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The Debt Limit Monster Is Coming Back

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Trump Has Built A Wall Between The Republican Party And Latinos

By David Lightman, Natalie Fertig and Jessica Koscielniak McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

LAS VEGAS — German Maldonado could back a Republican. But it’s not likely, not when Donald Trump is calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals.

“The whole GOP base, they tend to attack most of our people,” said the graphic designer, who came to this country from Mexico 25 years ago.

That, in a nutshell, is the challenge Republicans face in 2016, a problem that looms as a serious threat to their hopes of winning in swing states like Nevada.

Talk to Latinos in the Las Vegas area and you’ll find their views strikingly similar. Top concerns are better schools, more ability to expand their businesses, and leaders who share their strong religious and moral beliefs.

That gives Republicans tremendous potential. And in some states, including Nevada, the party has done well among Latinos. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is Mexican-American. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, the nation’s first female Hispanic governor, was re-elected overwhelmingly last year. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott won 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2014. President George W. Bush won 39 percent of Nevada’s Hispanic vote in 2004.

Today, though, there’s Trump and a party that’s seen as too eager to kick immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally out of the country.

“We’re digging a very, very deep hole,” said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

It hardly matters at the moment that two candidates, Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are Cuban-American, or that Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor, is married to a Mexican-American and has strong ties to the Latino community.

Republicans were starting to have trouble even before 2015. President Barack Obama, viewed as sympathetic to Hispanic interests, won 71 percent of the Nevada Latino vote in 2012, the same percentage he received nationwide.

Republican Latino voters say they’re well aware of the difficulty of persuading friends and family to join them.

Immigration is the gateway to the community’s heart. Most Latinos in Nevada are either immigrants or know someone who recently arrived in this country. Nevada’s population is about 27 percent Hispanic, and 4 in 5 are of Mexican origin.

When Latinos hear some Republicans eager to deport immigrants here illegally, or refer to them in offensive ways, they recoil.

Jesus Marquez, who runs an air conditioning business, grew up in a Democratic household but turned Republican after watching details of President Bill Clinton’s relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky unfold.

“They devalued the office when he lied,” Marquez said. He saw Republicans as the party of higher standards.

Peter Guzman, a real estate developer, has long been sympathetic to Republicans, but he can’t stomach Trump’s comments.

“It’s going to be a challenge for me to embrace a candidate who has completely talked to my culture in an undignified way,” he said.

Some Latinos are more forgiving.

Ariel Gomez, a handyman, urged listening closely to what Trump is saying. He was not condemning all Mexicans, Gomez said.

Trump said in June, when he announced his candidacy, that Mexico was sending to the United States “people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Krissian Marquez, an entrepreneur, sees herself as one of those good people. Born in Mexico, she grew up in California. She understands the lure of Democrats. “When people first come here,” she said, “they say, ‘I’m going to do this for you,’ so obviously that’s how people vote and a lot of them just stick to that.”

Marquez warmed to Republicans as her daughters began school. She appreciated how George W. Bush, as governor of Texas and as president, understood the Latino community’s desire for better schools.

One of her daughters went to the neighborhood school and it was “not the best,” Marquez said. Another daughter had the freedom to choose, went to a magnet school and did much better, she said.

“I fight for what I believe in, and Republicans are more about school choice,” Marquez said.

Republican officials see progress. From 2009 to 2013, “we didn’t show up,” said Jennifer Sevilla Korn, deputy political director of the Republican National Committee. “The big thing we changed is to be on the ground in these communities all the time.”

Democrats scoff. “For decades now, we’ve heard this argument that Hispanic voters will trend towards the GOP. In reality, they’re trending the opposite way because they’re so turned off by the Republican Party’s rhetoric and lack of action” on a variety of issues, said Eric Walker, Democratic National Committee spokesman.

One big 2015 Republican talking point was the diversity of its presidential candidates. While Democrats offer two white men and a woman married to a former president, Republicans have two Latinos, an African-American and a woman.

Republican prospects might improve depending on the nominee. Jeb Bush is a favorite. If Bush is not the nominee, “I don’t think we’ll do as well” among Latinos, said campaign manager Danny Diaz.

Cruz gets little sympathy. Among his most prominent supporters is Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. In 2013, King referred to many Mexican immigrants as people who “weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

Rubio stirs interest, but is not well-known. He gets praise for his 2013 support for bipartisan legislation that created a path to citizenship for immigrants who are in the country illegally. He later backed away from that proposal, saying he wanted assurances that border security would come first.

To many familiar with him, Rubio shines. “Him being the face of the presidency … there’s a level of pride, knowing it can contribute with a vote,” said Mike Soto, a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

None of that may matter unless Republicans overcome the immigration hurdle and convince people such as Carlos Antiles, a bartender, that they’re on his side.

Antiles voted for Obama twice. His wife is of Mexican ancestry; he’s Cuban. Though Obama did halt deportations of the children of immigrants here illegally who met certain criteria, he never really delivered on his promise to overhaul the immigration system.

Antiles wants to vote Republican, and he likes Rubio. But Trump? “I don’t like this guy,” he said.

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, December 30, 2015. REUTERS/Randall Hill

Young Americans: Connected To The World, Disconnected From Politics

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — They are connected to one another like never before. And they are as disconnected from American politics as ever.

They’re avid volunteers for community causes, yet most hardly seem to care about government or campaigns. They see a government that’s not deserving of their trust, resistant to change and barely caring about their needs. They don’t think their vote counts.

They are the young. Old enough to vote, numerous enough to pick a president or a Congress. And they don’t seem to care.

“I don’t pay taxes. I don’t pay for my health insurance,” said Emilia Pascarella, a sophomore at Penn State University. “I don’t feel I’m being affected.”

“I don’t think about government that much,” added Grace Nissi, a junior at Penn State.

Their comments are typical of nearly 80 young people interviewed in central Pennsylvania, a diverse cross-section of blue- and white-collar, black, white, Hispanic and Asian-American, students majoring in physics, health administration, advertising, electrical engineering and more _ from Pennsylvania State University and the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology.

And they explain why candidates for president are failing to tap the kind of youthful surge that helped Barack Obama win the White House.

Democrat Bernie Sanders draws big college audiences and gets good marks from many students. But his presidential bid remains a long shot. Hillary Clinton could be the first woman president, but young women don’t feel the pull of gender history. Marco Rubio promotes himself as the leader of a new generation, but few are familiar with him.

They are not passive.

They’re energetic volunteers and hard workers for community causes. They just see little self-interest in politics. By one measure, just one in five were politically engaged, according to a recent survey by the Harvard University Institute of Politics.

They see no need to be so. Most are confident they’ll find jobs. They don’t have to worry about compulsory military service. They can stay on their parents’ health care polices for several more years. The high cost of college is a big concern, but few see the government making things easier.

Rarely do young people cite the forces that seem to jar the rest of the civilized world, such as recent mass shootings or acts of terrorism. Those seem too difficult to resolve. On the three days of interviews, the news was dominated by the mass shootings in San Bernardino.

Virtually no one brought up the incident.

Driving this disconnect, ironically, is their connectivity.

Protest rallies and marches, favorite tactics of their parents’ generation, are yesterday’s strategies. Organizing via social media, where people almost spontaneously group and promote a cause but rarely see or talk to one another, is the new form of mass expression. But it’s rarely directed at the political process.

They see prodding the government as futile.

“Not much has really made a difference,” said Evelyn Van Horn, studying to be an auto body technician at the Central Pennsylvania Institute.

They came of age viewing Washington as incapable and unwilling to ease the sort of tensions that could have consequences in their lives. The oldest of their generation were entering second grade as Bill Clinton was becoming president. That means that in their lifetime, government has been a relentless object of scorn, if not ridicule.

The only presidents they’ve known, Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have all been ongoing targets for not only critics but comedians. To the young, Washington is a leaden, bloated bureaucracy managed by confrontation-prone, self-absorbed lawmakers unwilling to bend.

Asked to name something government has done correctly, not a single young person volunteered anything at first.

At the Central Pennsylvania Institute, Jeremiah Bowers, a welding student, eventually mentioned highways. At Penn State, three finally spoke up. One mentioned support for gun rights, another help for disabled people and a third said she was pleased some Syrian refugees can enter this country.

More common was the attitude of Alexa Pane, a Penn State junior. She sat for six hours in an emergency room this summer waiting for her insurer to approve an X-ray of the freshly broken bones in her ankle. She blames the Affordable Care Act, saying it’s made the health system even more unresponsive.

Not even political promises to ease the cost of attending college douse this skepticism, even though it’s tough to find someone without a mountain of debt or a complaint about the cost of college.

Hillary Clinton is pushing a detailed college affordability plan, and Sanders would offer everyone free tuition at public colleges and universities. But few young people believe any program can win congressional approval, and if it does, it won’t be in effect in time to affect them.

If anything, such promises reinforce the idea that politicians pander but won’t deliver and seem to provide little comfort.

“By the time any such bill passed, I’d be long out of college,” said Michelle Mehallow, a Penn State junior.

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Penn State student Christine Sibley participates in a discussion during a McClatchy Newspapers focus group in the university’s student union building on Dec. 3, 2015 in University Park, Pa. (Christopher Weddle/Centre Daily Times/TNS)

4 Things To Watch For In The GOP Debate

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

LAS VEGAS — Ted Cruz enters Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate poised to become the Republican to beat.

The senator from Texas has surged into the top spot in Iowa polls, buoyed by endorsements from leading evangelical voices. Real estate mogul Donald Trump remains the national front-runner, but it is Iowa voters who will shape the race first when they caucus in seven weeks. Cruz also gets a boost from a huge campaign treasury.

All that makes the final Republican debate of 2015 crucial, as it will leave impressions that are likely to linger into the new year. And it signals a change for Cruz, as he now confronts the sort of intense scrutiny that faces newly minted national political stars.

Trump enters the debate already swinging away. He and Cruz had been careful not to criticize each other, aware they were appealing to the same fed-up voters who get information and reassurance from conservative talk radio and social media. But once Cruz started surging in polls over recent days, Trump started hitting. On Sunday, he told Fox News that Cruz was “a little bit of a maniac” in the Senate.

The main debate at Las Vegas’ Venetian Hotel begins at 9 p.m. EST and will feature nine candidates. Four others will vie in an earlier debate.

Viewers are likely to see one new wrinkle Tuesday: Foreign policy and domestic security are likely to be more prominent topics. Since the last debate Nov. 10, terrorist attacks rocked Paris and mass shootings at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic and a San Bernardino holiday party have dominated the news.

Here are four things to watch for:

On Cruz control

Cruz has jumped over retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson as the alternative to Trump for frustrated, angry conservatives. Now he’s got to maintain his exasperation with Washington while still appealing to Republicans uncomfortable with Trump’s temperament.

The bigger challenge: Opponents will try to stagger Cruz by noting his Senate colleagues’ disdain for him and recalling his no-compromise tactics as well as his past willingness to shut down the government. He’s known largely in the Senate as a flame-thrower, not a doer.

Trump vs. Muslims

This will be the first face-to-face clash since Trump called for a ban on all Muslims entering the U.S. Top Republicans criticized it. How will they do it onstage? What will Trump say? Will Cruz find a way to disagree while praising Trump personally, as he’s already done?

“He’s like a shock jock. He knows how to get ratings,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL). Trump is unlikely to apologize and inclined to offend.

History says that as people get more serious about picking a president, particularly one who could lead a nation at war, they’ll weigh the importance of Trump’s temperament. Does he seem presidential? Is he too eager to make headlines, instead of offering serious talk about policy?

Where’s the mainstream?

A sizable chunk of the Republican electorate wants someone other than Trump or Cruz and might accept a more conciliatory candidate with a history of working with Democrats. So far, no one has emerged as a favorite.

Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey and a former federal prosecutor, has had a boost as national security has become a more prominent issue. He’ll be on the main stage Tuesday after being relegated to the undercard last month. John Kasich, the brash governor of Ohio, has tried to become Trump’s biggest nemesis, but it hasn’t worked. Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, remains stuck far down in most polls. Each badly needs a breakout moment Tuesday.

Marco Rubio

The pundits have been waiting for the U.S. senator from Florida to emerge as the choice of mainstream voters. For awhile last month, as Trump maintained his lead, establishment types began rallying around Rubio, but the momentum wasn’t there and he didn’t become the clear alternative.

The potential remains, and his command of foreign policy could vault him into that position. He needs to show movement soon, or he risks getting lost behind Cruz and possibly one of the more center-right challengers.

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks at a 2nd Amendment Coalition announcement at CrossRoads Shooting Sports in Johnston, Iowa, December 4, 2015. REUTERS/Brian C. Frank

Post-Paris: Which Candidates Gain, Which Don’t

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Is Paris making voters think more about the commander in chief part of the job of president?

If so, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton are up.

Ben Carson, Bernie Sanders and governors are down.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in France, some voters want a candidate with a strong foreign policy resume. Others appreciate those willing to express outrage and insist on keeping Syrian refugees out of this country.

“A sense of crisis elevates people with foreign policy experience,” said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at Washington’s Brookings Institution.

That plays well among Democrats, as Clinton has maintained her already sizable poll lead in recent days. Among Republicans, tough talk has boosted Trump and Cruz.

“Trump has been strong with his immigration views from Day One, and Cruz has taken that on,” said Ann Selzer, a Des Moines, Iowa-based pollster.

Cruz has surged into second behind Trump in Iowa, site of the nation’s first caucus, according to a new Quinnipiac Poll released Tuesday. Nearly one-fourth say Cruz would be best at handling foreign policy, followed by Trump. Carson is far back.

It’s too early to say the post-Paris mood will ultimately reshape the race, since the first votes are still more than two months away. But late fall is when top-tier candidates start separating themselves from the rest.

These are the candidates who have been helped:

Clinton. The day after the attack, she was asked during a Democratic debate to discuss a crisis that had tested her. The former secretary of state gave a very personal account of her “excruciating experience” as Obama administration officials discussed whether to kill terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, got the question next. “I don’t think that there is a crisis at the state or local level that really you can point to,” he said, that compares to what a president has to decide. Clinton’s big advantage was clear.

Trump. The real estate mogul’s stinging, often divisive rhetoric is likely to hurt his general election chances, should he get that far. At the moment, a lot of frustrated Republicans welcome his outrage.

He wants a national database to register all Muslims living in the country. He says it would be “insane” to allow Syrian refugees into the United States. And he charges Obama “doesn’t have any clue” how to defeat the Islamic State.

Selzer’s first national poll after the Paris attacks, taken for Bloomberg News, had Trump leading Carson by 4 percentage points. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, Republicans said Trump could combat Islamic terrorism better than Carson.

Cruz. The senator from Texas is starting to climb in Republican polls, and he’s using the U.S. Senate stage to help. He engaged in a long-distance feud with Obama last week.

Cruz said he could accept barring Muslim refugees from Syria from entering this country, but not Christians. Obama, speaking at the end of the G-20 summit in Turkey, called such remarks “shameful” and “not American.”

Cruz, surrounded by reporters later in the week, fired back. “If you want to insult me, you can do it overseas, you can do it in Turkey, you can do it in foreign countries. But I would encourage you, Mr. President, come back and insult me to my face,” he said.

And these candidates have been hurt:

Carson. A neurosurgeon for all his adult life, he’s taking hits for his lack of national security expertise.

Carson has repeatedly said he’s got much to learn about foreign policy, but he has also said he has better intelligence sources than Obama.

In Ohio, Carson tried to explain his diplomatic know-how to reporters, saying, “I’ve been to 57 different countries, I’ve lived abroad, and I have common sense and a brain.”

Sanders. He’s been in Congress since 1991, but has not been known as active on national security affairs. “Clinton benefits in the short term” from the heightened fear of terrorism, said Donna Brazile, a party vice chairwoman who’s neutral in the race.

Sanders is trying to show some expertise. He spent a big chunk of his recent speech explaining democratic socialism offering his world view, but it was largely lost as the media focused on the main topic.

Governors. This year already was a bad one for the long list of current and former governors seeking their party’s nominations. Their chief pitch, that they’re Washington outsiders but long on executive and political experience, has been an effective one for presidential candidates since the 1970s.

Not this year. Voters are signaling they don’t want governors whose foreign policy experience usually means little more than dealing with the National Guard or leading trade missions. Candidates this year need either the resume or the ability to pound their fist and feel constituents’ rage, and that rules out most governors.

©2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson pauses as he speaks to the media following a fundraising luncheon in La Jolla, California  November 17, 2015.   REUTERS/Mike Blake  

White Evangelicals: Early Influence On GOP Race, But Prospects Then Get Shakier

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — White evangelical Christians are well-positioned to have a strong say in early 2016 Republican primaries and caucuses, a new analysis by Geoffrey Skelley of Sabato’s Crystal Ball found Thursday. But they could face trouble later in the campaign season.

Voting starts Feb. 1 in Iowa, where in 2012 exit poll data showed 56 percent of caucus voters were white evangelicals. Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, had a strong appeal to those voters, and inched out a win.

Skelley, using data from exit polls in 2008 and 2012, as well as information from the Census Bureau and the Public Religion Research Institute’s American Values Atlas, found that 64 percent of total delegates in states with primaries or caucuses prior to March 8 will come from states with likely white evangelical majorities. South Carolina votes later in February, and on March 1, states with primaries or caucuses, and sizable evangelical populations, include Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. Three more such states, Kentucky, Louisiana and Kansas, vote March 5.

That means that candidates with special appeal to those groups could get an early boost, but it doesn’t mean that will last. A majority of convention delegates will be chosen after March 8.
“All this is to say that white evangelical Christians are going to impact the 2016 Republican nomination contest, just as they have in previous cycles,” Skelley found.

But because early delegates will be awarded proportionately, it will be hard for any single candidate in a multi-candidate field to get a huge early lead. And after March 15, some states will have winner take all primaries. And more states with smaller evangelical communities, such as Florida and Ohio, will be voting.

“This is not to say that a white evangelical-oriented outsider candidate won’t win the Republican nomination,” Skelley said. “But many states with large numbers of conservative born-again Christians will vote when many candidates may still be in the race, possibly splintering their delegate hauls.

“Nonetheless, if the white evangelical Iowa lane of the field winnows a great deal between now and March 1, it’s possible that someone could take advantage and rack up a solid delegate take. Only time will tell, but there’s little question that white evangelical Christians are going to be an important factor in determining the GOP nominee, particularly in the early going.”

So far, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has attracted a strong evangelical following. Also in the mix are real estate mogul Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana; Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and 2008 Iowa caucus winner; and Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania and 2012 winner in Iowa.

Photo: Ben Carson has a strong evangelical following. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

4 Things To Watch For In Tuesday’s GOP Debate

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

MILWAUKEE — Ben Carson and Marco Rubio, trying mightily to survive and thrive in the unrelenting spotlight surging presidential candidates must endure, face a huge new test at Tuesday’s Republican debate.

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz also are in for a crucial night, while the rest of the field is fading fast.

The latest McClatchy-Marist Poll finds Carson slightly ahead nationally, Trump close, Rubio climbing and Cruz not too far behind. The stakes are high for national newcomers Carson, Rubio and Cruz, because the more people heard about them the more they liked, giving each enormous upside — as well as potential to disappoint and plunge.

This debate will have a different look. The main stage’s eight contenders in the year’s fourth GOP debate is the smallest yet, as Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, and Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, failed to qualify. They’ll join Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, and Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, in an earlier debate.

The debate’s focus is supposed to be the economy. That was also billed as the topic of the last one, which at times became a free-for-all as candidates were asked about regulating fantasy football or their biggest weaknesses. The furor over the debate’s tone prompted campaign officials to seek changes in the format. They couldn’t agree and the format’s not changing.

The two-hour debate at the Milwaukee Theatre will start at 9 p.m. EST. Moderators will include Fox Business Network’s Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo and Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker. The undercard will run for an hour starting at 7 p.m. EST.

Poll asking if Republicans view the candidates as part of the political establishment or as outsiders.

Poll asking if Republicans view the candidates as part of the political establishment or as outsiders. Click to enlarge.

Poll of which candidate Republican voters don't want to get the nomination. Tribune News Service 2015

Poll of which candidate Republican voters don’t want to get the nomination. Click to enlarge.

Here are four questions for the main debate:

Can Rubio take more hits?

His surge to prominence last month began with his passionate, pointed debate defense of his Senate voting record. Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, kept tumbling after his wan challenge to Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida. Since then, Rubio’s faced questions about using a Republican Party credit card for personal expenses while in the Florida legislature. Saturday, his campaign released an accounting of the expenses, and chances are Rubio will be armed with pointed responses to any critic. Can he stay cool when defending himself? And will the public buy his explanations?

Can Carson keep cool?

The retired neurosurgeon has been tackling questions about his personal background and views. He could be grilled Tuesday on his history with Mannatech, a nutritional supplements firm, as well as dealings with the U.S. Military Academy, assertions that Egypt’s pyramids were built to store grain, and just how violent he may have been as a teenager.

Will Trump be bombastic or reasonable?

The real estate mogul toned down his rhetoric at the last debate. But in recent media and campaign appearances he’s berated his rivals. Rubio, Trump said, is “a disaster with his credit cards.” After a new national poll last week showed Carson ahead, Trump told Fox News, “Ben can’t do the job.” Trump has to be more statesmanlike, but there’s a risk for Rubio and Carson, too. They need to show they have what it takes to stand up to world leaders, but first they have to show they can stand up to Trump.

Can anyone new break out of the pack?

Cruz is the best bet. The poll found the more a majority of Republicans see of the senator from Texas, the more they like him. For the rest, it’s getting late, and many remain stuck below 5 percent. Earlier bids to be distinctive haven’t worked. Former executive Carly Fiorina was the star of the September debate, but her momentum fizzled. John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, went on the attack at last month’s debate but it didn’t help.


(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. Graphics: Tribune News Service (c)2015

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump (L) speaks as former Florida Governor and fellow candidate Jeb Bush reacts during the second official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, United States, September 16, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Donald Trump Faces Several Tests Before Iowa Caucuses

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Donald Trump bandwagon has stalled.

His poll leads in Iowa and New Hampshire have shrunk. He’s gotten attention this week largely about whether he’ll stay in the race if his poll numbers tumble. Ben Carson has passed him in some surveys, and other candidates are starting to gain traction.

“It’s wrong to call it a collapse, but there has been a decline,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan political analyst.

“At some point the honeymoon ends for every candidate. That’s what’s happening to Trump,” said Craig Robinson, editor-in-chief of, a partisan website in the state with the first test in the nomination fight.

Trump fired back Tuesday, telling CNN he’s in the race to stay.

His travails are common for many early front-runners in presidential races, who jump to prominence because they’re familiar names who articulate, usually with clenched fists, the frustration that voters feel.

They inevitably face two fall challenges: Voters start looking more closely at them and discover flaws, and they start considering who they want as president, not just as messenger.

Here are the tests Trump faces in the four months between now and the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses:

Fighting the ground game

Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana governor, spent 11 days in Iowa last month and jumped to fifth in the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll. Ben Carson has had an army of supporters working for two years in the state and is now within striking distance of Trump.

Trump is active in Iowa, with 10 full-time paid staffers. “He has a good-sized Iowa staff that’s out there working,” said Robinson, but he’s going to have to slug it out with some experienced organizers and campaigners.

A unified Christian right

Carson’s surge is evidence that the evangelical community, which is particularly strong in Iowa, has begun to rally around the retired neurosurgeon. That’s trouble for Trump. The last two Republican caucus winners, Rick Santorum in 2012 and Mike Huckabee in 2008, were Christian right favorites. Both are running again. The real threat so far is Carson, though. If he gets a boost from Iowa, he would be well-positioned to do well a month later, when voters in 12 states, seven in the South, go to the polls.

Conservative backlash

Outside Iowa, a lot of hard-core conservatives remain suspicious of Trump and are intensifying their efforts. “Donald Trump is not a conservative,” said David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, which has run ads challenging Trump in Iowa. Trump has supported Democrats and once backed a national health care system.

Overcoming big negatives

Name recognition has certainly helped Trump. But it’s also a burden that could be hard to overcome. Fifty-one percent of Republicans or those leaning Republican told the McClatchy-Marist poll this summer that Trump was a distraction in the presidential process.

Getting attention

The Republican race has faded in the national conscience in recent weeks. The last debate was three weeks ago, and the next is not until Oct. 28. Trump’s standing tends to improve after debates. But the long lag is giving challengers a chance to establish themselves in Iowa, New Hampshire and other key states.

Worse for Trump, most of the media attention Trump got this week involves the status of his campaign. Sunday, he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that if his poll numbers were plunging, he would not stay in.

The comments set off a flurry of speculation among political insiders that Trump had little taste for combat, so Tuesday, he clarified.

“I’m not getting out. I’m going to win, OK?” he told CNN. “The answer is: I’m going all the way and I’m going to win.”

It’s going to be tougher.

“Since he’s not a traditional candidate, he needs to cast a wide net when looking to identify supporters,” said Robinson. “That’s completely different than what someone like Ted Cruz has to do, who can focus on social conservatives and evangelical voters.”

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Keene, New Hampshire September 30, 2015.   REUTERS/Gretchen Ertl

A Guide To This Year’s ‘Political Correctness’ Debates

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s war against what he calls political correctness has helped fuel his summer surge — and spark a fierce new debate over how far politicians can go.

“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, said at the candidates’ debate earlier this month.

He’s not alone. “There’s a creepy PC thing out there that really bothers me,” comic Jerry Seinfeld told “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”

Call it political correctness, or call it sensitivity — this summer has seen an escalation of words and terms that set off storms of criticism, often fed and spread by social media.

Already there were the charges that “happy holidays” really means a war on Christmas. And debates over whether to use the word “Islamic” in describing terrorism.

Now there’s “anchor babies,” “thug” and “illegals.”

The debate is on, and here are some of the words, phrases and symbols punctuating political debates.

The controversy: President Barack Obama and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake used the word to describe rioters in Baltimore. Critics pounced, saying the word was insulting. “Thugs is the 21st-century word for the N-word,” the Rev. Jamal Bryant in Baltimore told CNN.

Follow-up: Rawlings-Blake quickly “clarified” her use of the term, tweeting “one can say things in a way that you don’t mean.” An Obama spokesman said the president did not regret using the term — a term that’s been routinely used for years. lists 22 synonyms for thug, including murderer, gorilla, assassin — and rioter.

The controversy: For years, governments and retailers backed away from using the word “Christmas,” fearing it would alienate non-Christians and often using the more generic term “happy holidays.” So has the White House. In 2011, it sent out a card with the Obama’s dog Bo, in front of a fireplace.

Some saw an all-out war. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly declared he was “like a guerrilla fighter in the war on Christmas.” Last year, he declared the war won.

Follow-up: Last year, the White House sent out what it called “the first ever interactive White House holiday card.” At the end of the Obama’s message, the president wishes everyone “Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everybody.”

The controversy: Republican candidate Jeb Bush used the term to describe babies born to non-citizens. A child born in this country is a U.S. citizen. The controversy has been around for years: In 2010, some congressional Republicans called for hearings to examine the issue. Critics say such a child makes it easier for other family members, who may not be citizens, to settle in this country.

Many consider the term a slur. “Jeb’s remarks suggest how he might lead as president by following Donald Trump down to the bottom of the barrel,” said Dawn Le of the Alliance for Citizenship, a coalition of groups promoting an overhaul of the immigration system.

According to Nexis, the term appeared in U.S. media more than 3,000 times in the U.S. media in the 10 years before Bush used it this month, though often with debate over it.

Follow-up: Too soon to tell how the furor affects Bush. “I’ll use the term anchor baby,” Trump said.

The controversy: At a Netroots Nation conference in July, protesters shouted “Do black lives matter to you?” as Martin O’Malley, former mayor of Baltimore and now Democratic presidential candidate, spoke. He tried to answer and cited his record as mayor. “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter,” he said. Booing erupted.

“The idea of saying everything matters undercuts the value and point of highlighting black life as something worthy of concern,” said Katheryn Russell-Brown, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations at the University of Florida law school, at the time.

Follow-up: The Black Lives Matter movement remains active and motivated. Earlier this month, activists shut down a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle when they went onto the stage and took his microphone. Sanders has tried repeatedly to stress his longtime support of civil rights and efforts at criminal justice reform.

The controversy: Obama will not label the war on terrorism a war against radical Islam. “No religion is responsible for terrorism — people are responsible for violence and terrorism,” the president said. The administration had labeled as “workplace violence” the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, where a “Soldier of Allah” killed 13 and wounded 32. The military later said it was an act of international terrorism.

Follow-up: Republicans have been relentless in criticizing Obama. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas called the president “an apologist for radical Islamic terrorists.”

The controversy. The Supreme Court did not use that term in a 2012 immigration case, except when citing others. Immigration rights activists reminded everyone that saying someone was illegal inferred they were engaged in unlawful activity. And people are innocent until proven guilty.

Follow-up: People who entered this country illegally are usually now called “undocumented.”

The controversy: After a white supremacist, who posed with Confederate flag for a website photo, allegedly killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston in May, governments and others quickly moved to remove the flag from public places.

Follow-up: Flag advocates have lost. Period.

Photo: “Anchor babies.” AFP Photo/Dibyangshu Sarkar

Trump’s Bluster Gets The Attention And Moves Polls — For Now

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — While Donald Trump was talking about Mexicans and rising in the polls, Jeb Bush was talking to workers at a pharmaceutical plant in South Carolina.

Trump was trying to make headlines. Bush was trying to make friends.

Trump is the latest presidential contender whose ability to get attention from a ravenous media vaulted him, however briefly, to political prominence.

But blunt talk is less of a virtue once voters start seriously gauging temperament and depth. Audiences today cheer loudly for Trump, much as they did in past campaigns for the likes of Pat Buchanan, Howard Dean or Herman Cain. Then they wound up voting for Bob Dole, John Kerry and Mitt Romney.

Attention-getting candidates use two devices to get noticed: incendiary rhetoric or simple solutions to complex problems.

Businessman Steve Forbes promoted a flat tax in his 1996 and 2000 campaigns. Pizza magnate Cain offered a 9-9-9 tax plan in 2011.

Trump is using primarily the rhetorical approach so far, similar to Republican Buchanan in 1992 and 1996. The conservative commentator parlayed his gift for zingers into serious presidential campaigns, rallying his backers as a team of “peasants with pitchforks.”

Trump also breathes fire. When he announced his presidential candidacy last month, he said of Mexico, “They’re sending people that have lots of problems. … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Even after NBC, Macy’s, Univision and others cut ties with the New York-based business mogul, he’s remained resolute.

Such attention-getters thrive in the summers before election years because they tap into deep-held feelings. “They’re saying things the little guy wants to hear,” said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

Trump has hit one raw nerve.

Nearly half the Republicans in Iowa, the nation’s first caucus state, think undocumented immigrants should be required to leave the United States, a Quinnipiac University poll last month showed.

Often the candor candidates fade because they are too polarizing, they don’t have a long-term political strategy, or their catchy proposals lack depth.

In last month’s University of New Hampshire Republican poll, nearly half the Republicans had an unfavorable view of Trump, presumably a vote he can’t get.

The depth question becomes predominant during debates. Republicans plan one debate each month through the primary season, starting Aug. 6.

In 2011, for example, Cain soared briefly thanks to a 9-9-9 plan to replace all federal taxes with 9 percent corporate, personal income and federal sales tax rates. The idea was derided as overly simplistic; Cain would fade for other reasons, and his plan hasn’t been discussed much since.

The time-tested way to win is to be organized, well-funded and have an eye on the broader picture. Trump could eventually fit those criteria. He has staff in key states. His wealth should take care of funding issues. And he likely will offer more detailed policies.

“He can’t be a distraction; he needs to add something to the debate to continue to be taken seriously,” said Craig Robinson, editor-in-chief of, a partisan newsletter.

Trump’s more cautious rivals have a different challenge: not to look too uncertain.

When the flap over the Confederate flag erupted last month after a white gunman murdered nine African-American parishioners in a Charleston church, few Republican candidates were willing to say unequivocally they wanted the flag removed from the South Carolina Capitol grounds.

Bush noted that as governor, he had the flag removed from the Florida State Capitol grounds. But he echoed the caution of other candidates, saying he was “confident they will do the right thing” in South Carolina.

Bush, visiting South Carolina last week, met privately with 50 pastors in Charleston and talked about his faith. Later, he toured the Nephron Pharmaceuticals plant in West Columbia and spent an hour taking questions from employees. One asked him about the flag.

He tied its removal to the economic message he was trying to promote. He cited the state’s flourishing businesses. “Anything that gets in the way of that vision, I think, while doing it respectfully, ought to be put aside and allow South Carolina to move forward,” he said.

Bush was among the leaders in the latest South Carolina Morning Consult Republican poll. Trump was far back.
(Andrew Shain of The (Columbia, S.C.) State contributed to this report.)

Photo: He’s all rhetoric, and history says that the American people won’t vote for bluster without substance to back it up. Gage Skidmore via Flickr

‘Combat Ready’ Christie Rips Media, Insists He Will Rebound

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — A defiant Chris Christie on Monday declared himself “combat ready” for the presidential campaign, painting himself as the victim of relentless, unfair media attacks.

Christie, the governor of New Jersey, last week announced his bid for the Republican nomination. His poll numbers are low in his state and in the presidential sweepstakes.

Christie has been battered by controversy over the 2013 closing of access roads to the George Washington Bridge, which links New Jersey with New York City. Officials close to the governor had a role in closing some of the lanes, a payback to a local mayor who refused to help Christie. Two former top Christie aides were indicted last month on federal charges they conspired to disrupt the traffic. They pleaded not guilty.

Christie, speaking Monday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, said again he not only had nothing to do with the closing, but was unfairly tarnished.

“Remember the beginning, it was ‘He did this. He directed it. He’s this kind of guy.’ Then all of a sudden, you’re not. Then they say OK. Now what do we do?

“So instead of just standing up and saying what they should say, which is we’re sorry, governor, for having jumped to conclusions. We’re sorry for having prejudged this. We’re sorry for having not only accused you, but convicted you. They say, oh, well, all right, now it’s a culture,” Christie said.

“It wasn’t a culture, because if it was … there would have been a lot of these incidents.”

Christie ripped the media. “How about nightly specials on this network for five months calling me Attila the Hun? How about, you know, relentless attacks from The New York Times and the media?” he asked.

He noted that other governors seeking the White House, such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, have also seen their popularity fall recently.

In his case, Christie said, “the bridge stuff is part of it for certain. And the relentless negativity that I was subjected to. And then combine that with the idea that you’ve got a guy that going to run for president. When that happens, the combination of the two brings your numbers down.”

“The numbers are going to go back up. They all do.”

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Screen capture via

Analysis: GOP Can No Longer Look To Court To Repeal Obamacare

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — It’s clear now that any overhaul of the Affordable Care Act will have to come through the political system, not the court. And repeal-minded Republicans face trouble generating a mandate for change.

Republicans were hoping the court would decide against this key part of the law — and in turn give the party momentum as it argued for repeal during the 2016 election campaign.
Instead, Republicans now face huge hurdles.

Much of the public has had enough of this debate, now stretching into its seventh year. Since it was enacted, the Republican House of Representatives has voted more than 50 times to repeal it only to see its moves fall short; the court has ruled twice upholding the law; and President Barack Obama has won re-election over a GOP candidate who vowed to repeal and replace it.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey earlier this month found 45 percent of Americans believe it’s time to move on, percentages generally uniform across party lines. A Pew Research Center survey in September found 54 percent of Americans said the law had not had an effect on them or their family.

“It’s died down as an issue,” said David Woodard, a Clemson, SC-based Republican consultant.

Republicans will continue to argue they’re tantalizingly close to having the power needed to repeal the law.

“It was never up to the Supreme Court to save us from Obamacare,” said former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. “We need leadership in the White House.”

“Today’s ruling makes it clear that if we want to fix our broken health care system, then we will need to elect a Republican president,” added Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus.

Not everyone in the party — including some presidential hopefuls — agree that all of the law is a bad idea. Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and Chris Christie of New Jersey have accepted federal dollars to expand the Medicaid program, one of the law’s provisions, while Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana have not.

Democrats are eager to exploit those divisions and dare Republicans to try to erase the law’s popular, now-ingrained features.
The instant reactions to the decision also made it clear that the health care debate is about more than health care. To Republicans, the 2010 law’s requirement that nearly everyone obtain coverage is a prime example of government gone wild.

“Hillary Clinton supports big government mandates and expanding the government’s reach into our health care system, maneuvers that have made our health care system worse off,” said Priebus.

Republicans put health care on a list with other examples of bloated government — regulation of businesses, efforts at gun control, requiring businesses to deal with people whose lifestyles offend their religious beliefs — and see a highly useful campaign issue.

“There’s too much power up here,” Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Republican presidential contender, told a cheering conservative gathering in Washington last week.

The ruling potentially raises the profile of the court itself in the coming election. The next president is likely to name Supreme Court justices, and in a court often divided 5-4 over the day’s most partisan issues, both parties will point out how much the election matters.

Neither party can assume that’s a winning issue, though.

A CBS News-New York Times survey earlier this month showed 22 percent thought the court was too conservative, 27 percent saw it as too liberal, and 35 percent said it was about right.

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: GOP against Obamacare via Flickr