NATION POLITICS TRAIL GUIDE

Donald Trump on Francis' trip to Mexico: 'I think that the pope is a very political person'

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Welcome to Trail Guide, your host through the wilds of the 2016 presidential campaign. It's Friday, Feb. 12, and here's what we're talking about:

Meme follows Rubio to Palmetto State

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We're back with our third edition of Essential Politics: The Podcast, where we note the candidates will have enough money to fight out the presidential contest for a long time. 

Cathleen Decker and I tee up Saturday's GOP debate and outline the road ahead for the contenders in both parties.

People wouldn’t be talking about illegal immigration had I not brought it up when I announced I was running for president. It is a massive problem in our country and now everybody agrees with me.

Donald Trump in a new TV ad that is set to air in South Carolina.

Jim Gilmore bows out of presidential race

 (Paul Marotta / Getty Images)

(Paul Marotta / Getty Images)

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, whose bid for the Republican presidential nomination was the longest of long shots, suspended his campaign on Friday. 

"My goal was to focus on the importance of this election as a real turning point, and to emphasize the dangers of continuing on a road that will further undermine America's economy and weaken our national security,” Gilmore said in a statement. 

In the eight months Gilmore sought the GOP nomination he failed to make any of the prime-time debates because of dismal polling numbers. 

Gilmore served one term as governor of Virginia from 1998-2002 and was briefly chairman of the Republican National Committee. 

In an interview with The Times following Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, Gilmore said he was disappointed in his inability to garner any support. 

"We obviously did run as hard as we could in the state of New Hampshire," he said.

Gilmore's exit from the race on Friday comes after Carly Fiorina and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also suspended their campaigns this week. 

Donald Trump on Francis' trip to Mexico: 'I think that the pope is a very political person'

 (Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

Donald Trump, whose insurgent presidential campaign has in part been buoyed by hard-line stances on immigration, assailed Pope Francis' visit to Mexico this week as purely political.

"I think that the pope is a very political person," said Trump on Thursday in an interview on Fox Business' "Varney & Co." "I think that he doesn’t understand the problems our country has. I don’t think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico."

In his visit to Mexico, Francis is set to travel from the southern part of the country, north to the border — a route that migrants take to reach the United States. Last fall, while speaking before a joint session of Congress, Francis called on lawmakers to set aside partisan views and embrace immigrants who travel to the United States "in search of a better life."

Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, has made immigration a key pillar of his campaign. On the stump and in debates, he's repeatedly called for a wall to be built along the U.S. -Mexico border and said that he would have Mexico pay for it. Moreover, he's received strong pushback from Democrats and Republicans alike for comments in which he's referred to Mexicans as "rapists" and drug-runners.

"Mexico got him [Francis] to do it because Mexico wants to keep the border just the way it is," Trump said in the Fox interview. "They’re making a fortune and we’re losing.”

Cruz takes on Clinton in 'Office Space' parody ad

A new ad from the Ted Cruz campaign goes after presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The ad parodies the infamous scene from 1999's "Office Space," in which three employees attack an old printer. In Cruz's ad, three people — one made to look like Clinton — destroy, you guessed it, an email server.

The video is set to the tune of Geto Boys' "Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta," and calls Clinton "a shameless politician who always plays her cards right."

Pro-Clinton super PAC opens its wallet

 (Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

(Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

The big super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton has vacuumed up many millions of dollars. Now it is about to start spending in a big way.

Priorities USA has opted against hanging onto all its cash until the general election, as Clinton finds herself in trouble early on in the primary. The group is stepping up with a $4.5-million advertising campaign aimed at turning out black, Latino and women voters for Clinton in states that vote in March.

The campaign of digital, mail and radio advertisements emphasizes Clinton’s close ties to President Obama and will be targeted most heavily at voters in states where early, in-person voting is available.

Officials at Priorities say the multi-million dollar March campaign, first reported by the Washington Post, will not include any attacks against Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. But it will give Sanders fodder to attack Clinton.

Sanders has frequently focused on the super PAC, which aggressively raises money on Wall Street, to make his case that Clinton is beholden to a corrupt establishment that has rigged the economy against the middle class.

During Thursday night’s presidential debate, Clinton awkwardly tried to distance herself from Priorities USA, which by law can not coordinate with her campaign.

“It’s not my PAC,” she said, noting that the group had originally been formed to support President Obama's reelection. The organization is, however, run by long-time advisors and friends of Clinton's.

Sanders' campaign lost no time in going on offense.

"It is truly unfortunate that the largest pro-Clinton super PAC has decided to infect the Democratic primary process with its haul of Wall Street cash,” said Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager.

Bernie Sanders is a 'risky bet' on foreign policy, Tim Kaine says

 (Dave Ellis / Associated Press)

(Dave Ellis / Associated Press)

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who is supporting Hillary Clinton for president, said Bernie Sanders would be a "risky bet" as commander in chief.

“Bernie works on the issues that interest him," Kaine said on a conference call arranged by the Clinton campaign. "Foreign policy and diplomacy and national security are not issues that interest him.”

Sanders has built his campaign around a sharp message about income inequality, and Clinton's team has repeatedly attempted to portray the Vermont senator as a one-note candidate without sufficient grounding in foreign policy. 

In response, Sanders has repeatedly pointed to Clinton's vote in favor of the war in Iraq, calling it an example of poor judgment. 

Clinton has expressed regret over her vote, and Kaine said Sanders is using the criticism as a crutch.

“It seems like that’s Bernie’s only play. When issues come up that requires he shows some mastery of the issues ... he just says Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq War," Kaine said. "That’s just not enough.”

Conservative Club for Growth attacks Donald Trump from the right

Club for Growth, the arch-conservative group that has helped push the Republican Party to the right in recent years, announced Friday that it will spend $1.5 million going after GOP front-runner Donald Trump in South Carolina.

The group, which said it is paying for the ads through its political committee, had previously aired anti-Trump television ads in Iowa.

The South Carolina ad, set to begin airing Saturday, goes after Trump from the right, something Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is also doing as he attempts to climb from his second-place perch in the polls.

“There is nothing conservative about Donald Trump,” an announcer says.

The ad attacks Trump over his prior support for tax increases and socialized medicine, donations to the Clintons, and for previously using eminent domain and bankruptcy laws in his businesses.

Club for Growth is often viewed as anti-establishment, having led fights against Republican congressional leaders who have tried to strike spending deals with the Obama administration. The group is seen as aligned with Cruz’s ideological brand of opposition to party leaders.

Carson not quitting: 'We don't call it after the second inning'

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks in Lakewood, Colo. on Oct. 29. (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks in Lakewood, Colo. on Oct. 29. (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Despite speculation that Ben Carson might suspend his run for the Republican nomination after disappointing results in Iowa and New Hampshire, the former neurosurgeon said Friday it's too early to consider quitting. 

Asked if he would reassess if he did not do well in South Carolina, Carson told MSNBC"I reassess the campaign every day, so of course I will continue to do that."

He complained about the “despicable” tactics of Sen. Ted Cruz's campaign in Iowa. 

On the night of the caucus, a Cruz staffer -- after seeing a CNN report that Carson was temporarily leaving the campaign trail to return to Florida -- falsely reported that Carson was about to drop out. Carson said the rumor devastated his supporters rallying at voter stations that night and cost him votes.

“Historically in politics in this country we have extremely ambitious people who will do virtually anything to achieve an office,” Carson said. “I’m not one of those people, quite frankly. I do believe there is such thing as right and wrong.”

Cruz has apologized.

Carson added that he had not expected to win in New Hampshire and is looking forward to South Carolina.

“It's a long race. It's a nine-inning game. We don't call it after the second inning. We're going to do just fine. I think South Carolina is going to be a turning point,” he said.  

Trump's new strategy: signing babies in Louisiana

Donald Trump reached a new niche of followers Thursday — the crowd-surfing baby crew. After an event in Baton Rouge, La., Trump signed baby Curtis Jeffrey’s hand along the rope line of supporters. 

Jeffrey sported a bejeweled Trump pacifier and spiked blond mohawk, a hairstyle reminiscent of the GOP candidate’s. 

Ted Cruz accuses rivals of supporting gay marriage

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz leaves a campaign stop last week. (Matthew Cavanaugh / Getty Images)

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz leaves a campaign stop last week. (Matthew Cavanaugh / Getty Images)

Ted Cruz continued to unleash attacks on rivals in South Carolina on Thursday, this time accusing them of supporting gay marriage.

The Texas senator referred to the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to legalize gay marriage as “lawless” and an example of “judicial activism.” He didn’t identify his competitors by name, but suggested that any acceptance of the court's ruling equates to support for the current administration.

GOP candidates businessman Donald Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said that despite their opposition to gay marriage, each would abide by that law, if elected.

"Those are the talking points of Barack Obama," Cruz told a crowd Thursday at the South Carolina Values Summit at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C.

Courting the conservative audience, Cruz portrayed his rivals as moderates and predicted that the Supreme Court’s ruling “will not stand."

Nevada will be a crucial test for the Clinton and Sanders campaigns

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton applauds while speaking in Las Vegas during a campaign visit on Jan. 6. The state is the next major contest for the Democratic campaign. (John Locher / Associated Press)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton applauds while speaking in Las Vegas during a campaign visit on Jan. 6. The state is the next major contest for the Democratic campaign. (John Locher / Associated Press)

By the time Bernie Sanders launched his challenge to Hillary Clinton in May, her campaign team had already been in Nevada for a month, knocking on doors, dialing voters and cajoling endorsements from local leaders.

Nevada was supposed to be Clinton's “firewall,” a state where she could stop Sanders’ progress no matter what happened in Iowa or New Hampshire. But with both presidential hopefuls headed to the state this weekend to campaign before the Feb. 20 Democratic caucus, Clinton’s sure bet is off.

After suffering a double-digit defeat to Sanders in New Hampshire, Clinton's campaign staffers are quietly lowering expectations here, saying they are preparing for a race that is going to be close. They acknowledge that Sanders has caught up quickly since launching his Nevada effort in November, opening nearly twice as many field offices as Clinton and outspending her on television.

Although the number of convention delegates at stake is small, a loss for Clinton here would be big.

In debate, a measured Clinton and an invigorated Sanders sharpen their pitches

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton shake hands after Thursday's debate in Milwaukee. (Morry Gash / Associated Press)

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton shake hands after Thursday's debate in Milwaukee. (Morry Gash / Associated Press)

Hillary Clinton substantially adjusted her approach in Thursday’s presidential debate here, a reaction to her landslide loss in New Hampshire earlier this week.

She went out of her way to underscore the areas in which she and challenger Bernie Sanders agree. She abandoned, most of the time, the fierce criticism of Sanders’ proposals that she has delivered in previous debates.

When she did disagree with Sanders, she protected herself with a shield — President Obama, whose name she invoked 21 times in the two-hour debate.

Clinton’s biggest political need is to somehow break the attachment between Sanders and young voters, who have flocked to his events by the thousands and provided a surge of support for him in Iowa and New Hampshire.

By the numbers

All things Clinton | All things Trump

First debate scorecard: Our analysts say Clinton outpunched Trump

How does Clinton or Trump get to 270 electoral votes? Play with our map.

Who's endorsing who? Find out which celebrities support each candidate.

Find out which Republicans support Donald Trump

Get free news and analysis in your inbox daily from our political team.

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