A look back at Thursday's GOP debate and candidates' sharp attacks on Donald Trump as Super Tuesday inches closer.

  • Chris Christie says he's backing Donald Trump in a surprise endorsement
  • Marco Rubio finally attacks and other takeaways from the Republican debate
  • South Carolina black voters like Hillary Clinton, so they don't need Bernie Sanders

On message and on target, Bill Clinton keeps Hillary on path to strong finish in South Carolina

Eight years ago, South Carolina was the place where Bill Clinton proved himself to be a liability for his wife's presidential campaign, when he suggested she would lose the state only because her primary opponent, Barack Obama, was black.

But this time, with Hillary Clinton poised for a significant victory here, her husband has been carefully disciplined. The afternoon before Saturday's primary, he hewed closely to his wife's message and talked about “building ladders of opportunity and taking down barriers.”

He apologized for being hoarse -- "I have lost my voice in service of my candidate" -- and voters eagerly cheered him on throughout the one-hour event Friday.  

The only hiccups came when two protesters interrupted to criticize Hillary Clinton about the Benghazi attacks, accusing her of lying about the deaths of four Americans in Libya.

Clinton let the first protester, who identified himself as a veteran, talk but the man grew irritated when he wasn’t allowed to respond.

"I’m not your commander in chief anymore,” Bill said. “But if I were, I’d tell you to be more polite. Sit down."

Both protesters were escorted out by police, and Clinton went on to defend his wife's handling of the attack as secretary of State.

Referring to her sitting through an 11-hour congressional hearing about the attacks in October, he said, "I thought she ate [Republicans'] lunch and proved she ought to be president."

Ted Cruz assails Donald Trump for hiring foreign workers at Palm Beach resort

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tried to undercut Donald Trump on illegal immigration Friday, saying the New York billionaire had saved himself money by hiring low-wage foreign workers at his Palm Beach resort instead of hiring Americans.

Cruz, one of Trump’s chief rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, said it was astonishing to hear the businessman argue that he could not find enough Americans willing to work as waiters or bellhops at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach.

“What he’s really saying is, from his perspective he’d rather [employ] foreign workers who can’t quit, who are captive, who he can pay a lot lower wages,” Cruz said at a campaign stop in Nashville.

“And a man who has a multi-decade history of exploiting the immigration laws to take advantage of the little guy is not someone we can trust to stand with the working men and women of this country.”

Cruz’s attack came on the same day that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was trying to convince voters that Trump is a “con man.” Both senators attacked Trump relentlessly Thursday night in a CNN debate in Houston.

Polls show Trump is favored in many of next week’s high-stakes Super Tuesday contests, so Cruz and Rubio are scrambling to stop him from winning so many delegates that no one else can capture the nomination.

The New York Times reported Thursday that Trump had sought more than 500 visas for foreign workers at Mar-a-Lago Club while hundreds of American applicants failed to get those jobs.

In Nashville, Cruz also echoed Rubio’s attack on Trump during the debate for a lawsuit involving Polish laborers in the construction of Trump Tower in Manhattan in the early 1980s.

“Donald Trump is the only person running who has had a million-dollar court judgment against him for participating in a conspiracy – and that’s what the federal court found, was a conspiracy to hire illegal aliens,” Cruz said.

Politifact, a nonpartisan fact-checking website, found that 200 undocumented Polish laborers were employed. A judge ruled against Trump’s company, finding that by having the foreigners perform the work, it engaged in a conspiracy to cheat a labor union out of pension and welfare funds. Trump appealed and ultimately reached a confidential settlement for an undisclosed sum.

Cruz also argued that Trump was ill-suited to face Democrat Hillary Clinton in the general election. He predicted a Texas victory that would “tee up a very clear choice.”

“Do you want to go with Donald Trump and have the general election in November to be two rich New York liberals?” he asked. “Or do we want a real choice of a proven constitutional conservative who will fight for the working men and women?”

Hillary Clinton shores up support among black voters at historically black school in South Carolina

Hillary Clinton called for support for a financially struggling historically black college during a campus visit Friday, part of a last-minute push to woo black voters ahead of South Carolina's Democratic primary Saturday.

Last year, there was talk in the state Legislature of shuttering the school, South Carolina State University, for a couple of years after it was forced to make deep cuts to personnel and programs to balance its budget. Since then, the college has made efforts to address its monetary problems. 

"This college has such a storied history and deserves our support," Clinton said to students inside Dukes Gymnasium, a line that in her 20-minute speech received the loudest applause. 

Within Clinton's own plan for higher education is a $25-billion fund to support low- and middle-income students at private, historically black colleges and universities. 

"This great institution deserves a lot more help," she said. 

Her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, was set to speak Friday at neighboring Claflin University, another historically black school. 

Iowa students chant 'Trump! Trump!' after loss to more diverse school

 (Gary Coronado / European Pressphoto Agency)
(Gary Coronado / European Pressphoto Agency)

The last name of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump apparently has been turned into a racial insult for some people.

High school students in Des Moines this week chanted "Trump! Trump!" after a boys' basketball game. The chanters were from Dallas Center-Grimes High, which has a largely white population. Their school's team had just lost to Perry High School, which has a more diverse student population.

Trump has made derogatory comments about illegal immigrants and has pledged to build a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border if he is elected.

What you need to know about those lawsuits against Trump University

Donald Trump at a news conference in New York in 2005 to announce the establishment of Trump University.  (Bebeto Matthews / Associated Press) None
Donald Trump at a news conference in New York in 2005 to announce the establishment of Trump University. (Bebeto Matthews / Associated Press)

Two lawsuits involving GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and his Trump University are quickly becoming issues in the 2016 presidential race.

At the GOP debate Thursday night, Trump's rivals went after him regarding the lawsuits, which are pending in San Diego.

Sen. Marco Rubio called Trump University a “fake school." Trump called the case “nonsense” and promised he would win it.

Here's some background on the case:

Poll: Trump backers more likely to have negative views of Muslims

Voters backing Donald Trump are significantly more likely than others to have unfavorable views of Muslims and to favor deporting immigrants in the country illegally, a new poll finds.

They are also more likely than many other Republicans to favor abortion rights, according to the poll, done for NBC News by SurveyMonkey.

The poll, conducted Wednesday and Thursday, found Trump in the lead among Republicans nationwide, with backing of 39% of Republican voters.

Two-thirds of Trump's supporters said they had an unfavorable view of Americans Muslims, double the rate of the general voting population, the poll found. Nearly 9 in 10 supported a temporary ban on noncitizen Muslims entering the U.S., compared with just under half of all voters.

Asked about deportation of people in the country illegally, 55% of Trump supporters were in favor, compared with 29% of all voters.

On abortion, 45% of Trump's supporters called themselves  "pro-choice." Among all voters, 60% took that position. But Trump's backers are more liberal on the issue than Republicans generally. Among all Republicans, 31% called themselves "pro choice" in a Gallup survey last year.

Half of Trump's supporters also favor raising the minimum wage to either $10 or $15 an hour, something that nearly three-quarters of all voters support.

The poll was conducted online Feb. 24-25 among a national sample of 6,433 registered voters. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 1.9 percentage points.

Social media joke becomes tasteless poll question

 (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)
(Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)

What's the next step in our public discourse after YouTube debates, reality television candidates, and Twitter town halls?

The latest survey from Public Policy Polling posed a question derived from a macabre social media joke: Is Ted Cruz the Zodiac Killer?

Naturally, it was asked only in Florida. 

But Sunshine State voters, at least most of them, were not fooled. Only (?!) 1 in 10 claimed they were certain of it. Another 28% said, perhaps a bit cheekily, that they were not so sure.

H-2-Oh no he didn't

As you probably recall, Marco Rubio created some buzz during his State of the Union response in 2013 when he took a break mid-speech to reach for his Poland Springs water bottle.

Donald Trump reminded everyone of that moment during a news conference Friday, when he mocked the presidential candidate's water intake. Trump was responding to comments Rubio made following Thursday night's debate, in which he made fun of the business mogul for worrying backstage that his pants were wet.

Decker: Desperate tactics as rivals try to take down Donald Trump in debate

 (Gary Coronado / European Pressphoto Agency)
(Gary Coronado / European Pressphoto Agency)

Desperation spoke, and loudly, at Thursday’s Republican presidential debate.

Acting as if they had just discovered reams of opposition research that had lain unnoticed, Donald Trump’s biggest challengers, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, knocked into the New York billionaire repeatedly, and he responded in kind.

The exchanges descended for long periods into a biting, interrupting, mocking locker-room-style smack down, the sound of towel snapping replaced by shrieks from the partisan crowd.

Jeb Bush's former advisors slam Chris Christie's endorsement

Jeb Bush prided himself on being the sole member of the GOP field willing to confront Donald Trump, who he liked to describe as a bully. Now that Bush has dropped out of the presidential contest, some of his former aides are still relishing that role.

Two members of Bush's campaign immediately lashed out at Chris Christie's endorsement of GOP front-runner Trump, echoing Bush's "bully" language but adding references to the New Jersey governor's girth.

Bush's former senior advisor David Kochel:

And former spokesman Tim Miller offered a running commentary on the surprise nod:

Spotted in a Super Tuesday state

Let the ad wars for Super Tuesday begin

Gov. Chris Christie endorses Donald Trump, amplifies attacks on Marco Rubio

 (LM Otero / Associated Press)
(LM Otero / Associated Press)

A day after his pounding by rival Marco Rubio in a Republican debate, Donald Trump picked up the endorsement Friday of former opponent Chris Christie, who instantly joined him in fiercely attacking the Florida senator as unfit for the presidency.

“I can guarantee you that the one person that Hillary and Bill Clinton do not want to see on that stage come next September is Donald Trump,” the New Jersey governor said at an appearance with the New York billionaire in Fort Worth.

“They know how to run the standard political playbook against junior senators and run them around the block. They do not know the playbook with Donald Trump, because he is rewriting the playbook.”

The surprise endorsement gave Trump extra firepower as he fought Friday to mount a ferocious counterattack against Rubio.

With his candidacy in potential jeopardy Tuesday in a dozen contests that Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are better positioned to dominate, Rubio attacked Trump’s business record hard in the Houston debate. The assault intensified Friday when he called Trump a “con artist” and mocked his backstage preparations.

Trump, in turn, let loose on Rubio, calling him a desperate liar who lacks the demeanor to be president.

Your 140-character analysis

Donald Trump sets his sights on a familiar target: the media

Chris Christie backs Donald Trump, a 'very big endorsement'

The morning after suffering a pummeling in a Republican presidential debate, Donald Trump scored the endorsement of former rival Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey who bowed out of the race after a poor showing in the New Hampshire primary.

“To me, it’s a very big endorsement,” Trump told reporters before a rally in Fort Worth, Texas.

Standing at Trump’s side, Christie said Trump, the New York developer, was the Republican best suited to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election.

“Happy to be on the Trump team,” Christie said.

Chris Christie endorses Donald Trump

The surprise announcement drew immediate reactions:

Lindsey Graham says his Republican Party has gone 'crazy,' tells reporters: Ask Trump harder questions

Sen. Lindsey Graham on Thursday night offered his most extensive comments yet about Donald Trump, calling on a roomful of political journalists to do better in exposing a candidate he says is leading America down a dangerous road.  

Addressing several hundred correspondents and fellow members of Congress at the annual Washington Press Club Foundation Congressional Dinner, Graham momentarily strayed from lighthearted mocking of his party and President Obama to offer a warning. 

"I'm not really happy about where the country is right now," said Graham, who had lost his voice earlier in the day and was fighting off illness. 

"I could make a million Donald Trump jokes and I have, but our party and country is going to have to up its game," Graham said, his voice growing more serious. "You're going to have to ask him harder questions."

Graham said we are living in "dangerous, complicated times" and spoke about his fears ("we could go backward pretty quickly"), calling on Republicans to "do a little soul searching."

The South Carolina Republican said he thinks his party has gone "batshit crazy."

"What happened to conservatism?" Graham wondered.

He quipped about how much Sen. Ted Cruz is reviled in Washington, and even jokingly speculated about what would happen if Cruz were killed on the Senate floor. 

As for Trump, "I don't think he understands what makes America great," Graham said.

He told the journalists present to think of a world without newspapers and to remember, "The 1st Amendment is in your hands; use it wisely."

Graham joked that his own presidential bid failed, and that Jeb Bush ended his candidacy not long after Graham's endorsement. Calling himself the "Dr. Kevorkian" of the presidential race, he ended by quipping that he would endorse Trump in the hopes of continuing his losing streak. Then he put on a "Make American Great Again" hat and walked back to his seat.

Disclosure: I am vice president of the board of the Washington Press Club Foundation, which aims to advance women and minorities in newsrooms. In that role, I helped to organize the event and sat next to Graham during the dinner. 

Listen to his full speech. The Trump section begins about nine minutes in. 

Marco Rubio hits at Trump again in debate's aftermath

Marco Rubio kept swinging at Donald Trump on Friday, continuing his eleventh-hour attack on the Republican front-runner following Thursday night’s GOP presidential debate.

In several morning television interviews, Rubio accused Trump of lying to voters and even conning the Republican Party out of a legitimate nominee for the presidency.

“We are not going to turn over the conservative movement to a con artist, who is telling people one thing but has spent 40 years sticking it to Americans and now claims to be their champion,” the Florida senator told NBC’s “Today.”

He said he wants voters to help him stop the “lunacy” of Trump’s campaign.

The newly sharp attacks were of a piece with Rubio's strategy during the debate, which revealed a hostile side of the senator as he pounded Trump with rhetorical attacks. With Super Tuesday looming, Rubio was asked whether his new strategy comes as a “Hail Mary” for his campaign.

Rubio not only denied the characterization, but blamed the media for feeding Trump’s success.

“The media is pumping him up as some unstoppable force,” Rubio said on "CBS This Morning."

Hillary Clinton: 'I'm not a natural politician'

Hillary Clinton acknowledged Friday that she doesn't have the political gifts of her husband or President Obama, but said she is still confident that she'll win the White House this fall.

“I’m not a natural politician; it really came from the root of service,” she said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “It came from my deep conviction that we had to make sure this country we all love kept producing opportunities for everybody.” 

Clinton ignored a question about whether she'd consider Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren as a running mate, saying only that she holds Warren "in the “highest regard.”

“We consult regularly; my staff consults regularly with her staff,” Clinton said of Warren. “I’m very much interested in what she’s doing and what she thinks we should be doing.”

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