Welcome to Trail Guide, your host through the wilds of the 2016 presidential campaign. It's Tuesday, Feb. 16, and here's what we're talking about:
- President Obama made his bluntest comments yet on the GOP race, predicting Donald Trump will eventually lose
- Trump's backers brush off criticism of his crude rhetoric ahead of Saturday's primary in South Carolina
- Jeb Bush got an engraved gun, and Twitter had fun with it
- Ahead of Nevada's caucuses, an expert tells The Times three things to know
- Ted Cruz climbs aboard a retired aircraft carrier in South Carolina to lay out his plan to build up the military
- Hillary Clinton meets with Al Sharpton and other black leaders
- In Nevada, Bernie Sanders volunteers hope enthusiasm makes up for organizational lapses
Jeb Bush has become increasingly emboldened in his willingness to take on Donald Trump.
On Tuesday, he even did a Trump impression.
"Rahr, rahr, rahr, rahr," Bush mimicked Trump for the crowd gathered at Shealy's BBQ, his hands flailing a bit for effect.
Bush, the former Florida governor, said Trump's debating style wasn't something he was prepared for entering the race.
"He's a bully. ... Bullies need to be confronted," Bush said.
"I've gotten better at it."
He asked the modest gathering at the landmark restaurant, which was serving up BBQ, beans and catfish stew in the main dining room, to imagine Trump having a bad day.
"Tone matters," Bush said.
Political campaign stops often deliver a carnival-type atmosphere, but Donald Trump's rally Tuesday at River Park center here offered more than most.
Popcorn in boxes and sodas were available inside the venue, along with lots of Trump-inspired swag for sale on the streets outside.
Among those hawking wares was Mike Maglaras, originally from Stockton, Calif., and now living in Ohio, who made the trip to earn a few bucks.
Among his bestsellers? Buttons reading "Hillary for Prison."
He doesn't sell his campaign paraphernalia at the other candidates' rallies, but you never know down the road.
Free Trump bumper stickers were being passed out at the rally's exit as well.
Sen. Marco Rubio urged South Carolinians to support him in their first-in-the-South primary on Saturday, arguing Tuesday that he is the only Republican with the foreign policy experience to tackle the presidency.
“I haven't lived as long as some of the other people running. But there is no one running on the Republican side that has more experience on foreign policy or national security than I do,” he told hundreds of supporters gathered at a boathouse.
Rubio touted his work on foreign affairs in the Senate, such as developing sanctions against Hezbollah, fighting human trafficking and warning the nation about the danger of Islamic State and an increasingly combative Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Rubio attacked front-runner Donald Trump and fellow Floridian Jeb Bush, though not by name.
“Building a hotel overseas is not foreign policy experience. Having lived abroad for a year is not foreign policy experience. Having invested money overseas is not foreign policy experience,” he said. “Foreign policy experience is the work we have done over the last five years.”
Donald Trump “will not be president” despite his commanding lead in the Republican field, President Obama flatly declared Tuesday, bluntly questioning Trump’s temperament while asserting that a restive electorate would ultimately make a “sensible choice.”
It was Obama’s most scathing assessment of the Republican nomination battle to date as he argued that Trump’s views were the norm, not the exception, in the Republican Party, and that the front-runner had no business being given access to nuclear weapons or deciding how to prevent a banking crisis.
“Whoever is standing where I’m standing right now has the nuclear codes with them, and can order 21-year-olds into a firefight,” he said, “and have to make sure that the banking system doesn’t collapse and is often responsible for not just the United States of America but 20 other countries that are having big problems or are falling apart and are going to be looking for us to do something.
“The American people are pretty sensible,” Obama said. “And I think they’ll make a sensible choice in the end.”
After hosting a summit of southeast Asian leaders, the president said that foreign observers “are troubled” by the rhetoric in the primaries and seemed to share the view himself.
Though voters are venting, he said, ultimately “reality has a way of intruding.”
“I have a lot of faith in the American people. And I think they recognize that being president is a serious job,” Obama said.
He then jabbed at Trump’s celebrity.
“It’s not hosting a talk show or a reality show. It’s not promotion. It’s not marketing. It’s hard. And a lot of people count on us getting it right.”
The Culinary Workers Union is a political powerhouse in Nevada. But the union is sitting out Saturday's Democratic caucus, endorsing neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders. The local recently began contract talks with several of the major casinos in Las Vegas. Leaders want to keep their focus on the economic issues under discussion and avoid the hard feelings that followed the endorsement of Barack Obama over Clinton in the fiercely fought 2008 caucuses. The union plans to go all-out come the fall, leaders say, backing whoever the Democrats nominate over the GOP's pick for president.
Jeb Bush is unlikely to win the South Carolina primary, but he will leave the Palmetto State with at least one souvenir -- an FNX-45 pistol.
Bush tweeted the word "America" and a picture of the engraved pistol, which he received after visiting a gun manufacturer in Columbia on Tuesday.
Social media lit up over the picture, with some joking that the posting was a cry for help.
That narrative was created before anyone started voting. Now we’ve seen what happened in Iowa and New Hampshire, and it’s clear that it’s going to be a close contest.
Campaigning in a state that is home to nearly 400,000 veterans and several military bases, Sen. Ted Cruz on Tuesday unveiled a plan to grow the size of the U.S. armed forces and build thousands of planes and ships.
“This will be a challenge and involve difficult choices, but I am confident that if we put in the hard work, we can, as Ronald Reagan did in the 1980s, rebuild our military so that it will be feared by our enemies and trusted by our allies,” Cruz told supporters gathered on the USS Yorktown, a retired aircraft carrier. “Strong enough that, God willing, we will not need to use it.”
The presidential candidate blamed President Obama for shrinking the military, and called for an active-duty force of at least 1.4 million. He also said he would expand the nation’s missile defense network and commission the construction of more than 2,000 aircraft, more than 100 naval ships, 12 ballistic missile submarines and two aircraft carriers.
Cruz also pledged to not place women in combat, admit refugees who could have ties to Islamic State or grant citizenship to those in the country illegally. He also called for reforming the Veterans Administration, now known as the Department of Veterans Affairs, so that veterans could receive their medical benefits from the doctor or hospital of their choosing.
Cruz did not offer a cost estimate for his plans, but said they would be funded through economic growth created by reforming the nation’s tax and regulatory policy, as well as selling surplus federal property and rooting out waste, fraud and corruption in federal spending.
“If you think it’s too expensive to defend this nation, try not to defend it,” he said.
Sen. Marco Rubio, campaigning in nearby Summerville, said the Texas senator’s past votes show he is not committed to the military.
“Ted voted for Rand Paul’s budget, which reduced defense spending,” Rubio told supporters gathered at a boathouse. “Defense cuts don’t balance our budget. Defense spending isn’t the cause of our debt. Defense cuts are the reason why we are falling behind in a world that’s more dangerous.”
Michael Green is a longtime student of Nevada politics and, rarer still, an almost-native of Las Vegas, having arrived in tow as a 2-year-old when his family relocated from Southern California.
Now 50 and a history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Green suggested three things to bear in mind as Democrats prepare to caucus on Saturday, followed by Republicans on Feb. 23.
- We're not in Des Moines anymore
“We have a caucus like Iowa, but we’re not like Iowa. We don’t have several small towns strewn around the state and couple of sizeable cities. We have a very large urban area (Las Vegas), a moderately sized urban area (Reno-Carson City) and a very small population in some very big rural counties. ... Clark County [Las Vegas] leans Democratic but not overwhelmingly and has 72% of the state’s population. Washoe County [Reno] and Carson City are pretty evenly divided and that’s almost 20% of the population. And the rest is the rurals.”
- Latino turnout will be key in the Democratic caucuses — and it's Hillary Clinton's base
“The Hispanic population is certainly greater than the percentage of Hispanic voters. Watch what happens in East Las Vegas and the caucuses on the Strip, where there are a lot of Hispanic [hotel] workers. That should offer a good sense of overall Hispanic turnout and whether they vote in numbers relative to their percentage of the population.”
- The Latino vote will also be important on the GOP side
“Republicans are looking to harvest the Hispanic vote, too. If you don’t think that the debate the other night between [Texas Sen. Ted] Cruz and [Florida Sen. Marco] Rubio over who can speak Spanish wasn’t aimed at least in part at Nevada voters, then you weren’t paying close attention."
Robert Bowers, a 50-year-old debt collector, conceded that Donald Trump may have gone “overboard just a little bit” when he attacked President George W. Bush, saying he lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and failed to stop the Sept. 11 attacks.
But that did not stop Bowers, of Fountain Inn, S.C., from putting on a cap with Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan and walking through an icy cold parking lot so he could crowd into a raucous Trump rally Monday night.
“He’s not a polished politician,” Bowers said, neatly summing up both Trump’s appeal and liability.
Early evidence suggests that Trump, as he has many times before, is maintaining his wide lead here despite criticism of his crude rhetoric, the latest example of which came in his attacks on Bush in Saturday’s debate and ever since. Though South Carolina has long prided itself on Southern manners and propriety, it is changing rapidly as outsiders increasingly move here. And Trump Nation may be immune to, and in some cases, even more than forgiving of his brash behavior.
“I hope he drops an F-bomb,” one fan said to another on the way into the rally.
As the Democratic presidential candidates fiercely compete for votes in the racially diverse states that hold nominating contests over the next couple of weeks, Hillary Clinton met privately Tuesday with the Rev. Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders.
A reporter asked the obvious after the meeting: Was Sharpton going to endorse her?
"She’s trying to ask whether I’m endorsing," Sharpton said to Clinton as the reporter, from Politico, sought to buttonhole the two. "I told her only you know and you’re not telling,”
"My lips are sealed," Clinton said.
It's an endorsement both Clinton and her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, are chasing. Sharpton was the first person Sanders met with after winning the New Hampshire primary last week, when the two had breakfast in Harlem on Wednesday morning.
Sharpton had given Sanders a warm welcome. He did the same for Clinton on Tuesday at the meeting with civil rights leaders at the headquarters of the National Urban League, also in New York. “The only disagreement we had is when she didn’t support me for president, but I got over that,” he joked of his own ill-fated run in 2004.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has scheduled a concert featuring pop stars Katy Perry, Andra Day and Elton John for March 2.
The New York concert comes the day after Super Tuesday, when 15 states and territories hold their primary election or caucuses. Former President Clinton and Chelsea Clinton also are scheduled to speak.
Tickets for the concert at Radio City Music Hall went on sale today through Ticketmaster and on Clinton's campaign website. Prices range from $125 on the mezzanine to $2,700 for the best orchestra seats.
Perry's “Roar” is Clinton's campaign anthem, and the pop princess has appeared on the trail for Clinton before.
John headlined a similar fundraising concert at Radio City Music Hall during Clinton's 2008 presidential bid — an event that brought in more than $2 million.
Hillary Clinton's campaign launched a holiday weekend missive at Sen. Bernie Sanders, using his own words against him as they look to Saturday's Nevada caucuses.
A text message from the campaign arrived Monday afternoon reading, "Happy Presidents Day! Hillary is proud to stand with Pres. Obama today and every day. You might be surprised to hear who isn't."
Responding to the text with the correct prompt generates an automated phone call that paints Sen. Bernie Sanders as someone not standing with Obama.
The Sanders audio appears to be from a July 2011 radio appearance on the Thom Hartmann show, when Sanders told a caller he could understand liberal frustration that Obama was compromising with congressional Republicans.
"I think it would be a good idea if President Obama faced some primary opposition," he said.
Clinton's remark, of course, was said on the debate stage in Milwaukee last week.
Her team is contrasting her championing of the president with comments Sanders made nearly five years ago. During that segment, the Vermont senator told the caller that "there are millions of Americans who are deeply disappointed in the president."
"I think it would do this country a good deal of service if people start thinking about candidates out there to begin contrasting what is a progressive agenda as opposed to what Obama is doing," he said.
Listen to the full interview below.
After the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz released a TV ad touting the importance of keeping a conservative-leaning justice on the bench.
And he used the issue as a platform to paint GOP rival Donald Trump as liberal-leaning.
“Life, marriage, religious liberty, the 2nd Amendment,” the ad released by the Cruz campaign intones. “We’re just one Supreme Court justice away from losing them all.”
The ad also features a 1999 video of Donald Trump saying he is in favor of abortion rights — he has since said he is antiabortion. The 30-second spot insinuates that a President Trump would be less likely to nominate a justice with fealty to conservative ideals.
The ad started airing in South Carolina heading into Saturday's Republican primary.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Donald Trump sounded like a “liberal Democrat” on Monday, citing his attacks on current and past Republican politicians.
During an interview with Fox News, Cheney found himself in a position that several politicians have occupied during the 2016 campaign — on the defense against Trump’s attacks.
“He’s wrong, and he’s, I think, deliberately promoting those views in order to advance his political interests," Cheney said of Trump on Fox News’ “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Trump accused former President George W. Bush both during and after Saturday’s Republican debate of failing to stop the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He added that he believes the Bush administration lied about weapons of mass destruction as an excuse to invade Iraq.
Firing back, Cheney said an intelligence investigation into Bush’s claim of weapons disproved such allegations and that he and other members of the Bush administration kept the U.S. safe.
“They did a superb job, so for Mr. Trump to suggest that just, in my mind, is way off base,” Cheney said. “He clearly doesn’t understand or has not spent any time learning the facts about that period."
The former vice president called Trump’s campaign and words a “disappointment” for the Republican Party. He said he would support the GOP nominee, and doesn’t think it will be Trump.
“If he operates the way he is operating, sounding like a liberal Democrat, I don't think he'll get the nomination,” he said.
He left office seven years ago, settling into a retirement of writing and painting, carefully maintaining a vow to leave politics and the conflicts of campaigning behind.
But family comes first, and George W. Bush emerged from his quiet life in Dallas on Monday and returned to the political stage in South Carolina, a state that resuscitated his White House aspirations in 2000.
This time he was on another rescue mission, for his younger brother Jeb, and a once-promising candidacy now in grave peril.