HERE'S WHAT MITT ROMNEY SAID at the University of Utah today: "Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He's playing members of the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House, and all we get is a lousy hat."
--Donald Trump is a loser. "But you say, ‘Wait, wait, wait, isn’t he a huge business success? Doesn’t he know what he’s talking about?’ No, he isn’t. And no, he doesn’t.”
--Donald Trump is a boor. “Think of Donald Trump’s personal qualities. The bullying. The greed. The showing off. The misogyny. The absurd third-grade theatrics.”
--It ain't over 'til it's over. “I know that some people want this race to be over. They look at history and say a trend like Mr. Trump’s isn’t going to be stopped. Perhaps. But the rules of political history have pretty much all been shredded during this campaign.” (Romney's full remarks here)
THE GOP PRIMARY SEASON, IN ONE ROMNEY SPEECH MOMENT: “Donald Trump tells us that he is very, very smart,” Romney said at one point. “Smarter than you!” someone shouted from the back of the auditorium.
HERE'S WHAT ROMNEY DIDN'T SAY: His speech didn't directly address Trump's 2012 endorsement of the former Massachusetts governor's own presidential campaign, and whether he regretted accepting it. He tweeted later that if Trump back then had been saying "the things he says today about the KKK, Muslims, Mexicans, disabled, I would NOT have accepted his endorsement." Of course, Trump had already said plenty that year, and launched a highly-publicized birther campaign against President Obama.
Something else Romney didn't say today: who he backed for president this year. He told Republicans who they should vote against -- but not who to vote for. Primary season consolidation is off the table, apparently. (If not now, when?)
If you're keeping score, Donald Trump has now been opposed or publicly rebuked by every living Republican president or presidential nominee (the former Presidents Bush have maintained their usual public silence on politics, but Barbara Bush has said Trump got her husband so upset during the debates that he threw a shoe at the TV, and George W. Bush -- who was also attacked by Trump in GOP debates -- took swipes at the billionaire's 2016 pitch without directly naming him while out campaigning for brother Jeb.)
Trump has officially split the 2008 GOP presidential ticket, with former nominee John McCain today attacking Trump's "uninformed and dangerous statements" and running mate Sarah Palin telling the front-runner that "we've got your back."
HERE'S WHAT TRUMP SAID: Campaigning in Maine after Romney's speech, Trump said he'd "address it quickly, because it's irrelevant" -- then proceeded to respond for more than half an hour, dubbing the 2012 nominee a "choke artist" and a "failed candidate."
"You can see how loyal he is. He was begging for my endorsement," said Trump. "I could’ve said, 'Mitt, drop to your knees,' and he would’ve dropped to his knees. He was begging. True. True. He was begging me."
The day provided another reminder that speeches like Romney's may not have the intended effect this year. For one thing, they may not convince primary voters to spurn Trump. For another, they grab the spotlight from Trump's rivals: between Romney's speech and Trump's response, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich struggled to break through Thursday.
As James Hohmann noted this morning, many Republicans watching the spectacle from the sidelines seem to be stuck on Stage 4 on the Kubler-Ross grief scale: Depression.
None of this would be happening if we'd let Al Gore win that blinking recount— David Frum (@davidfrum) March 3, 2016
Email from a friend: "Dumpster fires at least clear out room in the dumpster."— Kristen S Anderson (@KSoltisAnderson) March 3, 2016
As the Republican Party continued to give an excellent impression of a plane crumbling in mid-air, Trump hinted again that he could bail out of the GOP any time he wanted to. “I am seeing ad, after ad, after ad put in by the establishment, knocking the hell out of me, and it’s really unfair,” Trump said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” saying the loyalty pledge he'd signed last year was only in effect in his mind if he was "treated the right way." Right now, he thinks the party establishment is in violation of that agreement.
“If I leave, if I go, regardless of independent, which I may do -- I mean, may or may not. But if I go, I will tell you, these millions of people that joined, they’re all coming with me,” he said. “I’ve brought in millions and millions of people to the Republican Party, and they’re gonna throw those people away. And I’ll be honest: whether I ran as an independent or not, those people will never go out and vote [for someone else.]"
DELEGATE #MATH: It's clear that Donald Trump is headed toward a delegate majority. The path he'd take to get there is still anyone’s guess.
The GOP will figure it all out at the convention pic.twitter.com/p0JLWRUMDw— Dan Amira (@DanAmira) March 3, 2016
THE DOWNBALLOT DRAMA: Of course, the GOP nervousness isn't just about party infighting or White House odds: Larry Sabato and Kyle Kondik have gamed out the party's potential Trumpmare scenario in other contests if the billionaire tops the ticket.
"This moves four additional Senate races — Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania — toward the Democrats, and others would become more competitive," they say. "Ohio would be a toss-up, while Democratic odds could also improve in places like Indiana, Missouri, and North Carolina. As unlikely as it seems at present, perhaps even a Senate institution, Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, could find himself in unexpected trouble, particularly if Republicans find their opposition to holding a vote, or even hearings, on President Obama’s eventual nominee to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is unpopular.
"Under this scenario, we could see the Democrats winning at least 51 Senate seats, with several others in the realm of the possible. The Republican 'Trumpmare' is a Democratic Senate to go along with a third straight Democratic term in the White House."
Donald Trump will face Rubio, Cruz, and Kasich, along with media nemesis Megyn Kelly of Fox News, tonight in Detroit in the 11th GOP candidates’ debate. The debate begins at 9 p.m. ET on Fox News Channel.
Here's what to expect:
-- An anti-Trump offensive from Cruz and Rubio
-- Lower odds of a Trump-Kelly faceoff
-- More debate stage references to Mitt Romney than anytime since the fall of 2012
There will be full live coverage here.
THE SCENE AT CPAC: The Conservative Political Action Conference began today with plenty of Trump angst, but no mention of his name. That won't last indefinitely: the billionaire is scheduled to address the conference later this week. CPAC mainstay William Temple -- otherwise known as Tri-corner Hat Guy -- is trying to organize a walkout of the Saturday speech.
William Temple says if Trump gets elected he will likely be impeached pic.twitter.com/kUWzPMruVE— Betsy Woodruff (@woodruffbets) March 3, 2016
Oh, CPAC pic.twitter.com/Bk9VZ4j55z— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) March 3, 2016
At CPAC there will be no good guys with guns :/ pic.twitter.com/Kn8tUWyubs— Betsy Woodruff (@woodruffbets) March 3, 2016
THE VIEW FROM THE FIELD:
From the Department of Wut outside of Trump's first Maine rally. pic.twitter.com/Cghn0UB9Wt— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) March 3, 2016
This man, carrying a "Dump Trump" sign, is being heckled by the entire room here at the Westin in Portland, Maine. pic.twitter.com/6lJrUN6170— Jose A. DelReal (@jdelreal) March 3, 2016
ON THE DEMOCRATIC TRAIL:
Hillary Clinton has effectively hit the reset button on her campaign. "The key to Clinton’s resurgence, and her game-changing Nevada and South Carolina wins, was the issue of race. After New Hampshire, she embraced a crusade against racial discrimination that energized black voters, unclogged the campaign’s collective writer’s block on messaging, reconnected with black voters and reactivated the old Hillaryland network of female friends, many of whom are African-American women....
"'The bottom line,' said one longtime Clinton friend, 'is she never lost her s---. And now she's going to win.'
Meanwhile, the Justice Department has granted immunity to a former State Department staffer who worked on Hillary Clinton’s private email server as part of a criminal investigation into the possible mishandling of classified information, according to a senior law enforcement official. The official said the FBI had secured the cooperation of Bryan Pagliano, who worked on Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign before setting up the server in her New York home in 2009.
Democrats have a lot riding on Hillary Clinton. Which is why the word "immunity" should make them very nervous, says Chris Cillizza.
-- A new analysis said Clinton’s plan to increase taxes on the wealthy would raise $1.1 trillion in new revenue over the next decade, but would cut incentives for investment and saving. Under Clinton’s proposal, the top 1 percent of earners would pay for three quarters of the revenue gains, according to the analysis from the non-partisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.
-- In an appeal for Michigan votes, Bernie Sanders called Clinton’s record on trade a "disaster"
And now he's getting an $11 haircut pic.twitter.com/S4LifybGpl— arit john (@aritbenie) March 3, 2016
Here's a look inside Hillary Clinton's star-studded concert fundraiser, if you're into that sort of thing:
CHRIS CHRISTIE: I'M NOT A HOSTAGE
The New Jersey governor held a 90-minute press conference today in which he pushed back at the social media meme that he regretted his Trump endorsement -- but was afraid to say it.
"Slowly and yet all at once, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) reputation as a tough-talking, talented politician is in a shambles," Amber Phillips noted today. "And perhaps nowhere is that the case more than back home in New Jersey.
"But it's an open question whether Christie even cares.
"On Tuesday, the editorial boards of six Gannett network newspapers in the state simultaneously called for him to resign or be recalled. Hours later, he became an Internet meme for his awkward embrace of Donald Trump. His about 30 percent approval ratings in polls (one that was released Wednesday) are the lowest since Christie became governor in 2010, though his ratings have been trending that way for months now. On Thursday, the editorial board of one of New Jersey's biggest newspapers, the Star-Ledger, called on Christie to resign. ...
"Christie's demeanor back home comes across as a politician who just doesn't care about any of this. Being strong-willed is great when you're riding high; when you're struggling, it comes across as not caring."
#TBT: Here are 47 things that have made Donald Trump ‘sad’ since he launched his campaign.
In the ridiculous @JebBush ad about me, Jeb is speaking to me during the debate, but doesn't allow my answer, which destroys him - SO SAD!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 24, 2015
MORE TRAIL MIX: Mark your calendars, and brace yourself: On March 11, the new Sacha Baron Cohen movie "The Brothers Grimsby" opens domestically. In the film, "Donald Trump" gets HIV -- a scene that European audiences are greeting with a "raucous response," reports Variety.
-- Who supports Donald Trump -- and why? These voters: “He’s a regular guy. He eats Wendy’s on his plane,” said one.
-- Here's a rolling list of #NeverTrump Republican leaders, and more on today's open letter from former GOP national security officials who plan to oppose his campaign. (This evening, Trump announced that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) would serve as chairman of a campagn National Security Advisory Committee.)
-- Ben Carson didn't think much of the Romney speech: “I don’t think it is the proper place for someone who was the former standard bearer to be attacking the leading contender right now in a negative way... I would support whoever the people have chosen. And somehow we must abandon the thinking that there are a bunch of politically elite people who know what’s best.”
-- Servicey 2016 #science journalism: "The incredible power of ignoring everything"
-- Could Marco Rubio re-launch his campaign as one oriented less to winning the whole thing than making sure Trump doesn't? (Amazing factoid in this Sasha Issenberg story: "Throughout the year, the campaign had made only symbolic investments in field operations...")
-- How Trump touched the GOP’s third rail on abortion -- and lived to tell the tale (VIDEO)
-- Trump said he'd raised $6 million for veterans. But only about half has actually made it to veterans groups.
YOUR DAILY TRAIL PIT STOP: CPAC SOUL TRAIN Time to party like it's 2004. (VIDEO)
Now this is happening pic.twitter.com/i04R95NYTB— daveweigel (@daveweigel) March 3, 2016