#FlashbackFriday: "Only a year ago, Republicans were congratulating themselves on having the strongest field of presidential candidates in a generation — diverse, highly credentialed conservatives who might be the salvation of a party that lost the popular vote in five of the last six elections," reports Karen Tumulty.
"But now, the question is how close the Grand Old Party will come to annihilating itself and what it stands for.
"Donald Trump — dismissed by GOP elders for months as an entertaining fringe figure who would self-destruct — has staged a hostile takeover and rebranded the party in his own image. What is being left by the wayside is any sense of a Republican vision for the country, or a set of shared principles that could carry it forward."
Trump's opponents agree that, even as the mogul brings record numbers to the polls in the primaries, he is changing the very identity of the party. They just don't agree on what to do about it.
"Republican leaders are divided. Some are focusing their efforts on stopping the billionaire celebrity, even if it means overturning the will of Republican voters at the July convention in Cleveland. Others are arguing that they should be coalescing behind him, so that they will have their best chance this fall of beating Hillary Clinton, a candidate who is not without her own vulnerabilities."
Opinions among Trump's remaining rivals are split along similar lines. "In my view, a brokered convention ain’t gonna happen," Cruz said in Maine today, adding later: "If you want to beat Donald Trump here’s how you do it: you beat Donald Trump with the voters." Rubio called that scenario Plan A -- with the convention a valid Plan B, if they could just keep Trump from the 1,237 delegates he'd need to clinch the nomination on the first ballot. "This is going to be a protracted deal," he insisted today.
The next target is clear: the winner-take-all Florida primary is shaping up as a GOP Armageddon. Ted Cruz's presidential campaign is moving hard into the state, where Texas senator hopes to knock out Rubio and position himself as the only last Trump alternative standing, reports Katie Zezima. Rubio has staked his campaign on winning his home state. And Donald Trump has held a safe lead there since last summer.
Trump may still lack a ground game, but that may not matter: The minute polls opened in Georgia on Tuesday, he had already banked 116,000 votes. In other words: Election Day in Florida is still almost two weeks away -- but the other candidates may already be losing.
As Cruz dismissed the convention scenario and Rubio downplayed it, Trump's remaining rival seemed to embrace it.
Kasich: "Can you think of anything cooler than a convention?"— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) March 4, 2016
For Democrats, this week has been like Christmas, the Fourth of July and Mardi Gras all rolled into one, only more so: "You want to quote me as saying hahahahahahaha?" said one former Obama adviser.
"We're running out of metaphors," says @PressSec of being able to describe "train wreck" GOP presidential campaign.— Kate Bennett (@KateBennett_DC) March 4, 2016
Mitt Romney now says he'd be willing to back a candidate after the March 15 contests. Of course, by then, his legitimate options may be very, very limited. He's also saying he would support a last-ditch effort to stop Donald Trump at the Republican convention, much as he's (controversially) claimed his father George Romney tried to do in 1964.
If that doesn't work -- if Romney faces a fall ballot that features Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton -- he says he'd probably write in a Option C tbd.
A super PAC backing Hillary Clinton saw Romney's attack on Trump yesterday, and followed it up with an attack on...Romney. (VIDEO)
Here is what the campaign has gotten to. pic.twitter.com/ITZ7kOveep— Jack Torry (@JackTorry1) March 4, 2016
TRUMP TRAIL MIX: The front-runner is unhappy with this Washington Post report about what he said under oath about Trump University fraud claims. American Future Fund is expanding its ads on the controversy into another state: delegate-rich Illinois. (Random Trump University-related fact: Donald Trump used to have an advice column for students called "Ask. Mr. Trump.")
This weekend, he's planning another 9 p.m. ET press conference tomorrow at one of his Florida properties, this time at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach.
--Psychologists and massage therapists are reporting "Trump anxiety" among clients.
--Gawker claims to have gotten ahold of Trump's hacked voicemail.
--For the second time in two weeks, a prominent conservative has joked about attacking a GOP presidential candidate: this time, it's Glenn Beck, on Donald Trump: If he "had a knife" and got close enough to Trump, he said on his radio show Friday, "the stabbing just wouldn't stop."
--For Donald Trump, size matters. On everything: "For months, the Republican front-runner has endlessly bragged about the size of his crowds, poll results, personal wealth and any other number he can use to measure himself against his rivals. He often exaggerates, although he swears his measurements are precise and verified. At times the 2016 campaign has felt like, well, a measuring contest in a high school boys' locker room," reports Jenna Johnson.
--Donald Trump appeared to alter his position on torture today says he wouldn't order military to violate international law. It isn't his first policy reversal: Here are seven of Donald Trump's biggest campaign trail flip-flops, from Iraq policy to the flat tax.
--It took a reporter seven tries to get Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) to reveal whether or not he'd back Trump if he were GOP nominee. (His answer: he would.)
--Donald Trump's ex-wife (the second one) is going to be on Dancing With the Stars.
TRUMP'S CPAC SNUB: Less than 24 hours before he was scheduled to address the Conservative Political Action Conference, Donald Trump canceled his appearance so he could campaign in Kansas, which votes Saturday.
It may have been a good call. "Even a glance around the halls of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., suggested that Trump was heading for a disaster," if he spoke. "He was scheduled to speak at 8:30 a.m., kicking off a day often sapped of energy by activists straggling in after sleeping off their Friday nights. He was likely to confront a protest or walkout from some activists, including one led by William Temple, a tea party activist who had led a buzzy walkout of Jeb Bush’s 2015 speech...
"He was also more than likely to face an unfamiliar sight on the Trump trail: a half-empty room. Trump’s Secret Service protection would have mandated a security checkpoint, and the one laid out for Ben Carson on Friday created a traffic snarl, with activists lining up for 30 minutes or more."
Movement conservatives may grumble, but the CPAC straw poll doesn't deliver any actual delegates. The Kansas vote does. Trump was disinvited from the Red State Gathering in Atlanta last year -- and won the Georgia primary anyway.
Someone in crowd at CPAC yelling: "TRUMP IS A DICTATOR"— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) March 4, 2016
This is Donald Trump's entire representation at CPAC. Sad trombone. pic.twitter.com/vgEiTOelVJ— Ellen L. Carmichael (@ellencarmichael) March 4, 2016
Skipping CPAC just clarifies the unofficial Trump message: I'm not locked in here with you, you're locked in here with me.— daveweigel (@daveweigel) March 4, 2016
This Trump coloring book is something else pic.twitter.com/2wgMibSqy1— Patrick Caldwell (@patcaldwell) March 4, 2016
CPAC is such a mess. No one can get in because of slow moving security. Press angry, people who paid money angrier pic.twitter.com/r8Ulhpd2N7— Ben Terris (@bterris) March 4, 2016
Lotta Secret Service at CPAC today. The only reason they are here is for presidential candidate.... Ben Carson.— Ben Terris (@bterris) March 4, 2016
Carson who is dropping out
(By the end of the day, Carson had made it official, confirming in a CPAC speech his decision to drop out of the presidential race. He'll spend the rest of the campaign focused on mobilizing evangelical Christian voters, he says.)
THE VIEW FROM THE FIELD: ZENTASTIC Following on the Rubio team's decision to capitalize on his yoga joke at Trump's expense by offering a (fake) pair of yoga pants for sale, Cruz jumped in on the action today with a real mat.
SPEAKING OF ZEN:
Ted Cruz to protester: "Thank you sir, I’d be disappointed if I came to the University of Maine and had no protesters at all"— Katie Zezima (@katiezez) March 4, 2016
This Marco Rubio event in a Marriott ballroom is so packed that people are literally being barricaded from the room pic.twitter.com/DDTKt76Or4— Ashley Killough (@KilloughCNN) March 5, 2016
There are a lot of hats here for Trump, who is now 45 minutes late. pic.twitter.com/rTfQKudRt0— Dan Gallo (@dangallo) March 4, 2016
Speaking of Donald Trump's anatomy... seen this morning at his Warren, Mich., rally... pic.twitter.com/TbohLmrH8m— Ben Gittleson (@bgittleson) March 4, 2016
This suit, though. pic.twitter.com/KXKuKedvzj— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) March 4, 2016
NEW ORLEANS --— Kevin Cirilli (@kevcirilli) March 5, 2016
Donald Trump says he's more presidential than anyone except for Lincoln and "maybe Washington." pic.twitter.com/wFyhXnPvut
WHICH ONE IS BIGGER? Judge for yourself. (VIDEO)
BERNIE PLANE VS TRUMP PLANE pic.twitter.com/6rznOqYxZd— Lauren Blanchard (@LaurenBlanch12) March 4, 2016
DEMOCRATIC DEBATE PREP:
Democrats will face off in Flint, Mich. on Sunday, ahead of Tuesday's primary vote there. Bernie Sanders has unveiled a labor-resonant attack virtually every day this week; today, it was Hillary Clinton’s 2012 TV appearance in India on outsourcing. Clinton's counter-programming on that front: a call for a tax benefit clawback for firms exporting jobs.
Michigan is a centerpiece of the Sanders survival strategy -- a delegate-rich target in the industrial Midwest that's been hit hard with trade deal-related job losses.
“I think [the Sanders] message on trade in particular will be very powerful out there,” Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said Tuesday. “He has been a consistent opponent of the kind of job-gutting trade deals that Secretary Clinton has consistently supported for decades.”
The Clinton campaign has been downplaying the significance of the showdown. "We are also competing to win in Michigan and feel good about where that race stands, but even if Sen. Sanders were able to eke out a victory there, we would still net more delegates in Mississippi, which holds its election on the same night," Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said in a memo earlier this week. "The end result is that Sen. Sanders will spend millions of dollars in Michigan but not make any net gain in pledged delegates, because he isn’t competing in states like Mississippi."
Here's Clinton's response today to this week's trade attacks from Sanders:
Sanders has been ratcheting up his trade/NAFTA/outsourcing attacks on Clinton. Here is how she just responded: pic.twitter.com/MDoahZggMa— Dan Merica (@danmericaCNN) March 4, 2016
The Flint debate is scheduled to air Sunday night starting at 8 p.m. ET on CNN.
--The Sanders tax plan would raise $15.3 trillion to fund new spending, according to a new analysis.
--Democrats simply don't seem to care about Hillary Clinton's email server issue.
--Former Democratic presidential candidate Jim Webb says he can't vote for Hillary Clinton -- but could back Trump.
--Bernie Sanders said something about Romanian Internet speed, and now Bucharest isn't feeling the Bern.
ELECTION DAY PREP:
Saturday is Election Day for voters in five states: Kansas will hold caucuses, and Louisiana will have a primary. Republicans in Maine and Kentucky will caucus; so will Democrats in Nebraska. Returns will come in starting around 8 p.m. ET; you'll be able to follow Washington Post election coverage here. You can find the latest GOP delegate count here, and the latest Democratic count here.
A CLOSING REMINDER: COPY EDITORS ARE IMPORTANT We hate doing this. We really do. We've been there. And so has Donald Trump -- many, many times this year. Including today, when his campaign announced a last-minute trip to Kansas.
At this point they’re spelling places wrong on purpose, right?— Leigh Munsil (@leighmunsil) March 4, 2016