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.
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.
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."
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"?
The White House continues to raise the volume on its alarm regarding the Zika virus. Administration officials urged Congress more than two months ago to approve a $1.9 billion emergency response package, and so far, the Republican-led House and Senate haven't agreed to spend a dime.
Indeed, as we discussed two weeks ago, Republican lawmakers have instead urged the administration to use $600 million that had been allocated to combat Ebola. The trouble, of course, is that this money (a) is far short of the $1.9 billion needed, and (b) is still being used to address Ebola in West Africa.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations health subcommittee, told NBC News yesterday he's working on a deal with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and some of those involved are optimistic a bill will come together before the week ends.
But even if that comes to fruition, there's still the far-right House majority to deal with. The New York Timesreported yesterday that the stakeholders face "a challenge in figuring out how to package the deal so that it can win passage in the House, where hard-line conservatives have repeatedly balked at new government spending."
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, a Republican and the majority leader, maintained on Tuesday that the best way to address the Zika virus was through the regular appropriations process. But he said Republicans needed to know more about the Obama administration's plans before they could move.
"We have a number of questions that the appropriators have asked for, like what would the money be spent on this year, what is the money you need for next year, where are we on the vaccine?" he told reporters on Tuesday. "None of these have been answered."
In response, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, said, "There's no excuse for them having those unanswered questions when you consider that we've already put forward a detailed legislative proposal more than two months ago now. We've already participated in 48 hearings in which questions about Zika have been raised. There have been briefings that have been convened by senior administration officials for both the House and the Senate to discuss this issue.
"So, I guess what I would say to members of Congress who say that they have questions about the administration's Zika strategy: That ignorance is not an excuse."
In case anyone's wondering if Earnest is correct, the full, 25-page spending request is available online -- where it's been for months while Congress has largely ignored the issue -- and it's a pretty detailed document.
Usually, Republican governors are content to oppose minimum-wage increases in their own state, but this week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) talked up his opposition to a wage hike in a state he has nothing to do with. The NBC affiliate in Miami reported:
Scott on Wednesday announced he's going on a trade mission to California to try to woo businesses away from the Golden State. The Republican governor visited several states last year run by Democrats where he denounced their taxes and business climate.
In his release, Scott contended companies would want to leave California because of a "crippling'' increase in the minimum wage. Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month signed into law a measure that will lift the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022.
As it turns out, Scott is doing more than just criticizing. The Huffington Postreported that the Florida governor's economic development organization has "launched a new radio ad on the other side of the country."
"Ready to leave California?" the ad's narrator asks. "Go to Florida instead -- no state income tax, and Gov. Scott has cut regulations. Now Florida is adding one million jobs, not losing them." The spot goes on to say California's minimum wage increase "hurts the same people it was supposed to help."
For months, the political world has been abuzz with talk of the "angry" electorate. Voters are fed up and eager to give the political establishment and its ineffectual insiders the one-finger salute. It's this exasperation, the argument goes, that's helped fuel Donald Trump's rise in Republican politics and the progressive enthusiasm surrounding Bernie Sanders.
But the thesis has a noticeable flaw: furious voters, desperate for radical and revolutionary changes, would probably start kicking out congressional incumbents in primaries, too. After all, if the electorate believes a rotten establishment needs to be overturned, it stands to reason sitting members of Congress would be among the first to go.
Except the opposite has happened. Plenty of congressional incumbents have faced primary challengers in states across the country, but going into last night, these lawmakers' success rate was literally 100%. Every single challenger in 2016 has lost in every single congressional primary.
As the Philadelphia Inquirerreported, that changed yesterday in Pennsylvania, though this is a classic case of the exception proving the rule.
Chaka Fattah, a fixture in Philadelphia politics for three decades, was ousted from the Second Congressional District seat by State Rep. Dwight Evans in Tuesday's Democratic primary.
Fattah's fall came 20 days before the start of his federal criminal trial, an impending peril he tried to downplay as he campaigned for a 12th term.
So, with one congressional incumbent going down in a primary, do we need to re-evaluate the thesis about furious voters rebelling against the political establishment? In this case, not even a little -- Fattah's loss actually helps prove the opposite.
North Carolina's new anti-LGBT law, HB2, isn't working out nearly as well as its Republican proponents had hoped. The economic impact has already taken a toll; local voters aren't impressed; and the state has suddenly found itself in the middle of national culture-war backlash it never saw coming.
Making matters slightly worse, the fight isn't exactly bringing out the best in some of the law's proponents. The Huffington Post's Amanda Terkel reported on a rally in support of HB2 held on Monday:
If state Sen. Buck Newton (R) has his way, North Carolina will be known as the "straight" state.
"Go home, tell your friends and family who had to work today what this is all about and how hard we must fight to keep our state straight," Newton said at a rally Monday, according to video posted by Progress North Carolina Action.
And before you dismiss this as ugly rhetoric from some random state legislator, consider the 2016 context: state Sen. Buck Newton is the Republican Party's nominee for state Attorney General this year.
In other words, if the GOP has its way, North Carolina will go from a state AG who's fighting against the discrimination law to a state AG who intends to "fight to keep our state straight."
Bernie Sanders and his campaign team recognized the fact that their window of opportunity was closing quickly. To close the pledged-delegate gap against Hillary Clinton, the Vermont senator would effectively have to win each of the remaining contests by large margins, which seemed improbable.
Last night, that window effectively closed. Sanders pulled out a win in Rhode Island, but he otherwise had a very rough night, losing each of the other four primaries, including double-digit defeats in the day's two biggest contests: Maryland and Pennsylvania.
It's not that Sanders wasn't trying in these states. The senator put his enormous financial resources to use and outspent Clinton in these states by a nearly two-to-one margin, but it wasn't enough to prevent the Democratic frontrunner from expanding her overall lead.
Recognizing the writing on the wall, Sanders' aides conceded yesterday that the campaign will "reassess" its strategy going forward. While that's often a euphemism for "quit," that's not the case here: Sanders isn't prepared to walk away, but he is prepared to shift his focus in light of the recent results. Consider the statement his campaign issued last night:
"I congratulate Secretary Clinton on her victories tonight, and I look forward to issue-oriented campaigns in the 14 contests to come. [...]
"The people in every state in this country should have the right to determine who they want as president and what the agenda of the Democratic Party should be. That's why we are in this race until the last vote is cast. That is why this campaign is going to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia with as many delegates as possible to fight for a progressive party platform that calls for a $15 an hour minimum wage, an end to our disastrous trade policies, a Medicare-for-all health care system, breaking up Wall Street financial institutions, ending fracking in our country, making public colleges and universities tuition free and passing a carbon tax so we can effectively address the planetary crisis of climate change."
Over the last couple of months, each of the Sanders campaign's election-night statements have included at least one reference to his "path to the nomination." This one did not. It wasn't an accidental omission.
Sanders started the race as an issue-oriented candidate who didn't expect to be the party's nominee, and the recent results have brought him full circle. He's not done fighting; he's just going to fight for something new: he can't catch Clinton through the ballot box, but he can "fight for a progressive party platform."
It seems like a distant memory, but it was just three weeks ago that Ted Cruz won an easy victory in the Wisconsin primary, which launched a round of chatter about "momentum" and the "turning point" in the race for the Republican nomination.
Soon after, the conventional wisdom said Trump's entire national operation had stalled at the worst possible time. Not only was Wisconsin a major setback, but his campaign manager briefly faced a criminal charge; his campaign team had run into behind-the-scenes turmoil; he struggled through some high-profile interviews; he feuded with his own party's national leaders; and he was badly out-hustled at state conventions where convention delegates are chosen. Trump's shooting star, many argued, was finally burning out.
Republican front-runner Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested that Hillary Clinton is a contender only because of her gender. Is this disenchanting women voters on the Republican side? MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and Brian Williams discuss this and more following five primaries in the Northeast. watch
Donald Trump came in first in all five races in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island in Tuesday's primaries. Nicole Wallace and Eugene Robinson join Rachel Maddow and Brian Williams to discuss. watch
* The wrong call in North Carolina: "A federal judge on Monday upheld sweeping Republican-backed changes to election rules, including a voter identification provision, that civil rights groups say unfairly targeted African-Americans and other minorities."
* Though the ruling will be appealed, it's causing widespread alarm: "Voting rights groups say Monday's ruling by a federal judge upholding North Carolina's sweeping and restrictive voting law could cause chaos this fall if left in place."
* Something to keep an eye on: "The White House was placed on lockdown Tuesday after a man jumped a fence at a building west of the grounds, officials said. The lockdown began at around 4 p.m. and was lifted by around 4:30 p.m. The Secret Service said the White House was placed under a state of lockdown called a 'condition yellow.'"
* A 6-2 ruling: "Public employees can sue, claiming their civil rights were violated, as long as their employers thought a constitutional right was in play, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. The decision was a victory for a New Jersey man, Jeffrey Heffernan, who was a police officer in Paterson, New Jersey, when the mayor was running for re-election."
* ISIS: "The flow of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria has dropped from roughly 2,000 a month down to 200 within the past year, according to the Pentagon, which says the waning numbers are further proof of the Islamic State's declining stature. The declining number of fighters is a direct result of strikes that have targeted the terror group's infrastructure, Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter E. Gersten, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State, said Tuesday."
* Europe: "Belgium famously sealed a dubious notoriety five years ago when it spent 589 days without an elected government. While Spain is not quite Belgium yet, it is getting there. Spain has started its fifth month without a government, but it is very likely to spend six months or more in political limbo, many analysts now predict, as the Spaniards give the Flemings and Walloons a run for their money in the political discord category."
Early on in last night's forum in Philadelphia, Rachel presented Hillary Clinton with the lay of the land in the Democratic presidential race, specifically as it relates to elusive party unity. Bernie Sanders, Rachel noted, "seems to be saying now that even if you beat him in the primary, it's not necessarily a given that he will implore all of his supporters to go out and work for you. He says that he thinks that they'll support you if basically you adopt some of his platform on the issues that are most important to him."
Asked if the senator's approach makes sense or if it's a bridge too far, Clinton noted her advantages -- more pledged delegates, more raw popular votes, etc. -- before pointing to what she sees as the ideal model.
"Let's look at what happened in 2008, because that's the closest example. Then-Senator Obama and I ran a really hard race. It was so much closer than the race right now between me and Senator Sanders. We had pretty much the same amount of popular votes. By some measures I had slightly more popular votes, he had slightly more pledged delegates.
"We got to the end in June and I did not put down conditions. I didn't say, 'You know what, if Senator Obama does x, y and z, maybe I'll support him.' I said, 'I am supporting Senator Obama, because no matter what our differences might be, they pale in comparison to the differences between us and the Republicans.' That's what I did.
"At that time 40 percent of my supporters said they would not support him. So from the time I withdrew, until the time I nominated him -- I nominated him at the [Democratic National Convention] in Denver -- I spent an enormous amount of time convincing my supporters to support him. And I'm happy to say the vast majority did. That is what I think one does. That is certainly what I did and I hope that we will see the same this year."
Clinton's version of events has the benefit of being true. By some measures, she fought longer than was absolutely necessary in 2008, and urged superdelegates to consider putting her over the top even after she came up short on pledged delegates, but after exhausting her alternatives, Clinton really did go all out for her Democratic rival.
For nearly a year, Donald Trump has been pitching a vague slogan: Make America Great Again. Even if we put aside the questions about how Trump intends to do that -- and how, exactly, the Republican candidate defines "great" -- it's a phrase that inevitably leads a question about when America was great, if it's not great now.
Margot Sanger-Katz explained in the New York Times today that Trump's followers don't necessarily agree on an answer, but they have a few ideas.
The slogan evokes a time when America was stronger and more prosperous. But Mr. Trump doesn't specify whether he's expressing nostalgia for the 1950s -- or 10 years ago. That vagueness is reflected by his voters, according to the results of a new survey, conducted online by the digital media and polling company Morning Consult.
When asked to select America's greatest year, Trump supporters offered a wide range of answers, with no distinct pattern. The most popular choice was the year 2000. But 1955, 1960, 1970 and 1985 were also popular. More than 2 percent of Trump's supporters picked 2015, when Mr. Trump's campaign began.
The same Times article flagged a Pew Research Center report from last month in which 75% of Trump supporters said life was better 50 years ago. Most Republicans also endorsed the idea, but it was Trump backers who were the most enthusiastic about it.
I don't imagine many will find this surprising, but it's nevertheless a notable validation of a broader thesis. Much of Trump's core base includes older, white men, who've seen generational changes with which they're generally uncomfortable. Over the last half-century, the United States has grown more diverse; women have made great strides towards overdue equality; and the current role of African Americans and LGBT Americans in society would have been difficult for much of the public to imagine 50 years ago.
It's hardly shocking that Trump, pushing a nativist nationalism, has supporters who'd prefer to roll back the clock.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* According to the Weekly Standard, a prominent conservative magazine, Ted Cruz's campaign is vetting Carly Fiorina as a potential running mate.
* To narrow the delegate gap, Bernie Sanders will have to win each of the remaining primaries and caucuses by double digits, including today's five contests. That's not impossible, but the odds are against it.
* Donald Trump's campaign operation continues to add new and experienced personnel, as evidenced yesterday by Trump hiring Ken McKay to help with his delegate-wrangling operation. McKay was Chris Christie's campaign manager.
* In a bit of a surprise, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R) announced yesterday he won't take on Sen. Jerry Moran (R) in a Kansas primary this year.
* Arizona is generally considered a "red" state in presidential politics, but the latest Rocky Mountain poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Trump in a hypothetical match-up, 42% to 35%.
* Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer announced yesterday that he's launching "a $25 million campaign to drive the youth vote in November's presidential and congressional elections." The initiative will be organized through his existing organization, NextGen Climate.
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.