It may be too late for Republicans to stop Donald Trump

Bill Clinton campaigns for Hillary Clinton in Iowa

As Hillary Clinton faces an increasingly tight race in Iowa, her husband, former President Bill Clinton, is barnstorming the state, arguing that Clinton is uniquely qualified to lead this nation because of her lifetime experiences and her mettle.

“Here’s my argument for Hillary,” he told nearly 300 supporters gathered at a community college. “If you want someone who can keep America safe, and restore broad-based prosperity, who can deal with kitchen-table issues that are eating families alive, stop the president’s progress from being repealed. ... If you want to know who’s the most likely to do that -- it’s not close.”

But his wife’s race in Iowa is extremely close. Bill Clinton’s two-day, six-event trip comes as Hillary Clinton’s front-runner status has evaporated in Iowa, which holds the nation’s first presidential nominating contest in less than three weeks.

Through the end of 2015, Clinton routinely held double-digit leads over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Now, they are locked in a tight battle for the top spot. A Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll released earlier this week found Clinton drawing the support of 42% of likely Democratic caucus-goers, to Sanders’ 40%, well within the margin of error.

Bill Clinton never mentioned Sanders during his raspy, low-key remarks.

“I don’t know if I’m any good in this election because I’m a happy grandfather, I’m not really mad anymore,” he joked.

The former president argued that the nation’s lot has improved greatly during President Obama’s tenure, but that Americans were anxious because of stagnating wages and uncertainty. The next president, he said, needed to be able to protect the progress made under Obama while creating “broad-based prosperity.”

“You just got to decide what’s best for America,” Clinton said. “It is not close who would be the best commander in chief. It’s not close who’s the best change agent when it comes to economic and social growth. It is not close who has demonstrated the toughness to preserve our Constitution, to preserve our basic liberties, and the self-confidence to cooperate with people across party lines and geographic lines when necessary. That’s what you need.”

Thursday night's Republican debate was the lowest-rated yet

 (Scott Olson / Getty Images)
(Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Fox Business Network's Republican primary debate was watched by an average of 11 million viewers Thursday, the smallest audience of the six GOP candidate showdowns held so far.

The figure from Nielsen is down 2.5 million viewers from the first Fox Business News debate on Nov. 10, which pulled a record-high 13.5 million viewers for the cable network. It's less than half of the largest debate audience of the 2016 presidential campaign, when the Republicans' first meeting pulled in 24 million viewers for Fox News Channel on Aug. 6, and significantly below the last GOP debate on CNN, which had 18 million viewers on Dec. 15.

Fox Business News' audience was still substantial compared with previous primary seasons, though.

Jeb Bush on Trump: He's an 'agile politician, but he's not serious'

Jeb Bush, one of the earliest and most forceful Donald Trump critics this election season, said Friday that he had not seen a new poll showing a dramatic increase in acceptance of Trump among GOP voters.

But the former Florida governor’s own opinion has not changed.

“He’s an agile politician, but he’s not serious,” Bush said during a brief interview at Charleston International Airport in South Carolina. “And ultimately, to beat a Democrat, particularly Hillary Clinton, you have to have someone who has serious plans and can project an image of being commander in chief. If he can achieve that, then great. Voters will decide that, not me.”

A New NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed 65% of Republican primary voters said they could see themselves supporting Trump, up dramatically from March, when that number stood at 23%.

Bush was on his way from Thursday night’s debate in North Charleston to Boston for a series of campaign events in New Hampshire. Though he has lagged behind in the polls -- in large part because of Trump -- many fellow travelers praised his debate performance and lined up to take pictures with him in the waiting area.

Donald Trump calls Ted Cruz 'strident' in aftermath of GOP debate clash

 (Scott Olson / Getty Images)
(Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Hours after his first big debate clash with rival Ted Cruz, Donald Trump took after the Texas senator again Friday, calling him a strident liar who’d made a disgraceful attack on millions of New Yorkers.

The New York billionaire also said that new lawsuits had been filed seeking court rulings on whether Cruz’s birth to an American mother in Canada might disqualify him for the presidency.

Trump was not specific, but his spokeswoman Hope Hicks cited a Bloomberg Business report that Houston attorney Newton B. Schwartz Sr. has filed a court complaint in Texas seeking to disqalify Cruz because he is not a “natural born” citizen, as required by the Constitution.

Cruz brushed off the allegation at Thursday’s debate in South Carolina and suggested Trump’s birth in the United States to a Scottish mother might disqualify him for the presidency.

“I learned for the first time that I wasn’t a citizen,” Trump joked Friday in an interview at a Des Moines coffeehouse on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “That wasn’t very nice, was it?”

For months, Trump and Cruz muted their differences, but polls showing them virtually tied for the lead in the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses have put an end to their friendliness.

“He’s very strident, and a lot of people aren’t going to like that,” Trump said Friday.

He accused Cruz of lying during the debate about Trump’s standing in the polls. He also said Cruz offended millions by saying Trump embodied “New York values,” which the Texan described as “socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro- gay-marriage” and focused on money and the media.

Reprising his comeback in the debate, Trump said it was disgraceful to attack the state where emergency workers had shown heroism in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center.

“Think about the firemen that were running up the stairs,” he said. “They came in from Queens, and they’re coming through from the tunnel, and they’re going 100 miles an hour ... and they go up to try and save people.”

Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler had no immediate response to a request for comment.

One area where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump agree: They love New York

Cathleen Decker: The clock is ticking for Republicans who want to stop Donald Trump

 (Timothy A. Clary / AFP/Getty Images)
(Timothy A. Clary / AFP/Getty Images)

Thursday night’s fractious presidential debate was the long Republican campaign condensed into little more than two hours: Donald Trump sailed above the other candidates, who mostly engaged in round-robin fighting that left each of them wounded and him largely unscathed.

As a result, the debate, the sixth in a nomination contest that has defied predictions, left a GOP establishment that fears disastrous repercussions from a Trump nomination no closer to finding a way to head him off, with the first balloting now a little more than two weeks away.

Jeb Bush scores endorsement from former rival Lindsey Graham

Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, got a psychological boost to his struggling presidential run Friday with an endorsement from South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the first campaign dropout to weigh in with a nod to a current candidate.

“He’s prepared to be commander-in-chief on Day 1,” Graham tweeted.

The value of endorsements, though, is often questionable and this one is no exception. Graham struggled in the polls, failing to qualify for the main stage in any GOP debate before exiting the race last month. But he is well-liked among Senate colleagues and respected by military hawks who agree with his hard-line views on Syria and Iraq, where he has advocated sending 20,000 ground troops, a much deeper commitment than any other candidate.

Bush is averaging just under 5% in national Republican primary polls and is hoping to reenergize his campaign with a strong showing in the New Hampshire primary. A slew of endorsements from establishment figures has not helped Bush, a one-time front-runner, climb in the polls. By contrast, the two leading candidates, businessman Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, have won relatively few endorsements, a fact they have used to burnish their reputations as outsiders.

And the endorsement did not escape Trump's notice:

Hillary Clinton: Being president is 'the hardest job in the world'

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will have to work for it, Hillary Clinton warned in a serious moment during an otherwise lighthearted appearance on the "Tonight Show."

"This is not a job they give away,” Clinton said when asked about the rise of rival Bernie Sanders. “You really do have to work hard for it and it is the hardest job in the world.”

Clinton admitted the race is “tight” but said her once seemingly insurmountable lead over Sanders (I-Vt.) was artificial from the start.

Looking past the Democratic campaign, Clinton assured host Jimmy Fallon that Republican front-runner Donald Trump doesn’t intimidate her. She said she thinks the businessman is far more obsessed with her than she is with him.

But a Trump-Clinton presidential race would offer “quite a showdown,” she said.

Fallon piled on the jokes later in the show as he asked Clinton interview questions for her potential job.

“How’d you hear about the position?” he asked.

“Fourth-grade social studies,” she responded.

"Is there an email address we can reach you at?" he asked, poking fun at the months-long investigation into her use of private email while secretary of State.

She told him to check out her Snapchat account instead.

N.Y. Daily News to Ted Cruz: Drop dead

In an attempt to insult GOP rival Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz sparked a feud with the entire city of New York.

On Friday, Cruz landed himself on the cover of the New York Daily News in a headline telling him to “drop dead.” The paper’s editors didn’t appreciate Cruz’s insinuation earlier this week that so-called New York City values put a black mark on New Yorker and businessman Trump’s character.

The headline read, “Drop dead, Ted; Hey Cruz: you don’t like N.Y. values? Go back to Canada!” It was a play on one of the most famous headlines in the paper's history -- "Ford to city: Drop dead" -- in response to Gerald Ford denying the city federal assistance in 1975.

This week, Cruz repeatedly implied that Trump's "New York values" were out of alignment with the GOP. During Thursday's GOP debate in South Carolina, he was pressed to lay out what he meant.

"Most people know exactly what New York values are: socially liberal, pro-gay marriage, pro-abortion, focused on money and the media," he said during the debate.

Daily News columnist Mike Lupica wrote that Cruz should visit the Bronx, the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, to find a diversity of views. He added that he thinks the Texas senator’s opinions come from spending his time only with financial giants in the city such as Goldman Sachs, where Cruz's wife works.

“If you are dumb enough to think that New York values are some sort of handicap in this presidential season, then you are as dumb and tone deaf as Jesse Jackson was calling the city ‘Hymietown,’” Lupica wrote, “as dumb as Gerald Ford was when he gave this paper the most famous front page in its history, the day he effectively told New York to drop dead.”

New York Republican Rep. Peter King also shared his disdain for Cruz’s insults.

"Memo to Ted Cruz: New York Values are the heroes of 9/11; the cops who fight terror; and the people you ask for campaign donations. Go back under a rock,” King wrote in a statement released Thursday.

Trump fired back at Cruz during Thursday’s debate, describing his emotional connection to the people of New York City that came after the 9/11 attacks.

"I saw something that no place on earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York," Trump said on stage. "The people of New York fought and fought and fought. We saw more death and even the smell of death and it was with us for months."

For his part, Lupica finished up with a message from New Yorkers.

“City to him: Get lost.”

There was Trump vs. Cruz, and Rubio vs. Christie in the GOP debate

 (Scott Olson / Getty Images)
(Scott Olson / Getty Images)

The Republican presidential candidates brought increasingly hostile internecine attacks from the campaign trail into prime time on Thursday, clashing over citizenship and conservatism in a contentious debate that reflected the wide-open nature of the nomination battle just weeks before the first votes will be cast.

The first prime-time debate of the new year in some ways bore little resemblance to the five that preceded it. The most obvious difference was the number of candidates participating on the main stage, seven, down from a high of 11.

That smaller stage showcased the dynamic of the race: a tight contest in Iowa where Sen. Ted Cruz’s organization and grass-roots appeal have made inroads against Donald Trump’s persistent national advantage; a fierce fight among governors looking to position themselves for a strong showing in the New Hampshire primary; and the uncertainty about what happens after that in South Carolina, the site of Thursday’s debate.