CNN changes GOP debate criteria and Carly Fiorina celebrates it as a win


Welcome to Trail Guide, your daily tour along the road to the White House. It's Tuesday, Sept. 1, and this is what we're watching:

CNN changes debate criteria, likely giving Carly Fiorina a prime-time slot

GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina will likely take the prime-time debate stage later this month at the Reagan Library, after CNN announced Tuesday that it is altering its criteria to determine who makes the cut.

The cable network announced that any candidate who polls in the top 10 in an average of national polls between Aug. 7 and Sept. 10 will be given a podium at the Sept. 16 debate in Simi Valley. Previously, CNN had announced that it would use an average of polling between July 16 and Sept. 10.

Fiorina and her supporters had argued that this methodology was unfair because there were many more polls taken prior to an Aug. 6 debate than since then. Fiorina had a stand-out performance during the debate for lower-tier candidates in August, and has seen her numbers rise since then in national polling and surveys in early-voting states.

CNN said in a statement that when it originally set the debate criteria, it anticipated at least 15 national polls after the August debate but has since learned that there will only be five.

"As a result, we now believe we should adjust the criteria to ensure the next debate best reflects the most current state of the national race," the network said.

Although the candidates who take the debate stage will not be formally set until Sept. 10, Fiorina celebrated the decision.

"Huge news: I'm in the debate," her campaign emailed supporters in a fundraising plea that contained an image of boxing gloves. "The political class teamed up to try to push me off the stage. You helped me punch back! But this was just the first round in a long fight."

Fiorina's supporters had also targeted the Republican National Committee, which sanctioned the debate, arguing that the committee was trying to keep out a candidate who was not part of the political establishment.

On Tuesday, RNC chairman Reince Priebus said he welcomed the network's new methodology.

"I applaud CNN for recognizing the historic nature of this debate and fully support the network's decision to amend their criteria," he said in a statement.

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What do Iowans love about Ben Carson?

Ben Carson's status as a political outsider, coupled with his strong Christian faith, are two areas that could benefit him in Iowa, where in five months, voters will kick off the nominating process of the 2016 campaign.

Iowans, like voters in New Hampshire, are hungry for a political outsider, polls have shown.

Carson and his top rival, Donald Trump, both fit that bill. Neither has held public office, and both rail against the corrupting influence of politics as usual.

But Carson has an extra credential that appears to be serving him well in Iowa: his faith.

In the Monmouth University poll of likely Iowa Republican caucusgoers, Carson outpaced Trump 29% to 23% when it came to support from evangelical voters. In a separate Des Moines Register/ Bloomberg Politics poll, Christian conservatives favored Carson 23% to 16% over Trump.

Moreover, a Loras College poll found nearly 64% of Carson's support coming from self-identified evangelicals. Half of Trump's support identified as evangelical.

Evangelicals make up a major chunk of GOP caucusgoers.

In 2012, 57% of Iowa caucusgoers identified themselves as born-again evangelical Christians. During the 2012 caucuses, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum won the state with the support of evangelicals, according to entrance polls. Four years earlier, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is also a Baptist preacher, won the Iowa caucuses with strong support from evangelicals.

None of those candidates went on to win in New Hampshire, where Christian voters hold less sway in the GOP primary.

Carson has made a major play for these voters. He puts his faith on display on the stump. His campaign kickoff in June at times felt like a Sunday church service, featured gospel singers and invocations. He peppered his speech with references to God, noting how if “God ordains,” he ends up in the White House.

For now, the rhetoric seems to be resonating with Iowans.

Anything you can do, I can do better

In an 80-second video, Jeb Bush attacked Donald Trump for praising Hillary Rodham Clinton. Trump responded just hours later with shorter, snappier video attacking Bush for ... praising Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Jeb Bush video casts Donald Trump as New York liberal

Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush on Tuesday escalated his attacks on Republican front-runner Donald Trump, releasing a video that uses Trump's past statements to paint him as a liberal.

“The Real Donald Trump” online video features images of Trump saying he identifies “more as a Democrat, is “very pro-choice,” lavishing praise on Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, and calling single-payer healthcare effective in other countries.

"I lived in New York and Manhattan my whole life, OK? So, you know, my views are a little bit different than if I lived in Iowa," Trump says, in images that appear twice in the 80-second video.

The line is intended to get a reaction in Iowa, the state that holds the first nominating contest in the nation. Trump is currently the front-runner in polls there.

The move comes a day after Trump went after Bush with a controversial video that juxtaposed images of Bush saying immigrants come to this country illegally as an “act of love” for their families, with booking photos of men who have been accused or convicted of murder while in the country illegally.

Trump said during the Aug. 6 presidential debate in Cleveland that his views on some positions had changed over the years.

“I've evolved on many issues over the years. And you know who else has? Ronald Reagan evolved on many issues,” Trump said.

The sparring represents an escalation by Bush, and could preview the former Florida governor's approach in the CNN presidential debate on Sept. 16 in Simi Valley. Earlier this year, while Bush would respond to media questions about Trump, he did not aggressively confront the businessman turned reality star. But in recent days, he has honed in on Trump on the campaign trail, criticizing his policies, his record and his manner.

On Tuesday in Miami, Bush told reporters he was swinging against Trump “because he attacks me every day with barbarities.”

“The man is not conservative,” Bush continued, according to the Miami Herald. “Besides, he tries to personalize everything. If you're not totally in agreement with him, you're an idiot or stupid or don't have energy or blah blah blah.”

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment about the new video, but Trump himself had a response:

There was one point where I went 20 questions in a row without being asked a question, and that's hard. ... Stay tuned on Sept. 16. We may be changing tactics if I get to like 15 questions in a row. Count them at home ... you're gonna go: 'Uh oh, he's gonna go nuclear now.'
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on the "Tonight Show" Monday speaking about the August Republican presidential debate and the upcoming Sept. 16 debate in Simi Valley.

A gotcha aimed at Hillary Clinton misses its target

The event was billed as a blockbuster, an unveiling of evidence of malfeasance that could help sink the presidential campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

What Project Veritas ultimately provided at the National Press Club on Tuesday morning in Washington was a video of one of its members entrapping a Clinton staffer into kind of, sort of, selling a T-shirt to a Canadian. (The Canadian did not actually make the payment to the Clinton rep. She bought the T-shirt from a Veritas journalist, who first bought it herself.)

The gotcha? Foreign nationals cannot legally give money to a U.S. political campaign. Veritas alleged it had caught Clinton staffers in the act of committing a violation, which, by Veritas' own admission, is about as serious as jaywalking.

Hardly the stuff of a Pulitzer Prize. Yet the conservative organization's founder, James O'Keefe, described the work as in the tradition of Mike Wallace and "60 Minutes."

"This is unbelievable," O'Keefe, who has a history of hidden-camera stings aimed at left-wing targets, said of the T-shirt transaction. "It is not about the dollar amount. It is about the willingness to break the law."

After some surreal back and forth with reporters, a journalist from the Daily Beast finally asked: "Is this a joke?"

O'Keefe said the video was no joking matter. Imagine how widespread this could be, he said. There could be rampant selling of merchandise to foreign nationals through go-betweens like, well, the Project Veritas journalist who facilitated the sale of this shirt in the video to a foreign national. He may have more such videos, O'Keefe said. Or, he may not.

OK, then, reporters said. What about this Canadian who bought this shirt? Who is she? How can we confirm her identity?

"We did not get her name," O'Keefe said. But he warned that T-shirt-Gate was just the beginning of an avalanche of investigative reports to come from Veritas journalists stealthily operating at campaign events and offices around the country.

The Clinton campaign does not appear particularly rattled.

"This video shows a Project Veritas operative yet again unsuccessfully trying to entrap campaign staffers who very clearly rejected any foreign donation," said a statement from Clinton spokesman Jesse Ferguson. "Our staffers understand and follow the law, as demonstrated even in their selectively edited video. Project Veritas, on the other hand, has been caught trying to commit fraud, falsify identities and break campaign finance law -- not surprising, given that their founder has already been convicted for efforts like this."

After O'Keefe presented all of his evidence, and a Veritas lawyer walked journalists through the intricacies of why the sale was outrageous -- although also comparable to "jaywalking " -- a facilitator asked whether the Daily Beast reporter had any follow-up.

Yes, she did. She asked again: "Is this a joke?"

Did Scott Walker put the birthright citizenship questions to bed?

No Republican presidential candidate has been more flummoxed by the conversation over immigration than Scott Walker

Perhaps it's not terribly surprising that Walker has struggled with the issue. As a Midwestern governor, he hasn't had it at the forefront of his past campaigns for office. He's less practiced than, say, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on handling a range of questions on the topic.

And if he's tried to bone up, it hasn't been paying off. Walker's campaign this week had to clarify that the governor is not advocating building a wall along the 5,500-mile U.S. border with Canada. Walker had become the target of bipartisan mockery and international complaint for telling Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” that building a wall on the northern border is a “legitimate issue” to be considered.

Sen. Rand Paul called it a “pretty dumb idea” in a season of dumb ideas, in a Boston Herald radio interview.

The Canadian Embassy in Washington released a statement pushing back on the idea that the border is an open door for terrorists.

Walker made the comment in an interview in which he was trying to clean up another recent comment on immigration. The governor initially said he backed doing away with birthright citizenship as protected by the 14th Amendment, appearing to endorse an idea from Donald Trump's immigration plan. He then said he would not take a position on the issue. On “Meet the Press,” he said he was not “talking about changing the Constitution.”

This would seem to end the discussion, since the 14th Amendment specifically grants citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” But it doesn't quite end there. Some believe birthright citizenship could be ended without amending the Constitution. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has repeatedly introduced legislation that would grant citizenship to babies born in the U.S. only if one parent is already a citizen. Walker didn't comment specifically on that legislative effort. A spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to an inquiry.

All of this confusion comes on top of Walker's original readjustment on immigration policy. The governor initially supported creating a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. He since has reversed that position, saying he changed his mind after consulting with law enforcement and other officials.

Iowa Republicans happy with Donald Trump's candidacy

Bloomberg Politics is out with an interesting dissection of Iowa Republicans' attitudes about Donald Trump. In short, they're feeling pretty good about it.

The survey backs up much of what we saw in a focus group of Trump fans last week. Ken Goldstein, professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, summed up the findings this way: “Many Republican caucus-goers are anti-immigrant, incredibly angry, don't like Republicans in Congress, and don't think Obama was born in the United States. Those attitudes line up with one of the candidates, Donald Trump.”

Just how big of a slice of the GOP electorate this represents is the million-dollar question as Trump's rivals are looking to see if there's a ceiling to his support.

One indicator shows the numbers may be larger than expected: Bloomberg found roughly two-thirds of likely caucus-goers in Iowa described themselves as satisfied or happy with Trump's candidacy.

But the poll finds plenty of Republicans have doubts about Trump. They are split evenly on the question of whether he cares more about people like them, or people like Donald Trump. And party members who are likely caucus-goers have much higher expectations for his ability to negotiate trade deals and create jobs than they do for his ability to work with Congress. They were split evenly on whether his skills with Congress would be a strength or weakness.

Trump's faith also presents a potential liability with Christian conservatives. Check out the full results below.

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Have we ever seen a candidacy like Donald Trump's? Think Ross Perot

From left are Huey Long, Barry Goldwater, George Wallace and Ross Perot. If Donald Trump falls short of the White House too, will he leave a lasting political legacy?

From left are Huey Long, Barry Goldwater, George Wallace and Ross Perot. If Donald Trump falls short of the White House too, will he leave a lasting political legacy?

(Associated Press)

The insurgent outside-the-Beltway candidacy of Donald Trump is just the latest in a long line.

There was, for example, Ross Perot's 1992 campaign. The Texas billionaire ran as an independent, vowing that he was the alternative to a broken two-party system in America. After leading in the polls early on, he eventually flopped.

"Amid a national wave of Perot-mania, as it was then called, the entrepreneur led general-election polls for a time, until his paranoia and erratic campaigning undermined his third-party effort," writes The Times' Mark Z. Barabak .

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