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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 3/16/2016

Guests: Dahlia Lithwick, Nina Totenberg

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: March 16, 2016 Guest: Dahlia Lithwick, Nina Totenberg

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

We knew this day would come. We did not know exactly when. As recently as yesterday there are people paid to talk for a living who were assuring us that this day would definitely not come today but it`s come today. The time has, in fact, arrived.

And my friends, we must now gather together to poof Marco Rubio. We started with 17, 17 -- 17 people all got in over the course of last spring and summer.

Nobody got out until September 11th when the first one we got to poof was Rick Perry. Ten days later, we got to poof Scott Walker. Then we went almost another two months without being able to poof anyone until finally bye-bye, Bobby Jindal. A month after that, right before Christmas, we got to poof Lindsey Graham, poof.

And then between Christmas and New Year`s, we were supposed to poof George Pataki but it was between Christmas and New Year`s, a lot of stuff going on and it was George Pataki and honestly we kind of forgot to poof him. Governor Pataki, we owe it to you. Poof. December 29th.

Then after Iowa, at the start of February, in quick succession we poofed Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum. A week and a half after New Hampshire, it was a conflagrations of poofing. We lost in quick succession, Chris Christie, poof, Carly Fiorina, poof, and Jim Gilmore, poof.

A week later after South Carolina, the Bush family`s long multigenerational winning streak ended in that state and we got to poof Jeb Bush.

And now, we`ve arrived in the month of March and the first week of March, we pulled a little bit of a Pataki on this show when I forgot to poof Ben Carson. No real reason I forgot to poof Ben Carson. Every time I started thinking about it and working on that segment, I just got distracted, my mind wandered. It was totally on me. Earlier this month I forgot to poof Ben Carson when he quit on March 4th. But he did quite, poof. And then we were down to four.

So, the field of candidates that was so giant to begin with, we`ve had to poof so many of these people over the past few months to get down to this little group, we`ve got left. You think we`d be used to it and it wouldn`t be a big deal anymore but it always feels like a big deal when somebody drops out of the race and now in particular, when you`re down to this tiny number of people still left in the race, it is kind of dramatic to lose one.

It`s also dramatic to lose people from the Republican race right now, to keep poofing people off what started as a giant roster of candidates because now we`re starting to think seriously about the prospect that maybe the Republican Party will poof everybody off this list. That they will not just get down to one, they will get down to none.

I mean, it is a fairly open discussion in some Republican Party circles right now about whether the Republican Party will add a new potential nominee to the mix at their convention in Cleveland, somebody who`s not been running in the race already for the past year. It`s hard to believe you can`t find one person you like out of 17 candidates, but they really might try to find the one Republican who didn`t actually find time to run for president this year and they might give the nomination to that person instead because they don`t like any of the 17.

Today, former Republican House Speaker John Boehner said in Ohio that he would be happy to go with that kind of a plan. John Boehner has just said that if none of the remaining candidates in the race get a majority of delegates on the first ballot at the convention this summer, he says none of those candidates should get the nomination. And he also says none of those candidates would get his vote. He says at that point after just one ballot, he`d be happy to pick somebody altogether new and his pick would be the current House speaker, Paul Ryan.

And if this line of reasoning sounds familiar, it`s because Paul Ryan got the House speaker`s job not too long ago after a similar dynamic emerged in the leadership of the Republican party not in terms of the presidential candidate but in terms of who would be their leader in Congress. The Republican Party needed a new speaker of the House after John Boehner unexpectedly resigned last fall.

Dozens of possible candidates emerge from within the Republican Party, literally there were tons of them. We tried to line them all up and pick them out like an eye chart at one point and it was very hard to do. I mean, even some potential House speaker candidates who weren`t actually members of Congress, just random outside Republicans that they thought they might tap for the job to come in and take over for John Boehner, even they were among people discussed as possible House speakers.

And, yes, Paul Ryan is now saying, absolutely not, to the prospect that the Republican National Convention might turn to him this summer. That they might turn to somebody completely outside the presidential contest thus far to save the party and step in, become a fresh new nominee unsullied by the primary process. Yes, Paul Ryan is saying no to that now.

But remember, when the speaker`s job was open in the Republican Party, he also said no to that job. He said no a thousand times in a thousand ways that he liked his current job, he absolutely did not want to be speaker of the House and would not be speaker of the House, but you know what, he`s now speaker of the House. And so, who knows?

Donald Trump may end up being the Republican nominee. John Kasich or Ted Cruz might end up being the Republican nominee. We may well end up poofing Donald Trump and John Kasich and Ted Cruz off the list of candidates before this process is done.

I mean, maybe the Republican Party really well have ended up considering all 17 of their potential declared candidates this year and maybe they will reject all of them. But we`re not there yet. And today, it really is a big deal for this epic race on the Republican side that it has now gone from four people to three people.

So, let`s do it. Are you ready? Say it with me now. Senator Rubio, three, two, one -- poof.

Senator Marco Rubio is used to getting absolutely fawning national press coverage. Good for him. You know, people criticize him for getting this. It`s a skill to get good press coverage. He`s really good at getting good press coverage. I mean, his hometown press in Florida doesn`t treat him with nearly the same suck-up-itude as the national press does.

But the national press has serious suck-up-itude for Marco Rubio. They treat him so well, it almost creepy. The national press portrayed him almost literally as a messiah figure for his party. He`s been the guy whose concession speeches were treated like victory speeches.

In this campaign, he`s the guy who was lauded in the press as not just a top-tier competitor but even the likely nominee of the Republican Party this year even as real voters in state after state after state kept saying no, they did not want him over and over and over again.

And then in his home state last night, Marco Rubio did not just lose by a lot, last night in his home state, this is not a typo. This is not us screwing up the graphic or somebody dropping their lipstick on the slide. This is the result last night in Florida. Marco Rubio lost 66 out of 67 counties in the state. And so, then last night, he had to quit this presidential race.

And so that brings us to today, which, of course, would end up being a very different kind of day for Marco Rubio than he was used to from the press, right? After a lifetime worth of positive national press crammed into these few short years he`s had in national politics. Marco Rubio today had to brace himself for the first full day of terrible press coverage he has ever had in this life, right?

Today was Marco Rubio political obituary day, but unlike a real obituary where people say nice things about you because you`re gone, in a political obituary we`re not really gone, you`re just a failure. So, nobody tends to hold back on saying every bad thing about you, listing every bad thing you ever did wrong in your life, let alone this campaign.

This is one of the reasons you don`t want to go into politics statistically speaking, right? This doesn`t happen in every industry but for politicians they have what I`ve always thought of as salt in the wound day, day after losing day, right? It`s the day after you have the worst public career humiliation of your life.

If you`re a big enough deal as a politician, after you have that terrible public humiliation and failure, you have to spend the next day reading all about how terribly you blew it and how you deserved it and.

So, Marco Rubio had to brace for that today. After quitting last night, that`s what Marco Rubio knew he was going to have to do today.

Until he didn`t have to do that at all, because apparently for Marco Rubio, there is yet one more gift from the gods of the national political media. Yes, yes, this happened today before lunchtime.

Yes, thank you, President Obama. Thank you, Supreme Court nomination process. Thank you, gods and goddesses of limited news cycle attention spans and fortuitous timing.

Today, the best day of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland`s life just stepped on the tail of what was all set to be the worst day in the political life of Marco Rubio.

I mean, guess what pushed the end of Marco Rubio`s political career completely out of the news cycle today? Woo-hoo! Thank you.

And for that, surely, Judge Merrick Garland should be able to count on a payback thank you vote from Marco Rubio in the United States Senate, right? Maybe? I`m fairly certain that will actually not happen although the rules of karma say that it should.

We`re in this interesting moment, though, now, because now we`ve got a Supreme Court nominee, not just a Supreme Court vacancy, not just a Supreme Court issue and a debate, now we`ve got a name. Now we`ve got a person. We`ve got a record. We`ve got a resume.

And we`re going to be talking this hour with both Dahlia Lithwick and Nina Totenberg about Judge Merrick Garland and his prospects of becoming Justice Merrick Garland. We`re going to be talking about with this nomination means.

But this nomination happened today in the context of this red-hot political campaign that we`re in right now, right? This unusually insane process we`re having this year of trying to choose a successor to President Obama. I mean, today, alone, we`ve got Senator Rubio dropping out of the race.

We`ve got the real prospect that Marco Rubio may go further than quitting the presidential race. He may actually quit his U.S. Senate seat rather than return to it.

Part of the way Senator Rubio campaigned for the presidency was by talking openly about how much he hated the job of being a U.S. senator, bragging about the fact that he basically never shows up for that job, trying to turn his worst voting record in the Senate into some sort of political advantage because he hates the Senate so much. He`s been open about that, right?

So there`s the prospect that he will also quit the Senate. That`s out there today.

We`ve also got former Rubio supporters in the state of Pennsylvania tonight dropping their legal challenges which could have potentially kept Ohio Governor John Kasich off the presidential ballot in Pennsylvania. There`s some question about the signatures that John Kasich`s campaign filed to get Governor Kasich onto the Pennsylvania ballot, but those challenges to his eligibility, those are challenges that came from Marco Rubio supporters and those challenges have now been dropped in the wake of Senator Rubio quitting the race.

I mean, everybody thinks Marco Rubio`s supporters and his donors and campaign infrastructure are all going to go to Ted Cruz but maybe this is little sign that John Kasich could be in the running for some of that, too. Who knows?

I mean, John Kasich certainly seems like he`d be a bet than Ted Cruz when it comes to running against Donald Trump in forthcoming states like Pennsylvania and Maryland and Connecticut and maybe Wisconsin and New York and New Jersey and Delaware. Maybe even Utah which votes next week. Wouldn`t John Kasich potentially run better than Ted Cruz against Donald Trump in those states?

Then simultaneously, there`s also the fate of the stop Donald Trump effort within the Republican Party and the conservative movement. So, not just the guys running against him, but the effort within the party to try to stop him. Politico.com reports now that there will be yet another conservative summit in Washington, D.C., tomorrow to, again, try to stop Mr. Trump`s march to the nomination and who knows, maybe this one will do the trick.

But these efforts within the Republican Party and within the conservative movement to try to stop Donald Trump, I mean, they did just get a big full- scale road test in the great state of Florida where the $15 million spent just against Donald Trump in that one state in advance of last night`s vote, that $15 million anti-Trump dollars, $15 million, that positively dwarfs anything spent against any other candidate or for any other candidate in that state.

And the result, we now know, of that massive concentrated sustained anti- Donald Trump onslaught in the state of Florida was that Donald Trump last night won 66 out of the 67 counties in the state of Florida and he polished off his earlier meal of the state`s former Republican governor with a tasty dessert of the state`s messiah junior senator.

So, now, we`ve got this nominee, this Supreme Court nominee. Republicans in the Senate say that Judge Merrick Garland will never get a hearing. Let alone a vote. Let alone confirmed as long as Barack Obama is still president of the United States.

And everybody`s entitled to say how they see things. Everybody`s entitled to make their own threats in politics.

But for his part, President Obama seems to think that picking this particular nominee is his best chance of getting around those political threats. And that is in part because of who Judge Merrick Garland is, but it is also in part because Judge Garland`s nomination is happening now. Judge Garland`s nomination is happening this year in this political environment with all this mishegoss as the background political noise in the Republican Party.

President Obama seems to think in this time, in this place with the national politics we`re having right now, Merrick Garland is the one key that will turn in this particular lock. Is he right?

Joining us now is my friend, Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at "Slate".

Dahlia, I`m glad you could be with us tonight. Thank you so much for being here.

DAHLIA LITHWICK, SENIOR EDITOR, SLATE: Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: Is Merrick Garland a liberal or a moderate?

LITHWICK: He`s a liberal-moderate. He`s somewhere between the two. I think that, you know, one thing we can say is he`s got a 19-year judicial record, Rachel. So, whatever he is, he`s not a mystery and I think he`s pretty much a Obama kind of reach-across-the aisle consensus building, incremental, judicial humility moderate liberal guy.

MADDOW: One of the other criteria touted about some of the other people said to be on the short list for this pick were they had been confirmed to their most recent federal judgeship with zero votes against them. That`s true of the few other people on the short lists that have been circulated in the media.

That`s not actually true of Judge Garland. There were more than 20 votes against him when he was confirmed to his current job as chief justice on the D.C. Circuit Court.

What was that about and should that be seen as relevant to his political viability?

LITHWICK: Well, I don`t think so. I mean, it was a very, very hotly contested confirmation and nomination, and it lagged for months and months and months. But I think probably the most useful number is there are eight Republicans who are sitting Republicans now who did vote for him.

And I think not even the vote, Rachel, but the rhetoric around him subsequently has been so interesting because no less a person than Orrin Hatch said very recently, you know, if Obama wanted to be reasonable, he`d give us a moderate candidate like Merrick Garland. And so, they talk about him as though he is a centrist person that they can confirm very recently talking about him that way, and then suddenly he`s named and they`re like, Obama`s just fake reasonable.

So, you know, it`s -- this is not just the vote, itself, but the language around him which has been so supportive. He`s such a beloved figure across the board, so many former solicitors general have come out and said, you know, this is your guy across the aisle and, yet, it doesn`t matter what the vote was, it doesn`t matter what they said about him, now that he`s the pick, he is, you know, a pot smoking hippy liberal.

MADDOW: Well, the president`s strategy here, the way you`re laying that out seems very clear, right? This is somebody who might be the hardest person in the country for Republican senators to say no to, particularly not Republican senators in the abstract, but the Republican senators currently in the United States Senate and have to face this promise that they`ve all made that he`s not going to get a hearing. That`s obviously the take that -- that`s the tact that the White House took with this choice.

Do you agree that was the right strategy to take? There`s other ways to do it. You can pick somebody who can really galvanize liberals to try to make this a general election issue, to try to help the Democratic nominee by effectively putting the Supreme Court nominee on the ticket with Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, you can approach it through some sort of bank shot where you elevate somebody because you want to put somebody else in their seat and you can campaign in either of them.

What do you think about the president`s strategic choice here?

LITHWICK: I was a person not a week ago saying put up Elizabeth Warren, put Deval Patrick, put someone who`s going to galvanize the base, get out the vote, who`s basically going to be Hillary`s mini me vice president who just stumps for, you know, months saying give me a hearing, give me a hearing and make it somebody that the base is excited about. And even I think it`s fair to say, Sri Srinivasan, Jane Kelly, some of the people who are on the list until the last second, even though they`d be called moderate centrists, you know, left, but certainly I think people who everybody could have lived with, they would have at least had this sort of demographic appeal. You know, maybe he`d be putting up the first African- American woman, maybe he`d be putting up the first Hindu.

All that falls away when he makes a decision to put up not just a white guy from Harvard, like we haven`t had a million of those on this court, but a white guy from Harvard who`s 63, right, who`s easily 12, 13 years older than a lot of the other people on this short list.

I think the reason is exactly what you said. He just made the decision, Rachel, that he was going to use this, I think, to box in Republicans, to force them, particularly Republicans in contested races, in the Senate, to go back and say, "I`m not voting for him, I`m not even meeting him, when he walks down the hall, I`m going to hide under my desk. But I -- no, no, he`s not even real to me."

I think it was an effort to do that, to sort of say, you live with the fact that I put up, you know, an incredibly moderate reasonable white person who you lauded only recently and you won`t even shake his hand.

MADDOW: Trying to push that resistance to the breaking point which will set a weird precedent if and when it doesn`t break.

Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at "Slate" -- I was looking forward to talking to you about this. Thanks for being here, Dahlia.

LITHWICK: Thank you for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: I will say that the -- with this nominee, we don`t know exactly what the president was thinking or what`s going to happen next. We`re going to be talking with Nina Totenberg about this later in the hour.

It is my sense the White House can`t expect that Merrick Garland is going to end up on the Supreme Court at the end of this process. Republicans in the Senate say they`re not going to hear him. If a Republican wins a presidential election, Republicans in the Senate then definitely aren`t going to hear him. If a Democrat wins the presidential election, I think that Democratic nominee will want his or her own nominee to put forward, right?

Maybe they`ll pick the same person that President Obama picked. More likely they`d pick their own. I think the president does not expect that Merrick Garland will end up on the court but the White House probably calculates if something goes crazy in this most unpredictable political seasons that we`re in, if Merrick Garland does get the vote, the country would be in safe hands. I think that`s their calculation. That said, I`m completely making that up.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Here`s what Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said today when he was asked if there is a Republican convention this summer that is contested and the result of that contested convention is that he does not win the nomination.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): I think we`ll win before getting to the convention, but I can tell you if we didn`t and if we`re 20 votes short or if we`re -- if we`re, you know, 100 short and we`re at 1,100 and somebody else is at 500 or 400 because we`re way ahead of everybody, I don`t think you can say that we don`t get it automatically. I think it would be -- I think you`d have riots. I think you`d have riots.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: It`s one thing for other people to predict violence or even riots in a politician`s campaign, it`s another thing for the candidate, himself, to promise/threaten that and then not condemn that as a possibility.

More on that next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: OK, this is a little bit of a doozy and will not see this elsewhere.

But before we have to start covering fistfights and soccer punches and kick the protester scrums at Donald Trump political events, back before Donald Trump made national presidential politics look like this in our country, it used to be a rare thing to see a punch thrown in major party national politics. It used to be really rare. It used to be newsworthy when there was a small punch, a shove even within the context of presidential campaigning.

But that is what happened last year when Marco Rubio`s deputy campaign manager got into a little physical skirmish at a Republican conference in Michigan. This happened in September. A bunch of the Republican candidates and their campaign staffs were all hanging out on Mackinaw Island in my favorite state of Michigan and something went wrong in a bar.

And you can see here on this tape that we`ve looped here that one of these staffers landed a punch or shove or some kind a whack on or near the jaw line of another guy who was attending that conference, so, you know, it`s exciting. Bar fight or bar punch or bar shove, or not that much of anything. But this happened.

And the reason anybody knew it happened is because punching and shoving used to be rare in presidential politicking and because the two guys who were involved in this little altercation were both working for presidential campaigns. The puncher was the deputy campaign manager for Marco Rubio. The punchee, the guy on the receiving end of that whatever it was, he identified himself publicly after the incident as both the guy who got punched in that bar and as a high-level staffer for the Rand Paul campaign, which used to be a thing.

The punchee`s name is a very memorable name. His name is John Yob. John Yob is a longtime Republican operative. He was national political operative for John McCain in 2008.

He worked on my friend Rick Snyder`s gubernatorial campaign in Michigan. He worked for "I am not a witch" Christine O`Donnell and her failed Senate campaign in 2010. He also worked for the Sharron Angle failed Senate campaign that same year.

But John Yob, if you want to know what he really is now, he`s tried to carve out a niche for himself not just as a generic campaign guy but as a delegate guy. When Rick Santorum came in second in the Republican presidential primary in 2012, John Yob ran Rick Santorum`s delegate operations and that`s really became his area of focus.

John Yob is an experienced political operative, here he is. Also, specifically, he`s a delegate guy. He`s fashioned himself into being an expert on delegates and specifically on political conventions.

Last month, he published this book, "Chaos: The Outsider`s Guide to a Contested Republican National Convention." Timely, right? The book makes a prediction about the current Republican primary.

It says, quote, "The only thing that is certain is that there will be chaos in Cleveland." Chaos in Cleveland.

You know, even if none of the rest of us are experts on this stuff, we can all do enough of the delegate math, ourselves, to know the only hope the Republican Party has of stopping Donald Trump from becoming the nominee is to try to maneuver these delegates he`s earning across country as he wins state after state to somehow peel those delegates off Donald Trump and cobble together a majority of those delegates to support somebody else at the convention.

Now, that`s not stealing. It`s not illegal. It`s not necessarily against the rules unless they decide to break the rules.

But that sort of thing, that sort of process which I think is the only way Donald Trump doesn`t end up the nominee, it`s kind of a dark art, right? It requires a sorcerer`s knowledge of the rules and the rules for making the rules. It requires tons of preparation and organizing. It requires a real commitment to scheme effectively and efficiently out of the public idea and behind the scenes.

And that is why we were very intrigued to see this former Rand Paul staffer, the whacked in the face on Mackinaw Island chaos at the convention delegate math master operative from Michigan, we were very intrigued to see his name turn up at the top of this unexpected list. Because it turns out that guy, John Yob, the guy from Michigan, he just got himself a gig as a presidential delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands. What?

Yes, Republicans in the Virgin Islands held their caucus last week and I remember reporting on it at the time seemed a little weird. We were like the Virgin Islands had their caucus. So far the result is that uncommitted one, how did that turn out?

We knew there was something wrong. Well, turns out what happened there is that John Yob was the Virgin Island`s top vote getter as a delegate and that`s kind of weird. I mean, this whole thing is weird. I mean, most particularly just because a week before the caucus, election officials in the Virgin Islands had declared John Yob and his wife to be ineligible to even vote in the Virgin Islands.

Election officials in the Virgin Islands said he had not lived there long enough to qualify to vote there. They accused him of sneaking around and lying and telling two different stories to try to basically fraudulently get himself onto the voting rolls there even though they thought he had not lived there long enough to qualify.

Then at the last minute, literally the day of the caucus, a local judge said that John Yob would be allowed to vote pending a court hearing later this month. The effect of that ruling was that he could also in addition to voting, he could also stand for election as a delegate, later that day, the same day of the ruling.

He did stand for election as a presidential delegate and he won. He got the most votes of anybody. And so now, he`s going to head to Cleveland as a head of a slate of undeclared delegates from the Virgin Islands who can now be wooed and courted and fought over by all the candidates at the convention in Cleveland. Not to mention things like going to the rules committee meetings and all the other stuff that needs to happen in order to organize this plot if somebody other than Donald Trump is going to get the nomination.

Now, I should tell you, John Yob is very much qualified for the delegate job. He says he finalized a deal on a house in the Virgin Islands back in August. He says he spent time there on and off since 2009. He says his kids are now going to school there.

But if you want a little taste of what we`ve got in store as a nation, as operatives and guys with resumes like this, insinuate themselves into the delegate process for that blessed convention, just look at this. Just look at this, because dark political arts operative John Yob getting himself from Michigan to the Virgin Islands and taking over that slate in the Virgin Islands, it has opened a friendly little window into the most unexpectedly vicious interparty warfare we`ve seen in quite some time.

And here`s what I mean. The vice chair of the Virgin Island Republicans, we called him for comment on this. He told us this week that he voted for John Yob. He said John Yob`s experience and expertise is needed at the national convention. That`s the vice chair.

The chairman on the other hand, when we contacted him for a quote, he volunteered to us his vice chairman is, I quote, "a convicted felon, a moron, a compulsive liar" and, quote, "a Nazi sympathizer."

Excuse me? Not like we asked him what do you think of your vice chair? He volunteered this to us. Oh, really? Tell me more.

The chairman of the Republican Party in the Virgin Islands then told us this. Quote, "I want nothing to do with that Nazi." And to be clear by "that Nazi", he means the vice chairman of the Republican Party in the Virgin Islands and he`s the chairman.

Virgin Island Republicans, I`m in love with you. All of you, I really am, because it turns out there`s. Because at that point, once you heard this, you got to call back the accused Nazi/moron/convict, right? Time for another quote.

So, we called him back and the vice chairman told us, OK, it is true that he`s a felon on a count of federal fraud involving long-distance phone service in the `90s? The vice chairman told us, quote, "The chairman`s right. I am a convict."

The Nazi part, he says that is, quote, "rubbish." Rubbish, rubbish, total hateful rubbish.

Let me mention once again this is the chairman and vice chairman of the Republican Party in that small place, in the place where the guy who literally wrote the book on how to use the delegate process in chaos to game the Republican National Convention this year to your own advantage, he just moved to their little islands in the deep Caribbean and took over their slate of delegates to Cleveland as an uncommitted delegate.

We know what chaos at political conventions looks like. It`s not like we`ve never seen it before in our country. But this year, we are four months out from Cleveland and front-runner Donald Trump today promised riots at the Cleveland convention if he doesn`t get the nomination, and the remaining candidates have all hired slates of these sorcerers who are supposed to be skilled at delegate deceit and trickery and hiding as double agents.

And at least one of those kind of operatives has taken over one territory slate of delegates as that party, itself, melts down back at home amid allegations of who`s a Nazi, and who`s a felon, and whether it`s OK to be one but not both and still be running that party. I mean, we have seen chaos at conventions before. This year`s chaos is well-planned, it turns out, in advance.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Here`s something to watch for ahead of time. This is going to be something you need to put on your calendar for tomorrow morning.

Here`s the context, though. Let`s say Republican Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan quits, let`s say he resigns, or let`s say the recall effort against Governor Snyder succeeds, either succeeds in November and he gets turf out of office, or the recall effort spooks him enough he comes up with some reason to quit before the end of his term.

Either way, let`s just say that in the wake of the Flint, Michigan, lead poisoning crisis that his administration caused, let`s say Rick Snyder is out. In that case, who becomes the governor once Rick Snyder is gone? This case turns out to be an easy question. The answer is, the state`s lieutenant governor.

Not all states have lieutenant governors. But in states that do have one, the main job of the lieutenant governor is to stand around and be ready to take over if the governor`s got to go for some reason.

In Michigan, they do have that job. And so, the new governor if and when Rick Snyder resigns will be this guy. If Rick Snyder is out in Michigan, this guy will move up from lieutenant governor to governor. Got it.

Here`s the harder question, though. If that guy moves up from lieutenant governor to governor, who`s the new lieutenant governor? That turns out to be a good question and a hard one to answer, but it`s one that Michigan started trying to answer today.

Today, two separate bills were filed in the Michigan legislature to try to sort out that part of the state`s law in the event that that manmade disaster in Flint means that Rick Snyder doesn`t make it to the end of his term. The lieutenant governor would move into Rick Snyder`s job. But now, Michigan legislators are looking to name a new lieutenant governor if that comes to pass.

And listen, maybe Rick Snyder will never quit. And maybe the recall against Governor Snyder won`t succeed and won`t rattle him. Maybe this is all just a stunt by Michigan Democrats in the legislature today. Those bills did get filed today.

Here`s the point for your calendar tomorrow, because tomorrow is the day when Rick Snyder is going to be on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., testifying under oath about what he did to Flint. That testimony is due to start tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. and, by the way, the lieutenant governor`s name is Brian Calley, C-A-L-L-E-Y. Everybody`s learning to spell it now. C-A- L-L-E-Y.

Watch this space.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: I`m a crier. Movies. Music. Particularly live music. Good commercials. Bad commercials. Well-crafted tweet. Doesn`t really matter.

If it works, it works. I have leaky waterworks. I cry all the time.

And so, as a crier, I`m more than sympathetic, I am empathetic about crying in public. Even by elected officials, even by sports hero -- by anyone, particularly when it is tears of joy, right?

You know, years of hard work, hoping and planning, it all pays off. There`s that release. There`s that rush of emotion. Today, we got one of those moments in an unexpected context. And for criers everywhere, I think I can say that that is a good thing in and of itself.

But that story is next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MERRICK GARLAND: Thank you, Mr. President. This is the greatest honor of my life. Other than Lynn agreeing to marry me 28 years ago.

It`s also the greatest gift I`ve ever received, except -- and there`s another caveat -- the birth of our daughters, Jesse and Becky.

Fidelity to the Constitution and the law has been the cornerstone of my professional life. And it is the hallmark of the kind of judge I have tried to be for the past 18 years. If the Senate sees fit to confirm me to the position for which I`ve been nominated today, I promise to continue on that course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That was Judge Merrick Garland speaking this morning at the White House not unafraid to show some emotion as he was nominated to the United States Supreme Court by President Obama.

And this is usually the point where somebody yells, "go", then we start learning all sorts of things about judge Garland. Generally from members of Congress who plan on opposing his appointment and outside interest groups who are intent on opposing his appointment. This is when people start not just digging through his history, reading this history of decisions and public statements, favorite music and his sports teams, everything in his life that could potentially be seen as objectionable by anyone. And then everybody who plans on opposing him lines up behind whatever oppo gets kicked up and is thought of as the most resonant at that moment.

And as distasteful as that might be, there`s nothing inherently wrong with that adversarial process, right? Sometimes there are disqualifying occurrences in a judge`s background that might have been missed by the vet, right? Or at least there are some questions that need answering. Something that is raised by all these people who have opposed that judge, that hasn`t come up among the people who support him. That`s why we have hearings for a position like Supreme Court justice.

That`s not really the process that`s under way right now, though, in the case of Judge Merrick Garland. And that`s because as of right now the Republican-controlled Senate does not plan on even having a hearing on his nomination no matter what they like or do not like about him. And that is basically unprecedented.

Joining us now to talk about Judge Garland and his prospects as a Supreme Court nominee is Nina Totenberg. She`s legal affairs correspondent for National Public Radio.

Ms. Totenberg, thank you very much for being here. It`s nice to see you again.

NINA TOTENBERG, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Nice to see you.

MADDOW: So, you reported earlier today that Republicans had essentially suggested Judge Garland as a nominee to the White House by saying even though they don`t hold hearings on him now, they might after the presidential election in the lame duck session. Can you -- can you explain that?

TOTENBERG: Well, I don`t think it was quite an overt suggestion. I was told by Democrats and Republicans that this was a back channel to the White House that said, look, if you make it Garland, we`re not going to give him a hearing, either. But when in the lame duck session after the presidential election, if your side wins, we`ll get him confirmed.

And, you know, that comports with everything we know about Merrick Garland`s relationships. He has friends everywhere along the aisle, not just across the aisle. I talked to nothing but conservative judges today who disagree with him on many things but who love him and respect him and say that he respects them, that as a chief judge, he is the model judge, the person who makes sure that everybody`s view is heard and everybody`s view is considered.

And so, there are a lot of people in this town who love him. Even people - - and, you know, Orrin Hatch, the things that Orrin Hatch said in 1997 when Merrick Garland`s nomination was on the floor of the Senate, you would hope that anybody would say about your nominee, except for the very last thing, which is, and he`s the best the Republicans are going to get.

MADDOW: Well on that -- I guess on the politics of this, the part of it that I don`t get, the part of it that I don`t understand or I feel like maybe I`m just naive about these things, but I feel like if a Republican wins the presidential election and that`s the kind of lame duck that we`re in, then I`m assuming all bets are off.

TOTENBERG: All bets are off.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW: Yes, they`re going to wait until a Republican president comes in to name the nominee. We expect the Obama White House to let the new Democratic president-elect make her own selection at that point, I`m saying her in case, it`s Secretary Clinton.

TOTENBERG: This president has very distinct views about the role of the judiciary, which he wrote about in his book and it is not a super duper liberal viewpoint, it`s defer to the legislation and defer to the executive branch as much as you possibly can, that the courts are really the courts of a last resort. I don`t think a nominee of President Obama`s would be the same as the nominee of a President Clinton or Lord knows of a President Sanders, and I think that he thinks this is his nomination.

Now, he`s a politician. He`s -- some people may think he`s boxed in the Republicans this way, but I also think it comports with who he is. You know, Merrick Garland was the runner up twice before. He wasn`t down, way down on the list. He was the runner up of the time of the Sotomayor and the Kagan nominations.

MADDOW: Nina Totenberg, legal affairs correspondent for National Public Radio, that is -- if the Democratic nominee wins in November and President Obama still has Merrick Garland hanging out there as a nominee , that`s going to be such an unbelievable moment in Democratic politics. Thank you for that reporting. Thanks for talking to us about here. I appreciate it. Thank you.

All right. We`ve got have more ahead on a busy news night. Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: So, last night was an excellent night for Hillary Clinton. It looks like she went five for five in last night`s primaries -- I mean, barring a recount in Missouri, which stranger things have happened. But with that five state sweep last night that was the best night so far. That said, the Sanders` campaign says they feel great right now and that story`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Today, we got kind of a pause in the Democratic campaign for president. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders did any campaign trail events. Senator Sanders huddled with his family in Arizona after a bruising primary night where he appears to have lost all five states.

But even though there were no public events today for either candidate, it doesn`t mean there wasn`t news, because today the Sanders` campaign advisers tried to significantly recast the race. They explained to reporters how they plan to erase a widening delegate gap, which now stands at over 700 delegates if you count so-called super delegates. Super delegates are the roughly 700 or so elected officials who can support whoever they want regardless of how people vote in their state.

Senator Sanders and is allies have railed against the whole idea of the super delegates. They say they subvert the well of the voters. Senator Sanders is back by MoveOn.org on that. They`ve got a campaign to get rid of super delegates that`s got close to 200,000 signatures.

But now, it turns out the Sanders` campaign may need those super delegates. It turns out their plan to get the nomination may turn to play to try to get the supers. Quote, "Sanders super delegate pitch will likely take the shape of both direct lobbying and a more formal pitch to current Clinton super delegates urging them to switch. And the reason Clinton super delegates are supposed to think about switching to Senator Sanders, the argument goes at least, is because Senator Sanders is about to start winning."

As evidence, the Sanders campaign is pointing to six contests next week, five of them caucuses where the Sanders campaign is tended to fare well. There`s a primary in Arizona. There`ll also be caucuses in Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Washington, and Hawaii over the next week. The Sanders campaign believes they can win those six states. They say the terrain continues to get more favorable after that.

They say next week`s contests will reshape the race and result in Clinton super delegates having second thoughts.

Interestingly, the Clinton campaign is playing along with the first part of that. A memo today says that Senator Sanders is poised to have a stretch of favorable states, including five caucuses next week where he`s likely to win.

As to whether or not that winning streak will result in super delegate switching, I doubt the Clinton campaign would concede that. As for the Sanders campaign newfound interest in flipping super delegates, Team Clinton says this, quote, "This seems like the tactics of a campaign that has all but given up on winning the nomination through pledged delegates."

Sanders` campaign, of course, has ample resources at their disposal. Today, Sanders campaign top adviser said, quote, "That he says a lot of daylight ahead, a lot of green pasture." I don`t know if green pastures lie ahead, or if this is very crafty spin designed to obscure what was a very rough night for the Sanders campaign last night. But regardless, the Sanders campaign has now cast a view of how they think they get to the nomination that is very, very different than the way they were talking about getting there before and that really, really, really raises expectations of how they`re going to do in every single contest next week.

That does it for us tonight. We will 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