Welcome to Trail Guide, your host through the wilds of the 2016 presidential campaign. It's Wednesday, Jan. 27, and here's what we're talking about:
- Even without Donald Trump, a lot of the Republican debate stands to be about Donald Trump
- Democrats are fighting over their debate schedule too
- Nancy Pelosi tosses some cold water at Bernie Sanders' health plan
- Campaigns push the privacy envelope by tracking voters' opinions using data crunchers in Silicon Valley
- Latino voters in Iowa are inspired by Trump — to vote against him
The debate schedule has been a sore point throughout the primary, with the Democratic National Committee sanctioning only a handful of nationally televised contests, often on weekend nights that sapped viewership.
When NBC pushed to hold another debate in New Hampshire next week -- five days before the state's primary on Feb. 9 -- Clinton agreed. But Sanders hesitated.
Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said Clinton was only interested in adding a debate because she was losing ground to the Vermont senator.
"The answer is obvious," Weaver said in a statement. "The dynamics of the race have changed and Sen. Sanders has significant momentum."
He added, "Sen. Sanders is happy to have more debates, but we are not going to schedule them on an ad hoc basis at the whim of the Clinton campaign."
Weaver said Sanders would participate in the debate in New Hampshire if Clinton would agree to debates in March, April and May as well.
"And," he added, "none on a Friday, Saturday or holiday weekend."
Donald Trump remained steadfast in his vow to bypass Thursday's debate, insisting his campaign will not face backlash from voters because of his absence.
Speaking Wednesday on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor," the billionaire businessman pointed to his performance in the six previous GOP presidential debates as proof he's given voters the opportunity to weigh his candidacy.
"Everybody said I won all six debates and especially the last one, so I don't mind debating. In fact, I actually like debating," he said.
He reiterated those sentiments Wednesday to host Bill O'Reilly, who has tried to get Trump to reconsider.
“I have zero respect for Megyn Kelly," Trump said, pointing to what he's called unfair questioning from Kelly in a debate last August where she asked him about his past comments toward women.
This week's Fox News debate is the final GOP gathering before Monday's Iowa caucuses. While Trump's rivals gather on stage in Des Moines, Trump will be nearby at Drake University hosting an event for veterans.
When O'Reilly noted in the interview Wednesday that Trump could risk losing an opportunity to sway voters who may be undecided, Trump demurred.
"We're going to be having a great event tomorrow night and we're going to be raising a lot of money," Trump said.
In two rallies -- one in Iowa, the other in South Carolina -- since he announced he would not attend the debate, Trump has not addressed the issue directly with supporters.
While Trump holds a strong lead nationally, he's locked in a neck-and-neck race with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the Hawkeye State. At a rally in Iowa on Wednesday night, Cruz continued his calls to debate Trump one-on-one over the weekend at a community college in western Iowa.
Only Donald Trump could make a debate without Donald Trump all about Donald Trump.
That’s one plausible scenario for what Thursday night’s GOP candidate face-off could turn into should the Republican presidential front-runner follow through on his vow to boycott the session because of a spat with Fox News. With Trump on the sidelines and an audience of the party’s base, the remaining candidates surely could see value in coming to the defense of moderator Megyn Kelly and the network whose prime-time lineup she anchors.
Donald Trump announced details Wednesday of the event for veterans he plans to host at the same time as the Republican debate he's vowed to skip, underscoring his commitment to gaining the upper hand in his feud with Fox News.
Trump, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, said Tuesday that he will skip the debate, hosted by Fox News, after the network mocked him for challenging the credibility of its anchor Megyn Kelly.
The billionaire businessman will host what his campaign is calling a special event to benefit veterans' organizations at the same hour the debate will begin. Trump's event and the debate are set for Thursday night in Des Moines.
Some of his rivals have wondered if Trump will actually hold true to his vow to skip the debate, which is the final opportunity for the Republican presidential hopefuls to square off ahead of Monday's Iowa caucuses.
"[Trump] apparently is not going to come to the debate — although I got a 20-dollar bet he'll show up — because he thinks he's not being treated fairly," former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said in response to a question at a campaign event in Des Moines on Wednesday.
Orange City is in the heart of Sioux County, the deepest red, most overwhelmingly Republican part of Iowa. The small town in the state's northwestern corner was settled by Dutch immigrants, and the community proudly celebrates that heritage.
The "Centrum" is downtown, where businesses feature Dutch-themed architecture. The city offers tax incentives to promote the style:
The community is deeply religious. "Living your faith" is an integral part of the Dutch Reformed Church.
Like much of rural Iowa, Orange City is changing as an influx of Latino immigrants come for jobs in the agriculture and meat-packing industries. Tucked in the corner of the Holland shopping center is the popular Los Tulipanes restaurant:
Donald Trump picked up the backing this week of Jerry Falwell Jr., son of the legendary evangelical founder of Liberty University.
Not to be outdone, Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, announced his support late Tuesday for Sen. Ted Cruz.
Evangelicals appear increasingly split over the GOP's two front-runners. Trump and Cruz, as well as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, are trying to win over religious voters seeking a candidate who can fight Democrats while staying true to religious principles.
Falwell lauded Trump as "a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.”
But other religious conservatives have questioned Trump's multiple marriages and his earlier position in favor of abortion.
Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention recently unleashed a tweet-storm over Trump's appearance at Liberty University.
"Winning at politics while losing the gospel is not a win," Moore tweeted.
Perkins, in announcing his endorsement of Cruz, said he wouldn't be taking swipes at Trump. But he called Cruz a "constitutional conservative who will fight for faith, family and freedom. He will defend our right to believe and live according to those beliefs."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took aim at a core proposal of Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign, saying Wednesday that his Medicare-for-all health plan is "not going to happen."
“Does anyone in this room think that we’re going to be discussing single payer?" Pelosi said at a news conference in Baltimore kicking off the House Democrats' annual policy conference.
"I’ve been for single payer for 30 years," Pelosi said. But, she said, "that’s not going to happen.”
Sanders defended his Medicare-for-all proposal during Monday's Democratic presidential forum, saying it would eliminate private health insurance premiums even if it requires higher taxes.
But Pelosi made clear that the taxes needed to pay for Sanders' plan were not something House Democrats were eager to embrace.
“We’re not running on any platform of raising taxes,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi hasn’t publicly endorsed a candidate in the primary. Her lack of enthusiasm for a core element of Sanders' campaign, however, could influence some Democrats in Monday's Iowa caucus meetings, where polls indicate Sanders and Hillary Clinton are running a tight race.
Earlier Wednesday, Sanders met with President Obama at the White House and praised him for how “evenhanded” the president has been over the race.
Sanders has drawn large crowds at campaign rallies in recent months, something Pelosi noted as well.
“Bernie Sanders is enlarging the universe of people that are paying attention to the election, and we hope that he will bring them to the polls in November to support the Democratic nominee,” Pelosi said.
“God bless all of the people that have gotten enthusiastic about all of the Democratic candidates.”
As the Clinton campaign warns wavering Democrats that Bernie Sanders lacks the experience needed to get things done in Washington and is selling an unrealistic agenda, MoveOn.org is responding with a spirited rebuttal – starring a former member of Bill Clinton’s cabinet.
In a video going viral among liberals this week, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich returns to his whiteboard and marker – the same tools he used to mobilize liberals against the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal – to layout why a vote for Bernie Sanders is not a wasted vote. It’s been watched 3.5 million times so far.
Over the course of three minutes, Reich tees up and then swiftly moves to knock down a half dozen oft-repeated concerns of the Bernie Sanders “skeptics.” Example: “America would never elect a socialist.” Reich pauses, looks disappointingly into the camera and then says, “Please.”
“America most successful and beloved government programs are social insurance, social security and Medicare. I mean, a highway is a shared social expenditure, as is the military and public parks and schools,” Reich says. “The real problem is we now have excessive socialism for the rich.”
Reich also talks to those skeptical that Sanders could get anything done with Congress. He advises that no Democrat can. “There’s a higher likelihood of kicking Republicans out [of Congress] if Bernie’s political revolution continues to surge,” he said. Bernie too old? “That’s untrue,” Reich says, as the video flashes to a shot of Sanders sprinting down an escalator and across a large room, his jacket flapping in the air. “Have you seen how agile and forceful he is as he campaigns around the country?”
What’s sweeter than campaigning for a presidential candidate you really believe in? Maybe whipping up an ice cream flavor in his honor. Ben Cohen, one of the cofounders of Ben & Jerry’s, found himself inspired enough by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to concoct Bernie’s Yearning, mint ice cream covered with a thick slab of solid chocolate, in his kitchen over a weekend.
"The chocolate disc represents the huge majority of economic gains that have gone to the top 1% since the end of the recession. Beneath it, the rest of us," Cohen explains on the Bernie’s Yearning website.
Eating instructions are to smash the chocolate into small chunks with a spoon and mix them into the mint ice cream for more equitable proportions, then share the treat "with your fellow Americans."
Donald Trump's decision to skip Thursday night's debate has mesmerized the political world, but it could also create a tactical problem for Ted Cruz, according to one prominent supporter of the Texas senator.
Without Trump there, Cruz is the candidate with the best polling in Iowa, said Rep. Steve King of Iowa, one of the most conservative members of Congress and a Cruz backer.
"If they don't have Donald Trump to attack, they're going to attack the guy at the top. This is political king of the hill," King said outside a diner in Iowa City where he was stumping for the Texas senator.
King suggested Trump was afraid to go up against Cruz, noting that the New York businessman had not agreed to the separate one-on-one debate Cruz challenged him to.
"I can't believe he's afraid of Megyn Kelly," King said, referencing the Fox anchor who has clashed with Trump and is moderating the debate Thursday. "I think he's afraid of Ted Cruz, actually."
King described Trump's decision to hold a competing event to raise money for wounded veterans as a worthy cause but something of a publicity stunt.
"Donald Trump is completely capable of writing a nice big check and doing it quietly," King said. "If that's what he cares about, that's what he should do."
After a 45-minute sit-down in the Oval Office on Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders left the White House praising President Obama for how "even-handed" he has been in an increasingly tight nomination fight to succeed him.
"I think he and the vice president have tried to be fair and even-handed in the process, and I expect they will continue to be that way,” Sanders told reporters outside the West Wing entrance after the meeting.
Obama's impartiality has increasingly been called into question as the first nominating contests near.
Hillary Clinton wants to debate next week in New Hampshire, but the Democratic National Committee -- at least for now -- is not budging.
In an interview Wednesday on MSNBC, Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, said she would like the party to sanction a Feb. 4 debate ahead of the state's primary .
The DNC has agreed to six debates, with the next set for Feb.11 in Milwaukee. The abbreviated schedule was long seen as favoring Clinton by limiting her opponents' exposure to voters, but Clinton has done well in the debates, and now that she is locked in a close primary fight with Bernie Sanders, additional forums could give her a boost.
"I would like the chairman of the party and the campaigns to agree that we can debate in New Hampshire next week,” Clinton said in a taping of MSNBC’s “Hardball." “That is what I'm hoping will happen.”
A day earlier, party chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz dismissed the proposal for an additional debate.
"We have consistently worked with our campaigns to ensure a schedule that is robust and that allows them to engage with voters in a variety of ways," Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.
After the New Hampshire primary, the committee may huddle with candidates to discuss altering the debate schedule, she said.
In New Hampshire, several state polls show Clinton lagging behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Jeff Weaver, Sanders' campaign manager, said Wednesday they were open to more debates, but not on an "ad hoc basis."
"The dynamics of the race have changed and Sen. Sanders has significant momentum," Weaver said in a statement. "Sen. Sanders is happy to have more debates but we are not going to schedule them on an ad hoc basis at the whim of the Clinton campaign."
6:15 p.m. - This post was updated with a comment from the Sanders campaign.
There's no debate about it: Donald Trump erotica is here, and it's huuuge.
The Republican presidential candidate who has a massive lead in the polls is also the star of "Trump Temptations: The Billionaire & The Bellboy," a fictional gay-themed erotic novel written by 22-year-old Los Angeles comedian Elijah Daniel, who is, perhaps, trying to make America sexy again.
And it's winning on Amazon. The book is ranked No. 1 in the "humorous erotica" and "gay erotica" categories despite Daniel's warning in his author biography: "I'm a comedian and very bad author, of very awful things. You shouldn't read anything I write."
Latino organizers sensed an opportunity when they heard Donald Trump was bringing his presidential campaign to Marshalltown, a small farm city that is home to an increasing number of Latino immigrants and their children.
So they organized protests at the high school gymnasium where Trump spoke Tuesday, with about 50 young Latinos marching silently outside as a smattering of Trump supporters hurled insults and laughed at them.
But the protest was only the beginning. Down the street, advocates held a drive to register voters and educate immigrants on the complexities of next week's Iowa caucuses, the kickoff for the presidential nominating process.
"We want to turn his negativity into a positive for our community," said Joe Enriquez Henry, whose group, the League of United Latin American Citizens, helped organize the event.
In Iowa, where voters have been exposed to the presidential campaign at a level of intensity that most Americans won't experience until fall, Latinos have already begun to counterpunch Trump, prompted by his calls for a massive border wall to keep out immigrants whom he has described as rapists, drug dealers and carriers of infectious disease.
Clinging to his hold on evangelical support in Iowa, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won a high-profile endorsement from Christian leader and social conservative Tony Perkins.
"I trust Ted to do what needs to be done," Perkins said in an interview with Fox News. "I know him, I've seen him stand up against his colleagues. He's doing what he said he would do."
The latest endorsement is intended to help provide Cruz a bulwark of support heading into Monday's caucuses in Iowa. Cruz's grasp on evangelical support appears to be in jeopardy, with a survey released Monday showing rival Donald Trump with about twice as much backing from white evangelicals nationally.
Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, told Fox News that the presidency is about setting and sticking to principles.
"I trust Ted to fight to pull America out of the political and cultural tailspin that President Obama’s policies have put us in,” Perkins said. “This is no normal election; this election is about the very survival of our Constitution and our republic.”
When presidential candidates turn to data crunchers at Rocket Fuel in Silicon Valley for help finding voters who want tougher immigration enforcement, the firm comes up with a surprisingly specific answer: Chevy truck drivers who like Starbucks.
The data modeling from Rocket Fuel shows that this group leans against a path to citizenship for workers in the U.S. illegally. And these particular voters have become surprisingly easy – some argue creepily so – for campaigns to find and approach. So have consumers of frozen vegetables, who are more likely to oppose abortion. As have people curious about diabetes, a group that tends to settle on a candidate early in the race.
“Knowing the nuances of each voter beyond whether they lean right or left makes every difference,” said JC Medici, the firm’s national director of politics and advocacy. “We can identify what people are persuadable.”
But as presidential campaigns push into a new frontier of voter targeting, scouring social media accounts, online browsing habits and retail purchasing records of millions of Americans, they have brought a privacy imposition unprecedented in politics. By some estimates, political candidates are collecting more personal information on Americans than even the most aggressive retailers.