Live Republican debate updates: Donald Trump and rivals strike a more civil tone


The four Republicans face off for a debate in Miami ahead of next week’s Floriday primary.

Donald Trump actually losing to Hillary Clinton in latest poll

It’s never quite that easy.

Donald Trump closed the debate by promising the GOP would easily win the White House in November if the party united around his candidacy.

“The Republican Party has a great chance,” Trump said, pointing to the “millions” of people he is drawing to the GOP. “These are people that will win us the election, and win it easily.”

The problem is, Trump is actually losing to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in the latest matchup polls.

Clinton beats him, 51% to 38%, in an NBC News Poll/Wall Street Journal released this week.

And the gap has only widened in recent weeks, according to a compilation of polling at RealClear Politics. Trump was narrowly ahead, 45%-43%, in early February.

Even more, it is not clear that Trump is bringing in millions of new GOP voters; thousands of Democrats in some states have switched party affiliation amid record primary voting turnout.

Which Republicans are competitive against Clinton?

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio would be tougher for her to beat, the poll showed.

A Clinton-Cruz matchup, 47%-45%, and Clinton-Rubio, 46%-46%, were both razor thin, within the margin of error.


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Trump knows the system, but is that a good thing?


Trump plays down violent incidents at rallies, emphasizes supporters’ love of country

Conventional wisdom holds that Donald Trump’s runaway success in the GOP contest is due to his appeal to the electorate’s anger. Trump says his supporters are motivated by something else: love.

One day after a Trump supporter was videotaped punching a protester at a North Carolina rally, the real estate developer said he did not believe he was inciting violence with his bombastic rhetoric.

He said his backers “love this country” and are dismayed by bad trade deals.

“I see it,” Trump said. “They’re so angry. There’s also great love for the country. It’s a beautiful thing.”

He added that some of the protesters at his events are “bad dudes [who] have done bad things” and quickly pivoted to praising police officers who help handle security at his mega-rallies.

Sen. Ted Cruz avoided addressing the violent incidents directly, but swiped at Trump for recently asking those at his rallies to raise their hands and pledge to vote for him.

“I think that’s exactly backwards,” Cruz said. “This is a job interview. We are here pledging our support to you, not the other way around.”

Trump said the pledge was mischaracterized by the press and slammed media outlets who compared the audience’s outstretched hands to pictures of rallies in Nazi Germany.

“It was a total disgrace,” Trump said.


Marco Rubio vows to oppose all federal efforts against global warming

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio affirmed at the Republican presidential debate Thursday that he would oppose all efforts by the U.S. government to curb global warming.

“As far as a law that we can pass in Washington to change the weather, there’s no such thing,” Rubio said in response to a question about the increasing frequency of Miami street flooding due to rising sea levels.

Rubio pounded President Obama for his efforts against global warming, saying all of the legislation and regulation he has pushed in that area would “devastate our economy.”

“America’s not a planet; it’s a country,” said Rubio, who suggested any limitation on carbon emissions in the U.S. would be offset by pollution in China and India.

Republicans have rarely discussed climate change in their debates. This time, CNN moderator Jake Tapper asked Rubio a question suggested by a Republican supporter of the senator, Miami Mayor Tomás Pedro Regalado.

Will you acknowledge the reality of the scientific consensus on climate change, he wanted to know, and pledge to do something about it?

Rubio, whom Democrats have long mocked for not accepting scientific findings on climate change, sidestepped the question.

“One of the reasons why the climate is changing is because the climate has always been changing,” he said. Whatever the cause, he said, he backs efforts to mitigate the flooding in Miami.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the only other candidate asked about global warming, said he believed humans cause climate change. He said there was nothing inconsistent about promoting renewable energy and economic growth at the same time. He called for expanding the use of solar, wind and nuclear power, clean coal and natural gas.

“Renewables matter,” he said.


Marco Rubio skips the jokes for a more presidential tone

No trash talk from Marco Rubio, who returned to his more optimistic, serious message at the final GOP debate before Florida voters head to the polls next week.

Rubio must win his home state and needs to reassure the upscale, suburban voters who have propelled his campaign but didn’t like his hard-hitting insults against Donald Trump. He said this week he regrets some of the language he used.

His tone has shifted throughout the campaign, from sunny optimism to a more gloomy outlook, and now back again.

Read more of our coverage here.

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Marco Rubio’s criticism of Cuba deal wins him big points among hometown South Florida audience

If crowd reaction is any indication, there may be no bigger issue for this South Florida audience than Cuba.

Marco Rubio drew loud applause and whistles when he criticized President Obama’s reopening of diplomatic relations with that island’s Communist leaders.

“Things are worse than they were before this opening,” Rubio said, hitting Obama for not first demanding democratic changes in Cuba.

Rubio, who pointed out that such changes were required of military rulers in Myanmar before the U.S. eased restrictions there, said he would cut diplomatic relations with Cuba until its leaders commit to better protecting human rights.

“I would love the relationship between Cuba and the United States to change,” Rubio said, earning huge applause. “But it will require Cuba to change, at least its government.”

Donald Trump, who has said in the past that he supports reengaging the Cubans, was asked again about Cuba, this time before an audience that is watching the issue closely.

“I don’t really agree with President Obama,” Trump said. “I think I’m somewhere in the middle.”

Trump said he is concerned about possibly getting sued by Cuba for reparations if the U.S. embargo against the country is ended. Rubio scoffed at that notion.

“I don’t know how Cuba’s going to sue us, but if they’re going to sue us in Miami, they’re going to lose,” he said, a nod to the city’s conservative Cuban population.

Trump said he wants to make a deal with Cuba, but one that will favor the U.S. After several questions from the moderators, he was forced to say whether or not he would support closing the U.S. Embassy in Havana, which recently reopened.

In the end, he went with an answer that appeased the audience.

“I would have the embassy closed,” Trump said.


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Divide over fighting Islamic terrorists

One of the starkest divides between Donald Trump and his Republican rivals deepened over how best to handle Islamic State terrorists.

Trump stood by his comment that “Islam hates us” and said he would work to change federal laws, including those that ban waterboarding and prevent the military from targeting civilian families of terrorists.

“You can be politically correct if you want. I don’t want to be so politically correct,” Trump said. “We have serious, serious problems of hate, we have tremendous hate.”

Sen. Marco Rubio shot back: “I’m not interested in being politically correct. I’m interested in being correct.

“We’re going to have to work with other Muslims ... to defeat ISIS,” he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Trump also stood by earlier comments that the United States should be able target the families of terrorists, which is prohibited under federal and international military law.

“We have to obey the laws, but we have to expand those laws,” Trump said.

“We have to be able to fight at least somewhat of an equal footing or we’ll be a bunch of suckers and they are laughing at us,” he said.

Would the other candidates pursue the families of terrorists?

“No, of course not,” Rubio said.

“We’ve never targeted innocent civilians are we’re not going to start now,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, who called Trump’s language “incendiary.”


Ted Cruz assails Trump’s idea of a 45% tariff

Donald Trump’s position on international trade was assailed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz during Thursday night’s debate, leading to one of the more spirited exchanges early on.

Cruz noted Trump’s calls for a 45% tariff on foreign goods from countries such as China.

“He backed away from it, but he may come back with a different number tonight,” said Cruz, noting “massive tariffs” would damage the economy.

“A tariff is a tax on you, the American people,” Cruz said.

Trump said the 45% tariff would be used as a “threat” against other countries.

“It will be a tax if they don’t behave,” Trump said of China. “The 45% is a threat that if they don’t behave, if they don’t follow the rules and regulations ... we will tax you. It doesn’t have to be 45, it could be less.”


Trump plays down departures with GOP, except for trade

Donald Trump has been known to depart from GOP orthodoxy on a host of issues, but on Thursday he said he did not see himself as fundamentally remaking the Republican Party.

Trump said he believed his views are “very similar” to many in the party, but acknowledged one exception.

“I am different in one primary respect, and that’s trade,” Trump said. “I feel that we have had horrible negotiators, horrible trade deals. The jobs in this country are disappearing, and especially the good jobs.”

That marks a departure from the free-trade advocacy of many in the Republican Party, particularly business interests.

But Trump has broken with the party on other issues in the past, including defending Planned Parenthood for doing “good things,” despite being a frequent target for Republicans for providing abortions.

And Trump broke with standard Republican policy in this very debate, saying he would want to “leave Social Security the way it is.”

Many in the GOP have called for changes to the programs for future beneficiaries.


‘I cannot believe how civil it has been up here’

Where are the stinging insults? The low blows? The none-too-subtle slights about the size of a candidate’s hands or another, more private part of a man’s anatomy?

The raucous infighting that has characterized many recent GOP debates is missing tonight. In its place is a conversation about issues -- trade, immigration, education -- that appears downright respectful in tone.

“I cannot believe how civil it has been up here,” Donald Trump said at one point.

That was after he said that he and his competitors on stage are “all in this together” when it comes to identifying solutions to the nation’s problems.

It’s a dramatic shift in tone that appears led by Trump and Marco Rubio, who in recent weeks have been engaged in an epic insult war.

Several days ago, Rubio acknowledged that his wife and children didn’t like the way he was behaving. Trump, eager to appear presidential as he pivots to the general election, has also been quite consciously toning down his rhetoric.

And in typical Trump style, he is doing it in a way that is none-too-subtle. Hence his pause to look at the camera and remark on the civility of the debate.


Cruz’s stance against ethanol was more popular than he claims

Ted Cruz tried to paint himself as a maverick during Thursday’s debate, but ended up pointing to a time he rode a wave of popular opinion.

When Donald Trump vaguely promised to get the federal budget under control by eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse,” Cruz saw an opening. He countered that voters want candidates to name specific cuts and pointed to his own vow ahead of the Iowa caucuses to end federal help for ethanol, the corn-based fuel that has long been the untouched third rail of Iowa politics.

But Cruz’s attempt to paint himself as a the candidate willing to buck popular sentiment and make hard decisions falls short of the reality of the moment. As The Times’ Evan Halper found, even Iowans have begun to move on from ethanol.

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Rubio warns against alienating Arab partners


Ted Cruz and Donald Trump tussle -- a little


Are Democrats switching parties to vote for Donald Trump? Numbers not yet adding up

Donald Trump might be right that the Republican Party’s presidential primary is one of the “biggest political events anywhere in the world.”

But are Democrats coming out in numbers as he claimed to vote for Republicans, namely, him?

The data are not yet as conclusive.

Yes, there has been record GOP turnout in early voting states Georgia and Kansas.

But party-flippers are not so clearly measured.

For example, in Massachusetts, nearly 20,000 Democrats changed their party affiliation before the state’s primary, but most of them became independents, not Republicans.

In Pennsylvania, where voters go to the primary polls next month, 46,000 Democrats have switched.

Are they all voting for Trump? Maybe. “They’re voting out of love,” he said.

But some might also be switching parties in order to vote against Trump.


Play debate bingo!


Trump confirms Carson endorsement


John Kasich imagines a world without immigration


Is Trump right on the economic price of trade and immigration?

Donald Trump’s economic message is loud and clear: Misguided Washington policymakers have allowed foreign countries to steal American jobs, and uncontrolled immigration is driving wages down.

Trump is partly right in saying that trade has cost the U.S. economy jobs and held down wages.

He may also be correct — to a degree — in saying that low-skilled immigrants have depressed salaries for certain jobs or industries, the latest economic research shows.

Where Trump gets things wrong, economists say, is in exaggerating the downside and ignoring the benefits that trade and immigration provide to the economy.

Here’s a closer look at the issue.

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Cruz finds his roots


Trade deals tangle the GOP candidates early

The candidates sparred over trade deals, which have had mixed results for the U.S. economy.

The Times’ Don Lee look a look at the fallout a generation after the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Here is his story:

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Hometown advantage for Rubio?


Does Marco Rubio bounce back? Three things to watch in GOP debate

Donald Trump is the front-runner to become the Republican presidential nominee, so when the field gathers in Miami on Thursday night, expect the focus to -- again -- be on the billionaire businessman.

So how will the three other candidates react to Trump?

Here are some things to keep an eye on tonight:

Sen. Marco Rubio’s final stand?

Rubio, who has only won contests in Minnesota and Puerto Rico, is banking on winning his home state of Florida on Tuesday. If he doesn’t, then expect the calls for him to exit the race to grow even louder. He’s battled Trump in recent debates and briefly shifted his strategy, attacking Trump’s hand size and “spray tan.” Yet the strategy seems to have backfired, as Trump continues to win contests around the country.

This week he offered regrets about mocking Trump on the campaign trail. So which Rubio shows up tonight?

How does Trump respond to attacks from his rivals?

He has a commanding lead when it comes to delegate totals and is poised to become the Republican nominee. Does Trump ease off of criticizing his opponents and take a more conciliatory approach? On the campaign trail in recent days, he has stressed the need for the party to unite, even as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz continues to call on Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich to exit the race so he can challenge Trump.

“We should come together and stop this foolishness,” he said at a news conference after pulling in wins last weekend.

Cruz’s big moment

The Texas senator is the lone candidate to repeatedly beat Trump in contests around the country.

If he hopes to nab support away from Trump it could be tough. On Thursday, he threw a jab at Trump’s most ardent supporters.

“Donald does well with voters who have relatively low information, who are not that engaged and who are angry, and they see him as an angry voice,” Cruz said in an interview on “The Brody File,” which airs on the Christian Broadcasting Network.

This is Cruz’s big moment -- as Kasich and Rubio are on the ropes -- to show he’s most fit to challenge Trump head-to-head.


Ben Carson appears poised to endorse Donald Trump

Dr. Ben Carson said Thursday that he is “certainly leaning” toward endorsing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, backing up reports that he planned to publicly announce his support in Florida on Friday.

Carson, who ended his presidential bid last week after he failed to turn popularity among evangelical voters into support at the polls, told Fox News Radio that he was leaning toward backing the GOP front-runner. The retired pediatric neurosurgeon added that there are two Trumps -- a public entertainer and a private “thinking individual.”

The latter “is someone who you can reason with very easily, and who is actually very comfortable talking about issues, and recognizing that he doesn’t have all the answers. It’s a very different one -- it’s [a] night-and-day difference,” Carson said. “More reasonable, not a know-it-all and someone who recognizes that there are other people who certainly have more expertise in certain areas than he does. I think you’ll see that start to come out.”

On Thursday, several reports emerged that Carson met privately with Trump and planned to formally announce his support Friday.


Twisted Sister isn’t the only thing Trump and Schwarzenegger have in common

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), standing right, chats with guests at an event hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California.
(Phil Willon / Los Angeles Times)

Voter anger rooted in stagnate wages and the lack of economic opportunities is the primary force propelling New York billionaire Donald Trump to the top of the Republican presidential field, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said Thursday.

McCarthy said Trump’s rise in many ways parallels the successful political path of action-movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was elected as California’s governor in 2003. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, tapped into voter discontent amid the energy crisis and swept into office when voters, through a recall campaign, kicked out Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.

McCarthy noted that both Schwarzenegger and Trump used the same campaign anthem -- “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by the 1980s heavy-metal hair-band Twisted Sister.

“It’s a frustration. And the country feels as though government is not listening to them. They’re divided on all sides. And they’re not going to take it anymore,” McCarthy said. “I don’t believe it’s a bad thing at all. I think it’s good. More engagement.”

McCarthy made the comments during an event Thursday in Sacramento hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Chatting with reporters afterward, McCarthy noted that, much like Schwarzenegger, Trump’s campaign has drawn thousands upon thousands of new voters.

“I feel that movement across the country, where people are so frustrated,” McCarthy said.

That boost could give an edge to Republicans in some contested congressional elections in California, he said.

Still, McCarthy was careful not to throw his support behind any of the Republican presidential candidates. He also expressed disappointment about the tone of the debates.

“I have a hard time watching the presidential debates because I don’t see policy,” he said.


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Cathy Decker, David Lauter and I explore how the media have changed the way they cover presidential campaigns.

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Californians not hot on Donald Trump, private poll finds

Californians haven’t had a chance to officially weigh in on the presidential race, but they’re definitely watching.

And they don’t seem thrilled with what they see in Republican front-runner Donald Trump.

A poll conducted by Republican strategists this week shows Trump is viewed unfavorably by 65.5% of those surveyed. The numbers get even worse when it comes to some of the most important parts of the Golden State’s electorate — from middle-of-the-road voters to women and beyond.

“These numbers illustrate the slow-motion train wreck that Republicans are experiencing,” said longtime GOP strategist Wayne Johnson, whose firm, Smith Johnson Research, conducted the private poll.

“The only way these sky-high Trump negatives don’t drag every Republican candidate in California down is if the Democrats nominate someone with even higher negatives. Unfortunately, that would have to be someone like Kim Jong-un.”

He’s kidding. Sort of.

When viewed by political ideology, only the most loyal conservative California voters in the poll had a slightly more favorable view of the Manhattan businessman. In all other groupings — from “somewhat conservative” (53.4%) to “middle of the road” (66.7%) — Trump is viewed as unfavorable.

Also worrisome for the GOP: 62.8% of independent voters, a key demographic for any Republican hoping to overcome the party’s weak registration numbers in California, had a negative view of Trump.

But lest anyone think that means he wouldn’t win the California primary, if it were held today, think again. Almost 25% of Republicans in the private poll picked Trump, followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (19.6%), Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (17.6%) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (15.4%).

The question on Trump’s image had a margin of error of plus-minus 3.5%.


Ted Cruz picks up his first Senate endorsement

Ted Cruz famously has few friends in Congress, but one senator has stood by his side — and provided his first Senate endorsement Thursday.

Sen. Mike Lee, the Utah Republican and one-time tea-party favorite, backed Cruz, giving him an important boost from a conservative stalwart.

Cruz’s team promised a “major announcement” ahead of Thursday’s GOP debate in Miami. The endorsement is a blow to home-state Sen. Marco Rubio, whose campaign is fighting for a must-win in Florida.

Lee, who like Cruz is a constitutional law expert, swept to office on the 2010 tea-party wave, defeating longtime Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett.

Rubio has collected a long list of endorsements from senators, and front-runner Donald Trump recently won backing from Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions. Many senators have been reluctant to jump into the presidential conversation.

In the Senate, Lee has often joined Cruz in filibuster fights.


Assault accusations swirl around Donald Trump’s campaign

Donald Trump has said he’d like to “punch” protesters who flock to his rallies, and one of his supporters apparently took it upon himself to act.

Videos being circulated on social media Thursday showed a white man punching a black protester at a Trump rally in Fayetteville, N.C., on Wednesday.

According to a report filed by the Cumberland County, N.C., sheriff’s department, the suspect, John McGraw, was charged with assault and disorderly conduct for punching the protester, Rakeem Jones, as he exited an arena where the rally was held. McGraw was scheduled to appear in court next month.

Video also shows sheriff’s deputies detaining Jones after he was punched. Jones was not charged with any crime and was only escorted out of the arena, said Sean Swain, a spokesman for the Cumberland County Sheriff’s office.

Phone calls to McGraw and Jones were not immediately returned. However, McGraw did tell “Inside Edition” on Thursday that Jones “deserved” to be punched.

“Next time we see him, we might have to kill him,” he warned.

Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, said she was “distraught and appalled” by the report.

“You don’t make America great by, you know, dumping on everything that made America great, like freedom of speech and assembly and, you know, the right of people to protest,” Clinton said on MSNBC, in a callback to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.

The encounter comes as the Trump campaign is dealing with allegations of assault closer to home — campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was accused of grabbing a reporter from the conservative news outlet Breitbart this week.

The reporter, Michelle Fields, was attempting to ask Trump a question as he exited a news conference at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., when, she said, someone forcibly pushed her out the way, nearly causing her to fall to the ground.

Fields said she didn’t see who grabbed her, but a reporter from the Washington Post identified Lewandowski as having yanked Fields out of the way.

Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Trump, denied the allegation.

“There are often large crowds aggressively seeking access to Mr. Trump and our staff would never do anything to harm another individual,” Hicks said in a statement.

In response, Fields posted images on Twitter of bruises on her arm.

“Campaign managers aren’t supposed to try to forcefully throw reporters to the ground,” she wrote for Breitbart.

The local sheriff’s office and police department both said no report had been filed as of Thursday afternoon.

Trump’s campaign and its security have had repeated physical run-ins with the press and protesters.

In February, a Secret Service agent at a Trump rally in Virginia grabbed a Time photographer by the throat and slammed him to the ground.

And at rallies from Nevada to Alabama, protesters have scuffled with Trump supporters, sometimes leading to violent altercations.

FOR THE RECORD: This post was updated at 8:45 p.m. to reflect that Jones was detained. An earlier version said he was handcuffed.


Marco Rubio regrets trash-talking Donald Trump: ‘It’s not something I’m entirely proud of’

Ahead of Thursday night’s GOP presidential debate, Marco Rubio embarked on an apology tour of sorts, offering regrets for having stooped to trash-talk Donald Trump.

“It’s not something I’m entirely proud of,” Rubio said at an MSNBC town hall Wednesday night. “My kids were embarrassed by it, and if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t.”

The Florida senator was working to clear the slate before voters head to the polls in next week’s make-or-break primary in his home state, returning to his original rationale for running as an optimistic new face for the GOP.

A super-PAC supporting Rubio debuted a new ad Thursday reminding voters he was the best hope for defeating Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Although many voters said they appreciated Rubio giving Trump a taste of what they perceived were the business magnate’s own tactics, the jokes didn’t stop Trump’s rise in Florida.

And many said Rubio’s insults over Trump’s “spray tans,” wet pants and, perhaps most notably, “small hands,” a sly reference to the size of Trump’s genitals, sunk presidential potshots to new lows.

The senator needs a win in Tuesday’s primary to salvage his fading campaign. He has won just two nominating contests and has about half has many delegates as Trump.


Ted Cruz: Donald Trump’s supporters have ‘relatively low information’

(Shawn Gust/AP)

Ted Cruz, buoyed by his status as the lone candidate in the Republican primary who has beaten Donald Trump in multiple states, offered a candid assessment Thursday of the billionaire businessman’s appeal to certain voters.

“Donald does well with voters who have relatively low information, who are not that engaged and who are angry, and they see him as an angry voice,” Cruz said in an interview on The Brody File, which airs on the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Surveys and exit polls have shown that white men with no college degree are among Trump’s most ardent supporters.

On Tuesday, Trump sailed to victory in Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii, while Cruz netted a win in Idaho and remains second to Trump in overall delegate totals.

“[Trump] does well with a certain demographic of voter. Donald gave a press conference where he said, to quote him, ‘I love the poorly educated,” said Cruz, alluding to comments Trump made following his win last month in the Nevada Republican caucuses.

Democrat and Republican pundits alike have castigated Trump as a demagogue playing to the fears of voters.

Cruz’s comments about Trump’s supporters come as he seeks a head-to-head match-up with the billionaire businessman.

For Trump, he’s called for the GOP to unify behind his campaign and look toward the general election, noting it’s unlikely his challengers can outpace him in the number of delegates needed for the nomination.

“We should come together and stop this foolishness,” he said at a recent news conference.


Decker: What we learned last night about Bernie Sanders

The Democratic presidential debate Wednesday provided a clear view of two things that could provoke dread among the most avid party loyalists: the known negatives of Hillary Clinton and the mostly unknown negatives of Bernie Sanders.

A day after his surprise victory in Michigan, the Vermont senator had his best debate of the season, injecting both passion and humor into his responses and reminding the audience repeatedly of the main planks of his campaign. But he also stunned when, in a debate held in Miami, the capital of the Cuban diaspora, he refused to take back his long-ago praise of Fidel Castro.

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5 debate moments that might not have happened without the Spanish-language media

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

From the beginning, it was clear Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential debate was going to be a little bit different.

Broadcast simultaneously on CNN and Univision, the nation’s largest Spanish-language network, the debate kicked off with moderator Maria Elena Salinas speaking a few words of rapid-fire Spanish. That set the tone for questioning that focused more on immigration and Latino issues than most debates this election cycle, as did a Republican debate last month hosted by Spanish-language network Telemundo.

The forums have highlighted the growing importance of the Latino vote, which is expected to be 40% larger this year than it was in 2008.

We rounded up a few moments from the debates hosted by Spanish-language media that might not have happened otherwise:

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Obama blames GOP elites for the rise of Donald Trump

President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak at a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on Thursday.
President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak at a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on Thursday.
(Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA)

President Obama said Thursday that Republican leaders have themselves to blame, not him, for an us-versus-them attitude that has given rise to Donald Trump.

“What I’m not going to do is to validate some notion that the Republican crackup that’s been taking place is a consequence of actions that ... I’ve taken,” he said.

Republican political elites and opinion leaders have been feeding the party’s base for seven years with the idea that “everything I do is to be opposed,” Obama said during a midday news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that started off about U.S.-Canadian relations but went quickly to American presidential politics.

“It has been politically advantageous to nurture the idea that “there is a ‘them’ out there, and an ‘us,’ ” Obama said, with the opposite side being “the folks who are causing whatever problems you’re experiencing.”

Such framing has created an environment where Trump can thrive, he went on, adding that Trump is not all that different from GOP rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio – just more provocative.

The question asked of Obama in the Rose Garden was whether he was to blame for the country’s political polarization and Trump’s ascent. He denied responsibility and said Republican leaders should “do some introspection.”

“I don’t think that I was the one to prompt questions about my birth certificate, for example,” he said.


Obama’s popularity on an upswing, a problem for GOP

(Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)

As if Republicans aren’t having enough problems, several new polls indicate an additional one -- an upswing in the public standing of President Obama.

The popularity of the incumbent president often has had a measurable effect on how elections turn out. If Americans have a more favorable image of the current occupant of the Oval Office, they’re more likely to keep his party in power.

Obama’s approval rating now is almost identical to that of President Reagan in his final year in office -- the last time the incumbent’s party won a third election in a row.

The evidence for Obama’s improved standing comes from several sources. The latest Gallup survey, for example, finds Obama’s job approval at 50%, his highest rating in almost three years. Similar findings come from the latest NBC/Wall St. Journal and Washington Post/ABC surveys.

The Washington Post/ABC poll found 51% of Americans approving of Obama’s job performance, with 43% disapproving. His rating in that survey was the best since shortly after his reelection in 2012.

None of the shifts are large. Because of the intensely polarized nature of today’s politics, Obama’s popularity has fluctuated less than most of his predecessors. But the difference between a president with 50% job approval and one with 46% approval could matter in a close election.

Obama’s improvement mostly reflects a warming trend among his fellow Democrats, Gallup found. The president remains very unpopular among Republicans, and his standing among independents remains tepid. But his standing has gone up 6 points among Democrats since the start of the year, a shift that could improve the party’s turnout in the fall election.

The Gallup survey was conducted Feb. 29-March 6, among 3,563 American adults and has a margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points. The Washington Post/ABC survey was taken March 3-6 among 1,000 adults and has an error margin of +/- 3.5 points.


Al Sharpton offers some sharp criticism of Bernie Sanders

Rev. Al Sharpton has remained officially neutral so far in the presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, but in comments to reporters Thursday, he dropped some pretty clear hints about his sympathies.

Sanders had shown “character” in marching with Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, Sharpton said, but “tell me what you’ve done this century.”

“The last march was not with Dr. King,” he added. Sharpton made his comments at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

As an influential black leader, Sharpton’s endorsement has been eagerly sought by both candidates. He said he would hold off on announcing a choice for a bit longer, noting that Clinton and Sanders are scheduled to attend the convention of his National Action Network in mid-April.

An announcement around the time of the convention could allow Sharpton to weigh in just before New York’s primary on April 19.

Asked if Sanders had a realistic chance of winning that contest, Sharpton said the Vermont senator, who grew up in New York, would have to “establish his track record with blacks and Latinos in New York.”

As to whether such a track record exists, Sharpton said that Sanders would “have to lay that out.”

“A lot of us will be waiting for the answer,” he added.

Sharpton also said Sanders had made a “blunder” during the candidate debate in Flint, Mich., on Sunday when, in answer to a question about discrimination that blacks face, he talked about people living in “ghettos.”

“Racial profiling” is not a problem restricted only to residents of heavily black urban neighborhoods, Sharpton said, adding that it is a mistake for candidates to “stereotype us.”

As for Clinton, Sharpton said that she has “won black voters all over,” but needs to do more to find a “message that will resonate with working-class” white voters.


Carly Fiorina: Donald Trump doesn’t represent the GOP

Carly Fiorina called Donald Trump a misrepresentation of the Republican Party on Thursday in response to the GOP front-runner’s latest comments on Islam.

Fiorina, herself a former Republican candidate for president, used Trump’s claims that Muslims hate Americans as an example of why she supports Ted Cruz for the GOP nomination.

“From the moment Donald Trump jumped into this race, I said … Donald Trump does not represent me and he does not represent my party,” she said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Fiorina publicly announced her endorsement of Cruz on Wednesday and explained Thursday that although she and the Texas senator have disagreed on legislative tactics in the past, they always shared the same goals.

She told CNN that she believes Cruz can stop Trump at the ballot box.

“[Trump] may want to talk about his steaks and his vodka,” she said on CNN’s “New Day.” “Ted Cruz is going to talk about the issues and what the American people need to hear.”


Donald Trump: ‘Islam hates us’

Donald Trump stressed Thursday that the U.S. must remain “vigilant” against the threat of Islamic extremism but insisted that Muslims overall hate the U.S., employing the kind of divisive rhetoric that has been a hallmark of his presidential campaign.

“Islam hates us,” Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in a taped interview that aired Wednesday. “There’s a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it.”

Trump wouldn’t define the difference between radical terrorism and Islam when asked. He also reaffirmed that he would support the use of waterboarding or even harsher tactics on terrorism suspects.

“So they are allowed to chop off heads and we aren’t allowed to waterboard,” Trump said. “Somehow we’re at a big disadvantage.”


Q&A: CNN’s Jake Tapper ready to referee the Republicans’ final four in Miami

The last time Jake Tapper moderated the Republican primary debate, he questioned 11 candidates in front of a TV audience of 23 million viewers, the largest in CNN’s history. The anchor of the cable news channel’s Sunday show “State of the Union” will only have four contenders -- Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. John Kasich -- on stage for Thursday’s GOP showdown, the party’s 12th of the 2016 campaign (CNN, 5:30 p.m. Pacific).

But while the number is more manageable, last week’s bawdy Republican rumble in Detroit suggests Tapper’s real challenge may be keeping it family-friendly.

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Tough debate questions, especially for Clinton, after her surprise loss to Sanders in Michigan

Hillary Clinton’s embattled status as the Democratic presidential front-runner, dented Tuesday by a surprise defeat in Michigan, faced new challenges Wednesday during a debate with Bernie Sanders that often delved into the vulnerabilities that have complicated her path to the nomination.

Clinton had to grapple not only with an emboldened rival who challenged her views on trade and alleged chumminess with Wall Street, but also with moderators who probed her views on deportation policies, her response to the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, and the continuing investigation into her email practices as secretary of State.

At one point Clinton was even asked whether she would consider dropping out of the race if the Justice Department investigation of her emails led to an indictment — a blunt inquiry that appeared to take her aback.

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Ohio’s GOP primary may be a last chance — to save Kasich, and blunt Trump

From one week to the next, the forces arrayed against Donald Trump have repeatedly suggested one state or another would cut down the Republican presidential front-runner. New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, Michigan: He won them all.

Now the effort to stop — or at least slow —Trump’s march to the GOP nomination has narrowed to Florida and Ohio.

Only one is close.

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What do you want in your next president?

Polls and pundits give us some sense of what voters are looking for, but we want to hear from you directly.

We recently visited the important swing state of Ohio to ask people there how they feel about America and what they hope for in a president. Check out their responses, then contribute your own.

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