NATION POLITICS TRAIL GUIDE

Competing campaign town halls: Republicans get personal; Democrats focus on immigration

Welcome to Trail Guide, your host through the wilds of the 2016 presidential campaign. It's Thursday, Feb. 18, and here's what we're talking about:

  • Donald Trump flouts the laws of campaigning once more and other GOP forum takeaways
  • At a competing Democratic town hall, Bernie Sanders is quizzed on how he'll fix the broken immigration system
  • Hillary Clinton demonstrates her deep knowledge of U.S. immigration law
  • Trump on being called out by Pope Francis: It's "really not a nice thing to say"
  • Marco Rubio and Bush are staying out of that fight
  • Political analysts are scratching their heads over the Democratic race in Nevada

Clinton on union workers' support: 'I've fought for them'

Hillary Clinton has netted several powerful union endorsements this primary season, and on Thursday night she held an outdoor rally to bask in that support.

"It's because I've worked for them, because I've fought for them," she said before several dozen members of Laborers' International Union at its local headquarters on the east side of Las Vegas.

Clinton, who finds herself in an increasingly competitive race for the Democratic presidential nomination with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, took a moment to indirectly criticize her rival.

"I'm no Johnny- or Janie-come-lately," she said, when it comes to outreach and support of unions.

Organized labor has strong influence in the Democratic caucuses in Nevada, but the most influential union in the state is not backing a candidate.

Culinary Local 226, which has nearly 55,000 members -- most of them Latino -- announced last month it would not endorse ahead of Saturday's caucuses.

Clinton noted the diversity of the state, where Latinos and blacks account for a third of caucusgoers.

"You are a diverse state," she said. "You are the future."

Donald Trump bends the rules of campaigning again, and other GOP town hall takeaways

 (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)
(Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

What we noticed during Thursday's town hall featuring half the remaining Republican field (the others took the stage on the previous night):

  1. John Kasich got personal

    John Kasich opened the town hall with a reminder that he had already done 120 of them. And it showed. Kasich was at ease and had plenty to gain; he may be the least known of the candidates. (One questioner still could not pronounce his name. It's KAY-sick.)

    He did discuss health costs and his support for gun control, while defending his controversial decision to expand Medicaid in his state as part of President Obama’s landmark healthcare law. 
    But mostly he showed his demeanor and style, which may appeal to those who find Donald Trump too bombastic.


  2. Jeb Bush is pushing to remain relevant

    Jeb Bush, whose campaign shows signs of trouble two days before the South Carolina primary, was trying to convince voters he remains relevant here.


    “I do have momentum,” Bush said, "if you look at the polls and if you look at the crowd sizes of our town hall meetings and the enthusiasm that exists.”


  3. Donald Trump is just like us, only rich

    Donald Trump showed his unwillingness to disappoint those who like his bravado. 

    He even suggested he's a bit of a shape-shifter, a no-no under normal political rules.

    "I can act differently for different people," he said.


    That kind of comment has been used against him before and probably will show up in an attack ad soon. But it seems unlikely to hurt Trump too much.


    After dishing on Michael Jackson, expressing fondness for McDonald's and confessing to few other vices than staying up late to watch the news, Trump reminded viewers why he is so popular. 
    The billionaire is an almost-normal guy, just Trump-ier. 

New election paradigm: Donald Trump digs deep on Michael Jackson

Donald Trump supported the Iraq invasion before he opposed it

Donald Trump acknowledged Thursday that he may have expressed support for the Iraq war in 2002, a shift from his insistence earlier in his campaign that he always opposed it.

Trump was asked about the invasion during a 2002 interview with Howard Stern, first reported late Thursday by Buzzfeed.

“Are you for invading Iraq?” Howard Stern asked him at the time, and Trump answered, “Yeah, I guess so.”

During CNN's GOP town hall on Thursday, Trump said: "I could have said that."

As recently as Saturday, during the last Republican debate, Trump said he opposed the war, and he hammered George W. Bush's decision to invade as he chiseled away at rival Jeb Bush.

Trump said Thursday that the radio interview was probably one of the first times he had been asked about the war, and that he ultimately opposed it.

"By the time the war started, I was against it," Trump said. "Shortly thereafter, I was really against it."

Can Donald Trump change his demeanor?

A voter at Thursday’s Republican town hall asked Donald Trump one of the big questions about his campaign: Could he adjust his blustery rhetoric and manage his self-control as president?

“We have to be tough to protect our country,” Trump said. “I have a great temperament.”

He went on to talk about terrorists in detail – ISIS beheadings, drowning people in cages, the San Bernardino shootings.

“This is like medieval times,” he continued. 

But, asked host Anderson Cooper of CNN, could he adjust his tone?

“I was a good student and all of the stuff. I’m a smart person,” Trump insisted. 

As an example, he promised he could strike a deal between the two political parties on ending the loophole that allows companies to avoid taxes by reincorporating overseas.

“I would put these people in a room and within 10 minutes, I’d have a deal,” he promised. “They all want it.”

Would he compromise?

“I believe in compromise where I win.”

When did Trump oppose Iraq war?

Hillary Clinton makes her immigration expertise known

 (John Gurzinski / AFP/Getty Images)
(John Gurzinski / AFP/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton did her homework on immigration.

During a Democratic town hall Thursday, a woman in the audience told of her husband being forced to return to Mexico while he applied for legal status because of a little-known immigration provision. She was posing a question to Clinton's rival, Bernie Sanders, who didn’t quite seem to know what she was talking about.

But when Clinton took the stage later, she made a point to address the law, identifying it by name, then pledging to end it. Clinton drew loud cheers when she vowed to eliminate the law, known as the three- or 10-year unlawful presence bar. It requires immigrants in the U.S. illegally to return home for years while applying for legal status. 

Overall, Clinton came off as better-steeped than Sanders in the nation's complicated immigration laws, and she made a more forceful case that she would fix the immigration system if elected.

When asked to promise to propose an immigration overhaul bill in her first 100 days in office, Clinton vowed to do so, saying such a bill would be “at the top” of her legislative agenda. 

Hillary Clinton on same-sex marriage reversal

Jeb Bush talks family in the run-up to the South Carolina primary

 (Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

Jeb Bush, who has struggled with how to calibrate his family history in his presidential campaign, embraced it Thursday as he tried to stay competitive going into Saturday's South Carolina primary.

Asked about his brother, former President George W. Bush, campaigning with him this week, Bush declared their Monday event “a blast.”

“I love him dearly, and this is the first time he’s been campaigning with a candidate, and I’m honored he did it with me,” Bush said during a GOP candidates forum, adding that he would have been “disappointed" if his brother had campaigned with someone else.

Bush, who started his run trying to differentiate himself from his brother and his father, former President George H.W. Bush, declared his dad “the greatest man alive" and called his mother a "superstar."

He then turned to his wife, Columba, with whom he will celebrate his 42nd anniversary next week.

“Sweetie, this is going to be your anniversary present,” Bush said, launching into a soliloquy about how they met in a Mexican town square when he was a teenager. “I fell madly in love, head over heels, a lightning bolt of love. ... She was the most beautiful girl I had ever met in my life.”

He said his life changed dramatically.

“I’m a lot better person because of it,” he said. “I love you, dear.”

In Apple's battle with FBI, Clinton declines to take a side

Hillary Clinton repeatedly called the battle between Apple and the FBI over accessing the cellphone data of the San Bernardino assailants a "dilemma," refusing to stake out a position.

"This is one of the most difficult dilemmas that we're faced with," Clinton said during Thursday's Democratic town hall. "Of course law enforcement has every right and reason to want to get information off of a killer's cellphone."

But Clinton added that she sees why Apple is concerned about opening a "back door" to access a user's personal data, noting that they probably then have to field requests from not only the U.S. government, but foreign governments as well, in addition to the privacy concerns that Apple has.

"This is a very hard dilemma," she said.  

I don't like fighting with the pope.

Donald Trump, after Pope Francis suggested that his border wall proposal was "not Christian." Trump fired back almost immediately.

Turn on your television very carefully

Nobody asked whether I was a citizen or not. What’s the difference?

Bernie Sanders, the son of a Polish immigrant, on whether President Obama is the target of racism because of his father was Kenyan

Jeb Bush's views on addiction, shaped by the struggles of his daughter

 (Steve Pope / Getty Images)
(Steve Pope / Getty Images)

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has spoken openly about his daughter, Noelle, who battled prescription drug abuse and was jailed for possessing crack cocaine.

The debate around addiction and recovery has shifted away from the "just say no" era during this election, as The Times' Seema Mehta chronicled.

Bernie Sanders' immigration solution ignores Obama's difficulties

Bernie Sanders faced a battery of questions about his views on immigration during a Democratic town hall Thursday. 

He was asked to explain his vote against a 2007 immigration reform bill -- which rival Hillary Clinton has criticized him for -- and what he would do to reduce deportations as president. 

Sanders explained that he voted against the bill because it included provisions to allow guest-workers into the country that he found unacceptable and "almost akin to slavery."

He noted that several major immigrant rights leaders also opposed the bill on those grounds -- a claim that holds up. 

To reduce deportations, Sanders pledged to use his executive powers as president. 

He ignored the fact that such an approach may not be an option.

President Obama took executive action to try to expand temporary deportation protections to millions of immigrants in the country illegally in 2014. But his actions were frozen while a lawsuit plays out in the courts, and it awaits a ruling from the Supreme Court. 

A better question might be what Sanders -- or Clinton, for that matter -- would do to stop deportations if Obama's action is ruled unconstitutional.

2016 campaign explained

Jeb Bush explains why he tweeted that photo of a gun

Jeb Bush said Thursday that he tweeted a picture of a firearm he received as a present from a South Carolina gun maker to celebrate the 2nd Amendment and the company, FN Manufacturing.

“I wanted to pay tribute to them by showing off the gun they gave me,” Bush said during a GOP candidates town hall Thursday. “Also I wanted to show the 2nd Amendment is as important” as the rest of the Bill of Rights.

Bush created a social media storm when he tweeted the photo of an engraved FNX-45 pistol.

He said that as governor of Florida, he protected the rights of the law-abiding to own a gun while he also went after criminals.

“If you commit a crime with a gun in Florida, you’re going to prison,” Bush said.

But he said he would overturn President Obama’s executive actions on guns and argued that the president could have sought bipartisan agreement on keeping guns out of the hands of those who are mentally ill.

“This is the problem with our president – he’s given up on working with Congress,” Bush said.

This country's greatness relies on the reality that throughout our history we have welcomed people into this country.

Bernie Sanders, speaking about how to address Islamophobia in the United States

Proof that the Democrats are at a different kind of forum

The first question from the audience during Thursday's Democratic forum came from a young woman named Dulce, who came to the U.S. illegally and is protected from deportation by President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. 

She and debate moderator Jose Diaz-Balart exchanged a greeting in Spanish before she launched into a question for Bernie Sanders about what he would do to fix the nation's immigration system.

It was proof that this was a different kind of prime-time forum for the Democrats.

In their higher-profile presidential debates, questions about immigration have appeared to be almost an afterthought, squeezed into conversations about economic, healthcare and foreign policy. 

But at this town hall, broadcast by Telemundo in Spanish, the topic of immigration dominated the first 30 minutes. 

I'm marking her down as neutral.

Jeb Bush, joking about losing the endorsement of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley ahead of the state's Republican primary Saturday. She backed Marco Rubio instead.

By the numbers

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

Third debate scorecard: Here's who's winning each round

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