NATION POLITICS TRAIL GUIDE

Donald Trump wavers when asked to disavow the Ku Klux Klan

Donald Trump is pressed on both the KKK and why his Twitter account, a primary form of his communication, retweeted a quote from Mussolini.

GOP senator says he'll vote for third party if Trump is nominee

Trump gets first Senate endorsement: Alabama's Jeff Sessions

Donald Trump picked up his first Senate endorsement Sunday as Alabama's Jeff Sessions announced his support.

Sessions, a four-term Republican senator with a distinct Southern drawl, has led the GOP opposition to immigration reform, sparring particularly with Sen. Marco Rubio.

"We need to make America great again," said Sessions, putting on one of Trump's signature red caps at a rally with the billionaire in Alabama.

The endorsement is a setback for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is competing with Trump for votes among Southern conservatives and who has often praised Sessions.

Republican senators have largely steered clear of Trump, as have most Republicans in the House -- though Rep. Duncan Hunter of Alpine, Calif., backs him.

A top aide to Sessions joined the Trump campaign this year.

Rubio has scooped up endorsements from GOP members of Congress as the party establishment tries to rally around him as a Trump alternative.

All lives matter.

Donald Trump in Madison, Ala.

Hillary Clinton aims at Republicans, not Sanders

It’s back to basics for Hillary Clinton here in Tennessee, which holds its primary on Tuesday.

She blasted Republicans for ignoring climate change, expressed gratitude to President Obama, and waxed nostalgic about how the economy improved when her husband, Bill, was president.

Clinton completely ignored Bernie Sanders, her rival for the Democratic nomination, apart from a brief criticism of his call for free tuition at public colleges.

“I personally don’t want us paying to send Donald Trump’s youngest child free to college,” she said in a well-worn punch line.

In short, her speech here was much like her speeches earlier in the campaign, when Sanders’ surprise appeal as an insurgent was just becoming clear.

As the race narrowed in Iowa, the first contest, Clinton adopted a sharper tone. Sanders’ plan for universal healthcare was unrealistic, she said, and his record on gun control was too soft.

It's an approach she kept through New Hampshire, where she lost, and Nevada, where she won. 

But now, after trouncing Sanders by nearly 50 points in the  South Carolina primary on Saturday, Clinton’s total focus is on Republicans.

"I'm looking forward, if I'm fortunate enough to be the nominee, to debating any one of them," she said.

Trump is questioned on Mussolini, Ku Klux Klan

Donald Trump took flak Sunday for re-tweeting a quote attributed to Benito Mussolini, the fascist Italian dictator allied with Adolf Hitler in World War II, and for refusing to disavow support from a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

In an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," the GOP front-runner stood by his retweet of a quote ascribed to the founder of fascism:  “It is better to live one day as a lion that 100 years as a sheep.”

“Look, Mussolini was Mussolini…and I know who said it,” said Trump, who called it an “a very good quote, an interesting quote.”

Moderator Chuck Todd asked the real estate mogul if he wanted to be associated with a "known fascist."

“No,” Trump said. “I want to be associated with interesting quotes... And we do interesting things. And I sent it out. And certainly, hey, it got your attention, didn't it?"

He then boasted of his 14 million followers “between Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and all of that.”

Mussolini, known as Il Duce, dragged Italy into World War II on the side of the Nazis against the United States and its allies.

He was captured in 1945 as he tried to escape to Germany. He was shot and hanged by his ankles in a public square in Milan, according to "The Oxford Companion to Military History."

Trump, appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” also was asked about calls to distance himself from David Duke and other white supremacists who are publicly backing his campaign.

Duke is a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

On Feb. 24, Duke urged listeners on his radio program to volunteer for Trump and said failing to vote for him would be “treason to your heritage.”

The next day, the Anti-Defamation League called on Trump to publicly condemn the racism of Duke and other white supremacists.

Some published reports said that Duke supports Trump, but has not formally endorsed him.

Asked by CNN host Jake Tapper if he would disavow Duke, Trump claimed he was unaware of the dispute.

“I don’t know anything about David Duke. OK?," he said. "I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don’t know.”

Trump later said he would do research and “certainly, I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong.”

He told Tapper to send him a list of suspect groups so he could research those he didn't know.

“The Ku Klux Klan?,” Tapper asked.

"You may have groups in there that are totally fine, and it would be very unfair," Trump said. "So give me a list of the groups, and I will let you know.”

Trump also said he was “pretty sure” he never met Duke.

“I just don’t know anything about him,” he said.

In 2000, when Trump ended an exploratory run for the White House as a possible Reform Party candidate, he publicly criticized and disassociated himself from Duke, according to a New York Times story at the time.

“The Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. (Pat) Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. (Lenora) Fulani," Trump said then. "This is not company I wish to keep."

Fresh off South Carolina loss, Bernie Sanders still seeks black support

 (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, fresh off a landslide loss to Hillary Clinton in South Carolina, appealed to Democratic voters in Oklahoma, where he hopes to win a primary on Tuesday.

Sanders' visit came as his insurgent campaign for the nomination appears to face a serious uphill climb.

Black voters overwhelmingly supported Clinton in South Carolina. And they form a majority of the electorate in several major states voting on Super Tuesday.

Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, sought to reach out to them from Oklahoma, a conservative state that has not voted Democratic in a presidential race in decades.

"This campaign is listening to our African American brothers and sisters," Sanders said Sunday.

"They are tired as we all are tired of a broken criminal justice system ... and they are tired as we are all tired of seeing unarmed African Americans shot and killed" by police. 

Tired or not, there's little evidence to suggest black voters are likely to throw their support his way.

The math is on our side, Hillary Clinton campaign says as Super Tuesday looms

 (Erik S. Lesser / European Pressphoto Agency)
(Erik S. Lesser / European Pressphoto Agency)

Buoyed by a decisive victory in South Carolina on Saturday, Hillary Clinton’s team thinks she can start tying up the nomination this week on Super Tuesday.

Her campaign expects her to win big on Tuesday, when Democrats cast ballots in about a dozen states, and permanently alter the trajectory of her rivalry with Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“The gains could be irreversible,” said Jeff Berman, a Clinton consultant working on the delegate math.

Super Tuesday is the biggest day of the primary race so far, with 884 delegates up for grabs. A Democratic candidate needs 2,383 to win the nomination.

Even if Sanders performs well in all five states he’s targeted in Tuesday's voting – Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma and his home state of Vermont – Clinton should still be able to add at least 50 delegates to her lead, Berman said.

A spokesman for Sanders, who has said he plans to fight for the nomination into the summer, did not respond to a request for comment. 

Berman worked for then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008, and this year he sees a few key things working in Clinton’s favor.

First, Super Tuesday states include Georgia and Alabama, places where black voters make up a significant portion of the electorate. Clinton enjoyed strong support from black voters in South Carolina on Saturday, and Berman said “we would expect to see approximately the same levels of strength” on Tuesday.

Second, Berman said, the map doesn’t get any more favorable to Sanders. In 2008, Obama and Clinton fought to nearly a stalemate on Super Tuesday, but Obama then racked up 11 states in a row after that.

It’s unlikely Sanders would have similar luck, he said.

“I don’t see any sequence of states in the 2016 calendar that would offer Bernie Sanders a comparable win streak,” Berman said. 

Which Oscar contender is like which presidential candidate?

 (Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

There are many similarities between best picture candidates and the presidential kind; in fact, like a dog taking on the expressions of its owner, each Oscar movie seems to be manifesting the characteristics of its corresponding political personality.

Steven Zeitchik

Steven Zeitchik, who covers film and Hollywood for the Los Angeles Times, has a handy Oscar-watching guide for political junkies who haven't been following the Academy Awards race. Who do you think he matches with "The Martian"?

Ted Cruz: I'm still the one to beat Trump

Sen. Ted Cruz insists he is still the only Republican candidate who can stop Donald Trump — or Hillary Clinton.

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Cruz repeated his charges that the New York developer has given money to "radical liberals" and is a "Washington deal maker."

Cruz, who bested Trump in the Iowa caucuses but has lost every race since, said that victory shows he — not Florida Sen. Marco Rubio or the other GOP candidates — can unify the party and win next fall.

"The only candidate that can beat Trump is our campaign," he said.

A Trump nomination, he said, would ensure a Clinton victory next November.

The Texas senator said he would do well when a dozen states vote on delegate-rich Super Tuesday. Host Chris Wallace said the latest polls showed Cruz was leading polls only in Arkansas and his home state of Texas.

“The only way to stop Donald is to stand together behind our campaign on Super Tuesday,” Cruz said.

He later engaged in a testy exchange with Wallace over allegations that the Cruz campaign played dirty tricks in Iowa and other states.

Cruz accused Wallace of reading Trump’s opposition-research files. His campaign, he said, operated with the “highest level of integrity.”

But appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Cruz went out of his way to cite media reports on allegations that Trump has had business dealings with organized crime — and to suggest that's why Trump has refused to release his tax returns.

“Maybe it is the case that Donald, there have been multiple media reports about Donald's business dealings with the mob, with the Mafia. Maybe his taxes show those business dealings are a lot more extensive than has been reported,” he said.

ABC, CNN, multiple news reports have reported about his some dealings with, for example, S&A Construction, which was owned by 'Fat Tony' Salerno, who is a mobster who is in jail. It is owned by two of the major New York crime families. And that has been reported in multiple media outlets.”

I will support the Republican nominee, period, the end.  

Sen. Ted Cruz tells CNN

Sanders: I can make it in New York

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, who lost overwhelmingly in the South Carolina primary Saturday, says he may have an ace up his sleeve — New York.

Appearing Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation," Sanders added New York state to the mix of Democratic primaries he said he still could win this spring.

Hillary Clinton, who served as U.S. senator from New York from 2001 to 2009, and who makes her residence in suburban Chappaqua, N.Y., might beg to differ.

New York holds its presidential primary on April 19. By then, polls suggest, Clinton may have locked up a commanding lead in delegates.

Told by moderator John Dickerson that political analysts don't see a plausible path to a Sanders nomination, the senator from Vermont disagreed.

“I think we do have a path to victory,” he said. “We have dozens more states to go. We’re feeling good about the future.”

A blunt assessment from Bernie Sanders

Trump: 'Little Marco' Rubio couldn't get elected dogcatcher

In recent days, Republican candidates Marco Rubio and Donald Trump have traded crude taunts, harsh jibes and personal insults rarely heard in a race for the White House.

It was no surprise that Trump continued to mock the Florida senator Sunday, saying "Little Marco" couldn't be elected dogcatcher in Florida.

But the real estate developer, appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” also was put on the defensive on several fronts, a change in a campaign that has largely seen him skate past controversies.

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Trump was peppered with questions over his refusal to release his federal tax returns, and why he appeared to complain that a California judge who is hearing a class-action suit involving the now-defunct Trump University is Latino.

The judge is U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is based in San Diego.

In a CNN interview earlier this week, Trump suggested that the IRS may be singling him out for audits because he is, he said, "a strong Christian." He subsequently said he didn't think it was true.

When attacked, Trump normally fires back — and plays the victim. On Sunday, he decried what he called "nasty" attacks from Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Both Rubio and Cruz released summary pages of recent tax returns on Saturday. Trump says he won't release his returns until the IRS audits are completed.

Talk show host Chris Wallace asked Trump to reveal three things from his 2014 filing — his gross income, effective tax rate and charitable contributions. Trump refused.

Last summer, Trump released a financial disclosure form that suggested he was worth $10 billion. Most independent estimates of his holdings suggest he is indeed a billionaire, but not worth nearly that much.

Trump also was asked pointed questions about why hundreds of undocumented Polish workers, instead of American workers, were hired to help build Trump Tower during the 1980s in New York.

He blamed a contractor for the improper hires, which later led to an investigation and fine.

Trump said the foreign workers were hired before the government had created the current Internet-based system that lets businesses determine if workers are legally eligible to work in the United States.

He dismissed Rubio's attacks on the issue, one of many he has unleashed since a fiery debate last Thursday in Texas.

“Thirty-five years ago, that’s the best they can do?” Trump said. “That’s pretty sad.”

Allegations of fraud involving the now-defunct Trump University also put the former reality TV star on the spot, however.

Former students have said in lawsuits that they spent tens of thousands of dollars to attend its seminars. But they say some of the teachers were bankrupt real estate investors, and promises to students weren't kept.

An anti-Trump ad appearing in some states has a former student saying Trump University was “just a fake,” adding: “I got hurt badly, and I’d hate to see this country get hurt by Donald Trump.”

Trump insisted that "98%" of the students thought its courses were “terrific.”

He also said he could have settled the lawsuits but “I don’t believe in settling cases. I believe in winning cases.”

Sanders: We 'got killed' in the South Carolina primary

Bernie Sanders says his campaign "got killed" in the Hillary Clinton blow-out in the South Carolina primary.

"We got killed," the Democratic presidential candidate said Sunday on ABC's This Week. "We got decimated."

Clinton captured nearly three out of four Democratic votes statewide Saturday, partly by proving immensely popular with the state's large black population. Her final tally was 73.5 % to Sanders' 26%. 

The huge win sets Clinton up for sizable gains on March 1, Super Tuesday, when voters in 11 states, many in the South, will go to the polls.

The senator from Vermont argued that he continued to win votes from Democratic voters younger than 30 and can still amass the delegates need to capture the nomination.

Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, said he would fare better with "the African American community outside of the deep South."

He predicted he would win his home state of Vermont and do well in Minnesota, Colorado, Oklahoma and Massachusetts on Tuesday.

He also said he “had a real shot” in California, which votes June 7.

By then, of course, it may be too late.

Marco Rubio, mudslinger? Voters give mixed reviews heading toward Super Tuesday

Marco Rubio's new tough-talking — and sometimes wise-cracking — broadsides at Donald Trump are definitely being noticed on the campaign trail.

But voters give them mixed reviews.

Sydney Rubin, 25, says the hard-hitting taunts and jibes are just what Rubio needs to get through to voters.

"I love it," she said after his rally Saturday in Kennesaw, a well-heeled Atlanta suburb. "Gloves off."

Others see it as a dreaded, but necessary, part of the rough-and-tumble GOP primary campaign.

"To be honest, I don't like it but I don't know what else you do with a candidate like Trump," said Mathew Titus, an attorney in nearby Alpharetta, who backs Rubio. 

He added, "I'm afraid it's too little, too late."

At a rally organized by Trump supporters at a gun store in McDonough, another Atlanta suburb, the businessman's fans were not impressed with Rubio's attacks.

"He doesn't have the swagger to carry it off," said Marilynn Whaley, 80, a retired marketing researcher. "He looked like a 5-year-old having a tantrum."

Super Tuesday voting could break records

Robust early voting in some of the Southern states is toppling turnout records heading toward Super Tuesday.

Georgia and Tennessee, two big-state prizes, already broke record highs for early voting set in the 2008 election, according to tallies.

Georgia's Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who helped lead the effort to have the so-called SEC states hold their primaries together to boost the region's voting clout, is aiming to best the state's 45% general election turnout from the historic 2008 election.

"We're very excited and hopeful that Georgians will turn out and help us break that record," Kemp told local TV news.

And in Tennessee, early voting "crushed" that state's 2008 turnout, spiking by 17%, the Tennessean reported.

"Tuesday is going to be a big day," said Tennessee's Secretary of State Tre Hargett. He also warned of a long day.

Other Super Tuesday states are reporting high turnout, with Republicans outpacing Democrats thanks largely to voter interest in Donald Trump.

The celebrity billionaire is leading polling in most of the Super Tuesday states except Texas, a must-win for home-state Sen. Ted Cruz, who is besting Trump there by a wide margin.

“There are personalities in this race that may not have been what we’ve seen in previous presidential elections,” Hargett said according to the report. “And I think people are very engaged and interested.”

Polls show solid leads for Clinton in key states, and Cruz holds home-field advantage

 (Erik S. Lesser / EPA)
(Erik S. Lesser / EPA)

Hillary Clinton has significant leads in three states where Democrats will cast ballots on Tuesday, according to new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls.

Likely Democratic primary voters supported Clinton over Bernie Sanders by a 2-to-1 margin in Georgia, Tennessee and Texas. A victory in Texas would be particularly significant because the state has the most delegates up for grabs.

The polls also showed Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner, leading in Georgia and Tennessee by margins of 7 and 18 points, respectively. 

However, Sen. Ted Cruz was ahead in Texas, his home state, where he led by 13 points. 

The polls' margins of error range from plus or minus 3.8 to 5 percentage points. 

Although the polls were conducted before Thursday's Republican debate, where Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida began fiercely targeting Trump, follow-up calls with voters suggested few minds were changed. Ninety percent of Trump, Cruz and Rubio supporters stuck with their chosen candidate. 

Meg Whitman calls Christie backing Trump 'an astonishing display of political opportunism'

 (Matthew Cavanaugh / Getty Images)
(Matthew Cavanaugh / Getty Images)

Meg Whitman, the national finance co-chair of Chris Christie's shuttered presidential campaign, lashed out at the New Jersey governor on Sunday over his support of Donald Trump.

"Chris Christie’s endorsement of Donald Trump is an astonishing display of political opportunism," Whitman said in a statement. "Donald Trump is unfit to be president. He is a dishonest demagogue who plays to our worst fears."

Christie and Whitman have had a close relationship. Christie was a big supporter of Whitman's failed 2010 effort to run for governor of California, and Whitman hosted a fundraiser for Christie last year at her home in Atherton.

Whitman, now the CEO of Hewlett-Packard Enterprises, urged Christie donors not to support Trump

"For some of us, principle and country still matter," she said.

A Donald Trump presidency? What that might actually look like

 (Benjamin Krain / Getty Images)
(Benjamin Krain / Getty Images)

President Trump.

A lot of people have trouble putting those two words together.

"I don't even want to get into that. ... God," said John H. Sununu, who was White House chief of staff under President George H.W. Bush. "I don't even want to be in a story that has that assumption in it."

The assumption can't be brushed aside, however. 

Decker: After his big loss, what's next for Bernie Sanders?

 (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)
(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

What now, for Bernie Sanders?

Hillary Clinton’s overwhelming victory in South Carolina on Saturday did many things for her campaign: It gave the candidate more confidence and voice, extended her momentum as she moves into a big band of states voting Tuesday and made good on her campaign’s long-uttered assurance that her troubles would ease as the race moved out of the largely white early states.

As the South Carolina results lifted the hard questions from Clinton’s campaign, it deposited them on the insurgent senator from Vermont. 

By the numbers

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