Welcome to Trail Guide, your host through the wilds of the 2016 presidential campaign. It's Friday, Jan. 29, and here's what we're talking about:
- Donald Trump's decision not to debate might have been a triumph nonetheless, The Times' Cathleen Decker writes
- Without Trump onstage, the rest of the top-tier field attacked one another on immigration and terrorism
- The debate drew 12.5 million viewers, a big decline, but still much more than in previous years
- Our takeaways: Trump was mostly a target for jokes, and the immigration debate was especially heated
- In Iowa, Bernie Sanders harnesses energy to turn into votes — Obama style
- Hillary Clinton says Sanders' health plan is something that will "never happen"
The private email server Hillary Clinton used while secretary of State reemerged as a liability for her presidential run, as the State Department acknowledged Friday that 22 messages stored on the server contain top-secret information.
Clinton has long denied any of the messages that went through the unprotected server in her home contained highly sensitive material. The State Department said none of the messages were marked top secret at the time they were sent -- although it is looking into whether they should have been.
The administration refused to discuss the contents of the messages, which it acknowledged hours before the latest batch of about 1,000 pages of Clinton email is to be disclosed publicly. The messages marked top secret are being excluded from the disclosure.
Sen. Marco Rubio said Friday that rival Ted Cruz had intensified his negative advertising against him because he was scared of Rubio’s momentum in the lead-up to Monday's Iowa caucuses.
“Obviously, Sen. Cruz is worried about my candidacy and he has a lot to answer for,” Rubio told reporters after speaking to a couple of hundred voters at an event center on the banks of the icy Mississippi River. “You don’t spend money attacking a candidate you’re not concerned about.”
Cruz’s negative advertising has been focused on Donald Trump, with whom the Texas senator is in a tight battle for the top spot in Iowa. But on Friday, the New York Times reported that Cruz was shifting nearly all of his negative messaging to Rubio.
The conventional wisdom has held that Rubio was aiming for a third-place finish in the caucuses, and to be top candidate in the so-called “establishment” lane. But in recent days, political strategists and nonpartisan observers have noticed growing momentum behind Rubio, and have begun questioning whether he could pull off a second-place finish ahead of Cruz.
Rubio and his aides have sought to tamp down such talk while keeping expectations from Cruz high.
“We just want to do the best we can. We want to get as many voters to caucus for us Monday night as possible, and we’ll see what that leads to,” Rubio said. “Obviously Ted is the front-runner here – he’s spent a lot of time and money and has 10,000 volunteers working on his behalf on the ground. We saw his campaign over a month ago talking about how they were going to win comfortably. We’re not going to make those kind of predictions.”
A history lesson on Donald Trump -- and not a flattering one -- is arriving in the mailboxes of Iowans on Friday.
The "Donald Trump Voter Guide" is aimed at the more than 100,000 Republican caucus-goers who will file into libraries, churches and recreation centers to cast votes on Monday. It provides a glimpse into what its sponsors see as Trump's cozy ties to Democrats and his harsh words against conservatives.
The voter guide is sponsored by Our Principles PAC, which was formed this month and is not known to be associated with any candidate. The group already has hit Trump with television ads in Iowa, calling into question his devotion to conservative positions.
Trump, the national front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, is locked in a tight race in the state with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Some of the voter guide's contents include a 1987 newspaper ad paid for by Trump that assailed Ronald Reagan's foreign policy. It also notes favorable comments Trump made in 2009 about President Obama's economic stimulus package, and the real estate magnate's past relationship with the Clintons. (Hillary and Bill Clinton attended his and third wife Melania's 2005 wedding).
"We have no idea how his positions will shift from day to day. So we are asking GOP voters, can you trust Donald Trump? And I think the answer is no," said Katie Packer, who served as deputy campaign manager to Mitt Romney in 2012 and is the founder of Our Principles PAC.
Hillary Clinton ramped up her attack on Bernie Sanders’ healthcare proposal on Friday, calling it a “theoretical debate” over an idea that “will never, ever come to pass.”
Sanders wants a universal healthcare system run by the federal government, a liberal ideal that has failed to gain support even among many Democrats. Clinton has repeatedly said the plan is unrealistic and that the country should instead build on President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which leaves in place a system of private insurers.
“I don’t want to be thrown back into a terrible, terrible national debate,” she said during her stump speech on a college campus in Des Moines.
“People can’t wait," Clinton added. "People who have health emergencies can’t wait for us to have some theoretical debate about some better idea that will never, ever come to pass.”
The debate over how to achieve universal healthcare has been a fault line among Democrats for decades, a topic The Times explored earlier this month.
The ratings for Fox News Channel's Republican presidential primary debate took an expected hit from Donald Trump's decision not to participate in the event, staged Thursday night in Des Moines.
The debate four days before Iowa's nominating caucuses averaged 12.5 million viewers from 9 to 11 p.m. Eastern. It was the second-smallest audience of the seven GOP primary debates held so far and about half of what FNC scored with its first Republican debate back in August.
Even with the decline, the debate attracted the second-largest audience in Fox News' history and was the most watched program in prime time, according to Nielsen. Trump skipped the debate, claiming that Fox and moderator Megyn Kelly had treated him unfairly, and predicted the event would be a "total disaster" without him. But the audience exceeded the 11 million who watched his last debate appearance.
Billionaire investor Tom Steyer said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and the other Republican presidential candidates "have not done their homework" on climate change.
Speaking to House Democrats at their retreat in Baltimore, the high-dollar campaign donor noted that 2015 was the hottest year on record. He pointed to California's lead on renewable energy.
"I listen to Marco Rubio and all of the Republican candidates who say we can't afford to address this problem," Steyer told the group, according to Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), who arranged the retreat as chairman of the party's caucus. "They have not done their homework."
President Obama plans to return to the Illinois state capital of Springfield on Feb. 10, marking the ninth anniversary of his first presidential campaign as he also gears up to try to help elect a Democratic successor.
In an address to the Illinois General Assembly, where he served as a state senator, Obama will echo hopeful messages of his historic campaign in the 2008 election, especially about the country united rather than divided by partisan lines.
He’ll talk about “what we can do, together, to build a better politics, once that reflects our better selves,” said a White House official familiar with the plans.
The address comes nine years to the day after he kicked off his campaign on the steps of the Old State Capitol — and as Democrats try to recreate the campaign formula that turned out a powerful force of voters now known as the “Obama coalition.”
In order to win the presidency, the Democratic nominee will need to rouse the same spirited alliance of young, African American and Latino voters. Obama aides hope to maximize his influence and political leverage in the final year of his final term to rally those voters.
In the address to his former colleagues, Obama will cite the example of Abraham Lincoln, the other U.S. president who started his political career in Springfield.
For Donald Trump, there were no regrets about skipping the final debate before Iowa's caucuses.
"I did something that was very risky. And I think it turned out great because I'm on the front page of every paper," Trump said at a rally in New Hampshire on Friday morning.
And better yet: In Trump's absence, Ted Cruz, his chief rival in Iowa and New Hampshire, according to recent polls, took most of the hits.
"He got really pummeled," Trump said.
"And you know," he added, "they didn't even mention that he was born in Canada." It's a favorite insult of Trump's.
He did, however, show perhaps a little regret about the quick turnaround from the event in Des Moines he organized opposite the debate Thursday night to his jetting to New Hampshire for an early-morning campaign stop Friday.
"How loyal is that to New Hampshire, seriously? Do I get points?" he asked several hundred supporters here, after claiming his advisors had told him he should skip the planned trip to the first-in-the-nation primary state.
Fifty minutes or so later, as he wrapped up another Trumpian performance, he seemed more pleased.
"I am so glad I made this ridiculous trip."
Bemoaning the migration of U.S. jobs overseas, Donald Trump reminded an audience this week that Pfizer was moving its headquarters to Ireland.
"No more Viagra!" a man hollered.
"Shout that out once more," Trump responded with a grin.
"No more Viagra!"
The Republican presidential candidate opened his arms wide as laughter spread at the New Hampshire event. "I didn't say it," he deadpanned. "Do they make Viagra? Is it Pfizer? … This guy's a comedian."
So is Trump, whose political rallies often resemble stand-up comedy shows. Funny, engaging, insulting, cocky and vulgar, the former reality television star remains a showman at heart as he campaigns for president.
Back-and-forth banter with fans, as Trump calls them, is a staple of the act. It looks spontaneous; it's anything but.
Donald Trump took a big chance in boycotting the Republican presidential debate Thursday night, held just days before Iowa casts the first ballots.
But the unorthodox strategy that has kept him at the top of the GOP field since his entry into the race last summer triumphed again, as Trump stayed out of the fray and watched his competitors pilloried.
It was the debate Republicans imagined before the New York real estate developer began his lengthy domination of the race. And it was also a good night for some of the establishment candidates who have found disdain more than success this presidential cycle.
With Donald Trump boycotting, his Republican rivals used the opportunity to pummel one another Thursday night in a contentious debate that offered one of the last chances to ply Iowans before the first presidential vote of 2016.
Trump was gone but not forgotten.
Less than a year after giving up his reality show to run for president, Donald Trump proved Thursday night that he still has a television executive's touch.
After dropping out of the Republican debate because of a feud with Fox News, Trump, the former star of "The Apprentice," decided to host his own counter-programming just three miles away. While his rivals for the Republican nomination butted heads over immigration and foreign policy, the New York businessman did what he does best: put on a show.
Republican candidates itching for a turn at the spotlight redirected their blows from the absent Donald Trump to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz during Thursday’s debate, and the attacks kept up Friday morning, with the Des Moines Register's front page declaring a "rough night for Cruz.”
And former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who was in the undercard debate Thursday, took his turn Friday as well, accusing Cruz of flip-flopping.
“When a person changes views time after time and is always moving with the political wind vane, when a person is a thermometer instead of a thermostat, that person’s not a leader,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said of Cruz on CNN’s “New Day.” “And no, you can’t trust them.”
Huckabee, who participated in the undercard debate, contended that Cruz changes his opinions based on geography and lacks conviction.
“[Cruz] wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal saying [trade] was the greatest thing since toothpaste,” Huckabee told CNN. “Then he came out when the political wind shifted and said he was against it.”
Rep. Steve King of Iowa, one of Cruz's most prominent supporters and one of the most socially conservative members of Congress, told CNN on Friday that the Register’s front page came as a surprise — but dismissed it as editorialized.
“I had predicted in some of the interviews before the debate that all guns would be pointed at Ted Cruz,” he told CNN on Friday. “It’s a game of political king-of-the-hill, and it was clear Ted Cruz is on top of the hill.”
Yet without Trump on stage, candidates piled on Cruz early and kept up their attacks, repeatedly jabbing him over a perceived inability to stick to an opinion.
Fox News showed a video clip of the Texas senator speaking about “compromise” for the 2013 immigration reform bill that failed in Congress. Moderators questioned whether that was more representative of his views on immigration than his harsher turn of late.
“This is the lie Ted’s campaign is built on,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in response to the clip. "The truth is, Ted, throughout this campaign you've been willing to say or do anything in order to get votes."