Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: February 23, 2016
CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now from Las Vegas.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: (AUDIO GAP) has ever won the Nevada Republican caucuses. In its current iteration where Nevada is an important early state and Nevada goes right after South Carolina and has this incredibly influential role in the Republicans choosing their nominee, in the entire history of Nevada as an early state Republican presidential caucus, only one person has ever won. And that guy is Mitt Romney.
The first time the Nevada caucuses were held in 2008, Mitt Romney not only won here, he won by a mile. He came in first that year in Nevada with 51 percent of the vote. Second place was a very distant Ron Paul.
Mitt Romney got over 50 percent of the vote. Ron Paul came in second with only 14 percent of the vote. And then awkwardly, even though Ron Paul only got 14 percent of the vote, that was enough to give Ron Paul supporters basically a tow hold in state politics that they used that year to basically hijack the nominating process and take over the party to a point where the whole Nevada state Republican convention was shut down and replaced with a back room conference call by which they picked their delegates instead. And that`s amazing. It`s kind of a story for another day.
But it should have been a sign, right? We should have known with that first contest in 2008 that Nevada was going to be more than meets the eye.
But anyway, the bottom line, that first one Mitt Romney won. Second one, Mitt Romney won. The second one was in 2012. But in 2012, the president for president on the Republican side was at a volatile moment in that instance, when Nevada was having its caucus.
In Iowa in 2012, Mitt Romney won for day and then the Republican Party said it was a tie and they said Rick Santorum won and ultimately Ron Paul got the delegates. So, Iowa was a contested mess in 2012.
Then came New Hampshire. Mitt Romney won New Hampshire, then they went unto South Carolina, and newt Gingrich won South Carolina in 2012. That was crazy. I mean, South Carolina had never picked a Republican who didn`t go onto win the nomination.
But in 2012, they didn`t do that. In 2012, they picked Newt Gingrich. Everybody freak out.
And so, heading into these Nevada contests in 2012, Mitt Romney was obviously the favorite to win again. He won here in 2008. But the Newt Gingrich thing spooked everybody a bit. And Newt Gingrich campaigned here. He campaigned in Nevada. He was really trying to win here. And Mitt Romney knew he better win here but he was going to have to fight for it.
So, there was this great celebrity moment in the 2012 race. The last time we had a Republican presidential contest in this state right before the Nevada caucus in 2012, Newt Gingrich hot on Romney`s heels. So, Mitt Romney in his campaign decide to unveil their big but also super awkward celebrity endorsement for the Nevada caucuses, just ahead of the Nevada caucuses in 2012.
Mitt Romney and his wife went to a hastily arranged event right on the Las Vegas Strip, at one of the big, gaudy casino hotels here. They did an in- person acceptance of their celebrity endorsement, with their new celebrity. It was very awkward.
There were tons of press there. The celebrity endorser had his name and his logo on the podium. It was very, very Las Vegas. Mitt Romney looked like he just swallowed a small, live bird and it didn`t go downright. Like he looked like he wished to be anywhere else but there.
But it was a big moment for him. It was a big moment for Mitt Romney when he got that big endorsement right ahead of the caucuses last time around. Of course, the person who was his big endorser was Donald Trump, right ahead of the last Nevada caucuses.
That was such a weird moment. But that is what happened the last Nevada Republican caucus. And then Mitt Romney went onto win it. Again, for the second time.
It was closer in 2012 than it had been in 2008, but Mr. Romney got 50 percent of the vote. Newt Gingrich got 21 percent of the vote. And Ron Paul was back. He came in third with 19 percent of the vote.
And so, to this day, it`s weird, Mitt Romney remains the only human who has ever won the Nevada Republican caucus. He`s the only one.
But because this caucus and this state is freaking crazy, this is what it sounded like. This is what happened when it came down for the Nevada delegation to cast their official votes for Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention in 2012. He had won Nevada, right?
Romney won the Nevada caucuses, but this is what happened at the Republican National Convention when it came down for Nevada to submit their votes for Mitt Romney. This is what they did. This is what happened. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the spirit of freedom that inspired the founding of our country and in honor of the liberty that is made the United States the greatest country on earth, we proudly cast 17 votes for Congressman Ron Paul.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
Five abstentions and five for Romney.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And five for Romney and five for Romney.
Mitt Romney was the Republican Party`s nominee. He was the only one who would get the delegate votes. But Nevada just cast all their votes for Ron Paul any way. Seventeen votes for Ron Paul.
Republican Party in Nevada that year thought they changed the rules so that would be impossible. They thought the bound the delegates to vote for Mitt Romney, but the Ron Paul people said, screw it, they voted for Ron Paul anyway. What are you going to do?
The Nevada Republican Party is amazing. The Nevada Republican caucus is nuts. And now that neither Ron Paul nor his son is running anymore, nobody knows if the Ron Paul people are going to somehow hijack and take over the process again this year like they have every other year the caucus has been run much to Mitt Romney`s chagrin.
Also, nobody has any idea who is going to show up for the caucus. The caucus had 44,000 Republicans show up in its first year. It had 33,000 in the second year. Nobody has any idea how many are going to show up this year in part because the Nevada Republican Party is so disorganized and so strange, they didn`t keep a list of the people who turned up the last time they did this in 2012. They can`t even like contact those people and say, hey, do you want to caucus again? They didn`t make a list. They didn`t write down anybody`s name.
There`s also been pretty epic problems in the Nevada caucus even though they had the small turnout in 2012, less than 8 percent voter turnout. They really have 33,000 votes. It`s still took them days, days to count the vote in 2012 here in Clark County which is where most of the population lives.
This year, they decided to speed up the counting process by making the vote stop earlier in Clark County than it does everywhere else in the state. The basic idea I think is to give themselves more time to count here where there`s a lot of votes. That should go fine.
And then the process by which they will count is at the 36 different caucus locations just in this county, Republican Party staffers on sight are going to count the votes by hand at those caucus locations. And then they`re going to write the results of their hand count on an envelope, put all the votes inside the envelope, and then this, I swear this is the official process. After they have done that, they are supposed to take a picture of the envelope.
What -- they are supposed to take a picture of the envelope and what they wrote on the inside, they are supposed to take a picture of it with their cell phone and they`re supposed text that cell phone picture of the handwritten thing on the envelope. They are supposed to text that picture to a guy named Ed.
Ed Williams is the county Republican chairman in Clark County and everybody is supposed to text him their pictures of what they wrote on the envelopes and somehow the pictures of the envelopes with the handwritten counts will get sent to the state. And, yes, that`s the process by which we`re supposed to find out who has become the first human being in history not named Mitt Romney to win the Nevada Republican caucus.
"The Wall Street Journal" did a long reported piece this week on the history of the total freaking bag of cats full of chaos in this contest we`re about to have tonight. In the course of the reporting on the insane history of what usual happens here, "The Journal" talked to one former Republican Party chairman on Nevada. His name is James Smack. Please, God, tell me he goes by Jimmy Smack, but I cannot promise that.
His name is James Smack. And Mr. Smack told "The Wall Street Journal", he`s summed up what ought to be a national expectations for what happens tonight in Nevada. He summed them up as follows, quote, "It`s not a natural course of politics as usual" -- it`s not a natural course of -- can I -- thank you. "It`s not a natural course of politics as usual and voting as usual as everybody is used to." Quote, "It`s going to be scratchy no matter what."
It`s going to be scratchy. The official word from the former chair of the Nevada Republican Party. It`s going to be scratchy is the prediction.
Let`s us check to see if it already is.
Joining us now from a caucus polling sight at Palo Verde High School in Las Vegas is MSNBC`s Jacob Soboroff.
Jacob, it`s great to see you. How are things going at Palo Verde High?
JACOB SOBOROFF, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: This is an extraordinary sight to behold, unlike anything actually that I`ve ever seen before. It`s very different from the Democratic process.
As you`ve been talking about people are not separating into preference groups. They are showing up to tables like this which are effectively precincts. Like normally, they go to a building to be precincts. These tables are precincts. We`re hearing speeches from people.
OK, Donald Trump has just walked in live. Following me over here, guys. Donald has just walked in to this location, and here`s Donald Trump walking into this caucus location live. Glenn Beck is actually speaking on behalf of Ted Cruz now.
And who are looking at right here is Donald Trump. He`s shaking hands with caucus goers. I`m getting pushed out of way. It`s sort of a mad house, Rachel.
What I expect right now is Donald Trump moving up to the podium. He`s going to be speaking live to the attendees here at the caucus.
It`s mad house. I think that`s the only way to describe it, Rachel. It`s an incredible mad house here. People are rushing up towards him, trying to touch him and the cell phones are out. Elbows are flying.
Donald Trump is approaching the microphone, Rachel, as people are supposed to be voting, filling out their ballots. People are screaming.
You`re looking at Donald Trump inside this caucus location in Summerland, Nevada. I`m having a hard time hearing you.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How`s it looking?
SOBOROFF: Donald, Donald. Here he goes. He`s grabbing the microphone. We`ll move over here.
MADDOW: Can you hear me?
SOBOROFF: Follow us. Here we go.
MADDOW: Did people there at the site know that Mr. Trump is going to come in person.
SOBOROFF: Again, Rachel, we have a hard time hearing you, but here`s Mr. Trump.
SOBOROFF: No, we didn`t know, Rachel. I`m hearing you spotting in and out a bit. Let me see if I can get up to close to Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump, how are you feeling?
TRUMP: Feel good. Look at the crowd.
SOBOROFF: Do you think you`ll be able to get the win tonight here?
TRUMP: We hope so. We have an awfully big crowd.
SOBOROFF: What are you plan -- did you expect to see anything like this, Mr. Trump?
TRUMP: No. Like this. This is incredible. Thank you.
SOBOROFF: Thank you, Mr. Trump.
TRUMP: Thank you very much. This is an honor. It`s great to be with you tonight.
(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)
We are going to have a historic night. In New Hampshire, it was amazing. In South Carolina last week, unbelievable. Hopefully, this will be the same. I appreciate everybody being here.
I wanted to be here myself and say a few words.
Our borders are going to be strong. We`re getting rid of Obamacare.
(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)
We`re going to take care of our veterans. Our military is going to be great again. No longer depleted. Our military is depleted now. We`re going to make it big and strong and we`re going to be respected again.
I just wanted to thank everybody. You`re really, really spectacular people. I really appreciate you being here.
I`ll be with you for a while. If you need anything, you come see me.
Now, much more importantly, get over there and vote. Thank you.
Make America great again. Remember that. Make America great again. Thank you. I love you.
Thank you. We love you, everybody. Thank you very much.
SOBOROFF: Rachel, we`re here with Donald Trump. I`m having a hard time hearing you because of the activity. We`re in the middle of Secret Service. See if I can get another word with Mr. Trump here.
Rachel Maddow, we`re live on the air with Rachel.
TRUMP: I like Rachel. I actually like Rachel.
SOBOROFF: Rachel, he likes you.
Mr. Trump, you`re here right now at the Nevada caucus. What`s the plan going forward right now? After tonight, you know, what are you going to do?
TRUMP: Well, based on this crowd, we`re doing pretty well tonight. This is amazing. They`ve never seen anything like it. It`s record setting stuff already. It just started.
But I think we`re going to do very well. We have the SEC coming up. So, hopefully, we`re going to do well.
Rachel, I appreciate your charts. You make the most beautiful charts with the head on top. I love looking at them.
I don`t like my picture that much but that`s OK.
SOBOROFF: You continue to get hit by Ted Cruz and maybe now, Marco Rubio, maybe not by name, has been hitting you. What`s your message to the supporters of those candidates tonight and to those candidates?
TRUMP: Well, you know, Ted is going to start telling the truth. He lifts his hands up high, but he`s going to have to start telling the truth. People have gotten wise to him. That`s what happened in -- if do you look what happened in South Carolina, that was a disaster for him. I think New Hampshire was a disaster also for him.
So, he`s going to start telling the truth. He`s going to learn to tell the truth. When he lifts his hands up high, I think he`s going to be very happy and feel much better about himself.
SOBOROFF: How about to the Democrats? Do you have any message to Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders tonight?
TRUMP: Well, no, they`ve got their own race. I wish them both luck. I think proably Hillary looks like she`s very successful but -- if she`s allowed to run. We`re going to find out whether or not she`s going to be allowed to run.
SOBOROFF: All right. Thank you, Mr. Trump.
TRUMP: Hello, Rachel.
SOBOROFF: Appreciate it.
Rachel, I`m going to throw it back to you. We`re going to get this audio situation sorted out. Donald Trump here in Palo Verde High School in Summerland, Nevada.
MADDOW: Excellent. Jacob Soboroff cannot hear me to save his life at this point. Jacob, that was amazing.
And Mr. Trump said he likes the way we build charts where we put his little head on top of them. So, that`s through Jacob from Donald Trump through me back to our graphics department. When you guys make bar graphs and you pop a Trump head on top bar, candidate likes it.
We`re going to have a long ethical discussion on our team if we should keep doing that given that the candidate likes it. All right?
Lots of come tonight. We`re in Las Vegas, where Republicans are hoping one big thing changes tonight in the race. And that story and a lot more is straight ahead. It`s going to be fun night here.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: We got some good news. Today, the Republican Party in Nevada got some good news about its historically beleaguered presidential caucus.
The good news is it looks like turn out will be way, way up for the Republicans, 37,000 Republicans pre-registered for tonight`s caucuses. That`s more than the entire turn out last time around. That`s just the pre-registrations this time.
Some people have been saying turn out could hit 75,000 in the state this year. That`s still, of course, just a fraction of the state`s half million Republican voters, but it might be enough turn out to spare Nevada the indignity of losing this caucus, losing their first in the West status to some other place like Colorado or Arizona.
If Nevada does hit record turnout tonight, I should also say, that would be the fourth consecutive state in which the Republicans have hit record turnout for their primary this year.
Democrats haven`t had a record turnout yet in any of their contests. Democrats, in fact, have been way down from what they had in 2008.
But if Nevada Republicans hit a record tonight, it will be four straight turnout records for them. So, that`s the good news for Nevada Republicans.
The bad news is that Nevada Republicans have a stupendously bad record of actually counting the votes even when they had terrible turn out and few votes to count. We`re now over an hour into the Nevada caucuses, although a bunch of them start at different times, so that`s hard to say. But the caucuses are underway. They`re happening now.
If we`re lucky, we could get results tonight or tomorrow afternoon or sometime soon maybe. We don`t exactly know when we`ll get numbers, but we know we`re going to have a long and crazy night ahead if the rest of the night thus far is any indication.
Get your granola bars, kids. Settle in.
MADDOW: One of the known unknowns in terms of what happens next is who`s going to become the new big profligate spender.
The first state, of course, was Iowa. The biggest spender in Iowa on the Republican side was Jeb Bush. He got sixth place there but he spent the most money there.
Next up was New Hampshire, where again, the biggest spender was Jeb Bush. He spent more money than anyone in both Iowa and in New Hampshire. It got him sixth place in New Hampshire. In New Hampshire, it got him fourth place.
Same goes for South Carolina. No candidate spent more money trying to win South Carolina than Jeb Bush did and despite the fact that he was first in spending again, he got fourth in the results again in South Carolina.
Well, now that Governor Bush has left the race, the caucuses will be the first contest in this Republican race where Jeb Bush is not going to be in the running. And so, interesting question, right? Who`s going to be the biggest spender here? I mean, now that Jeb Bush is out of race, who will have spent the most money in Nevada?
It turns out the answer is Jeb Bush. Yes. The guy`s been out of race since Saturday, but even before he quit, he racked up so much spending in the state of Nevada, that there`s a chance he will still have spent more here than every other candidate, even from beyond the political grave.
From numbers that we`ve got, it looks like it`s going to be close. He does have competition. The main competition for the dead Jeb Bush campaign in terms of spending will be the very alive Marco Rubio campaign. The Jeb Bush super PAC is thought to have spent around $900,000 trying to win this state. That`s amount the same amount that`s been spent by the Marco Rubio campaign and the super PACs supporting him. Ted Cruz is close behind in about $800,000.
Donald Trump, he`s the clear frontrunner in the state. He spent under a half million dollars. The winner, though, in terms of thrift, the winner in terms of sheer bang for the buck in this state is undoubtedly John Kasich. John Kasich has spent a grand total of zero dollars in the state of Nevada.
If he gets one freaking vote here, if he gets one delegate here, he`s got a great case to make that he`s the most efficient politician alive. Right? That`s kind of a great pitch to donors. Look what I can do with zero dollars. Imagine how well I`d spend your $5.
But Donald Trump is really expected to do very, very well here. You heard that confidence when he spoke on the stump there with Jacob Soboroff. Palo Verde High School here in Las Vegas.
Donald Trump is expected to do well here. He`s expected to do well in general. He`s come in like second and then first and then first so far in the first three states on the Republican side. He`s heavily favored here in Nevada, despite a dearth reliable polling.
That prospect that his record after tonight heading into Super Tuesday might be second, first, first, that has a good proportion of the country well and truly freaking out right now with the realization that Mr. Trump might actually be unstoppable in the Republican primary.
"The Washington Post" editorial page went off on the subject today like a Roman candle with a fast fuse. They called Mr. Trump`s campaign quote, "moral poison."
But responding to the comment this weekend by the Republican Party chairman that the RNC would support Mr. Trump if he won the nomination because winning is the antidote to a lot of things, that`s what the RNC chairman said.
"The Post" today said in response, quote, "Winning can quiet many complaints, it`s true. But it cannot and will not be an antidote to the moral poison of Mr. Trump`s campaign. Party leaders who support and celebrate his victory will be accomplices to an attack on the fundamental values of American democracy. Winning will not wash away the stain."
Er, that was "The Washington Post` today.
Up at "The Boston Globe" today, the editorial board there is going to far as to urge Massachusetts voters who are registered independents that they should not vote in the Democratic primary in the state on Tuesday even if they like one of the Democratic candidates. Instead, "The Boston Globe" says independent registered voters in Massachusetts should vote in the Republican primary just to seize the opportunity to vote against Donald Trump.
Quote, "Stopping Donald Trump is imperative and not just for his fellow Republicans. Trump`s campaign has revived some of the ugliest traditions in American politics. Just his nomination by one of the nation`s major parties would be an international embarrassment."
Quote, "As the race turns to Massachusetts, the answer to John F. Kennedy`s question ask what you can do for your country has rarely been clearer. Un- enrolled voters should pull a Republican ballot and vote for John Kasich because it`s a vote against Donald Trump."
John Kasich did get "The Boston Globe" endorsement a while back before the New Hampshire primary. The newspaper today isn`t so much singing John Kasich`s praises again as they are begging "Boston Globe" readers to try to stop Donald Trump somehow, please -- even if it means voting for John Kasich.
There`s also an anti-Donald Trump super PAC that is making the same public pitch. They are called Our Principles PAC. They`ve been running ads and making calls against Donald Trump since last month.
The director of that super PAC who was back in the day a senior advisor to Mitt Romney, she`s now published a public three-page memo begging more Republicans to step up to stop Mr. Trump.
Quote, "There`s an increasing worry about among many Republicans that we`re about nominate a candidate who shares none of the values our party has held dear for decades and who will lead our party to general election ruin in November. That candidate is Donald Trump and that fear is well founded. Many have asked me what can be done to stop Donald Trump. The answer is simple: TRY." That was in all caps, try.
"No one has stopped him because no one has really tried." Quote, "In my nearly 30 years of political involvement, I`ve never seen a campaign where the frontrunner had no aggressive, strategic campaign launched against him."
And then basically she begs for money for her super PAC to run anti-Donald Trump ads targeting Republican voters. She says the best message they have come up with Donald Trump in terms of stopping Republicans for supporting him is asking Republicans how much they really know about Mr. Trump and asking if Mr. Trump really can be trusted. So, give us money, we`ll run those ads.
Will that work? I don`t know. Seems a little late to be trying to gin up a big national effort like that. But if the Republican Party is going to stop Donald Trump from becoming their nominee, that plan, as late and haphazard add it seems, that seems like the better plan than the other thing the Republicans are trying. And that is the thing that they are trying right here in Nevada tonight and that is next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: As lots of Republicans freak out about how well Donald Trump is doing in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, one desperate Republican theory of the race is that once there aren`t so many people running anymore, a consensus non-Donald Trump candidate will emerge and that`s how Mr. Trump will eventually lose the fight for the nomination. It`s just that there are too many people running.
Well, so far, of the 17 people initially running for the nomination on the Republican side, 12 of them, poofed, have quit, 12 of the 17 and that`s done nothing to shake Mr. Trump`s position at the top of the Republican polls.
The latest to leave the race, of course, is Jeb Bush. But check this out, an NBC survey monkey poll of Jeb Bush supporters asked where those people might go now, now with Jeb Bush out of race.
The answer is they are not going any one particular place. They`re going to scatter to the four winds: 19 percent of them say they`ll go to Rubio, 16 percent to Kasich, 12 percent to Ted Cruz, 11 percent say they`ll go to Donald Trump.
So, even something like Jeb Bush getting out of the race doesn`t result in a bunch of new anti-Trump votes pre-floating around the race. Some of those people go to Donald Trump.
Republican elected officials, though, have decided that they are sticking with this general theory, this consolidate around one anti-Trump candidate theory and it`s become very clear over the last 48 hours that they are picking Marco Rubio as that candidate.
Mr. Rubio has not won a state anywhere. He`s not come within ten points of winning a state. But the list of endorsers he`s picked up since he got clobbered by Donald Trump this weekend in South Carolina almost might make you think that Marco Rubio was the front-runner.
That surge of interest in him on the Republican side, it couldn`t come at a better time for Senator Rubio. He may not have won a state anywhere, but here in Nevada, he`s got a better shot than almost anywhere else. This is almost like a home game for him.
Senator Rubio and his family lived this Nevada for a while he was growing up. He still has a large extended family here. The senator and his family briefly converted to Mormonism while they were here.
In the past, a quarter of the turnout of Nevada Republican caucuses have been Mormons. Senator Rubio has also run a big campaign here than any other Republican candidate in the race. He`s trying really hard to win this race.
On paper, he ought to win this race. He now has all the establishment support in the world. He`s set up to win. If he can`t win here, where on earth can he win?
But if the Rubio campaign is expecting to win here tonight, they certainly are playing it cool, because when the caucuses report their first vote in tonight, Ted Cruz is going to be here in a watch party on the strip. Donald Trump is going to be here at watch party on the Strip.
Marco Rubio, when the votes start coming in tonight in Nevada, he`s going to be in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is either brilliant lowering of expectations, right? I had no idea I could win. I`m so outperforming the expectations. It`s either that, or it`s a really good sign he`s not going to win here, of all places.
Joining me now is the one person who I most want to speak with on a big night in Nevada, Jon Ralston, host of "Ralston Reports", and an MSNBC political analyst.
Jon, it`s great to see you. Nice to see you, my friend.
JON RALSTON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, we just saw Donald Trump at caucus. We saw -- he walked in as Glenn Beck was wrapping up his pitch for Ted Cruz and Donald Trump came in and did his pitch in person.
Everyone seems to think that there`s no contest here, that Mr. Trump is going to run away with it. Does that seem like the case to you?
RALSTON: Well, it seems like that`s the case to me, Rachel. Not so much because of the polling data, of the public and polling data, private polling data that I`ve seen, Rachel, but because of what the Rubio and Cruz campaigns are saying privately. A representative of one of those campaigns, today, this morning, when I asked for his prediction predicted that Trump would win the race by 25 points. There`s confidence for you.
So, you know, we probably see Marco Rubio in Michigan giving a victory speech for getting 12 percent of the vote and finishing in second or third. That`s what this race looks like right now.
Before we go on, I want to say I agree with something Donald Trump said tonight, Rachel. I`m a big fan of your charts as well. I want you to know that.
MADDOW: Well, thank you very much. I never knew my charts had a following. But I have a feeling there will be a t-shirt soon.
RALSTON: They do.
MADDOW: John, let me ask you about this issue of turnout, right? So, we have been watching the turn out closely toward the general election, because on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders is saying, "I can excite all these people. I can turn out all these people. The whole secret of how I`m not going to win the nomination but be a good president is I`m going to get so many people involved in the process."
But Democratic turn out has been down below 2008 levels in every state where they have competed thus far. Republican turnout has been a record where they have competed so far.
Does it look like that`s going to happen tonight in Nevada as well on the Republican side?
RALSTON: It does indeed. Now, the Democrats, as you know, on Saturday here turned out about 84,000 people. That`s compared to 120,000 they turned out in `08, a significant drop off there. The Republicans have had terrible turnouts in these two early state caucuses, a little over 40,000 in `08 and about 33,000 four years ago, Rachel. It`s going to be at least that much.
The pre-registration was at 37,000, as you mentioned. Then it went up to 41,000 a little bit later. I don`t know what the final number is. But that as you know is more than the total turnout. Some people think it could be as high as 75,000, 80,000, which it sounds like a low number and it is a low number in most other states.
It`s actually a low number in relation to the total number of Republican voters in the state, which are more than 400,000. But it`s clearly going to be much bigger than anyone anticipated here. You can see that. As I said earlier on Twitter, Rachel, I don`t know of any organization less prepared to deal with higher than expected turn out than the Nevada Republican Party.
MADDOW: Well, they had very low turn out this 2008 and 2012. And they absolutely completely blew it. If they have giant turnout tonight and they do great, it will be a miracle on a miracle, which is starting to be what it`s going to feel like.
MADDOW: Jon Ralston, appreciate it, my friend. The host of "Ralston Reports", MSNBC analyst -- going to be a long night but a fun one, Jon. We`ll check in with you later.
RALSTON: All right.
MADDOW: All right. We`re roughly 90 minutes into the Nevada caucuses. I shouldn`t say that because they start at different times. If things are like the disastrous 2012 caucuses, we won`t get official results for another two days. But if we are lucky we could get the results tonight. That`s the best case scenario. Some people are saying maybe tomorrow afternoon. Maybe. I don`t know.
It`s going to be fun. Stay with us. Lots to come.
MADDOW: So, here`s how this goes tonight. All the caucuses here in Nevada will have their doors closed by 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time. They will all end, all the caucuses will end by midnight Eastern Time, which is 9:00 local.
So, in terms of coverage tonight, in terms of figuring out who won and watching all the returns, our full live coverage from here in Las Vegas is going to start right here after this show at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Brian Williams, Chris Matthews, the whole gang.
We`re going to start right after this show at 10:00 p.m. Eastern and it`s going to go until the cows come home. You can sleep in November.
We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: This is what I think of the president`s plan to send terrorists to the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Ooh, tough guy.
I don`t know if that what counts as an official response from Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas. But in broad terms, it really does represent the Republican`s position on President Obama`s new proposal to close the prison at Guantanamo. Crumple, crumple, not going to happen. Tough guy.
But that was not all that President Obama heard from Congress today. He also heard from lawmakers today about the new vacancy on the Supreme Court after the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia. President Obama was seen heading home from work on Friday night with a binder full of homework, possible names and resumes for Supreme Court nominees.
But it turns out it doesn`t matter who President Obama picks out of that binder. Republicans in the Senate say they will not give any Obama nominee a chance regardless of who it might be. They say they will not so much take a meeting with someone chosen by this president.
What would be the point of that?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Will you actually not meet with the nominee?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I don`t know the purpose of such a visit. I would not be inclined to take one myself.
REPORTER: And, Senator Cornyn, would you not either meet with a nominee?
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I don`t see the point of going through the motions if we know what the outcome is going to be and we are united on that. I don`t see the point of going through the motions and creating a misleading impression that something else is going on here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Republicans do not want to create a misleading impression they will do anything about this crucial vacancy on the Supreme Court. They want President Obama to know no meetings, no hearings, certainly no vote, no nothing on anyone who the president might dare nominate for the Supreme Court.
So, there are these two things now where Congress is telling the president no way, no how, not going to happen. On one of them, on the Supreme Court seat, the Senate, of course, does have the power to hold that vacancy open, to block the president, right?
The Senate can stop any nomination in its tracks. The Senate can guarantee that seat remains vacant for more than a year despite the historically unprecedented nature of them doing so. They can do that by refusing to act even though they will pay a political price for it, they can do it.
On the other one, on the question of closing Guantanamo, it is not as clear that Congress has the power to stop the president from doing it. What the president proposed today is not really a new plan. It`s essentially -- it`s a reiteration of what he has said previously, what the solution should be.
There`s an argument that`s been made by former Obama administration officials in public that President Obama doesn`t need approval from Congress in order to carry out the solution to Guantanamo. The White House, of course, says they prefer that Congress do it. They prefer that Congress do it, go along and do this together, but they have never ruled out executive action by the president to close Guantanamo, the same way the president took executive action on immigration when Congress refused to go along with reform on that issue despite the president giving them a big plan to do so.
So, two big jobs for the president right now -- nominating someone for the Supreme Court and closing Guantanamo. One of those jobs he really can`t do by himself. But the other one, Guantanamo, he just might. He`s not ruling out.
Watch this space.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Mitt is tough. He`s smart. He`s sharp. He`s not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country that we all love.
So, Governor Romney, go out and get `em. You can do it.
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER GOP NOMINEE: Thank you.
There are some things that you just can`t imagine happening in your life. This is one of them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Doesn`t it look like he just swallowed a live bird there? Just went down wrong, feathers, dry.
That was Donald Trump endorsing Mitt Romney just a few days before he won the Nevada caucus in 2012. So far, though, Mr. Romney has not returned the favor this year. He has not endorsed Donald Trump in the Republican race this year. Mr. Romney has not endorsed anyone at all.
Over the weekend, the rumor was that Marco Rubio would be getting Mitt Romney`s endorsement and soon. That was going around on Sunday, but still tonight, the night of the Nevada caucus, there has been nothing from the 2012 presidential candidate, in a state where he won twice, a state where Mormons came out in droves for him during the last caucuses, where his endorsement could hold some real weight no matter who he gave it to.
In any case, Mitt Romney is not the only potentially bigwig withholding what could potentially be an explosive endorsement in the Republican race.
Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson spent upwards to $100 million in the 2012 primary and general elections, he reportedly has met with some of the candidates this year, including Mr. Trump, but other than that, his lips and checkbook have been sealed.
In December, everybody thought it was a sure fire sign that Sheldon Adelson would be getting back in the game when he bought the largest newspaper in Nevada, "The Las Vegas Review Journal", obviously a very powerful tool in an early caucus state, right? A huge mouth piece for somebody who wants to play a role in politics.
A few months later, a few months after Mr. Adelson bought the paper, that same paper did endorse Marco Rubio, but Sheldon Adelson himself has basically stayed silent. Not only has he not made an endorsement, or even hinted at one, he spent nowhere near the amount of money he spent last time around. He`s mostly just made small ball donations in the race so far, with no particular focus.
Polling in Nevada on either side is notoriously untrustworthy, but just as a guide post going to tonight`s caucus, polls have shown Donald Trump way ahead of the rest of the candidates, anywhere from 16 to 26 points ahead of everybody else, which is why it`s weird that given the sketchy polling situation and the amount of sway that endorsers could hold in a state like Nevada, neither Mitt Romney nor Sheldon Adelson have made a peek about their preferred candidate so far.
In a state like this, those particular endorsements might have a big impact on the outcome of the race where Donald Trump is basically swamping the rest of the field. So why haven`t they?
MADDOW: So here`s an unexpected turn in the Republican presidential caucuses. This is unexpected. Check this out.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MICHELLE FIORE: This Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, repeat it. Mark?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Assemblywoman Michele Fiore!
FIORE: I have landed in Portland, Oregon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have rented what?
FIORE: I have landed in Portland, Oregon. I am sitting here at the airport right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am sitting here at the airport right now.
FIORE: I will let the FBI come and bring me to the refuge and negotiate this exit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, guys, are you there?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, hang in there. I think I got Michele Fiore and I`m going to try to patch her in this call, OK?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. We`ve got Michelle Fiore on the phone right now. We`re talking to Michele Fiore right now on the phone. She`s hearing what you`re doing.
FIORE: Ask them to call me right now. I am willing -- I am Assemblywoman Michele Fiore. I am willing to come to the refuge right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. She`s coming to the refuge. She`s willing to come to the refuge right now and you guys are holding back a peaceful resolution by not negotiating and letting her have her chance. So, you are -- you are destroying the competition if you let her have her way because she`s here and she`s a congresswoman with high respect. And so, if you don`t let her come here, you will be held accountable if there`s bloodshed, Mark. You are going to go to prison.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mark, she has connections, Mark. There`s lots of people with connections, Mark.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: There`s lots of people with connections, Mark. Lots of people with connections. You are going to destroy the Constitution if you don`t let her have her way.
That was a Nevada legislature, a Republican assemblywoman from Nevada who relishes being kind of a provocateur on lots of issues, especially gun rights. But that sound was just from a few weeks ago when she jetted up to eastern Oregon to try to be a go between, between the increasingly agitated holdout armed militants at that wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon and the federal government.
Here at home in Nevada, Assemblywoman Fiore is he`s running for Congress. She`s also on the Nevada leadership team for presidential candidate Ted Cruz.
And so, this is the thing that`s flying a little bit under the national radar, but one of the ways that Ted Cruz is trying to run for president is by going for what you might call the Bundy vote, the Bundy Ranch vote.
See that "return our land" banner behind Ted Cruz there? That`s what the Ted Cruz campaign is like here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to take the 85 percent of the land in the state of Nevada owned by the federal government and transfer it back to the state and back to the people!
Eighty-five percent of the state of Nevada is owned by the federal government.
That is going to end.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This is kind of an obscure issue in most of the country. I mean, even here in Las Vegas, Nevada, this is a bit of an obscure issue, but Ted Cruz is campaigning on it in the state. He is running ads on this issue in Nevada.
He`s even brought on board his campaign, a central figure in both the Cliven Bundy son`s armed standoff with the federal government in Oregon, and the other Bundy family armed standoff with the federal government in Nevada in 2014.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Assemblywoman, why are you there near the Bundy Ranch tonight celebrating?
FIORE: Questioning why the heck the federal government felt the need to come in armed and collect an unpaid bill.
HAYES: He says he does not deny the authority of the federal government. I`m basically quoting him there. Do you -- do you agree with that stance? Do you recognize the authority of the federal government?
FIORE: I recognize our federal government overstepped and overreached in our state of Nevada. That`s what I recognize.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was during the armed standoff between militant ranchers and their supporters at the Bundy Ranch in 2014. That was 2014.
Now, this is the Ted Cruz campaign for president in this state and who knows? Maybe it will win him the Bundy vote. Maybe it will win him some other votes in rural Nevada. It might. It might also possibly be hard to explain in other states that the Bundy Ranch vote, the armed insurrection against the government vote is part of how Ted Cruz put together his path to the presidential nomination, if he does.
We`ll see, very soon, because that does it for us tonight and our special team coverage of the Nevada Republican caucuses starts right now from Las Vegas. Do not move a muscle.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END