Candidates in Thursday's GOP debate laid heavy punches on Donald Trump as the race heads into the crucial mid-March point.

  • Ben Carson says he's leaving the campaign trail
  • Donald Trump is sitting out an appearance before influential conservatives
  • Here's why Florida matters so much to the GOP strategy to deny Trump an outright nomination
  • Last night's debate drew a huge audience for Fox News
  • Mary McNamara: The debate was more like "Real Housewives"

'Intense' scene from a Trump rally

Hillary Clinton acknowledges past shortcomings on trade

 (Jeff Kowalsky / European Pressphoto Agency)
(Jeff Kowalsky / European Pressphoto Agency)

Days before a Michigan primary in which trade has emerged as a key presidential campaign issue, Hillary Clinton acknowledged Friday the failings of trade policies she supported during her husband’s administration. But she also pushed back at Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ attempts to impugn her past positions.

Clinton did not mention by name the North American Free Trade Agreement, a signature accomplishment of Bill Clinton’s tenure but one that has soured relations with some facets of organized labor ever since. But she did acknowledge the merits of complaints by unions that the trade deal hurt workers in this country.

“Looking back over the past decades, as globalization picked up steam, there’s no doubt that the benefits of trade have not been as widely enjoyed as many predicted,” she said.

She vowed that as president she would work to ensure that no future deal would have the same negative impact.

Ben Carson: 'There’s a lot of people who love me, but just won't vote for me'

 (Bob Booth / TNS)
(Bob Booth / TNS)

After hinting earlier in the week about his likely exit from the presidential race, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson made it official Friday, telling a major gathering for political conservatives outside Washington that he is leaving the campaign trail.

"There’s a lot of people who love me, but just won't vote for me," he said.

Carson, who perched briefly near the top of the polls last fall thanks to voters drawn to his Christian faith and status as an outsider, failed to win any early nominating contests and battled staff shake-ups within his campaign. He sat out Thursday night's debate, a day after saying he did not see how he could win the GOP nomination.

"I will still continue to be heavily involved in trying to save our nation," Carson said Friday. "We have to save it."

In the 10 months Carson traversed the country vying for the nomination, he raked in large sums of cash, but burned through the money almost as quickly as it was raised. 

Now that we're all math majors

Watch live: Ben Carson expected to end his campaign

If you want to beat Donald Trump, here’s how you do it — you beat Donald Trump with the voters.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday in Maryland

Obama: 'America is pretty darn great right now'

President Obama did something on Friday he had gotten out of the habit of: crowing about a good monthly jobs report. And soon it became clear why.

"America is pretty darn great right now," the president told reporters, alluding to a certain Republican presidential candidate's trademark slogan.

The 242,000 jobs added in the U.S. in February were fresh evidence of an economy that is enjoying a strong recovery, Obama said.

"The facts don't lie," he said. "And I think it's useful, given that there seems to be an alternative reality out there from some of the political folks that America is down in the dumps. It's not."

 (Michael Reynolds / EPA)
(Michael Reynolds / EPA)

The White House indicated the president will happily continue to make that case with increasing frequency as the campaign to succeed him goes on.

"There's no doubt that, given the colorful style of some of the Republican candidates, they have gotten plenty of attention for their rhetoric talking down the economy," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said after the president's remarks. "These kinds of positive economic reports include a whole set of pretty inconvenient facts for those who are getting the most attention. The president felt it was worthwhile to point that out."

Obama jokingly gave another reason for his decision to discuss the economy.

"I thought it might be useful to take a small break from the spectacle of the political season — and now, I gather, O.J.," he said.

McNamara: Forget reality TV. This debate was more like 'Real Housewives'

 (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)
(Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

Thursday night’s Republican debate played not so much as a cage fight as an episode of “The Real Housewives.” Which may be an insult to all those women involved in the Bravo franchise — they are, after all, paid to provide the public with the petty squabbles and diva moments that so many viewers find entertaining.

I kept waiting for someone to overturn their podium, to haul out the B-word and flounce off the stage in a maelstrom of ripped-off mics and “I’m done with this ‘bleep’ ” invective.

Debate nets Fox News its second-biggest audience ever

 (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)
(Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

The raucous Republican primary debate gave Fox News its second largest audience ever on Thursday.

Nielsen data show an average of 16.9 million viewers tuned into the 11th meeting of the contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination held at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. Only the first Republican debate of the 2016 presidential campaign — watched by 24 million viewers on Aug. 6 — delivered a larger audience for Fox News.

Ready to move to Canada because of Donald Trump? You'll be welcomed

Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Geoff Robins / AFP/Getty Images)
Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Geoff Robins / AFP/Getty Images)

If Canadians weren’t paying attention to the U.S. presidential campaign before, it may be time to tune in.

Google Trends prompted some online buzz this week when it reported that the search query “how can I move to Canada” had shot through the roof on the evening of the Super Tuesday primaries — a phenomenon that was widely attributed to Donald Trump’s string of victories.

Searches initially rose by 350%.

By the next day, they had reportedly shot up by 1,150%.

So what are Canadians thinking about this potential wave of presumably liberal, Trump-averse Americans? Canada recently announced that it had reached its goal of taking in 25,000 refugees from Syria’s civil war. What about its neighbors to the south?

We put the question to a random, and highly unscientific, sampling of Canadians in Ottawa, the nation’s capital.

Donald Trump vows to obey laws against torturing terrorists and killing their families

 (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Donald Trump backed away Friday from his previous statement that as president he would order military leaders to torture terrorists and kill their families, regardless of whether those actions were lawful.

In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination said he would “use every legal power that I have to stop these terrorist enemies.”

“I do, however, understand that the United States is bound by laws and treaties and I will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advice on such matters,” he said. “I will not order a military officer to disobey the law. It is clear that as president I will be bound by laws just like all Americans and I will meet those responsibilities.”

Trump’s statement is a switch from what he said Thursday night at a debate in Detroit.

Fox News moderator Bret Baier asked Trump about former Central Intelligence Agency director Michael Hayden's statement that military leaders are trained to refuse illegal orders, such as Trump's call for using interrogation methods harsher than waterboarding and for targeting terrorists’ families.

“They won't refuse,” Trump said. “They're not going to refuse me, believe me.”

When Baier reminded him such actions were illegal, Trump mentioned Islamic State forces chopping off heads and drowning people in steel cages. He voiced confidence that military leaders would do whatever he instructed.

“I've never had any problem leading people,” he said. “If I say do it, they're going to do it. That's what leadership is all about.”

Why Florida matters so much for Republicans spoiling to bring down Donald Trump

Marco Rubio and Donald Trump argue during a recent debate. (Gary Coronado / Associated Press)
Marco Rubio and Donald Trump argue during a recent debate. (Gary Coronado / Associated Press)

The recent talk of a contested Republican convention can seem maddeningly complex, given all the delegate math involved.

The best thing to remember is this: As usual, it all comes down to Florida.

If Marco Rubio wins there on March 15 — and John Kasich wins his home state of Ohio — there is a greater chance that none of the four remaining candidates will win the majority of delegates needed to secure the nomination on the first ballot at this summer’s party convention.

In that case, Republicans would be released to vote for whomever they want on the second ballot, forcing negotiations over a compromise candidate. That could be one of the four declared candidates, or a surprise pick such as House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Why is Florida so important? Along with Ohio, it is one of the first “winner-take-all” states. Early contests award delegates proportionally, so that several candidates usually walk away with a slice of the pie. Florida’s 99 delegates will go to a single candidate, allowing Rubio to make up lots of ground, even as he has notched only one prior victory in the primary season — Minnesota’s caucuses.

NBC News has one of the clearest explanations of the math and the implications for each state. 

Here’s why it’s such a long shot. Kasich is within striking distance of Donald Trump in Ohio, according to polls. But he’s hardly a shoo-in.

Rubio has far more ground to make up in Florida, where polls have consistently shown Trump comfortably in the lead. 

Trump skips CPAC to campaign

Donald Trump's campaign announced Friday that the GOP presidential front-runner would be skipping the Conservative Political Action Conference this weekend so he can campaign in Kansas and Florida.

As Trump is questioned about his commitment to conservative ideals, his last-minute cancellation of his appearance before the influential annual gathering outside Washington is likely to raise eyebrows.

Trump's campaign said he had appeared before the group many times in the past and that he would again in the future.

"Mr. Trump ... looks forward to returning next year, hopefully as President of the United States," his campaign said in a statement.

In Michigan, Donald Trump was in the mood for revenge

There’s not much love between Donald Trump and Mitt Romney. Or Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Or Donald Trump and Marco Rubio.

The morning after a day that found Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, begging voters not to side with Trump, and a night that found the senators from Texas and Florida blistering him in a debate, Donald Trump was bent on payback.

In a disjointed, rambling speech Friday morning before thousands of supporters in Macomb County, Mich., long ago the home of Democrats who flipped to vote for Ronald Reagan, Trump labeled his enemies.

There was “Stupid Mitt,” the “elitist” and “choke artist” who criticized Trump because the real estate magnate had the audacity to tell him he shouldn’t run in 2016 (or so Trump said).

“I’m telling you, he’s a stupid person,” said Trump, who endorsed Romney to great fanfare in 2012.

There was “Lyin’ Ted” -- Trump didn’t exactly get around to saying why Cruz was a liar, although on Thursday night he called him that for denying that he’d been a big backer of Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr..

There was “Little Marco” a moniker delivered with relish because Trump apparently cares deeply about size, judging by his animosity toward Rubio for mocking Trump’s hands as small -- and implying one other body part was as well.

“When Little Marco spews his crap about the size of my hands. … Those hands can hit a golf ball 285 yards,” Trump said.

Trump events always have an enemies list. The media are always on it (on Friday, reporters were deemed “worse than Little Marco, worse than Lyin’ Ted"), and so are “stupid” trade negotiators.

But on Friday, Trump seemed more distracted by his nemeses than usual, so intent on denouncing them that he barely got around to the point of his appearance: Tuesday’s Michigan primary.

The way to the hearts of voters here is jobs, preferably well-paying ones. Most everyone has a story of a relative or friend who was laid off so that their job could be moved to Mexico, or that a factory closed altogether. That makes this turf primed for Trump’s pledges to unilaterally apply tariffs of 35% to every item made outside the country and to strong-arm American firms into returning to U.S. shores.

“This is car country, rapidly becoming not-car country, but we’re going to keep it car country,” he said to rapturous cheers from the Macomb Community College crowd. He criticized Ford, Carrier and other firms for setting up shop in Mexico and elsewhere, and said they should be punished.

“We are going to do something that’s going to be good, and a very big beneficiary is going to be Michigan,” he said.

“I believe totally in free trade, but it’s got to be fair trade,” he added.

He received perhaps his biggest cheers when he defended his call for “waterboarding and worse” as tactics to be used against Islamic terrorists. The actions he referred to are illegal, though Trump insisted twice in Thursday night’s debate that he would order military personnel to use them.

“I’m the best to knock the hell out of [Islamic State},” he told the crowd. “These other guys, believe me, they don’t have a clue. They talk. They’re politicians. All talk.”

At least five times, protesters interrupted Trump, who directed security personally to take them “out, out, out.” By the standards of Trump rallies, the extractions appeared nonviolent.

Susan Sarandon: Celebrities fear admitting their support of Bernie Sanders

Susan Sarandon. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images)
Susan Sarandon. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images)

Susan Sarandon thinks Hollywood stars support Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president but don’t want to admit it publicly, particularly women.

Sarandon told the Hollywood Reporter that she's spoken to other celebrities who said they want to back Sanders as the Democratic nominee over Hillary Clinton. But they either fear backlash as women who don't support the possible first female president or they want to wait.

"I understand [celebrities] who say they are waiting because you put yourself out there for [interviews] like this,” Sarandon told the Reporter. "And people, especially if you're a woman, are making it very, very difficult."

As a woman in the spotlight, the idea of not backing a potential first female commander-in-chief comes off as controversial, she explained. 

Sarandon finished her interview with a swing at the media, blaming coverage of GOP front-runner Donald Trump for his success in the Republican race. She said if the media focused on educating the public about the candidates’ policies, then more voters would support credible nominees.

"For being such a powerful country, we need to be better informed and more responsible in how we go about choosing candidates," she said. "It's not a reality TV show. No one is going to be voted off this island once it happens."

Someone is having a little fun before the general election

Marco Rubio: GOP faces a 'quandary' with Donald Trump

Marco Rubio remains confident he can unify the GOP but in an interview Friday failed to identify any states he hopes to win in the race for the party's nomination for president.

On the morning after Thursday’s Republican debate, Rubio told CNN and NBC that the party faces a “quandary” with Donald Trump as the front-runner — he doesn’t think Trump can beat the Democratic leader Hillary Clinton. 

“There is a significant percentage of people in our party that will never vote for him …” Rubio said on NBC’s “Today.” “He has no policy ideas and the ones he has outlined are either dangerous or unserious.”

But Rubio won just a single state on Super Tuesday, Minnesota, and couldn’t identify any states his campaign plans to target and take away from Trump in the nominating contests over the next few months.

Rubio rebutted the idea that the party wants a contested nominating convention, a day after former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney called for Republicans to rally behind anyone but Trump. 

The GOP front-runner’s vulgarity, mockery of women, minorities and journalists and alleged scams make him a disastrous choice for the nomination, Rubio said.

"He has turned the most important election in a generation into a circus and a freak show,'' Rubio said. "I want that to end, and I'm going to continue to work for that to end."

You know, this has become a freak-show type campaign.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's post-debate verdict to talk-radio host Paul W. Smith on WJR-AM's drive-time show Friday morning in Michigan.

Analysis: Another night of mayhem for the Republican presidential candidates that probably changes nothing

His challengers should know by now that they can’t beat Donald Trump at mockery, although Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tried anyway in Thursday’s two-hour presidential debate. For the second straight Republican debate, civility swiftly gave way to mayhem.

Within the first five minutes, rhetoric flared about 2012 nominee Mitt Romney’s unprecedented broadside earlier in the day against Trump, a belittling bit of innuendo about the size of Trump’s hands and, astonishingly, the first debate reference ever by a candidate about the dimensions of his male anatomy. (By Trump, predictably.)

Were this a normal campaign, Trump would have lost the debate, Rubio would have damaged himself, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich would have won. Throughout, even when prodded by the moderators, Kasich refused to join in the back-seat rumble and kept the mien of a parent threatening to stop the car if the fisticuffs didn’t end.

But this campaign is as far from normal as any in modern history, and it remains both possible and probable that the debate changed nothing at all.

How those Trump University attack ads are part of a new phase in campaign spending

Donald Trump speaks at campaign stop Thursday in Portland, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press)
Donald Trump speaks at campaign stop Thursday in Portland, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press)

As Donald Trump goes for a decisive win in the March 15 Florida primary, voters there will see commercials denouncing him as a “fraud.”

“America, don’t make the same mistake I did with Donald Trump,” says a man in one ad, part of trio of testimonials from people who say they were scammed by the magnate's Trump University real estate course.

The group responsible for the ad, the American Future Fund, hasn’t focused on Trump for long but has targeted other GOP presidential candidates. Before the South Carolina primary, the group spent $1.5 million on ads calling Texas Sen. Ted Cruz weak on defense. Ahead of the New Hampshire primary, it trained its fire on Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

So who’s putting up the money for the ads, more than $5 million so far? People involved aren’t saying. The targets, though, have a theory: They think some secret benefactor is trying to help Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

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