagree on precisely how to reach those goals.
But Clinton and Sanders sat down with Rachel yesterday -- I sure hope you saw last night's interviews -- and a surprising number of contrasts emerged between the two.
For example, Clinton, who has helped Democratic campaign committees and state parties raise money for the 2016 elections, twice emphasized how important she believes it is to help congressional Democrats. Sanders, an independent, is taking a wait-and-see approach.
MADDOW: I have to ask, though, if you have thought about whether or not you will, at some point, turn your fundraising ability toward helping the Democratic Party more broadly, to helping their campaign committees for the House and the Senate and for other -- for other elections?
SANDERS: Well, right now, Rachel, as you are more than aware, our job is to -- what I'm trying to do is to win the Democratic nomination. [...]
MADDOW: Well, obviously your priority is the nomination, but I mean you raised Secretary Clinton there. She has been fundraising both for the nomination and for the Democratic Party. At some point, do you think -- do you foresee a time during this campaign when you'll start doing that?
SANDERS: Well, we'll see. And, I mean right now, again, our focus is on winning the nomination.
This is a pretty important difference, which I suspect some party officials -- i.e., superdelegates -- noticed.
Senator Bernie Sanders, Democratic candidate for president, talks with Rachel Maddow about whether he will help raise money for the Democratic House and Senate campaign committees and other party candidates. watch
Bernie Sanders, Democratic candidate for president, talks with Rachel Maddow about he objection to the conservative push to privatize the VA, and where he'd like to see more activism on behalf of veterans to help support their political interests. watch
Bernie Sanders, Democratic candidate for president, explains to Rachel Maddow the difference he sees between corporate political activism and influence, and billionaires rigging the political system in their own favor. watch
Bernie Sanders, Democratic candidate for president, criticizes Donald Trump's remarks on punishment for abortion, and criticizes the media for fixating too much on Trump's distractions and not focusing enough on issues of substance. watch
Senator Bernie Sanders, Democratic candidate for president, talks with Rachel Maddow about his campaign's intention to convince Democratic super delegates to switch their support from Hillary Clinton, and the importance for Democrats to campaign with a 50-state strategy. watch
Rachel Maddow asks Hillary Clinton about whether her involvement in the Clinton Foundation presents the potential for ethical conflict despite the good works it does, because of potential overlap between campaign donors and foundation donors. watch
Hillary Clinton, Democratic candidate for president, talks with Rachel Maddow about President Obama's nomination for the vacancy on the Supreme Court and the importance of putting more Democrats in the Senate. 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.