WHERE WE ARE RIGHT NOW:
TRUMP ANXIETY IS RISING ON THE HILL:
Today, Paul Ryan spoke about how depressing the 2016 campaign (and politics in general) has been lately. It didn't used to be this way, he told a roomful of Hill interns.
“Looking around at what’s taking place in politics today, it is easy to get disheartened,” Ryan said inside the hearing room of the House Ways and Means Committee
The House speaker mentioned the "ugliness" out there right now. He mentioned the unlikelihood that the GOP could "insult" voters into agreeing with them. He did not mention Donald Trump (and the convention chair hasn't walked back his pledge to back Trump if the mogul becomes the Republican nominee) -- but his remarks underscored "the anxiety about Trump’s potential spillover effect on down-ballot races," report Matea Gold and Paul Kane:
"Republican leaders and their big-money allies are rushing to build a multistate defense system to protect Senate and House candidates, fearing the party could lose its hold on Congress if Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket in November."
The efforts are being driven by major players such as the Koch brothers’ political network, which has already begun laying groundwork in Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania, along with the Crossroads organizations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The behemoth Koch operation — which aims to spend almost $900 million before the November elections — is now considering abandoning Trump as a nominee and focusing its resources on behalf of GOP congressional candidates.
A key element of the strategy will be a springtime wave of television ads that slam Democratic contenders and tout Republican incumbents as attuned to hometown concerns. Strategists hope the efforts will help inoculate congressional candidates from association with Trump’s incendiary remarks. ...
Mike Shields, president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC allied with House leadership, said nearly every conversation he has had with donors lately centers on the need for a firewall.
"What they see at the top of the ticket has a lot of them concerned," Shields said. "They’re saying, ‘We’ve got to keep the House; we’ve got to keep the Senate."
CRUZ ESTABLISHMENT EMBRACE WATCH:
Meanwhile, the Republican establishment may have decided that if they can't be with the one they love, they're going to have to love the one they're with. That doesn't mean this month's marriage of convenience is built to last.
"Don't mistake the establishment's rallying behind Cruz as genuine support for either the man or his ideas," says Chris Cillizza. There is a roughly zero percent chance that Jeb Bush [who has endorsed Cruz], for instance, thinks Ted Cruz is a great pick to be the Republican nominee or would be a great president. He doesn't. Neither does Romney. And you know Lindsey Graham doesn't. The lining-up behind Cruz is solely aimed at trying to stop Trump from getting to 1,237 delegates before the Republican National Convention.
What the establishment hopes will happen then is not that Cruz will become the nominee -- remember, they still don't like him -- but that the Texas Republican, having served his purpose by keeping it from Trump, will be replaced by a more palatable alternative like, say, Kasich. Of course, this is the most wishful of thinking since it's virtually impossible to imagine that the convention delegates will pass over not only the candidate with the most delegates but also the candidate with the second-most delegates in order to pick someone who may only win a single state in the primary and caucus process.
So, there's that. But, for the next 76 days -- a.k.a. between now and the June 7 California vote that ends the primary process -- Cruz holds the hopes of the entire establishment in his hands.
Trump foes aren't throwing in the towel just yet; many are looking to Scott Walker’s Wisconsin as their last legitimate primary season hope of blunting Trump's momentum in time to make a difference at the Republican convention. Tonight, Cruz is making a stop there in crucial Waukesha County, reports Dave Weigel.
"Wisconsin, home to the speaker of the House, the Republican National Committee chairman and a local GOP that has dismantled parts of postwar liberalism, has become the Masada of the 'Stop Trump' movement. In the next 13 days, it is expected to absorb millions of dollars in anti-Trump ads, including at least $2 million from the Club for Growth, which officially endorsed Cruz this week. There is pressure on Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) to endorse Cruz before the primary. And Cruz is hinting that he will barnstorm the state as Kasich and Trump look eastward.
'Ted sends his regards,' Cruz’s wife, Heidi, told campaign volunteers at the first of three suburban Milwaukee stops on Wednesday. 'We’re going to be in this state from now through the election.'
At a glance, Wisconsin looks like the first genuine three-way race of the long primary. It’s the first state where all voting — even early voting, which began Monday — will occur without the presence of Marco Rubio, who recently ended his campaign. It’s also a region that has basically split between Cruz, Donald Trump and Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio). Across Illinois, Michigan and Ohio, Cruz won an average 21.7 percent of the vote; in the biggest suburbs of each state, he frequently ran behind Kasich.
That offers Cruz the chance to surprise, and reset the campaign narrative, in what superficially looks like enemy terrain. Even a narrow win would given Cruz a shot at all 42 of the state’s delegates. Wisconsin’s delegate-picking system — winner-take-all statewide, then winner-take-all by district — poses undeniable challenges for both Trump and Kasich."
IF HE CAN MAKE IT THERE....:
Ted Cruz's Wednesday ends in Wisconsin, but it began back East.
There are a lot of people in the state of New York. A lot. And a good chunk of those people are Republicans. Typically, their votes don't play a significant role in the GOP primary process. This is not a typical year.
Last month, "New York values" were a Cruz campaign prop in the South and West. It was one of those ideas that sounds good when the plan is to run up the delegate count big in those states and end the race early, as Cruz's was. It was not an idea that accounted for a race where that plan failed, and he needed the votes of actual New Yorkers, many of whom are roughly as fond of Texas values as Cruz was of theirs.
Now, it's true that a good number of the New York Republicans casting ballots later next month might agree with Cruz's earlier assessment. Still, his Big Apple message struck a slightly different note at his rally today in the Grand Salon of a posh boutique hotel just off Fifth Avenue, half a dozen blocks from Trump Tower. "God bless the great state of New York," the senator said, to applause.
(City officials greeted him with a Bronx cheer, with police commissioner Bill Bratton saying Cruz "doesn't know what the hell he's talking about" when he says increased patrols in Muslim neighborhoods would help prevent terror attacks.)
Could Cruz's earlier New York bashing come back to haunt him? "I'm not worried at all," he told reporters in Manhattan Wednesday.
WIFE-GATE UPDATE: Earlier this week, we noted a Facebook ad from Trump opponents that featured a G.Q. shot of Melania Trump draped in a bearskin rug (and not much else. This one.)
In case you missed what everyone had to say last night: here's the basic rundown, in three tweets.
The reaction from Donald Trump:
The reaction from the super PAC responsible for the ad, with GOP strategist Liz Mair saying she was now back to weighing "ads that make this one look like a hyper-sanitized Bible story."
And finally, the reaction from an annoyed Cruz, via a tweet he reportedly typed himself:
That was yesterday. Today, Cruz called Trump's threat "a new low" -- and as the senator made the rounds on half a dozen network and cable morning shows (a circuit which will henceforth be referred to as "The Full Cruz"), he upped the drama.
"If Donald wants to get in a character fight, he's better off sticking with me, because Heidi is way out of his league," Cruz said on CNN.
If that line sounds familiar, it may be because you've heard it before, from Michael Douglas: it's a paraphrase of a climactic scene in the 1995 movie "The American President."
Lyin’ Ted Cruz steals foreign policy from me, and lines from Michael Douglas— just another dishonest politician.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2016
Thus ends Wife-gate, Day 2.
DEMOCRATIC #MATH UPDATE:
It is a fact that Bernie Sanders won more delegates Tuesday night than Hillary Clinton did. It is also a fact that he isn't much more likely to win the nomination than he was before yesterday's vote, says Philip Bump.
"It's a simple function of math," he says. "Sanders needs to win a lot of states with a lot of delegates by a lot of points -- something that he's so far shown no ability to do. He needs to win about three-quarters of the remaining delegates. Unless deus emerges from the machina, he will not." (Read the whole thing for the math.)
And so Clinton is continuing her pivot to general election mode with a national security speech that hit both Trump and Cruz on policy. "Slogans aren't a strategy," she said. "Loose cannons tend to misfire."
Bernie Sanders may be making a bit of a pivot himself, John Wagner reports. The Vermont senator "continued to maintain Wednesday that he has 'a path toward victory' against Hillary Clinton but shared part of his reasoning for staying in the race regardless.
"The senator from Vermont said that his goal is to defeat the Republican nominee in November and suggested that a 50-state Democratic contest will help with that task.
"'The way you do that is to generate a lot of grass-roots enthusiasm, and the way you generate grass-roots enthusiasm is to have real debates on the real issues facing the American people and campaign in every state in this country,' Sanders told reporters... 'That’s how you bring people together.'"
SPOTTED ON THE SANDERS TRAIL:
YOUR DAILY TRAIL PIT STOP: Today is National Puppy Day.
It's been a rough week so far; in the spirit of the holiday, here is archival footage of an adorable puppy falling asleep on an equally adorable baby. We hope this helps.