Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: February 22, 2016
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. It`s weird to go to New York and go to fake New York in Las Vegas.
CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: Very weird.
MADDOW: It`s like, yes. It`s very weird. It`s very real at the same time.
HAYES: Welcome. Yes.
MADDOW: Thank you very much, my friend.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour in Nevada where heads have started finally roll in vast Republican race for president.
Today in Durango Hills, which is a western suburb of Las Vegas, just about 15 miles from where I sit, hundreds of people, something like 700, 800 people were gathered at a YMCA for a midday campaign rally for Ted Cruz.
Now, we`re getting down to the wire in Nevada. The caucuses are tomorrow. So, these are the last things the candidates are going to do. These are the last day events. This stuff on the eve of the caucuses, this is really important in terms of trying to win Nevada. This is closing argument time for all the various campaigns who can get their candidate here in person and on the ground.
So, this Ted Cruz event today was supposed to start at noon local time. There was supposed to be a candidate press conference ahead of time. But even with the incredibly tight schedules that the campaigns and candidates have to run when they`re getting into the wire like this, the Cruz campaign had to blow up its schedule today and keep all those people waiting. All the people are waiting. All the reporters are waiting for the schedule press conference.
But everything got pushed. Everything got left waiting, because the candidate and a bunch of his top staffers were holed up together in the parking lot of the YMCA dealing with a crisis or causing a crisis, depending on how you look at it.
That was going on at the YMCA 15 miles away. Meanwhile, three time zones away in New York City, a control room in Midtown Manhattan was dialed in for Ted Cruz`s national campaign spokesman. Rick Tyler is the spokesman.
He`s a very genial guy. He obviously works for a very pugnacious candidate. Mr. Tyler himself is friendly and polite. He`s a nice guy. He`s the only person from the Ted Cruz who would give us the time of day when we were reporting on Mr. Cruz. He wouldn`t always give us a comment, but he was always nice about it.
So, while this YMCA parking lot huddle was under way in Las Vegas, national campaign spokesman Rick Tyler was dialed in to do a live interview with Kate Snow on MSNBC this afternoon. Now, as we`re getting right down to the time when that interview was due to start, just minutes before the interview was due to go live, Rick Tyler, the national spokesman for the Ted Cruz campaign, Rick Tyler got up and walked out.
No explanation. No notice, just left. Gone. Poof, as it were.
It turns out the reason he had to get up and walk away with no explanation and no warning is because the Ted Cruz campaign had just fired him while he was waiting to do that live interview.
And you don`t have to feel too bad for nice old Rick Tyler. I`m sure he will land on his feet. A little perspective for a guy with a job like his, you might remember him from back in 2012, Newt Gingrich in 2012 had a billionaire you might recall, a billionaire who was keeping Mr. Gingrich in the presidential race long after his natural political shelf life had expired, Sheldon Adelson was spending millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars to keep Newt Gingrich in the presidential election. Well, the super PAC through which Sheldon Adelson was spending all those millions on Newt Gingrich, that was run by Rick Tyler back in 2012.
So, he`s a nice guy. Don`t worry too much about him. He has a lot of very rich friends. He`s got rich friends in both high and low places. He`s well-respected and land on his feet.
But him getting axed today, the top spokesman for one of the top presidential campaigns on the Republican side, getting unceremoniously fired today with no notice, that tells you very little about Rick Tyler. What it tells you is what time it is in the Republican race.
This is the time in the Republican race when things are starting to go pear-shaped for a lot of campaigns. This is the time when some losing candidates will start to quit the race. This is the time when some losing candidates who still have money will not necessarily quit the race but start to fire their staff.
You know, firing your staff has a lot of different explications. I mean, you can fire your staff because you want to blame for something. You can fire your staff because you want to look like you`re changing direction in your campaign. You can fire your staff because you want to look thrifty and impress your donors. You can fire your staff just for show to make yourself look tough.
But this is the part of the race where people start to get fired, where people start to get fired, specifically by candidates who are losing. And at this point in the Republican race, everybody who is running for president who is a Republican not named Donald Trump is losing.
So, overall, it`s not that surprising that the losing campaigns that still survive are starting to crack up a little bit. What is strange today about Ted Cruz firing his national campaign spokesman is that nobody really expected that this was the way the Ted Cruz campaign would start to crack. That`s because of the very specific character of the Ted Cruz campaign.
The Ted Cruz campaign, more than any other campaign this year, has been comfortable being basically ruthless. Devil may care.
We saw it most starkly in Iowa. Night of the Iowa caucus, the Ted Cruz campaign tried to win the Iowa caucuses by tricking Ben Carson supporters into believing that Ben Carson had quit the race. At first, we knew about it, it was a couple of tweets that surfaced from a Ted Cruz endorser in Iowa. Then, there were some anecdotal reports that Ted Cruz surrogates were actively spreading this rumor at caucus sites.
There did surface a Ted Cruz logo e-mail that maybe look sort of official. But the Ted Cruz kept playing it down, playing it down, saying it was just the media blowing things out of proportion, besides it was the media`s fault, besides, is anybody going to be held accountable for what really amounts to just whispers and rumors.
Then, though, it emerged that the Ted Cruz campaign, in an organizational top down way, they had operationalized this dirty trick. I mean, they were doing phone banking on it.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TED CRUZ CAMPAIGN VOICEMAIL: From Ted Cruz campaign calling to get to a precinct captain, and it has been announced that Ben Carson is taking a leave of absence from the campaign trail. So, it is very important that you tell any Ben Carson voters that they for tonight, that they not waste a vote on Ben Carson and vote for Ted Cruz. All right? Thank you. Bye.
Hello, this Cruz campaign with breaking news, Dr. Ben Carson will be planning to suspend his campaign following tonight`s caucuses. Please inform any Carson caucus goers of this news and urge them to caucus for Ted instead. Thank you. Good night.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was the Ted Cruz campaign in Iowa the night of the Iowa caucuses where they won the Iowa caucus. But we now know that part of the way they tried to win was by tricking Ben Carson supporters into thinking their candidate had quit, so they could either stay home or those Ben Carson supporters if they did still want to come out, they could flip to Ted Cruz instead.
That was just brutal. They tried to down play it. They tried to say it was like, oh, no -- it was a big time top-down campaign-style dirty trick.
On Friday, before the South Carolina primary, South Carolina Senator Lindsey graham was campaigning with Jeb Bush. He was asked his opinion of Ben Carson. Lindsey Graham responded by saying that Ben Carson is, quote, "the world`s nicest man and if Ted Cruz made Ben Carson mad, you ought to think long and hard about Ted Cruz."
So, that`s the reputation Ted Cruz earned himself with that dirty trick he played on Ben Carson in Iowa, and then he kept running the same way as he did in Iowa once he moved onto South Carolina. And very few things had fingerprints on them leading directly back to the Ted Cruz campaign, but they at least pointed back in his direction.
For example, there was the Trey Gowdy dirty trick which the Ted Cruz campaign insists they had absolutely nothing to do with. Congressman Trey Gowdy endorsed Marco Rubio in South Carolina, but before the primary, a fake Facebook page surfaced which purported to show Trey Gowdy having a crisis of conscience and switching his endorsement from Marco Rubio to Ted Cruz. That was fake but that`s South Carolina.
There was also this gem put together by the Ted Cruz campaign ahead of the South Carolina primary. It purports to show the real Marco Rubio. It`s fake Marco Rubio photo shopped making it look like he was grinning like a goon and shaking hands with President Obama when he was not.
Then right after South Carolina, there was this video. It was not created by the Ted Cruz campaign. It was created and up loaded by the student newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania. The tape shows Marco Rubio having a chance encounter with some Ted Cruz folks, including Ted Cruz dad at a hotel lobby.
Student paper subtitled the video to indicate that when Marco Rubio saw this young man from the Cruz campaign reading a bible, he pointed at the bible and said there are not many answers in it.
Now, that subtitling is not only weird. It was apparently wrong. Senator Rubio said basically the opposite. Apparently what he said is he complimented the young man on the fact he was reading the bible and told him that all the answers are there -- meaning all the answers are in the bible or in the gospels.
But this weird, almost nonsensical, unprompted, purported diss of the bible, it did start to circulate on the interweb machine last night, and one of the people who tweeted a link to that suspect video was the Ted Cruz national spokesman, Rick Tyler.
Once it became clear that the subtitling on the video was wrong, that the whole implication of the video was misstated, Cruz campaign spokesman Rick Tyler deleted this tweet. He apologized for tweeted it in a written statement on Facebook. He then went on the FOX News Channel in person to apologize for it again.
But then, something cracked. By this afternoon, everybody had to wait a little while longer at the YMCA while Ted Cruz made a big show out of firing Rick Tyler.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yesterday, a staffer from our campaign sent out a tweet that tweeted a news story that purported to indicate Marco saying something negative about the bible. The news story was false. The staffer deleted tweet, apologized and pulled it down. Although I spent this morning investigating what happened, and this morning, I asked for Rick Tyler`s resignation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Presidential candidate Ted Cruz firing his national campaign spokesman today.
And it may substantively, just a little strange. Like when you understand the trajectory of the campaign, it`s a little strange, because this was not some nefarious lie about Marco Rubio and the bible that the Cruz campaign created out of thin air like, for example, the Marco Rubio Photoshop of him shaking hands with President Obama.
They didn`t make this video of the bible incident. They didn`t invent the fake subtitling for it. Somebody else did that. The Cruz spokesman did tweet a link to it, but then he deleted the tweet and apologized in writing, apologized in person, and then he still had to be fired?
Nobody got fired for what happened in Iowa. I mean, in Iowa, the whole Cruz campaign was organized to trick Ben Carson supporters to thinking he was no longer in the race. Nobody got fired for that. Nobody got fired for the fake Marco Rubio Photoshop into shaking hands with Obama thing, nobody got fired for the Trey Gowdy fake endorsement Facebook thing, right?
I mean, what`s happening here is not that somebody in the Ted Cruz campaign finally did something so low down dirty dog that the campaign could no longer live with it. They couldn`t defend their terrible dirty tricks any longer, not if you do something that bad. Something had to break. Somebody had to -- that`s not what happened here.
What appears to have happened is it was time for shake up at the Ted Cruz campaign. And so, their national spokesman is out for something that seems a lot smaller than other things that have happened in the campaign.
Honestly, the Ted Cruz campaign is due for a shake up. They were almost universally expected to come in second in South Carolina or even possibly win. In the end, they came in third in South Carolina. Amazingly, Ted Cruz did not even managed to win the evangelical vote in South Carolina. Donald Trump beat Ted Cruz with evangelical voters in South Carolina.
I mean, that`s Ted Cruz whole theory of the race for how he can compete and win this the Republican primary, particularly in all the southern states that are coming up next week. The Ted Cruz theory is he can lock up the evangelical vote and then the other candidates can split the rest of the electorate. Even if he doesn`t have much appeal outside of evangelicals, as long as he got a lock on them, and he wins all of them, he can win certainly every southern primary and a lot of primaries outside as well.
It turns out one part of that has been burned out by the facts. It turns out Ted Cruz is right. His theory of the case is right, that he has no appeal other than to evangelical voters.
The problem is that among evangelical voters, he can`t lock them up.
Donald Trump got more evangelical voters? I mean, it`s one thing to lose to somebody like Ben Carson, right? Somebody who`s running a campaign that all about evangelical voters, it`s another thing to lose them to Donald Trump.
For Ted Cruz right now, the basic theory of the case is lost and is losing. If he couldn`t pull off a win, if he couldn`t even pull off a second place finish in South Carolina, where three quarters of the people who turned out to vote were evangelical voters, it is hard to see any other place where he`s likely to win.
And maybe he will pull off a miracle here in Nevada tomorrow night and everybody will start to see this race differently. But if you can`t count on something like that, the next best thing is to fire your spokesman. Fire somebody on your campaign who they might have heard of, who might even recognize from TV.
We`ll see what happens. I don`t think anybody is expecting a change this tone or tactics from the Cruz campaign in terms of ruthless campaigning and dirty tricks. I don`t think if you wanted a clean break the guy you fire would be a Rick Tyler. It`s yet to be seen whether the campaign shake up and the big high profile firing makes people give the Cruz campaign a second look.
The other thing that remains to be seen is whether or not Ted Cruz now has a bad enough reputation in terms of the ruthlessness of his campaign and his character that it might start bothering voters as much as it bothers his fellow candidates.
Here in Nevada today, at a Marco Rubio rally, Gabe Gutierrez from NBC found a few Rubio curious Republicans who actually said, yes, yes, the character of the Ted Cruz is starting to bug them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GABE GUTIERREZ, NBC NEWS: Why not Ted Cruz? What is it about --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t like dirty politics, the low blows. It`s not OK, in my opinion. If you`re going to fight, then fight fair. You win, lose or draw. You know, you come away a better person out of it.
GUTIERREZ: The Rubio campaign is trying really hard to paint Ted Cruz as somebody who is dishonest. Do you think that`s working?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It kind of feels that way. I mean, I`m here now. So, you know, it kind of works for me.
GUTIERREZ: How about you? Who are you supporting?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was supporting Ted Cruz since the very beginning. Yesterday, really changed my mind totally completely when he attacked the bible incident. She had told me earlier last week that she was for Rubio. I started looking at Rubio more. She invited me to this rally today. So, here we are.
Ted Cruz, his campaign, he`s just too dirty. It totally turned me off yesterday. I heard other things, and I wasn`t really believing them. But after yesterday and I researched it, and I said I`m done. You know, you put a lie out there and let it sit out there and then you say you`re sorry later. It doesn`t float with me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was from a Marco Rubio rally today in Reno, Nevada. We`re in Las Vegas tonight, in case you can`t tell. We`re here live in advance of tomorrow night`s caucuses.
The latest polling on the Republican side shows that Donald Trump is due to win those caucuses by anywhere between 16 and 26 points. That said, that means nothing. Nobody believes the polls for the Nevada caucuses on either side. So, grain of salt on that.
And watch out for imploding campaigns. This is the time when things start to get messy and not always for the reasons that people say they are getting messy.
Joining us now is Hallie Jackson. She`s been covering the Cruz campaign for NBC.
Hallie, it`s great to see you.
HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi. Thank you.
MADDOW: What happened with this Rick Tyler thing?
JACKSON: Couple of things. One, I think Ted Cruz legitimately wanted to do the right thing. He`s talked about wanting to run campaign with integrity since the beginning. But the other part of it is, this has been weeks now where he`s been attacked for dirty tricks, for being dishonesty, for being deceitful, for having a campaign of dishonesty.
So, it`s not the one incident, it`s not the second incident. It`s all of these things together that had been an issue. So, I think that by making Rick Tyler what you could call kind of the sacrificial lamb, it`s a way to say, hey, I took decisive action, I can move on, we can turn the page on these attack lines and go on from here.
MADDOW: Well, substantively, obviously, the other candidates in the race, I imagine a bar scene right, where they`re all sitting around and they`re off duty, they`re off stage and they get to hang out and Ted Cruz walks into the bar and they stiffen up and look down at their drinks and don`t want to talk to anybody. They don`t seem the like him.
JACKSON: Look at the response from Rubio`s campaign to the news that Tyler had been dismissed.
MADDOW: What did they say?
JACKSON: It was harsh. Basically, the spokesman came out for Rubio. I`m going to paraphrase her. But basically said, this shows lies from top to bottom within the campaign. I mean, it was taking the knife.
MADDOW: Right. So, is that born -- is that just personal antipathy? Is that just competition or is the Ted Cruz campaign different than the other campaigns?
JACKSON: Oh, it`s politics. I think that it`s fair to say that Ted Cruz has probably gotten more coverage for some of these things that did happen, but to play devil`s advocate a little bit, remember, this isn`t all coming from the Cruz campaigns. It`s super PACs. It`s people that they`re not having these relationships with. In some cases, it`s surrogates. It`s things that the Cruz campaign can`t necessarily control and they are making the argument that some of the stuff is coming from other campaigns.
MADDOW: Trying to make Cruz look bad.
JACKSON: Trying to make it look like issues from the Cruz campaign. Like reverse, reverse psychology.
MADDOW: The idea you would put out a hit on yourself, so it would look like Ted Cruz was hitting you, because that would make Ted Cruz look worse than you, I mean -- I realize we`re playing chess and they are playing checkers.
JACKSON: But you got to wonder what`s it going to do with voters. You look at Ted Cruz`s favorability ratings, they were sinking before this stuff started happening, and the campaign said, well, that`s because we`re getting so many attacks. But you have to wonder when Ted Cruz has the perception he`s unlikable when you have this line of attack from somebody like a Donald Trump who`s really good at finding the vulnerability and then going after it and going after it, and going after it, you have to wonder how much that`s resonating with --
MADDOW: That is how he`s going after Cruz is by basically him dirty.
JACKSON: Absolutely. Before he saw different things, with Bush it was low energy, right? With Ted Cruz, it is that he`s a liar and he`s using that word repeatedly, liar, liar, liar.
MADDOW: In terms of the theory of the case with Ted Cruz, when I looked at the exit poll numbers out of South Carolina, I thought like oh, this was a big problem. This isn`t just coming in a close third. This means, this is place where he should have done very well. This is a place where demographically, this is exactly like a test case built for him. Did they underperform in terms of their overall strategy in South Carolina?
JACKSON: I think it was disappointing that it was a third place finish. I would point out a couple of things. As the top strategist for the Cruz sent out a memo just tonight, they did perform well with the conservative bloc. And that is really part of Ted Cruz --
MADDOW: But they only won that bloc by six points.
MADDOW: It`s not like it was a blow out.
JACKSON: They would argue that they are trying to bring together not just the evangelicals. It`s not just the evangelicals. It`s the tea partiers. It`s the libertarians. They want to try to coalesce that bloc.
Now, here`s the thing, they couldn`t do it in South Carolina. A lot of question marks not for tomorrow night here in Nevada at the caucuses but Tuesday, March 1st, Super Tuesday states. It`s hard to overstate how crucial those will be for Ted Cruz campaign.
He`s really got to win Texas at this point. If Donald Trump beats him at this home state, a state where his campaign has bragged, Rick Tyler has talked about the 27,000 volunteers they have in Texas --
JACKSON: It`s going to be a tough day.
MADDOW: It`s also hard to see him surviving losing in place like Alabama. Losing in places like that, where he -- but we`ll see.
Hallie Jackson covering the Ted Cruz campaign for NBC -- you have a very enviable job today. Well done.
JACKSON: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you. Thanks for being here.
All right. We`ve got more ahead from Las Vegas, Nevada, ahead of tomorrow`s Republican caucus, including a look at a key group in the state that could determine the winner tomorrow night that has been the subject of, as far as I can tell, precisely, zero national news, but they`re going to be a huge reason whoever wins tomorrow night actually wins.
Much more to come. Stay with us.
MADDOW: I hope you fill in your calendar this time of year in pencil and not in pen. Otherwise, things can be a little bit hurly burly in terms of trying to figure out what`s going on in politics.
Right now, we`ve got South Carolina voting, the Democrats from the Republicans seven days apart. We`ve got Nevada voting, Democrats and Republicans three days apart. It`s confusing and it`s actually once you figure it out, it`s not even interesting enough to explain.
What it boils down to tomorrow night is that the Republicans are going to have their caucus. Their caucuses take place over a 4-hour window. What it means for you on TV is that tomorrow night at my regular time, 9:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Eastern, there`s going to be a regular RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, and our coverage of the Republican caucuses in Nevada will start after my show.
Starting at 10:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow, we roll out Brian Williams and the team coverage for Nevada`s Republican caucuses. Got it? Got it.
We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER SEN. BOB DOLE (R), FORMER GOP PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He`s young. He`s 44. He`s two years older than Kennedy was when he was elected. Three years younger than Obama when Obama was elected. But I think he would bring -- he wants to grow the party as opposed to Cruz -- I don`t know what he wants to grow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Cruz, I don`t know what he wants to grow.
I don`t even know what that means but it sounds so dirty when Bob Dole puts it that way.
Senator Bob Doyle was the Republican Party`s presidential nominee in 1996 against Bill Clinton. He had previously supported Jeb Bush for president this time around, but now that Jeb Bush has quit the race, more on that later, Senator Dole, like many previous Jeb endorsers, he`s throwing his lot in with Senator Marco Rubio.
One former Republican presidential nominee who has not endorsed yet, who hasn`t endorsed anyone this year is Mitt Romney. There was some reporting this weekend that may be Mitt Romney he about to endorse Senator Rubio as well, but in the end, it didn`t happen.
Now, we don`t know who Mitt Romney is going to endorse or when he`s going to make the endorsement or how he`s making his decision. If he does like Marco Rubio and more specifically, if he does want Marco to have chance at winning the nomination, this might be an auspicious time to get off the pot.
The first reason is obvious, which is that Mr. Rubio hasn`t won anything yet. He hasn`t come within ten points of winning anything. If he is going to start looking like a potential nominee, Mr. Rubio is going to have to win somewhere.
The Rubio campaign is the biggest Republican campaign on the ground in Nevada. They are running harder than any of the other Republican candidates, including tons of money spent on TV ad time. If Marco Rubio can`t win here, it`s hard the see he could win anywhere.
So, Nevada is starting to look formative, starting to look really important for Mr. Rubio`s chances. That`s one reason Mr. Romney might want to think about that endorsement coming basically now, if it`s going to come.
The other reason it would make a lot of sense for the Romney endorsement to come now, no matter who he`s going to endorse is because of the factor of religion. Mitt Romney, of course, is Mormon. He`s the first Mormon ever nominated by any party as a candidate. Democrats were first to put a Catholic on the ticket and the first Jew, and the first woman. Those were all Democrats.
But the Republicans were the first to choose a Mormon, which is a big deal and it`s particularly a big deal in this state and specifically in this Republican caucus tomorrow night, because Nevada had fairly large Mormon population. Roughly 4 or 5 percent of the state`s population is Mormon.
But in the last two Republican presidential caucuses in the state, the turnout for the caucus was 25 percent Mormon, one in four caucus goers. The whole state is only 4 percent or 5 percent Mormon, but one out of every four Republicans turning out for the caucus is Mormon.
And maybe those huge Mormon turn out numbers is because Mitt Romney was on the ballot in 2008 and 2012. He ran for president both of those years. He won the Nevada caucus both of those years.
But Mitt Romney won`t be on the ballot this time around in Nevada. His endorsement could however be huge here. It could be a game changer for one lucky Republican candidate.
If Mr. Romney wanted to do that, he alone conceivably has the power to shift the result in Nevada tomorrow and to thereby shift the whole Republican contest. He could do it if he wants to or maybe he secretly wants Mr. Trump to take it all the way to the convention so when the Republican freak out truly starts about Donald Trump being the nominee, they panic at the convention, they ask Mitt Romney to swoop in and save the day, you know?
Maybe rescue fantasy. Maybe that`s why he`s staying out of it? I don`t know. But this is the exact time, like literally, tonight, here. This is the time and the place for Mitt Romney to exert maximum influence on who the Republican Party picks as its next Republican presidential nominee. For some reason, he`s choosing not to do it.
Watch this space.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m very proud and grateful to have the support of so many elected Vermonters and former officials, three -- two former governors, current governor, the current other senator. I really appreciate that.
MADDOW: Secretary Clinton is raising the issue of endorsements by your home state Democrats. She`s implying that that says something about the people who know you best.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I don`t see it quite like that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Hillary Clinton earlier this month at the Democratic debate before the New Hampshire primary reminding everyone that she and not Bernie Sanders got the endorsements of his colleagues from his own home state, but wait.
With Vermont`s primary just eight days away, Senator Bernie Sanders has his first endorsement from current statewide elected official in his home state. Democratic Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont has just come out in support of Senator Sanders.
Now, for context here, Senator Sanders, you should know, currently has an unimaginably huge lead in his home state. He has a 76-point lead in Vermont. Not he has 76 percent of the vote, he`s leading by 76 points. He`s at 86 points. Hillary Clinton is at ten. That`s nuts. That`s not happened in nature.
Peter Welch is the only congressman in the entire state of Vermont. There`s only one at large district for the whole state. So, hey, you know, if you`re going to get on board the Bernie train, a 76-point lead for him among your own co constituents might be a good reason to get on board. It might in fact be political practice to not get onboard that one.
MADDOW: This election year is now officially so weird that historically speaking, the least weird thing that could happen from here on out, would be for Donald Trump to win the Republican presidential nomination. Honestly, it would be bizarre if it didn`t happen now.
No Republican candidate for president has ever won both New Hampshire and South Carolina and not gone onto win the nomination. Mr. Trump has won both New Hampshire and South Carolina. And he won them both by a lot.
It would be weird -- it would be unprecedented if he didn`t now go onto win the overall primary.
Now, conversely, the political press has decided that Marco Rubio is basically a sure bet at this point. The endorsements for Senator Rubio is flooding in. He`s been all but coronated by the beltway press.
But Marco Rubio just lost by 10 points in South Carolina. He came in fifth before that in New Hampshire. He came in third before that in Iowa. Historically speaking, nobody has won the Republican nomination without winning at least one of the first three states.
Marco Rubio not only didn`t win one of the first three, he didn`t come close to winning in any of the first three states.
If Marco Rubio is going to get the Republican nomination, he`s going to be a historical anomaly so glaring, you will be able to see the glow from space.
But if we`re talking about what hasn`t been done before, this is the real doozy for today, because this is 1928. And in 1928, Herbert Hoover was the Republican candidate for president, and he was a Republican candidate and he won. He beat the Democrat named Al Smith. And that election, that 1928 election, that is the last time the Republican Party won a presidential election without either Richard Nixon or a member of the Bush family on the ticket, 1928.
These are all the presidential elections the Republican Party has won since 1928. Every single one of them has had either Richard Nixon or a member of the Bush family as president or vice presidential candidate.
You know, this time around, nobody really thought that Richard Nixon was going to come back from the dead and get back in the Republican ticket, save the party again this year. But there was supposed to be another Bush this year. Jeb Bush was supposed to be the shoo-in this year.
I went back and looked at the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll from the time that Governor Bush got into the race this past year. Not only did Jeb Bush win in that poll, he had more support nationwide than any other Republican candidate.
And, look, even people who weren`t supporting him then thought they could end up supporting him, 75 percent of Republicans said at the time he got in the race that, yes, they could imagine themselves supporting Jeb Bush, 75 percent. Then he started running and it all went to H-E-double hockey sticks in hand basket.
"The New York Times" today describes the $100 million or so dollars he blew as, quote, "one of the least successful campaign spending binges in history."
And, so, remarkably, in the state where his dad and his brother both won Republican primaries twice, Jeb Bush on Saturday placed fourth and in single digits in South Carolina. And he got up before a tearful room in South Carolina and gave a classy, dignified quitting speech. And now we must poof him.
We started off this year with 22 possible Republican presidential candidates. Pretty quickly, five of those 22 took themselves out of contention. So, at the official starting line, it was 17 candidates, 17 people actually running.
And from the initial 17, we first lost, Rick Perry, 100 days after he jumped in, he jumped out. Ten days after that, we lost Scott Walker. Poof.
Then, it was almost two months before we got to poof anybody else. The next one we got to poof was Bobby Jindal in November. In December, we poofed Lindsey Graham and at Christmastime, we got to poof George Pataki.
Everybody else stuck it out until Iowa on February 1st. Iowa ended up poofing Mike Huckabee and then Rick Santorum and then Rand Paul. Then New Hampshire came along on February 10th and New Hampshire poofed Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina and my husband friend Jim Gilmore.
Now, I can`t believe it`s time to do this. I can`t believe the Republican will try to win a race without the benefit of Richard Nixon or a member of the Bush family on the ticket. Hasn`t worked since 1928, you guys. But they are doing it.
So, here it comes. Say it with me now. Three, two, one, poof, poof. Poof, Jeb Bush. Best of luck to you sir.
It was a terrible campaign, honestly, for Jeb Bush, but now it`s over. Now who`s going to make all the funny noises on the campaign trail?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Doo, doo, doo. Whoo. Eerr, errr. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah. Rararararah, rararararah, rarararah! Rarararararah!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the lawyers have to determine it was a retweet. Not so much with Marco. I`m not that familiar with Marco`s circumstances.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: But then, why retweet it?
TRUMP: But I think that -- because I`m not sure. Let people make their own determination.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You`re really not sure that Marco Rubio is eligible to run for president? You`re really not sure?
TRUMP: I don`t know. I really -- I`ve never looked at it, George. Honestly, I`ve never looked at it. Somebody said he`s not and I retweeted it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Donald Trump telling ABC`s George Stephanopoulos that now he`s not so sure about Marco Rubio`s citizenship and his eligibility to run for president.
First, Barack Obama, then Ted Cruz and now Marco Rubio. What do these kids have this common?
He said he`s never looked at it. We`ve got to let people make their own determinations.
No Republican candidate in history has ever won the New Hampshire primary and the South Carolina primary and then not gone onto win the Republican presidential nomination. Donald Trump just won both South Carolina and New Hampshire. But he won it by being like that. Does that mean that history doesn`t apply here?
Joining us now is NBC News correspondent Katy Tur, who`s being tasked with following the Trump campaign and who`s been doing a banged up job.
Katy, thanks for being here.
KATY TUR, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Thank you. Thanks.
MADDOW: Why open up the Marco Rubio isn`t eligible line of attack now?
TUR: Because Marco Rubio is up next essentially and I think what he does is he tests his lines of attacks in the media. He tests them on Twitter.
Some of the people in his campaign says he will test a line and go on Facebook and see how it plays in the comments. If it plays well, then he will continue on.
They don`t have this internal polling that a lot of other candidates have. They`re not putting out questions and finding out how the person is reading with a certain electorate, a certain portion of the electorate.
MADDOW: He just looks at his Twitter replies and his Facebook comments.
TUR: He looks at social media.
MADDOW: Is there any indication that he believes that Marco Rubio is not eligible to run for president?
TUR: I mean, I think there was an interview where he said he had no question about whether or not Marco Rubio was eligible.
Certainly, if Marco Rubio isn`t eligible, it brings Donald Trump into the non-eligibility range as well, because his mother was born in Scotland.
TUR: So, I don`t think it`s a line of attack he believes in wholeheartedly. But if he thinks that he can somewhere with it, I think you`ll see him hitting it harder.
We`ve seen him over the past few months not really talked about Marco Rubio. He`s ignored him entirely.
TUR: But in the past, we have heard him talk about how sweaty he is, you know, he sent those bottles of water. He talked about what a baby he is, that he was not strong in immigration. He`s part of the "gang of eight", which is mostly like substantial attack that he`s really had on him.
But he hasn`t talked about him much lately, and I think what he -- as the campaign is really doing at the moment is letting Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz battle it out. Right now, they are fighting with each other. And if he attacks Marco Rubio, that could potentially only help Ted Cruz.
So, if Marco Rubio attacks Donald Trump, that could only potential help Ted Cruz. So, right now, I think the Rubio campaign is trying to lay low.
MADDOW: The Trump campaign is trying out what they might use against him by floating things in social media.
TUR: Potentially, if they need to. But then again, Marco Rubio has not won a state yet.
Let me ask you about the way the race has changed as we have learned who can win and who can`t. Having rounded South Carolina now, it really, if you look at it historically is almost a certainty that Mr. Trump will win the nomination. Does the Trump campaign, have they absorbed any of that? Have they started to think about themselves as the likely nominees?
TUR: They are confident, but the Trump campaign isn`t going to be doing a victory lap at the moment. They might be acting like they are but Donald Trump said yesterday it`s not a shoo in yet, he believes he has some tough competition.
I think they learned their lesson in Iowa after talking about how he was going to win by great numbers when they didn`t win. They realized they opened themselves up to the attack line that he`s a loser. So, they`ve been tempering expectations since then.
But if you talk to -- I talk to the campaign early on when this all started. And I said , what do you think your chances of winning. They told me not that great at the time. I don`t think they even thought they had much of chance.
MADDOW: In a candid moment --
TUR: In candid moment --
MADDOW: -- like not for attribution, let me just tell you --
TUR: This was way early on. This was in July. A conversation I had in July. The numbers were low.
And to see the campaign now with the likely -- it`s likely now that they`re going to win the nomination, they are certainly feeling good. They are feeling like their candidate is a strong candidate. He`s proven himself to be a strong candidate. He`s been that way by defying all the rules and by being himself in way no other candidate has been in the history of American politics.
MADDOW: It will be interesting to see if he becomes the de facto nominee. If the rest of the Republican establishment tries to glom themselves on to that campaign, in order to make him seem like a more traditional candidate, that grafting is going to be --
TUR: How the RNC is going to deal with him if he gets the nomination and what they`re going to try -- I mean, who he`s VP nomination --
TUR: VP pick will be is going to be interesting. I think there`s a lot of concern within the party establishment that it could be somebody really out there. But we`ll see.
MADDOW: How do you stop him who it`s going to be?
NBC News` Katy Tur following the Trump campaign -- you also have a very fun job right now, I`m envious you of you today.
TUR: It`s interesting.
MADDOW: Yes. Well put.
Much more to come. Here from Nevada, a lot of people are hoping the caucuses work a lot better this time than they did last time or the time before which was such a disaster. It was actually laugh out loud funny. And than story is ahead, stay with us.
MADDOW: Two things that are potentially going to be really big deals are about to happen in the news. The first one is on the issue of Flint. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced today after months of pressure, that he`s going to release thousands of pages of e-mails showing the involvement of his administration in the lead poisoning of the city of Flint. The governor has been resisting calls to release these e-mails now for months.
He says he`s now having state lawyers go through them to see if anything should be held back. But he says the rest will be released, quote, "relatively soon". So watch for that relatively soon. That`s one.
The other thing to watch for should be coming very, very soon. And that is the plan to close Guantanamo. The Pentagon`s deadline for submitting its how to close Guantanamo plan is tomorrow. I kind of assumed they were going to blow through that deadline since we haven`t heard anything on the issue for a long time.
But the spokesman said today that the Pentagon will meet that deadline, which means tomorrow, there will be on the table a detailed, Pentagon- approved, step by step road map for how to close Guantanamo.
And ones that plan is submitted, I`m sure it`ll be received soberly and with all the reserve and seriousness to a important national security matter like this and for sure, everybody will read the plan and make sure they understand it before they pass judgment on it, definitely.
And then we`ll all wake up with a new face tattoo we don`t remember getting and there will be chicken, and a tiger, and a baby in a hotel room and nobody will know how they got there either.
Closing Guantanamo plan is due in a few hours. Stay tuned.
MADDOW: In 2008, in the very first Nevada Republican caucus, the guy who eventually won that nomination that year, John McCain, he didn`t win Nevada. It was no real surprise, though. Everybody expected that Mitt Romney was going to win Nevada. Mr. Romney lived sometimes in Utah, which is basically next door. He presumably had a lock on the Mormon vote.
And so, yes, everybody knew Mitt Romney would beat John McCain in Nevada. John McCain didn`t even come in second in Nevada. He came in third behind both Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.
Ron Paul pulled in 14 percent of the vote and came in second. You know, that should have been kind of the end of that story, of the first caucus, right? Interesting, Romney, then Ron Paul, and then John McCain.
But that was only the beginning, because when you vote in the Nevada Republican caucus, you`re electing delegates to the party convention in your county, those county delegates elect delegates to the state convention, and the state convention elects delegates to send to the national convention to select a presidential nominee. Oh, democracy.
And in 2008, when Ron Paul did not win on caucus day, his supporters decided that nevertheless, they would still out-box the other campaign so Ron Paul would win anyway. They would still get all of their delegates sent to the state convention.
So, it was nuts. A couple months after these caucuses, which technically Mitt Romney had won, when the Nevada Republicans gathered at their state convention, the Ron Paul delegates` mutiny basically they took over. It was complete chaos.
And what they were threatening to do is send a slate of themselves as Ron Paul delegates to the national convention, even though Mitt Romney had won the caucuses. Rather than let that happen, Nevada Republican Party officials shut downtown whole convention. They held a private conference call later on that summer to pick their delegates away from all the pesky Ron Paul people.
Eventually, the national Republican Party decided the whole thing so was screwed up, they stepped in and appointed their own slate of Nevada delegates for the national convention. Ah, democracy.
That was the first time the Nevada Republican party held a presidential nominating caucus. That`s what happened. That was 2008.
Next time around in Nevada in 2012, it was even worse. In 2012, some total registered Republican voters who turned out in Nevada for their caucus was roughly, 8 percent. Not a big turnout. Even with so few votes to count, it then took the Nevada Republican Party two days to determine a winner, and then, and then, even then, Ron Paul supporters took over the state convention again.
Now, the state party has sort of learned from the disaster in 2008. They had a new rule in place that would require delegates to the national convention to vote for whoever had won on caucus day. In 2012, that was Mitt Romney again, he won the caucus on caucus day. They were all supposed to be forced to vote for Mitt Romney.
But then at the national convention, forget that, the rogue Nevada delegates went ahead and voted for Ron Paul anyway. Screw your rule.
Oh, and in the meantime, Ron Paul supporters took over the Republican Party in Clark County, which is home to three quarters of Nevada`s population. They put up a billboard at one point praising Ron Paul, and dissing the Republican Party`s presidential standard bearer, Mitt Romney.
Nevada is nuts. Nevada is nuts. And, Nevada goes next.
How are things go to go tomorrow? Nobody has any idea. It`s only the third time they`ve ever even tried it and the first two times, disastrous.
Here`s what we do know though. If Nevada makes a hash of this thing again tomorrow, this may be the last time the state gets to hold an early caucus. "The National Review" calls it a foregone conclusion that national Republicans will relieve Nevada of its place as the fourth state on their calendar if there`s not a miraculous turnout tomorrow and a really smooth vote.
So, it`s make-or-break time for Nevada. Make or break. No pressure. You guys handle the pressure well. So, no pressure.
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END