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Welcome to Trail Guide, your host through the wilds of the 2016 presidential campaign. It's Wednesday, Jan. 13, and here's what we're talking about:
- Is a battle brewing between President Obama and Donald Trump on the campaign trail?
- Analysis: In State of the Union, Obama aims to have a say in which candidate follows him
- Jeb Bush's super PAC is spending a lot of money on advertising, but it's not helping boost his poll numbers
- The Republican debate lineup for this week is set, and Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina did not make the cut
- Paul will skip the so-called "happy hour" debate to campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire
Bush says he's not paying attention to massive super PAC spending on his behalf
More super PAC money has been spent promoting Jeb Bush than any other candidate in the 2016 presidential race.
But to hear Bush tell it, he hasn’t been paying much attention.
He said Wednesday he wasn’t concerned about complaints from Republican rival Marco Rubio that attack ads funded with that super PAC money were hurting the party — and that voters would figure things out.
“This is a rough-and-tumble business,” the former Florida governor told reporters after addressing conservatives at a breakfast in this suburb of Des Moines. “So people have a way of filtering all this out and making decisions based on the information they have.”
Before he formally joined the race in June, Bush helped the Right to Rise super PAC raise vast sums of money — $50 million of which has since been used to support his efforts and attack his rivals.
The chief target of those attacks has been Rubio. The Florida senator’s campaign has said the ads help the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton.
They don’t seem to have helped Bush, who was once thought of as the most probable Republican nominee. A Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll released Wednesday showed Bush with the support of just 4% of GOP voters likely to participate in the Iowa caucuses less than three weeks from now.
Asked whether Right to Rise has spent its money wisely, Bush demurred.
“I’m so busy, I can’t follow all that,” he said. “I hope they are.”
He said he had not seen any of the ads aside from one Web video that poked fun at Rubio’s penchant for high-heeled black leather boots and modified the lyrics of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” to accuse “young Marco” of flip-flopping on immigration and other issues.
“It’s funny,” Bush said.
Snapshot from the trail: Bill Clinton in New Hampshire
Steve King on Nikki Haley: 'I think she's beautiful'
For Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the endorsement of Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a firebrand conservative who is popular on the far right, was a boost to his campaign in the crowded GOP presidential field.
But with such an endorsement can also come baggage. That was the case Wednesday when King commented not only on the conservative credentials of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, but on her looks as well.
"I think she’s beautiful,” said King, according to the Associated Press, when talking about Haley, who delivered the GOP rebuttal Tuesday night to President Obama's State of the Union address.
He added, "I’d be happy if she’s the face of the party," though he questioned whether she was a "principled conservative."
On Tuesday, Haley implicitly attacked Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP nomination when she criticized those in her party for divisive language about immigrants and Muslims.
"Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true," she said.
Some factions of the GOP -- mostly far-right conservatives like King -- have said Haley's speech was too critical of the party, while others have whispered about her as a potential vice presidential pick.
Trump called the South Carolina governor "very weak on illegal immigration."
Are birther attacks against Ted Cruz working? Not in Iowa
The attacks have come in numerous television interviews and before thousands at GOP rallies, but Donald Trump's questioning of Ted Cruz's eligibility to become president appears to have had little sway in a critical place: Iowa.
In what's become a neck-and-neck race between the two candidates to win the Feb.1 caucuses, Trump has sought to raise concerns among Republican voters about Cruz being born in Canada to an American mother and Cuban father.
But a Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register poll released Wednesday showed 83% of likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa are not bothered by Cruz's birth outside the United States. Fifteen percent said they were bothered.
The poll, conducted from Jan. 7-10, came several days after Trump began his attacks against Cruz, who has surged into first place in the state. Many Evangelical voters -- a key voting bloc in Iowa caucuses -- are coalescing around his candidacy.
On the stump, Trump has insisted that "a lot of people" are talking about Cruz's eligibility. Should Cruz become the nominee, Trump warns, Democrats could bring a court challenge and hurt the party's chances of winning in November. Indeed, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was the party's 2008 nominee and has tussled with Cruz in the Senate, said that it's a legitimate question.
The Constitution requires presidents to be “natural-born citizens,” but the Supreme Court has never ruled on exactly what that means. Children of U.S. citizens are automatically granted citizenship, even if they are born abroad.
Cruz has several times dismissed the concerns as baseless.
Well, I’ll fund my campaign.
In April, with the race for president still far away, President Obama used his speech at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner to poke fun at some likely Republican contenders, needling Jeb Bush’s efforts to court Latinos and Ted Cruz’s denial of climate change.
“And,” he added caustically, “Donald Trump is here. Still.”
Jumbo screens showed the billionaire businessman waving affably from a back table. But the idea of a Trump candidacy was the punch line, and the Washington media and political elites packed in the ballroom laughed in appreciation.
Obama is no longer laughing. His final State of the Union address Tuesday night amounted to a vigorous – and frequently barbed – defense of his record and his legacy in the face of Trump’s unexpected rise to the top of the Republican nomination race.
With soft-spoken but undeniably tart words, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley vaulted onto the national stage Tuesday night for the second time in less than a year, going after both President Obama and presidential candidates in her own Republican Party. The question left unanswered: Did she do herself good or harm — or both — in her response to the president’s State of the Union address?
Some Democrats watching Haley’s speech — which followed Obama’s final State of the Union of his presidency — praised her, albeit largely because of her explicit criticism of her party. Republicans seemed split, with some embracing her remarks and others put out that she used the significant platform to tweak her own party and its candidates.
At the very least, if Haley increased her standing in the illusory vice presidential sweepstakes of some candidates, she took herself off front-runner Donald Trump’s short list.
She never mentioned Trump by name, but her intent was clear. She told Americans that the country needed to resist “the siren call of the angriest voices.”
Republican candidates bash Obama's final State of the Union address
Republican candidates took turns attacking President Obama’s final State of the Union address, calling him "divisive" and his address an unrealistic view of the world.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz referred to the speech as the “state of denial."
Most attacked Obama’s foreign policy and blamed him for the conflics with Islamic State and with countries in the Middle East.
“Bullies and tyrants across the world are not afraid of this president, don’t respect this president," Cruz told Fox News on Wednesday.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Obama’s strategy to fight Islamic State failed to protect the country.
“People are scared for legitimate reasons,” Bush said in a post-address interview with Fox News. “While the president suggests ISIS is not a challenge to our country — they aren’t going to invade us in the traditional sense — they are trying to undermine our way of life," he added, using an acronym for Islamic State.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio joined in.
“Unfortunately with this president, he has always underestimated the threat of ISIS,” Rubio said. “It is a terrorist group, well-organized, well-funded and capable of infiltrating the country.”
Rubio also accused Obama of failing to lead.
“This is a president that has deliberately pitted Americans against each other time and again,” he told Fox News.
On the Democratic side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both praised Obama’s speech.
“I ... appreciated the president’s point that we need more civil politics, that we need to get big money out of politics,” Sanders wrote on his website, “that at a time of tremendous wealth and income inequality we must revitalize American democracy.”
Hillary Clinton says she's not worried about Bernie Sanders' rise
As Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders edges closer in the race for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton said she isn’t worried.
Clinton told CNN on Tuesday that the road to the presidency is “hard, long and challenging” for any candidate — herself included.
Clinton reminded CNN host Alisyn Camerota that she campaigned in the 2008 race until June of that year. She said polls don’t offer predictable results, so she doesn’t pay attention to the numbers, including surveys that show Sanders with a sizable lead in New Hampshire and ahead in some in Iowa.
“[Polls] always tighten up as people begin to make up their minds, as they look at the candidates,” Clinton said in the interview. “I feel really, really good about the campaign organization that I have.”
“I’m looking at people who are showing up, making up their minds and trying to, you know, convince them to come out and caucus for me,” she added.
Still, going into the last stretch before the nominating contests start Feb. 1, Clinton is escalating her attacks on Sanders, including on gun control. She said now is the time in the race to move from talking about ideals to presenting specific plans on healthcare, taxes and other issues.
In a Wednesday interview on NBC's "Today" show, Clinton reiterated her call for voters to consider the fundamental differences between herself and Sanders. She expressed concern for Sanders’ votes on legislation that supported gun rights — he has since said he would review the parts of the bills that he feels allow too much leniency in obtaining weapons.
“These are the kinds of differences people deserve to know about as they make up their minds,” Clinton said.
For one last time, President Obama took to the rostrum of the House chamber, observing an old ritual with a new purpose: shaping history.
Obama’s final State of the Union address Tuesday night was no nostalgia trip, though the president and many around him were mindful of its timing, nearly eight years to the day after an Iowa victory launched his unlikely path to the White House.
It was a chance for reflection and a bit of self-congratulation, not least for helping the nation rebound from its worst economic downturn in more than half a century — though he was careful to credit the American people and acknowledge their continued unease.
It was an opportunity, too, for a last summons on issues such as gun control, income inequality and immigration reform, which still rest on the incomplete side of his presidential ledger.