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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 4/27/2016

The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 4/27/2016

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: April 27, 2016 Guest:

CHRIS HAYES, "ALL IN" HOST: That is "ALL IN" for this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, my friend. Thanks, Chris.

HAYES: You bet.

MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

The organ in the human body that maintains the balance of your blood sugar is called the pancreas. It`s roughly here. Here? Here? It`s kind of alongside the stomach.

The pancreas not to be confused to the placenta, which is a totally different idea, regulates your blood sugar balance. Now, in American politics, I`m pretty sure there is only one person who has ever been called in all serious the patron saint of the pancreas and it is this man who in today`s news you can think of as an earlier iteration of Carly Fiorina.

But in his own lifetime, he was Richard Schweiker and as a senator from Pennsylvania, Richard Schweiker did some fairly heroic legislative work that led to our country having a National Commission on Diabetes and that led to the National Diabetes Act and those things ended up directing a bunch of federal resources to fighting diabetes in our country.

And so, Richard Schweiker, this anti-diabetes crusader in the Senate, was long called the patron saint of the pancreas. And in 1976, he was also the audaciously desperate Hail Mary pass that Ronald Reagan threw when Ronald Reagan was on his way that year to losing the Republican presidential nomination to Gerald Ford.

Gerald Ford in 1976, of course, was the incumbent president. He became president after Nixon resigned, because of Watergate. But in 1976, Ford as the incumbent president, was due to run for a full term on his own terms and Ronald Reagan decided that he would actually be a better choice for the Republican Party, not the incumbent president.

And so, Ronald Reagan as a conservative upstart, he fought President Ford really hard for the Republican nomination that year, fought him for the nomination so hard that year that the Republican Party found itself heading into a contested convention in the summer of 1976.

And you know what? It is one thing to be heading into a contested convention behind as Ronald Reagan was in 1976. It`s one thing to be behind in the number of states that you`ve won in the primaries, to be behind in the popular vote, to be behind in pledged delegates from the primaries. It is daunting enough to be behind in all of those metrics as Ronald Reagan was heading into that contested convention in 1976.

But to be behind like that in states and votes and pledged delegates, not just behind but behind in all those metrics against a guy who is beating you on all of those metrics and who is also the sitting president of the United States, with all of the power and sway that being a president can bring to a convention process -- well, yes, that was really daunting for Ronald Reagan in 1976.

I mean, just being behind heading into a contested convention, you have a good chance of losing, but if the guy you`re behind happens to be the president, you`re definitely going to lose, right? You are definitely going to lose unless you really shake things up somehow.

And so, just before the Republican convention in 1976, Ronald Reagan looked around that summer of 1976, he looked around for some way to shake this thing up and, lo and behold, his eyes lit upon the patron saint of the pancreas. This little known, but well-liked, fairly liberal Republican senator from Pennsylvania, who really had done some good work fighting diabetes, if he was known for anything it was that. As such he was a pick who would pose no risk of overshadowing Ronald Reagan himself.

As a relatively liberal Republican, it was thought that Dick Schweiker could may be reassure some people who were uneasy about how radical Ronald Reagan was as an upstart candidate. But most of all, what Richard Schweiker was in 1976 was a shock to the system.


TV ANCHOR: Good evening. The news tonight begins with a big surprise. Ronald Reagan says he wants Senator Schweiker of Pennsylvania as his running mate if he gets the Republican presidential nomination.

Tom Brokaw was there when the announcement was made.

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: Reagan`s announcement came after a series of weekend interviews in which he said he had not yet decided on a running mate, but by this morning, he had made a decision.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Since I now feel that the people of the delegates have a right to know in advance of the convention who the nominee`s vice presidential choice would be, I am today departing from tradition and announcing my selection. I have chosen the distinguished United States senator from Pennsylvania, the Honorable Richard Schweiker. I`m convinced that this is a ticket behind which all Republicans can unite and which lead our party to victory in November. Thank you all very much for coming.

BROKAW: Reagan left immediately after the announcement. He would not take questions on his decision to pick Schweiker.


MADDOW: That was the end of July 1976. Ronald Reagan was on track at that point to lose the fight for the Republican presidential nomination at a contested convention just a couple of weeks from then.

And this announcement, this surprise announcement that he pulled out of the hat about who his theoretical running mate would be, if he became a presidential nominee, which he never did that, year, right? It was -- it was a shock. It was a surprise.

And by rattling the news cycle like that, it was in fact an interruption to a news cycle and a political trajectory that was otherwise not going his way. And the shock was not necessarily just because of who Dick Schweiker was, the shock was mostly about the fact that Reagan was just picking anyone, that he had decided that he would announce who his vice presidential nominee would be if he were nominated.

I mean, random presidential candidates, people who are still just in contention with other people who are also trying to get the nomination, someone like that is not really in a position to be naming a running mate, right? I mean, vice presidential nominees get announced by people who have clenched a party nomination, not by people losing a presidential primary. But that is what Ronald Reagan did in 1976 when he picked Senator Richard Schweiker as his would-be running mate even before the start of that contested convention.

Once they got to the convention, Reagan tried this further stunt where he wanted to force Gerald Ford to declare who his running mate would be before the delegates ever cast their votes for president. That stunt failed. Frankly, the whole running mate overall failed for Reagan in 1976. It was weird. It was a disruption in his failing campaign against Ford, but Reagan still failed against Ford, and then in the fall, Ford went on to fail against Jimmy Carter in the general election and the legacy of that whole strange unprecedented running mate stunt from 1976 is such that nobody has ever tried it again, right?

It didn`t go well. Nobody else has ever again tried such a palpably desperate and simultaneously arrogant PR stunt like that -- until today when Ted Cruz pulled the same rabbit out of a different hat.

In Indianapolis today, the Ted Cruz campaign put out word that Senator Cruz would be making a major announcement. Most people assumed that if he wasn`t quitting, he`d be announcing some sort of less than thrilling endorsement from a Republican elected official in Indiana somewhere. People starting looking for Mitch Daniels cell phone number.

But instead of something like that, Ted Cruz ended up announcing his own 2016 version of the patron saint of the pancreas. He announced his own would-be, might be, someday running mate, Carly Fiorina.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some would ask why now? It`s tradition that a vice presidential nominee is announced at the convention. It`s unusual to make the announcement as early as we are doing so now.

I make this announcement today so that you the voters, the voters in Indiana, the voters in Nebraska, the voters in South Dakota, and Washington state and California, and across the country, so that you will know what you will get.


The voters deserve to know.

I have come to the conclusion that if I am nominated to be president of the United States that I will run on a ticket with my vice presidential nominee, Carly Fiorina.



MADDOW: Now, Carly Fiorina ran for president herself this year. She came in seventh place in Iowa, and then in New Hampshire, she came in seventh place again, and then she dropped out.

This was her second time running for office. She also ran for United States Senate seat against Barbara Boxer in California in the deep red Republican-leaning year of 2010. But even under that year`s favorable conditions, Carly Fiorina lost that Senate race in California by double digits.

But the Ted Cruz campaign needs a new story. The Ted Cruz campaign needs a game-changing stunt right now and they are apparently banking on this being it. They`re telling Republican voters in the states that have yet to vote, listen, now, you may not have been sold on Ted Cruz so far, but try this on for size.

If Donald Trump doesn`t keep winning state after state after state, if Donald Trump doesn`t go on to win the Republican nomination, and if the Republican presidential nominating process therefore goes to a contested convention, and then if that contested convention, the Republican Party decides to choose Ted Cruz as their nominee, and if the Republican Party then subsequently choose to honor Ted Cruz`s choice of who you would like his running mate to be and if after all of that, that Republican ticket goes on to beat the Democratic ticket in November, and Ted Cruz becomes president and if thereafter Ted Cruz dies in office, then Carly Fiorina will get to be president.

If you haven`t been sold on Ted Cruz before, does that sell you on Ted Cruz? Even if nothing else did? Do you think that`s going to work?

Does the seventh place finisher from Iowa and New Hampshire hold that much sway over the remaining Republican voters in the country. Is this the key to unlock their hearts?

I mean, honestly, nothing against Carly Fiorina here, nothing against Richard Schweiker, who played the Carly Fiorina role for Ronald Reagan in 1976, but stunts like these are less about the identity and the characteristics of the person who gets chosen for the stunt, it`s more about the timing, right? It`s more about trying to shake up a race that a candidate is losing.

Ted Cruz might have named anybody to be his theoretical might be vice presidential running mate today. The point of doing something like this is just to try to change the news around Ted Cruz to be something other than the story of how badly Donald Trump is beating him in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but 38 states have voted so far on the Republican side. Of the 38 states, Donald Trump has won 26 of them, including his blowout wins last night in five states. His smallest margin of victory last night was 30 points in Connecticut. That was the smallest margin and actually 30 points, that`s how badly he beat John Kasich in Connecticut. Donald Trump`s margin victory over Ted Cruz in that state last night was 46 points.

The big delegate prize last night was Pennsylvania. Donald Trump not only one statewide in Pennsylvania, he won every congressional district in Pennsylvania. He won every county in Pennsylvania.

Ted Cruz`s big claim, his big claim to fame so far in the presidential race has been that he`s been able to line up delegates even in states where he`s losing. That`s the way he`s been able to stay seemingly competitive. Well, in Pennsylvania last night, there was that big pot of 54 unbound delegates who were not going to be committed by the results of any vote.

Well, it turns out that big pot of 54 unbound delegates which you might think Ted Cruz would monopolize, it turns out they`re also going almost completely to Donald Trump. The Trump campaign today bragging that of the 54 unbound delegates from Pennsylvania, at least 39 of the 54 are pledged overtly to Donald Trump, but the number who vote for Donald Trump will probably rise into the 40s once those delegate feel the pressure to side with the guy who overwhelmingly destroyed both Kasich and Cruz, not just in that state overall, but in every single congressional district, and every county in the state.

I mean, overall last night, there were 118 pledged delegates at stake in the five states, 118. Donald Trump won 110 of them. Over the last two weeks, there have been 267 delegates at stake on the Republican side. Of those 267, Ted Cruz has won five.

Out of the last six states that have voted not only has Ted Cruz lost all six of the last six states, he has come in in third place behind John Kasich in five out of the six states.

And so, yes, Ted Cruz needs a new story in the news in the news about himself and his campaign as he heads into Indiana, which his campaign all but admits he must win in order to justify staying in the race, but which the polls indicate even today he quite possibly will lose.

And so, if you were Ted Cruz at this point, imagine yourself as Ted Cruz, you would probably be willing to try something audacious on a day like this, right? It`s not hard to imagine yourself in Ted Cruz`s position today, imagine yourself concluding that maybe you should try to add to your personal appeal by simply grafting a second person on to yourself in your campaign who some people might like better than you for any number of reasons.

I know everything associated with Ronald Reagan by definition looks like a great idea to today`s Republicans, but this is one of those Republican ideas, this is one of those Reagan ideas that didn`t work. I mean, this is a Reagan idea where even though the guy he picked was the patron saint of the pancreas, right, an utterly unobjectionable choice, this is a Ronald Reagan idea that did not work out for Ronald Reagan.

I know everything Ronald Reagan did is supposed to be perfect. The whole VP stunt he tried back in `76, when they wanted all the news stories to be about Dick Schweiker, all the news stories back in `76 instead ended up being about how desperate Ronald Reagan was and what a terrible stunt he just pulled.

And so, what happened today -- yes, this has happened once before in American politics. It did not work when Reagan tried it in `76. I`m not sure anybody thinks it`s going to work this time either, but we will see. Watch this space. You never know.

We`ll be right back.


CARLY FIORINA (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (singing): I know two girls that I just adore. I`m so happy I can see them more. Because we travel on the bus all day, we get to play, we get to play.

I won`t bore you with any more of the song.



MADDOW: Just one last point on Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina: is not what you think it is. If you type into your browser, you do not find a Ted Cruz campaign website. Instead you find this. It says, "Support President Obama immigration reform now. That`s It has been since he started running for president and at least maybe before.

Because of that, Ted Cruz campaign website has to be, which I`m sure is uncomfortable for him. But you should not get too comfortable with that construction, though, because until recently, if you went to that brought to you this website.

It says "Carly Fiorina failed to register this domain so I`m registering it to tell you how many people she laid off at Hewlett Packard. It was this many." And there`s literally 30,000 unhappy face emoticons typed out to represent the 30,000 people laid off at HP while Carly Fiorina was CEO there,

Well, now, now that Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina have joined forces in a fake ticket because neither of them have actually been nominated for anything, now that they have joined together, their Internet troubles have been joined and become a little more constructive, because now if you go to, where you find yourself is at a fundraising page for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Somebody`s putting that to good use.

And after that because it was inevitable, now when you type into your browser, that just takes you straight to the donation page for Planned Parenthood.

Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina may not end up being the Republican ticket in November, but because of their very poor management of their online identities, they will as a ticket unwittingly advertise support for comprehensive immigration reform and support for President Obama, as well as the number of people that Carly Fiorina laid off at HP and they`ll raise money for leukemia and lymphoma research and they`ll raise for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund along the way.

So, we cannot say that their political stunt isn`t helping. They`re helping. They`re helping.


MADDOW: The Bernie Sanders campaign for president has won 17 states, 8.9 million votes in primaries alone, not counting the votes he`s gotten in caucuses. Bernie Sanders has raised a staggering amount of money for his presidential race, get this, $182 million. Puts that in your pipe and smoke it, Jeb Bush -- $182 million.

The Sanders campaign has been astounding to see especially when you compare it with its initial expectations. After going one for five last night in the Northeast, with a lone victory in Rhode Island, the Sanders campaign today announced that they will begin laying off over 200 campaign staffers.

Now, the Sanders campaign says this is just a natural coincidence of the dwindling primary calendar. They say they`re not giving up. They say they`re still competing in Indiana next week, and on through to California and D.C. in June. But people have begun to ask Senator Sanders what exactly he wants for himself and his supporters and his movement in exchange for the possibility of him getting out of the race, what does the candidate for Democratic change want from the Democratic Party.

And so far, what Senator Sanders has said is he wants to make the party platform for progressive.


INTERVIEWER: So, how much influence should you have on the platform?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it depends obviously if we have a majority of delegates, that will be platform. If we do not have a majority of delegates, I would think that any smart presidential candidate will say, hmm, millions of people are supporting Bernie Sanders, they want an agenda that goes beyond establishment economics and establishment politics.

And I`m smart. I`m going to listen to those people and in fact create a progressive agenda not just to appease Bernie Sanders and his supporters, but to win this election.


MADDOW: Bernie Sanders says he wants to change the Democratic platform to be more progressive. Is that really what he wants after all of this? After all that he`s accomplished in this race what he wants is to change the party platform?

I raise a skeptical eye toward that suggestion for one reason and by saying this, I mean no disrespect to the people who write party platform, but party platforms are not documents that anyone but the authors ever read.

Do you remember the 2012 platform? Remember the solutions for greater access to higher education and technical training and for in-sourcing and also outbuilding the rest of the world and a whole host of other scintillating, hyphenated ideas and how to -- I`m sorry did I lose you, sleepy puppy?

Is that really all that Bernie Sanders is aiming for, the party platform, which is not binding on anyone which changes nothing structurally in the Democratic Party, let alone that country and that nobody feels bound by? Does he see in the Democratic Party platform a power that others have missed? Or is that just the first ask and there`s something more substantial coming? I do not know.

But at this crucial point in the Democratic race, I know one very smart person to ask and she joins us next. Stay with us.



SANDERS: When we go to Philadelphia in July, we`re going to have the votes to put together the strongest progressive agenda that any political party has ever seen.



MADDOW: Senator Bernie Sanders at a big rally in Indiana today saying he wants to use the many delegates he has won in this contest, the many votes he has won, the influence he has proven to change the Democratic Party platform?

Joining us now is Joy Reid, MSNBC national correspondent.

Joy, it is great to see you. Thank you for being here.


MADDOW: So, the Sanders campaign announced their laying off more than 200 staffers. That`s an ominous sign in any campaign at any time. You have some -- I understand you have some reporting about how this went down in the Sanders campaign.

REID: Yes, apparently, it was a brief phone call. I spoke with one soon to be former Sanders staffer who described it as only about a five to ten minute call, that this staffer described as rather abrupt. It was Jeff Weaver on the call.

MADDOW: It was like a conference call, they had lots of staffers on.

REID: Exactly, it was a conference call where they had lots of staffers on to announce to them that they would no longer be on the campaign, that people`s travel, et cetera, was going to be on hold and the staffers said there were many people upset, people who believed very much in the Bernie Sanders campaign who were disappointed that the senator didn`t get on the call. It was Jeff Weaver who actually led the call.

I have an e-mail into the campaign to find out if the candidate plans to reach out to some of these staffers and some of them are upset. They said they were getting paid $15 an hour and they had planned to the campaign to go all the way until June 1st. Some have people had made plans based on that, because Sanders had actually committed to staying in until the end. So, at least some upset out there that the campaign that forced this set of staffers, about 200 to 300 people is ending very abruptly in their views.

MADDOW: And do you have any insight into why they`re doing it? The one thing I felt like we understood about the Sanders campaign is they were made of money.

REID: Yes.

MADDOW: So, you wouldn`t expect them to be making a financially-driven decision.

REID: Well, this is a campaign that`s taking in enormous amounts of money, but they`re also spending enormous amounts of money.


REID: They spent $5.5 million in the losing effort in New York. They`re spending tremendous amounts of money in these small states, particularly organizing caucuses, which is complicated and can be expensive, even in these more inexpensive states.

I think what you`re seeing is the campaign marshaling its resources to really push toward California. They want to go all the way to the end and that last state of primaries that includes New Jersey and California, those are really expensive media markets. I think they`re going to hold their money really to push for advertising for those last --

MADDOW: Rather than dumping these 225 staffers across country into California instead and to --


REID: Now, some will end up moving. I can tell you that a lot of the times, when campaigns like this wind down, people may be off for a moment, but then maybe recalled and sent to other states. That`s not atypical of a well-funded campaign to sort of suspend things early and I`ve spoken to some staff that may end up moving over. So, not everyone is going to be out of a job, but there are some people who will be.

MADDOW: The 200 staffers.

REID: Yes.

MADDOW: Let me ask you also about the way that the Sanders campaign is talking about its influence. I`m casting a side eye at the importance of the party platform because I went back and looked at the last two party platforms, and it was all news to me -- it isn`t a substantive thing in terms of actually controlling politics.

Are there sort of structural things, or more significant consequential things that the Sanders campaign could be going for or might go for with the influence that they`ve gained?

REID: Yes. And, you know, it`s interesting. I`ve been thinking about this over the last month or so when it`s become pretty clear that the math is not going to change for Bernie Sanders. It`s been a while since the math has been going in one direction and the real model for what he`s doing really is Jesse Jackson, in a way he`s sort of photo negative Jesse Jackson, right? His base is not diverse like Jesse Jackson`s, but it`s very fervent, it`s very large. And in 1984, Jesse Jackson amassed a huge number of delegates, but he only got 40 percent in terms of the delegates he was due based on how well he done in the primaries.


REID: So he negotiated with the party rules that included the current proportionality. The massive, the universal proportionality that you see in the Democratic primary system is because of Jesse Jackson. He went to the party and said, I can`t win 20 percent of the votes and get 9 percent of the delegates, something has to change. So, he made a structural ask that to this day has changed the way the Democratic Party operates and made it possible for Barack Obama to win, because remember, he won proportionally. He could lose Pennsylvania, lose big states like California and still stay --

MADDOW: That change -- I mean, heavily, heavily Democratic districts wouldn`t be penalized for having Democrats concentrated in a small area, they would get more representation to represent essentially the deep of Democratic support in this part. When you win a city you don`t get penalized for it because you don`t win the country.

REID: Exactly. If the Democratic Party operated the way the Republican Party operates, Hillary would be way ahead because she was winner take all in a place like New York. Bernie Sanders could lose New York by the amount he did and still take home 40 percent of the delegates. So, making a structural ask like that, would be a real long ball for the Sanders campaign. Getting rid of super delegates, something like that.

It`s going to be tough because I think the Clinton`s campaign position has hardened somewhat because of the negativity over the last several weeks, but that would be something he might want to look at. But then, think about it, if you change these Jackson era rules, it would hurt the next insurgent campaign. Those rules helped Bernie Sanders.

MADDOW: You want a campaign that pushes -- he`s going to want a campaign of some sort of structural change that pushes the party in a more progressive direction while not hurting somebody who is an outsider like him who has been able to use things like super delegates.

REID: Yes. I think if you had to predict one thing they`ll try to do, they`re going to try to open up these primaries. Those are statewide Democratic decisions. That`s going to be tough to get because the Democrats like their system the way it is and Hillary Clinton, who they wanted, is winning under it.

MADDOW: Change is hard.

REID: Yes.

MADDOW: Joy Reid, MSNBC national correspondent, you`re exactly the person I knew would tell me new things to think about with this. Thank you, Joy. Appreciate it.

REID: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thanks.

All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: So this whole campaign, this whole year really, the Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has been saying "make America great again," "make America great again". It`s been a sea of "make America great again" of shirts and signs and awkward red trucker hats.

Today, however, we have detected a subtle change in the Trumpian force field and it means we`re going to need new hats. That`s next.


MADDOW: We talk a lot about the big crowds presidential candidates have been able to draw this election season.

But back in 1941, the man who was drawing massive crowds all across the country, one of the most important political forces in American politics, was not a candidate for anything. He was Charles Lindbergh, the famous pioneering long distance pilot. He spent 1940 and 1941 barnstorming the country, drawing huge crowds, while he was not running for anything.

Over 4,000 people turned out to see him in Fort Wayne, Indiana, 15,000 people turned out to see him in New York.

And what Charles Lindbergh was saying in these speeches that got so many people so excited was that America should not get involved in the war in Europe. America should not get involved in World War II even though France had fallen to Nazi Germany, even though England was now fighting Germany alone and would likely lose, America shouldn`t even offer any help to England because America had no national interests at stake in some war against Hitler.

These speeches he gave were on behalf of a movement called America First and all kinds of people belong to the America First Committee. Some estimates now are that it had 800,000 people in it at it peak. People opposed the U.S. getting involved in World War II for all sorts of reasons, good reasons and bad reasons, but Charles Lindbergh belonged to the America First movement for a very particular reason, which is that he had just come back from several years in Europe during which time he had become quite friendly with the Third Reich.

He like what he called Germany`s organized vitality. He also got himself a Nazi aviation medal, which was presented to him by Hermann Goring himself. Lindbergh wrote about protecting the West from, quote, "the infiltration of inferior blood."

And in an infamous "America First" speech that he gave in Des Moines, Iowa, in September 1941, he told a ruckus crowd there that forces were conspiring to undermine America by dragging our country into the war. Chief among those forces were American Jews. Quote, "Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and or government."

Charles Lindbergh`s virulent anti-Semitism eventually drove a lot of people away from the America First movement, but by the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor ended the movement for good, the American First movement had become inextricably identified with the personal philosophy of their chief spokesperson and their high profile proponent, Charles Lindbergh. This nationalist, nativist, explicitly anti-Semitic, sympathetic to Nazi Germany pitch.

And so, after World War II, no politician really wanted to have anything to do with it until 50 years later when my old friend Pat Buchanan decided to shock everybody by resurrecting it for his presidential campaign.


PAT BUCHANAN (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When we say we will put America first, we mean also that our Judeo Christian values are going to be preserved. And our Western heritage is going to be handed down to future generations and not dumped on to some landfill called multiculturalism.


MADDOW: America First in the abstract sounds like some kind of benign patriotic slogan, or maybe the name of a bank, right? Sure, America first, who could disagree?

But America first means something very specific in context. It has meant something very specific in this country since the 1940s and that`s why it was jarring today to hear not some protest candidate, not some fringe, modern Pat Buchanan acolyte, but the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, it was jarring today to hear open his big, carefully planned written out foreign policy speech by invoking American First.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The direction I will outline today will also return us to a timeless principle. My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people and American security above all else. It has to be first. It has to be. That will be the foundation of every single decision I will make. America --


America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration.


MADDOW: Donald Trump today using America First as the organizing principle, the slogan embodying his entire foreign policy approach. This is a weird moment in American politics.


CHARLES LINDBERGH: I have been forced to the conclusion that we cannot win this war for England regardless of how much assistance we send. That is why the American First Committee has been formed.


MADDOW: Joining us now is NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss.

Mr. Beschloss, it`s great to see you. Thanks for being with us tonight.


MADDOW: What does a presidential historian hear when a presidential candidate invokes "America First"?

BESCHLOSS: What I hear is the echo of a movement as you were saying that in retrospect looking back at 1940 and 1941 has been discredited because if they got what they wanted, we Americans would not have sent military goods to England and help them to resist Adolf Hitler. Adolf Hitler probably would have defeated England and been on our shores very soon thereafter. We might have lost World War II if America First would have gotten what they wanted.

And the other part of it, as you were suggesting was that Lindbergh and others in American First were saying that there were groups in America, including British agents and parts of the Roosevelt administration, Franklin Roosevelt, and Jewish-Americans who were trying to yank the United States into war for their own selfish purposes. That was the language that was used. I can`t imagine that Donald Trump would want to link himself to that.

MADDOW: Was it just bad sloganeering? Or were there echoes of the substance of that movement and philosophy in Mr. Trump`s remarks today.

BESCHLOSS: Well, I think if you`re trying to cast aspersions on people who want certain things for American foreign policy, using something like America First for those Americans who remember it or at least have studied it, it`s one way of doing it, but I think it connects with other things he said and this connects with his argument about trade deals that sell out the United States. You know, that`s been something he`s been saying for a long time. When he was thinking of running in 2000 for the Reform Party nomination, you know, that was part of what that platform would have been. Finally, Pat Buchanan did.

MADDOW: The speech today the setting wasn`t designed to be notable, but as far as I can tell, this is what used to be the Nixon center, which of course got me thinking about where Donald Trump as the Republican presidential front-runner, maybe the prohibitive frontrunner at this point, whether you can locate him along a sort of number line of Republican foreign policy over the generations or whether he does stand significantly apart.

BESCHLOSS: Well, I think he would be the first to say, he was saying it today, he wants a big departure and a lot of the people who were the brunt of his criticism today were Republican presidents like George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, to some extent, Ronald Reagan.

You know, look what he was saying. You know, he was turning against policies in Iraq, efforts for nation-building, failure to keep North Korea from nuclear weapons, certainly, Barack Obama he thinks did some of that, but so did the two Bushes and to some extent Ronald Reagan.

MADDOW: Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian -- thank you being -- willing to talk to us about this tonight. Even before I heard the speech, I knew I wanted to ask you what you thought of this. So --

BESCHLOSS: Thanks. It will be fascinating to watch it unfold.

MADDOW: Yes, thanks, sir. I appreciate it. All right. We`ll be right back tonight. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Last month, a little girl from Flint, Michigan, named Mari Copeny, she sent a letter to President Obama. She told the president in her letter that meeting him, quote, "would really lift people`s spirits."

Well, this week, which marks two years since Flint was lead poisoned because of the actions of the Michigan state government, this week, President Obama wrote Mari back and said that he is on his way.

President Obama has now put a trip to Flint, Michigan, on his schedule. He`ll be there next week on Wednesday. This will be his first trip to flint since the lead pointing crisis started there. It will be his first trip to Flint since the 2008 campaign, in fact. He says he hopes to meet with local officials and he hopes to meet with Mari Copeny, who apparently is known around town as "Little Miss Flint".

I don`t want to predict the future, but I will say that no matter what you have read or heard, going to Flint changes how you see the crisis there. President Obama is it going there one week from today. We`ll keep you posted.


MADDOW: Among everything else that happened in today`s news, today turned out to be a huge day at the corner of crime and politics, which is a terrible, terrible corner. Never leave your car there unlocked.

The former Republican governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, got his day at the United States Supreme Court today. Governor McDonnell is fighting multiple felony corruption convictions and this very unusual appearance at the United States Supreme Court today was his last chance to avoid prison. Governor McDonnell has already been sentenced. He`s already been charged and convicted and sentenced, but he`s appealing to the United States Supreme Court to throw out his conviction and give him a new trial.

Now, many legal observers, people who saw the oral arguments today, including NBC News` Pete Williams, many people said today that the oral arguments did seem favorable to Governor McDonnell, so he might get a new trial, but there`s one looming wrench in the works for him, and that is that the United States Supreme Court is shorthanded right now. If the Supreme Court deadlocks on his case, if the court gets stuck in a 4-4 tie on the Bob McDonnell corruption case, that would mean that Bob McDonnell can`t get a new trial. The lower court ruling in his case would stand and that would mean he would be expected to start serving his federal prison sentence immediately.

But, oh, wait, there`s more just in today`s news because a prison sentence is also looming for Democratic Congressman Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania. Something amazing happened to Chaka Fattah last night. He became the only member of Congress this whole year, the only member of Congress in either party anywhere in the country to lose his seat in a primary this year.

Republican and Democratic members of Congress have been primaried all over the country this year. Every single incumbent has won and held on to their seat thus far, except for last night Chaka Fattah in Pennsylvania. And that is remarkable because in our political system, incumbents are so protected, a seat in Congress is so hard to lose even if you do have a 29- count criminal indictment pending against you like Congressman Fattah does.

But last night, miracle of all miracles, Philadelphia voters turfed him out. Congressman Chaka Fattah lost his congressional seat in the Democratic primary last night in Pennsylvania, just in time for his criminal trial to start in 19 days on those 29 counts.

But the biggest proverbial car crash at the corner of criminal and political today happened in Chicago where the longest serving Republican speaker of the House, former Congressman Denny Hastert, the man who led the House for the Republican Party from 1999 to 2007, today, Denny Hastert was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Denny Hastert admitted financial crimes related to him paying hush money to a man that says Denny Hastert sexually molested him when he was a high school student. In court today, at this sentencing, the judge in his case three times described Denny Hastert to his face as a serial child molester.

In open court today in Chicago, Denny Hastert acknowledged that he did sexually abuse multiple boys when he was a teacher and wrestling coach in Illinois in the 1960s and 1970s. He apologized in court today, but he will serve 15 months in prison. He`ll have to pay a fine that will go to the crime victim`s fine. He will have to enroll in a sex offender treatment program.

But there remain a couple of I think really interesting open questions as to what`s going to happen to Denny Hastert, because this is not just another run of the mill criminal politician story. Denny Hastert really was second in line to the presidency for eight years and not all that long ago. With this prison sentence today, he has become one of the highest ranking politicians in American history to be sentenced to prison time.

The new Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, he did have the decency in November to remove Denny Hastert`s official portrait from the halls of the U.S. Capitol. That happened right after Speaker Hastert was criminally charged, but now that he`s been not just charged, but convicted and sentenced to prison, there remains this interesting political question as to why the House of Representatives has not had anything else to say about this very recent former speaker of the House.

I mean, members of Congress have been censured, they have been publicly reprimanded by the House for misbehavior and even criminal acts far less serious than Denny Hastert`s open admission that he`s a criminal serial molester. The House once publicly rebuked Barney Frank for something related to parking ticket.

But so far, the Republican leadership of the House has taken no action other than taking down his portrait to condemn Denny Hastert in any way, let alone issue any sort of formal censure. The current House Speaker Paul Ryan has said that Denny Hastert`s behavior is not befitting of a former speaker, but there`s been no formal move at all by the House to address it, even today as he heads off to start his 15-month prison sentence.

And there is just one other trailing end when it comes to Denny Hastert and that actually interestingly remains the hush money part of what he did and how he go the caught. The reason Denny Hastert got caught all these years later, all these years after these alleged crimes is because of the way he withdrew money from his bank accounts in order to pay off one of his alleged victim.

Now, that alleged victim is identified as individual A. The prosecutors say he basically came to an agreement with Denny Hastert that Hastert would pay him $3.5 million in cash basically as compensation for Hastert having molested him when the guy was a teenager. Now, Hastert did start to pay out. He paid about half of that money. He paid $1.7 million to individual A before he was caught by the FBI and charged with financial crimes for what he did.

Well, one of the amazing trailing ends in this story is that individual A in civil court has now sued Denny Hastert to get the rest of his money. See, Denny Hastert promised him $3.5 mil. He only paid half of it. Individual A, he wants the rest.

The Denny Hastert story, the story of the longest-serving Republican speaker of the House ever in American history turns out to be upsetting and disgusting and tragic, but it also turns out not to be over yet. Watch this space.

That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.