Looking at the 2016 Senate elections, Democrats have an obvious goal: a net gain of five seats would give the party its majority back. And as things stand, Dems feel they have a credible shot.
It's probably best to think about the landscape in tiers. There are several states in which Dems are optimistic about flipping red seats to blue seats: Illinois, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania. The second tier features seats currently held by Republicans that could be quite competitive if the prevailing political winds shift in Democrats' favor: North Carolina, Iowa, and Missouri.
And then there's John McCain, whose lock on his Arizona seat has been a foregone conclusion for decades, but who's feeling quite a bit of anxiety right now about his 2016 odds. Politicoreported overnight:
Publicly, John McCain insists Donald Trump will have a negligible effect on his campaign for reelection. But behind closed doors at a fundraiser in Arizona last month, the Republican senator and two-time presidential hopeful offered a far more dire assessment to his supporters.
"If Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket, here in Arizona, with over 30 percent of the vote being the Hispanic vote, no doubt that this may be the race of my life," McCain said, according to a recording of the event obtained by POLITICO. "If you listen or watch Hispanic media in the state and in the country, you will see that it is all anti-Trump. The Hispanic community is roused and angry in a way that I've never seen in 30 years."
According to the Politico report, McCain made the comments at an April 8 event. Despite his public confidence, he conceded when talking to supporters behind closed doors, "[T]his is going to be a tough campaign for me" -- largely because of his party's presidential nominee.
Two weeks after the event, McCain announced he will skip this year's Republican National Convention, insisting he's "always done that when I'm up." (Unfortunately for the senator, that claim is plainly untrue.)
All of which leads to a dynamic in which it's hard to know just what to make of McCain's chances, and what "tier" he belongs in.
One of the right's strangest lines of attack against President Obama has always been the "vetting" charge. For many conservatives, even now, the president's background and career was never fully scrutinized before Obama's 2008 election, which according to the right, led Americans to vote for him without actually knowing who he is.
In January, for example, Chris Christie went so far as to say, "We have a guy in the Oval Office who we don't know. He's been serving us for seven years and we don't know him." None of this has ever made any sense, but it's nevertheless a staple of anti-Obama rhetoric on the right.
As the president's second term wraps up, questions about his 2008 vetting have obviously lost their salience, but for some conservatives, the talking point is so compelling, they're ready to recycle it. Donald Trump's national spokeswoman argued on MSNBC yesterday, for example, that Hillary Clinton, despite nearly four decades in the public eye, has "never been truly vetted." TPM reported:
Asked by MSNBC's Tamron Hall if Trump was looking forward to a head-to-head matchup against Clinton in the fall, Katrina Pierson replied, "Oh, absolutely. Mainly because Hillary Clinton has never been truly vetted before. Particularly by the media."
After Hall expressed skepticism, Pierson repeated, "Never been truly vetted before."
The MSNBC host, understandably incredulous, pressed on. "I just want to make sure that we're clear on this," Hall said. "The former secretary of state, you talk about the money spent against Donald Trump to perhaps demonize him. The millions of dollars that have been spent against the Clintons, both as a first lady and the secretary of state and a senator for the state of New York, which she has received contributions from your candidate, that this -- that Hillary Clinton has not been properly vetted?"
Pierson responded, "No."
As the video shows, Trump's spokesperson did not appear to be kidding.
FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver noted yesterday that there was a "big spike in Google searches" for Gary Johnson since Donald Trump locked up the Republican nomination. That's exactly what Johnson was hoping for. The conservative Washington Timesreported this week:
With Sen. Ted Cruz's departure Tuesday from the GOP presidential race, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is intensifying his push for the #NeverTrump crowd.
Mr. Johnson, a one-time Republican who's running for the Libertarian Party nomination, urged disaffected Republicans and conservatives to support his presidential bid after real-estate mogul Donald Trump's big win Tuesday in the Indiana primary.
At this point, some readers may be saying to themselves, "That's great, but who's Gary Johnson?"
Johnson was a two-term governor of New Mexico, first elected in 1994, and he served as a Republican. In 2012, he briefly sought the GOP presidential nomination, though after struggling to gain traction, Johnson switched parties -- and became a Libertarian.
As the Libertarian Party's nominee four years ago, Johnson didn't seriously compete in any state, but he did manage to earn about 1% of the national popular vote.
But as the former governor sees it, things are different now. Republicans were generally united around Mitt Romney in 2012, but Trump's rise creates a very different kind of opportunity.
For quite a while, Donald Trump has led the race of the Republicans' presidential nomination, earning him the "frontrunner" label. But that, of course, applied to a lengthy period in which he had several opponents. Now, Trump is the last man standing in the GOP field, which has led to a new label: "presumptive nominee."
And while use of the phrase and its precise meaning can vary, "presumptive nominee" tends to be a term of art that refers to something specific in advance of a national nominating convention: the person who will be a major-party presidential nominee in the general election.
And more important than the title are the benefits presumptive nominees receive. As Rachel noted on the show last night, one benefit in particular stands out:
"Now, today, as the presumptive nominee, [Trump] does start to get treated differently. Now starts a process that will see him ultimately get RNC staff and RNC money. He will start to get control of the Republican Party's bureaucratic apparatus to use for his own purposes.
"Yesterday he was accusing Ted Cruz's dad on being in on the JFK assassination. Now, he's about to start getting classified CIA briefings as the Republican Party's nominee for president."
That last one is easy to overlook, but it's quite important. Federal officials -- non-partisan, career personnel -- begin a process every four years of preparing would-be presidents for their prospective responsibilities.
And that means, among other things, classified intelligence briefings, which Trump is eager to receive. By some accounts, Obama administration officials have already begun preparations to provide regular updates to both parties' presidential nominees, including Trump, with sensitive national security information.
And this opens the door to some interesting possibilities.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R), still struggling with the backlash to his new anti-LGBT law, popularly known as HB2, appeared on a Charlotte radio station this week, where he seemed to acknowledge some societal headwinds.
"Society is changing quickly and anybody who gets in the way is in trouble," the Republican governor said. "And I might be in trouble."
That seems like a fair assessment. The editorial board of the News & Observer in Raleigh heard the full interview and wasn't impressed with the governor's thoughts on how best to get out of trouble.
Between laughs, McCrory continued to misrepresent the bill as simple protection of privacy rather than what it is: a green light to discriminate against gay and transgender people.
After weeks of damaging national publicity and setbacks for the state's economy, most governors would be hard at work figuring out a way to fix the HB2 mess.
At least for now, that doesn't appear to be happening. Instead, the governor who "might be in trouble" continues to find himself in the middle of a national controversy for which he was unprepared; his discriminatory law continues to undermine North Carolina's economy; and as of yesterday, McCrory's office received some unwelcome news from the Justice Department.
MSNBC's Emma Margolin reported that federal officials notified the governor that HB2 may violate civil-rights laws.
Rachel Maddow reports on President Obama's visit to Flint, Michigan to talk with people there about the government-created toxic water crisis they've been dealing with. Obama was preceded by Governor Rick Snyder, making his first public address to the people of Flint, and received with jeers and boos. watch
Katie Packer, found of the anti-Trump "Our Principles" PAC, talks with Rachel Maddow about Donald Trump's primary success and the new mission to protect down-ballot Republican candidates from the anticipated anti-Trump backlash. watch
Rachel Maddow looks at some past presidential candidacies by party outsiders that were not able to break through party establishment firewalls to win the nomination - until the Republican Party last night was too weak to fend off the candidacy of Donald Trump. watch
* A horrific scene: "A catastrophic wildfire continued to devour neighborhoods in the Canadian oil-sands city of Fort McMurray on Wednesday, after 88,000 residents were safely evacuated, officials said."
* Michigan: "Gov. Rick Snyder was loudly booed and heckled when he spoke to about 1,000 students, teachers and Flint residents at Northwestern High School Wednesday. 'I understand why you're frustrated and angry,' Snyder said as he fought to be heard over the catcalls, speaking in advance of an address by President Barack Obama."
* Related news: "President Obama drank from a glass of what he said was filtered Flint water at a Flint food bank Wednesday as he vouched for the safety of certified filters and encouraged most city residents to start drinking filtered water instead of bottled water."
* Syria: "A new partial truce in Syria has been extended to the divided city of Aleppo, United States officials and Syrian state television declared on Wednesday, after days of diplomacy by American and Russian envoys to halt catastrophic fighting there. But the details of the partial truce -- and whether it imposed new conditions on the Syrian government, insurgents or their international backers -- remained murky, with no immediate confirmation of the deal from Russia."
* The officer supports the mission, but believes Congress has a responsibility to authorize it: "A 28-year-old Army officer on Wednesday sued President Obama over the legality of the war against the Islamic State, setting up a test of Mr. Obama's disputed claim that he needs no new legal authority from Congress to order the military to wage that deepening mission."
* Stonewall's legacy: "President Obama is poised to declare the first-ever national monument recognizing the struggle for gay rights, singling out a sliver of green space and part of the surrounding Greenwich Village neighborhood as the birthplace of America's modern gay liberation movement."
* The Justice Department "has dropped its case against an Oakland medical marijuana collective, ending a four-year battle over what is considered the largest medical pot dispensary in the nation."
It seems almost comical in hindsight. Last summer, Republicans were so excited about the possibility of winning back the White House -- a scenario many in the party saw as a near certainty -- that 17 candidates threw their hat in the ring. The dominant phrase in political media at the time was "deep bench."
And under the circumstances, it seemed like a fair assessment. The massive GOP field, larger than anything in modern American history, featured enough current and former governors to field a baseball team. Add to the mix several high-profile senators and a picture soon emerged of a political party stacked with talented candidates, one of whom stood a good chance of becoming the Leader of the Free World in January 2017.
In time, the 17-member field steadily shrunk, and for the last couple of months, Republican voters had three finalists to choose from. Last night, Ted Cruz bowed out, and this afternoon, John Kasich will reportedly do the same.
After over a year of campaigning, 16 of the 17 Republican presidential hopefuls exited the stage. The last man standing is the candidate who's led in nearly every national GOP poll since the 4th of July. His name is Donald Trump.
Yes, this is really happening. You're not stuck in a weird dream. Everyone who assumed that something would eventually derail Trump, and there was simply no way a major American party would nominate a nativist, demagogic reality-show host as their presidential candidate, was wrong. It feels weird and oddly disconcerting to type the words "Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump," but the party's voters have spoken.
This may be a collectively scary moment for the nation, but it's nevertheless real.
In the coming months, Trump's presidential candidacy will be examined from every possible angle, starting with whether or not he's actually likely to be elected. By any fair measure, the Republican nominee starts as an underdog: Trump is one of the least popular figures in American public life, and there's no precedent for a major party nominating someone so widely disliked by voters.
There's also the inconvenient matter of Trump’s lack of relevant skills, experience, scruples, knowledge, and appropriate temperament. Never before has a major American political party nominated someone so manifestly unprepared for the nation's most powerful office.
But as the dust settles on the GOP's nominating process, it's worth pausing to think about the state of the Republican Party itself.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* To the delight of the Republican establishment, Indiana Republicans backed Rep. Todd Young in last night's GOP Senate primary. He defeated Rep. Marlin Stutzman and will now face former Rep. Baron Hill (D) in November.
* In a Monmouth poll that will be released any second now, Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders in New Jersey, 60% to 32%. Given that Sanders would need to win the state's primary by more than 30 points if he still hopes to catch the Democratic frontrunner, the poll isn't good news for the senator.
* Before anyone suggests Donald Trump could put New York in play this year, consider this new Siena poll, which shows Hillary Clinton leading Trump in a general election match-up, 56% to 30%.
* Last fall, former Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) described Trump as "an unserious, unstable, narcissistic egomaniac." Yesterday, however, the Louisianan said he's now prepared to vote for Trump.
* Add Sen. Roy Blunt (R) of Missouri to the list of nervous Republicans who'll skip this year's Republican National Convention.
* In an editorial in Bernie Sanders' home town, the editorial board of the Burlington Free Press urged the senator to wrap up his presidential campaign in light of his seemingly insurmountable odds. Sanders' campaign, the newspaper added, "is becoming more like a cult of personality."
* It's still fairly early in the cycle, but the new television ad from Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), a Senate hopeful in New Hampshire, is one of the season's more emotionally powerful spots.
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.