March 3, 2016

Backed into a corner by super-bully Donald Trump, the Republican establishment unleashed its secret weapon: Mittens! In his speech Thursday, Mitt Romney was meant to take down The Donald, save his party, and put the Republican 2016 primary back on course. Cartoonist Clay Jones perfectly captures how Romney's attack played out:

(Copyright 2016, Clay Jones

For those of you confused by the cage on the roof, how dare you forget poor Seamus. Lauren Hansen

11:08 a.m. ET
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Though first lady Michelle Obama has already stumped for Hillary Clinton many a time, the two women will appear on the same stage for the first time this campaign Thursday at a rally Thursday in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Clinton campaign has already hailed Obama as its "not-so-secret weapon," and the speeches the first lady has made so far have been some of the most memorable of this election, dating back to her address at the summer's Democratic National Convention.

"She has exceeded our expectations in terms of how many events she has been able to do, willing to do. Her team keeps surprising us with additional availability and we can't, from our vantage point, we can't get her out there enough. She's been an absolute rock star," Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said earlier this week.

On Thursday, Obama will "get the drum beating on early voting," a Clinton spokesperson said. President Obama lost North Carolina in 2012; Clinton is an average of 5.4 points ahead in the four-way matchup, with just 12 days to go until Election Day. Donald Trump's campaign has also been active this week in the state, which, aside from the 2008 election, has historically voted Republican. Becca Stanek

11:05 a.m. ET

Archaeologists and restorers working in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem have pulled back the marble cover on what is traditionally considered to be the tomb of Jesus Christ, National Geographic reports. By removing the covering, which is believed to have been placed on the tomb around 1555 A.D. or earlier, scientists have exposed the "burial bed," where Christ is believed to have been laid after being crucified in A.D. 30 or 33.

"The marble covering of the tomb has been pulled back, and we were surprised by the amount of fill material beneath it," Fredrik Hiebert, the archaeologist-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, said. "It will be a long scientific analysis, but we will finally be able to see the original rock surface on which, according to tradition, the body of Christ was laid."

Researchers plan to study the surface in order to better understand the original shape of the tomb. "The techniques we're using to document this unique monument will enable the world to study our findings as if they themselves were in the tomb of Christ," Chief Scientific Supervisor Professor Antonia Moropoulou said.

Watch the big reveal below, and read more about the restoration and research at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at National Geographic. Jeva Lange

10:44 a.m. ET

If the wildlife population keeps dropping off at the rate it has over the last 40 years, the world could be down to just one-third the wildlife it once had by the year 2020. A new Living Planet assessment by the conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released Thursday revealed that there was already a "58 percent overall decline in the numbers of fish, mammals, birds, and reptiles worldwide" between 1970 and 2012, which amounts to a 2 percent loss in wildlife populations every single year.

WWF said the data points to an impending sixth extinction that will be almost entirely humans' fault. "We are entering a new era in Earth's history: the Anthropocene. An era in which humans rather than natural forces are the primary drivers of planetary change," Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, wrote in the report. WWF conservation scientist Martin Taylor explained to CNN that the new era is upon us "because we're using so much of the planet and we're destroying so much of (these animals') habitat."

However, BBC noted that WWF's Living Planet reports "have drawn some criticisms." Though the document delves into trends in 14,152 populations of 3,706 species of vertebrates, some argue the data isn't representative of the entire world's wildlife populations. Duke University conservation ecology professor Stuart Pimm said that the data WWF used from from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is "massively skewed toward Western Europe," and that there is "almost nothing from South America, from tropical Africa." Becca Stanek

10:18 a.m. ET
Win McNamee/Getty Images

As the Koch brothers' advocacy network has watched Donald Trump's nosedive primarily from the sidelines, some donors and staffers are now wondering where they went wrong.

Disagreements over an alternative to Trump prevented a conservative counter-movement in the primaries from ever getting off the ground, and the Koch network has since shifted its attention — and money — to research and think tanks. "[T]here are mounting questions about whether [the Kochs'] vaunted political and advocacy operation may have peaked," Politico writes. "The answer could resonate well beyond Nov. 8, since the Koch network would otherwise be expected to play a major role in the post-Trump rebuilding of the conservative movement. "

Plus there is the fact that some Koch insiders feel like they're partially responsible for the whole Trump mess in the first place:

By helping to empower the anti-establishment tea party protests in 2009 and 2010, these people say, the Koch network inadvertently laid the groundwork for a movement that turned towards a strain of anti-immigrant protectionism that is anathema to the Koch's ideology, and that proved fertile ground for Trump's nationalist brand of populism.

"We are partly responsible," said one former network staffer. "We invested a lot in training and arming a grassroots army that was not controllable, and some of these people have used it in ways that are not consistent with our principles, with our goal of advancing a free society, and instead they have furthered the alt-right." [Politico]

"What we feel really badly about is that we were not able to educate many in the tea party more about how the process works and how free markets work," a donor added. "Seeing this movement that we were part of creating going off in a direction that's anti-free-market, anti-trade, and anti-immigrant — many of us are really saddened by that. Unfortunately, there is little in the short term we can do about that." All that's left to do, then, is look ahead — read more about how the Koch network plans to do that, at Politico. Jeva Lange

10:10 a.m. ET
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Young black women overwhelmingly voted for President Obama in 2012, but young black men did not. In fact, nearly one in five black men under 30 — some 19 percent — cast their ballots for Republican Mitt Romney, a major shift toward the GOP as compared to previous cycles. Just four years earlier, only 6 percent of the same demographic voted Republican, meaning GOP appeal to young black men more than tripled during Obama's first term.

But if that was the beginning of a significant political realignment, it may have been the end as well. Though young black voters aren't enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton, there's no way they're voting for Donald Trump. Just 2 percent of black voters under 30 say they will back Trump on Election Day.

"The Republican Party had an opportunity to cement my support for the long term," Kellen Curry, one of the young black men who voted for Romney, told Vice News. Instead, they nominated Trump. "Now Republicans have to start all over again in 2020. Now they've broken whatever juice they had in the beginning and now they've got to re-sell the product," Curry said. "Party leaders often say the party did not have a problem with race, but the problem was talking about race. What Trump has brought to the surface is that yes, the party does not only have a problem with talking about race, but also with race itself." Bonnie Kristian

9:56 a.m. ET
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is still in his first term as House speaker, but he may not get a second term depending on how things shake out Nov. 8.

His first problem is the math. At present, Ryan leads a 246-seat Republican majority in the House, more than enough to retain his role, but eight of the Republicans who voted against him the first time around will have the opportunity to do so again. If he loses their votes and that majority shrinks on Election Day, Ryan may well find himself dangerously close to the 218 votes he needs to win.

The second problem is Donald Trump, with whom Ryan has had an infamously tumultuous relationship. Trump campaign chairman Steve Bannon is an avowed Ryan enemy (that's Bannon's word choice) and a post-election Trump camp — either victorious and looking to flex its muscles, or defeated and vengeful — might pressure the House GOP to get rid of Ryan.

Ryan's fate may well come down to the decision of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative Republicans that helped orchestrate last year's ouster of Ryan's predecessor, John Boehner, and did not initially back Ryan to replace him. Seven of the eight Republicans who voted against Ryan last time are Freedom Caucus members, and they may be able to rally their peers around another candidate for speaker. Bonnie Kristian

9:54 a.m. ET

Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough wondered Thursday morning why there was such a fuss over reporter David Fahrenthold's story in The Washington Post about the "life-size portrait" of himself Donald Trump bought with charity money when there are clearly bigger fish to fry — like, say, the latest Clinton Foundation controversy. A 2011 memo by former Clinton White House aide and then-Clinton Foundation adviser Doug Band published Wednesday by WikiLeaks revealed Band worked in an "unorthodox nature" to obtain "in-kind services" for the Clintons, raise money for the Clinton Foundation, and secure speaking roles for former President Bill Clinton.

"You're shaking down the world for $66 million instead of a Rolex watch or a life-size portrait. I mean [Fahrenthold] is going to win a Pulitzer Prize for finding a life-size portrait of Donald Trump that [Trump] paid money for with a foundation," Scarborough said. "We're talking about $66 million here, maybe $100 million."

Co-host Mika Brzezinski agreed, saying the Clinton story is "just bigger. Larger amounts of money and the world is used as opposed to Palm Beach and a flag."

Watch Scarborough and Brzezinski take on the "sleazy" Clinton scandal, below. Becca Stanek

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