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GOP town hall: Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio weigh privacy, security

Welcome to Trail Guide, your host through the wilds of the 2016 presidential campaign. It's Wednesday, Feb. 17, and here's what we're talking about:

  • Marco Rubio says at the town hall that a law won't solve the fight between Silicon Valley and the government
  • But Ted Cruz says Apple should comply with an order to help in the San Bernardino investigation
  • Rubio's view on intervention in Libya is more nuanced than he let on
  • In a competing town hall, Donald Trump promises a gun-rights litmus test for Supreme Court nominees
  • A new poll of Republicans nationwide has Cruz topping Trump
  • Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are seeking votes in rural Nevada -- a place where Democrats are rare
  • Young Latinos split from their parents to back Sanders over Clinton in Nevada

If he wants to file a lawsuit, he can file it and lose.

Ted Cruz, on Donald Trump's threat of a lawsuit over the Canadian-born Cruz's eligibility to serve as president

Ted Cruz isn't visiting Cuba either

Sen. Ted Cruz said he would not visit the island nation of Cuba, as President Obama reportedly plans to do next month.

"Not as long as the Castros are in power," Cruz, whose father is a Cuban immigrant, said during a GOP presidential candidates' forum Wednesday in Greenville, S.C.

Obama normalized relations with Cuba last year. Sen. Marco Rubio, also of Cuban descent, said Wednesday that he would not visit the nation as long as it's "not a free Cuba."

Cruz said he was not surprised by Obama's decision to visit, and that it was indicative of a broader failure in the president's foreign policy.

"I was saddened to hear that; I wasn’t surprised," Cruz said. "President Obama has consistently alienated and abandoned our friends."

Ted Cruz says Apple should comply with court order

Sen. Ted Cruz said Wednesday that Apple should comply with a court order to help investigators access encrypted data on a cellphone belonging to the couple who gunned down 14 people in the attack in San Bernardino in December.

"They have a binding search order," Cruz said during a GOP presidential candidates' town hall in Greenville, S.C. "I think we can walk and chew gun at the same time. We can protect ourselves from terrorists and protect our civil rights."

Apple vowed to fight the order and said the FBI's call for the company to help defeat security measures on a phone belonging to one of terrorists would be a major blow to customer privacy.

Cruz said he understands Apple's concerns, but that he believes the company can look into the phone without jeopardizing every customer's privacy.

Ted Cruz blasts Donald Trump's 9/11 comments

I thought it was ridiculous. I thought it was really painful.

Ted Cruz, on Donald Trump's remark that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks happened on George W. Bush's watch

The night Ted Cruz sang on TV

Ted Cruz, who often sings sweet nothings to his wife, Heidi, over the phone, said they are "full and total partners."

"She will be involved in a lot of things if we win," Cruz said on CNN.

But what, exactly, does he sing to the former Goldman Sachs executive?

With that, the Texas senator broke into song: a made-up version of "Oh My Darling, Clementine" and the Stevie Wonder mainstay "I Just Called to Say I Love You."

Marco Rubio: Football brings 'inherent danger, but so does life'

Marco Rubio, who always wanted to play in the NFL rather than be a politician, said the life lessons taught by the sport are worth the potential health risks.

"Football has inherent dangers," Rubio said during CNN's town hall Wednesday featuring half the remaining Republican field. But he added: "I ultimately think football is an incredible sport. It teaches life lessons that are invaluable."

Rubio, a Miami Dolphins fan who has two young sons and coaches youth football, said children are taught how to use other parts of their body -- rather than their heads -- for blocking.

The sport has come under criticism as National Football League players have suffered brain injuries. But Rubio said the sport also teaches youngsters "how to work alongside other people to fulfill a goal."

"It's a sport that brings inherent danger, but so does life," he said.

I'm a little too old to be going to a rave.

Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio's record on Libya intervention is more nuanced than he let on

Marco Rubio points to his five years as a senator as a key point on a national security resume that he believes makes him qualified to be commander in chief.

"No one running on the Republican side has better judgment or experience," Rubio said during Wednesday's town hall.

He also said that he warned in 2011 that Libya would be a failed state, pointing to the country's dysfunction since the fall of Moammar Kadafi.

But his record is slightly more nuanced. In 2011, Rubio offered "full-throated support" for intervention in Libya if the U.S. played a role in regime change, according to the conservative Weekly Standard.

President Obama ultimately ordered U.S. airstrikes on Libya, and Kadafi's regime fell after attacks by a NATO coalition. 

Donald Trump promises a litmus test on gun rights for Supreme Court nominees

Donald Trump said Wednesday that he would not appoint anyone to the Supreme Court unless the nominee agreed to uphold a landmark 2008 ruling that recognized the right to bear arms.

“Will you make upholding the Heller decision a litmus test in Supreme Court nominees?” MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough asked Trump in an hourlong town hall in South Carolina.

“Yes, I would,” Trump said, referring to the ruling by the late Justice Antonin Scalia in District of Columbia vs. Heller, which struck down restrictions on keeping guns in the home for self-defense.

“I give that commitment right now,” Trump added. “Absolutely. And I've been very strong. I'm a member of the NRA. My sons, Don and Eric, are members of the NRA for a long time. They're hunters.”

Trump’s remarks came as rivals in the race for the Republican presidential nomination question his conservative credentials in the lead-up to the South Carolina primary on Saturday.

The New York billionaire described himself as a “common-sense conservative” who is tougher than his opponents on illegal immigration and military issues.

Mika Brzezinski, another MSNBC anchor, suggested that Trump sounded like a Democrat when he invoked the 9/11 attacks to challenge rival Jeb Bush’s contention that his brother George W. Bush kept America safe when he was president.

“I don't think it's Democrat,” Trump responded, before making the case that he can pick up a lot of support from Democrats and independents.

“If I get the nomination, I will have more crossover votes than anybody that's ever run for office,” Trump said.

Trump's appearance on MSNBC was simultaneous with a CNN town hall with Republican opponents Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. Trump will appear in another CNN town hall on Thursday.

Marco Rubio recalls experiencing racism during Mariel boat-lift

Sen. Marco Rubio recalled the racism he faced as a child as Cubans immigrated to the U.S. during the Mariel boat-lift of 1980.

"Some of the kids, the older kids, were taunting my family: 'Why don't you go back on your boat?'" Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, said during a GOP candidates forum Wednesday in South Carolina. "I said, 'What boat? My mom doesn't even swim.'"

Rubio said he was a 7-year-old living in Las Vegas when the Mariel boat-lift took place during an economic downturn in Cuba. As many as 125,000 Cubans in six months made the journey from Mariel Harbor in Cuba to Florida.

"I didn’t see it as a reflection on America; I saw it as a reflection on those kids," Rubio said, adding that his parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba in 1956, raised him and his siblings to never believe they were victims. 

"I don't deny there are people in this country who have had a different experience and we need to recognize that," he said.

Rubio noted "blemishes" on the record of race relations in the U.S. but also insisted that the country has progressed. He pointed out that he was endorsed earlier Wednesday by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is of Indian descent, and that the following day, he'll be campaigning with Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is black.

"All three says a lot about the Republican Party," he said.

7:26 p.m.: This post was updated with information on when Rubio's parents left Cuba.

7:15 p.m.: This post was updated with background on Rubio living in Las Vegas during the Mariel boat-lift.

No Cuba travel plans in Rubio's future

Sen. Marco Rubio said Wednesday that he would not travel to Cuba, as President Obama reportedly plans to do next month.

"Not if it's not a free Cuba," said Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, in response to a question at a GOP candidates' forum in Greenville, S.C. "The Cuban government remains as repressive as ever."

Marco Rubio: New laws can't fix encryption dilemma

Sen. Marco Rubio said the government and Silicon Valley must figure out together how to access crucial information to prevent terrorist attacks without endangering Americans' privacy.

"It's a very complicated issue," Rubio told CNN's Anderson Cooper during a GOP candidates' forum in Greenville, S.C. "It protects your privacy. If you lose your iPad or your phone, no one can hack into it and get your information.... On the flip side of it, there might be valuable information on that phone ... that could lead us to preventing future attacks."

Apple said Wednesday that it would not comply with a court order to help investigators access encrypted data on a cellphone belonging to the couple who gunned down 14 people in the attack in San Bernardino in December.

Rubio said that writing a new law requiring the creation of a backdoor to tap into a phone would result in a vulnerability that would be exploited by criminals. It would also be negated by encrypted software that already exists or will someday.

"There has to be a way to deal with this issue," he said. "I don't have a magic solution for it today … but I do know this: It will take a partnership between the technology industry and the government to solve this."

Ben Carson says he would confront online attackers

Ben Carson called Wednesday for a public-private partnership to combat intellectual property theft by China, and said he would aggressively confront any country that breaches U.S. cybersecurity.

"We have some pretty substantial offensive cyber capabilities," Carson said during a GOP presidential candidates' forum on CNN. President Obama's "administration is reluctant to use them. I would not be reluctant to use them." 

"People think that I'm nice, but I also want to protect our people," Carson said. "If we stand up to the people doing these things, it makes them much less likely to continue."

The issue is of particular importance to Hollywood in its fight against film piracy and intellectual property theft.

Obama has golf. Bill Clinton had the saxophone. Ben Carson plays pool.

Ben Carson calls for Apple to unlock San Bernardino attacker's iPhone

Ben Carson was the first of three candidates to take part in a Republican town hall Wednesday night in Greenville, S.C. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz will also participate. The rest of the field will appear at a separate event Thursday.

Brain surgery is a lot harder.

Dr. Ben Carson, asked in a town hall: What's harder, politics or brain surgery?

Jeb Bush rally turns into intervention

A campaign rally for GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush turned into an intervention Wednesday, with multiple members of the audience giving the former Florida governor advice on how to fix his campaign.

Voters normally grill candidates on policy, but people used Bush’s event at a golf course to offer conflicting suggestions on how to improve his chances in this state’s primary Saturday.

One man urged Bush to tell voters about how he privately met with a small group of veterans in Charleston before he launched his campaign and listened to their problems and took notes for three hours.

Another said he feared Donald Trump was riling Bush during the debate.

“Your message doesn’t resonate with the national community. … I was wondering because of your civility if you could raise the bar in the next session and try to be beyond the bully because I think that’s who you are and I think they try to knock you off-center. It appears you do get knocked off-center, like anyone would, because of the insults to your family.”

Bush replied that he was the only Republican calling out Trump.

“I don’t feel like I’m shaken up by the bullying,” he said. “Donald Trump is not a conservative and he’s not a steady hand for sure, and he’s not a servant. It’s all about him, and I’m the only guy going after him. I don’t feel he’s intimidating. He’s a bully. Punch him back in the nose.”

Another voter stood and said he agreed that Trump was riling Bush.

“The campaign has been co-opted by the P.T. Barnum of our times, and I think he’s getting you off your message, a good message,” he said. “I would encourage you to emphasize those things.”

Bush responded, “This is what I do. This is called campaigning.”

The final questioner professed his love for Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush, before asking Bush, in a deeply Southern drawl, whether he could toughen his approach, only he put it a bit more profanely.

The audience dissolved into laughter, and Bush sounded amused.

“‘Will I be an S.O.B.?’ I think he said,” Bush said. Rather than answer, he went on to list the qualities that he believes make a strong leader.

“I will be tough. I will be resolute. I will be firm. I will be clear. I will be determined. That’s what leaders are,” he said, before turning to Trump. “It’s not strong to denigrate people. That’s a sign of deep weakness and insecurity. It’s not strong to disparage people. You can have fortitude and a backbone and do it in a way that’s not insulting people.”

Donald Trump loses his grip on the GOP lead in a national poll

 (Matt Rourke / Associated Press)
(Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

For the first time in months, Donald Trump has lost the lead in a major national poll, falling behind Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

Trump took the lead in national GOP surveys in July, surpassing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. He has dominated the race since then, except for a period in the fall during Ben Carson's short boomlet.

But the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows a significant shift: Cruz has the backing of 28% of the Republican primary voters surveyed, with Trump at 26%. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, at 17%, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio at 11%, Carson at 10% and Bush at 4% round out the field.

Primaries, of course, are fought out state-by-state, not in a single national ballot. But Trump's support in the states so far has largely mirrored his national standing. Moreover, his steady lead in polls has been a major feature of his stump speech.

Any individual poll could prove to be a fluke. But the NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, conducted by two longtime pollsters, Republican Bill McInturff and Peter Hart, a Democrat, is one of the most highly regarded in the field, so the results are likely to attract considerable attention.

"When you see a number this different, it means you might be right on top of a shift in the campaign. What you don't know yet is if the change is going to take place or if it is a momentary 'pause' before the numbers snap back into place," McInturff said in a statement announcing the results.

The poll also showed a decline, by nine points since January, in the share of GOP voters who can see themselves supporting Trump, down to 56% from 65%. In hypothetical head-to-head matchups, Trump would trail Cruz 56% to 40% and Rubio 57% to 41%, the survey found.

The survey has a margin of error of plus- or minus-4.9 percentage points.

Jeb Bush on losing the Nikki Haley endorsement

Disappointed. 

Jeb Bush, in response to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's endorsement of rival Republican candidate Marco Rubio. A day earlier, Bush called Haley's endorsement "the most powerful, meaningful one in the state."

By the numbers

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