Donald Trump is stuck on Jeb Bush like a dog with a bone, and he’s not letting go


Welcome to Trail Guide, your host through the wilds of the 2016 presidential campaign. It’s Sunday, Feb. 7, and here’s what we’re talking about:

Politicking pauses for Super Bowl

How does a presidential candidate campaign when the Super Bowl falls just before an election?

The short answer is: You don’t.

Typically the Sunday night before the Tuesday New Hampshire primary would be prime time for last-minute rallies and get-out-the-vote efforts. But few of the nearly dozen Democrats and Republicans contesting the Granite State race has anything of that sort scheduled tonight.

The only event on the schedule past kickoff was a game-watch party with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in Manchester, New Hampshire’s largest city.

Hillary Clinton spent most of the day traveling to and from Michigan instead of campaigning in New Hampshire. But her campaign posted a video of the former secretary of State talking about what it’s like to watch football with her husband – a “fanatic.”

“He really gets into it,” she says. “I am mostly a quiet watcher. But if something happens that I think is amazing, like an incredible over-the-shoulder flying catch, or something that I think is fair, I will yell a little too. But nothing like my husband.”

Though the game did block out some key campaigning time, the candidates are lucky in this respect. If the New England Patriots hadn’t lost in the AFC Championship game, voters’ attention would have been even more distracted in the days leading up to, and perhaps after, another title.


Michelle Obama not looking to follow Hillary Clinton’s presidential run

Don’t look for Michelle Obama to follow Hillary Clinton’s footsteps and make a bid to succeed her husband as president.

“What you talkin’ bout, Gayle?” Obama said Sunday, invoking the catchphrase from “Diff’rent Strokes,” when CBS morning anchor Gayle King asked the question during the Super Bowl pregame show.

The Obamas sat down with King in the Blue Room in what was billed as their first live interview as first couple.

The brief segment was almost entirely personal. The Obamas said they will watch the game with a group of friends who have come to the White House for the past four or five years on Super Bowl Sunday. They’ll eat nachos, chicken wings, guacamole and two salads.

“There’s like the little vegetable tray that nobody touches, next to the [popular] stuff,” President Obama interjected, perhaps poking some fun at his wife’s campaign for healthy eating.

Michelle Obama said their party is divided into serious watchers, who congregate in the Treaty Room, kids and casual observers outside by the food, and her mother and others, who sit where “you really don’t know what’s going on, but you’re close to the champagne.”

The first couple also reflected on their first date, discussed in an upcoming movie, and how Barack Obama drove a car with a hole in it when they first met.

It wasn’t a deal-killer for Mrs. Obama: “I thought, ‘I’m gonna upgrade this brother. ... We can work with this.’ ”


Donald Trump has seized on Jeb Bush, and he’s not letting go

A day after the New Hampshire debate wounded Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, it would have been logical for Donald Trump to take off after him, hoping to deliver a coup de grace against his closest competitor here.

But Trump is stuck on Jeb Bush like a dog clamping onto a bone.

He had barely begun his remarks to a large crowd at Plymouth State University when he congratulated himself for a good showing at the debate and tore into Bush, who he claimed had packed the debate hall with his donors and special-interest allies. That, he insisted, explained the booing he received during a clash with Bush.

“Bush is just wasting money. He’s just wasting it — why don’t they just throw it out the window?” Trump asked. “What they should do is give it to the vets. … A guy like Bush, he’s got $128 million, and he’s in the bottom of the pack.”

For good measure, he also mocked Bush for bringing his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, to New Hampshire for campaign events Friday.

“Poor, poor, poor Jeb Bush, who brings out his mother because he needed help,” he said, and turned to a babyish whine: “Mommy, please come walk in the snow, Mom.”

Trump barely mentioned other candidates in the race in what amounted to an extended victory lap two days before New Hampshire voters go to the polls. (He did pointedly ask the audience how Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz performed at the debate. The consensus among the Trump supporters: not as well as Trump.)

He repeated his standard criticisms of President Obama: “He plays more golf than the guys in the PGA play.” He scolded American negotiators for every U.S. trade and military deal done in recent years. “They don’t have a clue.”

He promised again to build a wall across the southern border of the United States, an easy task, he said, for someone accustomed to constructing 94-story buildings. He claimed that would solve the heroin epidemic ravaging parts of New Hampshire and other nearby states.

“You’re not going to have the drugs coming in and destroying your children,” he said. “When Mommy and Daddy go to Florida and they” — the children — “want to get drugs, they’re not going to find them.”

Trump appeared relieved that the Saturday night debate was over, and he looked ahead to election day here with a more overt pitch to voters than he has usually expressed recently.

“I love you folks,” he said, asking for their vote. “And if you’re not going to vote for me, don’t vote.”


Kasich: Hoping to win through the power of positivity

Win or lose, John Kasich will go down in New Hampshire as something of an anomaly in this most aggrieved political season.

The Ohio governor has campaigned for president on a message of relentless optimism, shunning the dark rhetoric, apocalyptic vision and slashing style of many fellow GOP hopefuls — all of whom went unmentioned Sunday at a Town Hall question-and-answer session in this city on the Massachusetts border.

It’s both a reflection of Kasich’s religious faith, which he promulgates as a source of both personal and public uplift, and a strategy that could work to his benefit if New Hampshire voters — who repeatedly say they are sick of political negativity — turn to the one candidate who has largely shunned the nastiness of other campaigns.

Kasich drew a big round of applause when he urged the rest of the GOP contenders to take down their attack ads in the last 48 hours before the state’s first-in-the-nation primary and lay out a positive agenda for what they hope to accomplish as president.

“in terms of bringing people together … that’s a strength,” he told a crowd of several hundred at Nashua Community College. “I’ve been able to do it. I’ve just have never been an enemy of the people who don’t think the way I do, or the enemy of people who serve in another party. Because, I can tell you, you can’t get any of the big things done in America without both parties.”

Kasich has staked his entire campaign on a strong showing Tuesday, where he is competing against a fellow governor, New Jersey’s Chris Christie, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to emerge as the alternative to insurgents Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.

Asked if the sunshine strategy was working, Kasich told reporters afterward he was uncertain.

“Maybe there is change going on with the American electorate, maybe they are fed up with negative and they want to hear what you’re for,” he said before boarding his campaign bus and motoring to another town hall -- his 102nd of the campaign -- in the state capital of Concord. “At least I’m hopeful that will be case.”


Bill Clinton: ‘This is 1992 on steroids’

Former President Bill Clinton, who for weeks has been making a positive case for his wife as the “best changemaker I’ve ever known,” seemed to begin on a defensive note Sunday as he campaigned in New Hampshire on her behalf.

Speaking to several hundred voters in Keene, he cataloged Republican attacks on his wife over Benghazi and her use of a personal email server as if trying to explain why the one-time heavy front-runner has struggled to put the nomination fight to an early end.

“We know who they don’t want to run against,” he said, recalling comments from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) suggesting the primary purpose of a special congressional investigative committee on Benghazi was to inflict political damage on the former secretary of State.

Clinton several times noted his family’s close connection to the state dating back to his 1992 campaign, as he almost pleaded with voters here to again rally behind his wife as they have before.

“Sometimes she’s totally uncomfortable defending herself from these vicious personal attacks that are either direct or by innuendo,” he said. “This is 1992 on steroids. You need to respond on steroids, and you’ll never regret it.”

Clinton spoke in a town just across the Vermont border in a region where rival Bernie Sanders is likely to do well. His remarks reflected the extent to which the campaign is playing out on favorable terrain for the Vermont senator, literally and figuratively.

“We need anger and answers,” he said. “We can start with resentment. But in the end, results are all that matters. ... We can get it all back and more. But you need a changemaker. I hope New Hampshire will remember that.”


Bill Clinton says wife kept Bin Laden plan top secret -- even from him


Clinton: Commitment to N.H. ‘rock solid’ despite Flint visit

Before jetting off to Flint, Mich., on Sunday, Hillary Clinton rejected the idea that the detour from New Hampshire was a sign she was giving up on the state. She also sought to remind voters here that she wasn’t the only Democratic candidate who was crossing state lines.

During a stop at a Manchester Dunkin’ Donuts, Clinton told a reporter that she was leaving for “just a few hours” to do what she can to help Flint during the water crisis.

“Occasionally you go off the campaign trail,” she said. “I know Sen. Sanders went to New York to be on ‘SNL’ and I’m going to Flint to see if we can help with the kids. That’s part of it. But my commitment to this primary and to this state is absolutely rock solid.”

Clinton more so than Sanders has focused on the Flint crisis, using it as an example of the myriad challenges a president has to face. She also hopes it will draw attention to the need for problem-solving, in contrast to Sanders’ call for political revolution.

On Sunday, CNN announced that the two Democrats will meet for a debate in Flint on March 6, ahead of Michigan’s March 8 primary.

Sanders made a cameo appearance on “Saturday Night Live” overnight but was back in New Hampshire Sunday morning, appearing on morning news shows, including one on local WMUR-TV. He has a rally in Portsmouth this afternoon.

Former President Bill Clinton is holding events in his wife’s place, starting here in Keene and later in Milford.


Voter uneasiness at Marco Rubio’s town hall

Marco Rubio’s not-great performance at Saturday night’s debate was all the talk of the hundreds of voters who packed into a Londonderry high school cafeteria for coffee and doughnuts with the candidate Sunday morning. Some charged that Rubio was unfairly attacked. But wavering voters who had been leaning toward the Florida senator were clearly made uneasy by the debate.

“It created some doubt,” said Phil Geiger, a Londonderry Republican in his mid-50s. But Geiger, who says Rubio’s politics and vision closely match his own, said Rubio “was piled on.” Geiger’s wife, Sue, also was still trying to sort out whether Rubio will get her vote on Tuesday. While she said the debate performance was troubling, she found irony in Rubio’s being attacked for his lack of experience when others on the stage, in her view, did not have much more of it.

“Very few people who become president have a ton of experience,” she said.

Dianne Martel, a 62-year-old Republican from Bedford looking to support a candidate who can rally the party establishment against Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, had been prepared to vote for Rubio – until she saw the debate. “I had narrowed it down to Rubio because he was surging in the polls,” she said. “After last night, I’m not sure. He froze up and kept repeating his canned answer.” Now Martel says she is thinking she might vote for Jeb Bush.

If Rubio’s confidence has been shaken, he didn’t let it show at the town hall, a platform in which the charismatic young senator from Florida excels. He touched on the debate only briefly, during which he mocked his rivals and the media for attacking him.

“Last night it was, ‘Oh, you said the same thing three or four times,’ ” Rubio said. “I’m going to say it again. Barack Obama is the first president, at least in my lifetime, who wants to change the country. Not fix it. Not fix its problems. He wants to make it a different kind of country.”


‘Bern Your Enthusiasm’

In case you missed it, check out the Saturday Night Live spoof of the HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm” called “Bern Your Enthusiasm.”

SNL host Larry David reprised his impression of the Democratic presidential candidate. Sen. Bernie Sanders showed up later in a “Titantic”-inspired sketch, making light of his reputation as a class crusader.

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There he goes again...

(David Goldman / Associated Press)

I’m going to keep saying that, because not only is it the truth, it is at the core of our campaign.

— Sen. Marco Rubio on ABC’s “This Week” after being mocked for repeating the same line four times during Saturday’s GOP debate about President Obama knowing “exactly what he is doing”


At least his money is still good


Donald Trump: No problem with waterboarding or ‘worse than that’

Donald Trump said Sunday he would be willing as president to use torture because America “is living in a time that is more evil than any time that’s ever been.”

He confirmed on ABC’s “This Week” what he had said in Saturday night’s New Hampshire debate: that he would bring back the practice of waterboarding, which has been prohibited since its use drew fire in the Bush administration, and would condone “worse than that.”

He would not detail what that meant, other than to say, “I would absolutely authorize something other, beyond waterboarding, and believe me, it’ll be effective.”

He said that Islamic State militants had put the United States “under siege.”

Asked by host George Stephanopoulos whether the United States could win by being “more like them,” Trump replied: “Yes, I’m sorry. You have to do it that way. We are living in a time that is more evil than any time that’s ever been. “

Moreover, he insisted that terrorists don’t view waterboarding as “real torture.”

“They think we are so stupid, you have no idea,” he said.

During Saturday night’s debate, Trump appeared more focused than in past outings and benefited from other candidates taking on his strongest challenger here, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

In the interview Sunday, he defended himself against debate charges by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that he had sought to drive an elderly woman out of her home by using eminent domain to benefit his Atlantic City casino development. (As Stephanopoulos noted, Bush was correct.)

During that exchange Saturday night, the crowd had turned on Trump and booed. He claimed Sunday that the debate hall was filled with donors, particularly Bush’s.

“He spent over $100 million on this failed campaign of his and he’s nowhere,” Trump said.

Trump has spent much of his campaign brushing off requests for specificity, and on Sunday he did so again regarding Supreme Court justices. He had previously suggested he would appoint justices who would reverse the court’s recent legalization of same-sex marriage. But on Sunday, he backed away from that, obliquely.

“We’re going to look at judges — they’ve got to be great judges, they’ve got to be conservative judges,” he said of any Supreme Court picks he might make. Of gay marriage, he said: “I would prefer that they stand against, but we’ll see how it happens. It depends on the judge.”

Besides his morning television interviews, Trump planned Sunday to hold a rally in Plymouth, N.H., north of Concord in the central part of the state.


A tough night for Marco Rubio, a good night for the GOP governors

(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio came into Saturday night’s Republican presidential debate a surging candidate.

He left it limping.

Under a relentless barrage from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Rubio repeated a canned line and grew rattled. In the vacuum that created, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush stepped up with their best debate showings.

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Hillary Clinton blames Sanders campaign for reigniting old vote where ‘I held my nose’

Hillary Clinton defended her vote for a bankruptcy bill that has long been a sore spot between her and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the only Democratic woman in the Senate who has yet to endorse Clinton.

She said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday morning that she voted for the bill the first time it came up so she could win a provision aimed at protecting women from losing child support payments. But she never wanted it to pass, she said, noting that she would have voted against it when it came up a second time. (She missed the second vote because her husband, Bill Clinton, was hospitalized at the time.)

She blamed Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign for reigniting the old controversy.

Here’s some more background on the issue:

Even before she entered elected politics, Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat and unofficial leader of her party’s liberal faction, began attacking Hillary Clinton’s credentials as a populist. It’s a fight that has cast suspicion on Clinton from the Democratic left for more than a decade.

The fight was over a bankruptcy bill that became law in 2005 and is chronicled in the best-selling book Warren wrote with her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, in 2003: “The Two-Income Trap.”

Beginning in the 1990s, Warren, then a Harvard Law School bankruptcy expert and consumer advocate who was just beginning to become a political activist, opposed a bankruptcy bill that would have made it harder for individual debtors to erase their debts by declaring bankruptcy. The banking and credit card industry argued that it would curb abuse and force consumers to behave more responsibly. Warren argued it would hurt poor families, particularly single mothers, who could be victimized by predatory lenders.

Warren wrote that she convinced Clinton when she was first lady to oppose the measure and persuade President Bill Clinton to veto what the first lady referred to as “that awful bill” in 2000. But when Hillary Clinton entered the Senate a year later and depended on banking industry donations, she “bowed to big business,’” according to Warren.

“As New York’s newest senator ... it seems that Hillary Clinton could not afford such a principled position,” Warren wrote.

Joe Biden, then a senator from Delaware, was also a big proponent.

Clinton did not cast a vote on final passage of the 2005 bill that became law, though she said she would have opposed it. Sanders, in the House at the time, voted against final passage.


Marco Rubio on the defensive in fierce debate

A new state brought a new target as Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio was repeatedly thrown on the defensive Saturday night in an often-testy debate filled with needling exchanges over leadership and which candidate has the achievements and integrity to step into the White House.

Rubio, a freshman Florida senator who has been climbing in polls after an unexpectedly strong third-place finish in Iowa, faced rough going from the start when he was asked about what rivals said was a thin Washington résumé.

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Has Obama gone too far?

GOP presidential candidates on Saturday night again accused President Obama of overreaching with his presidential powers, vowing to reverse many of his executive actions if they are elected.

Soon the Supreme Court will tackle that very issue in two cases. In the past, the high court has often reined in presidents during their second terms in office for going too far.

The Times’ David Savage looks at how Obama might fare in the upcoming case involving immigration.

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Chris Christie amplifies attack on Marco Rubio

Unprepared for the world; unprepared for the race.

— Gov. Chris Christie on CNN’s “State of the Union”


Of waffles and hash browns we sing


Takeaways from the latest Republican debate

((David Goldman / Associated Press)

Saturday’s Republican presidential debate was one of the most contentious to date, not surprising given that several candidates are struggling to stay alive as the crowded field starts to winnow.

For several candidates, Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary is a last stand. For others, it will determine whether they remain top contenders. Here are a few notable moments and themes:

Less talk of God, more establishment

It was clear the campaign has moved from Iowa, where conservative Christians and arch-conservatives dominate the Republican caucuses. In New Hampshire, establishment voters hold more sway.

Here’s why: New Hampshire is America’s least religious state, according to Gallup, with only 20% of residents identifying as “very religious.”

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