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Cruz Works To Cut Rubio’s Lifeline In New Hampshire

By Sahil Kapur, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Bracing for a one-on-one battle with Donald Trump, Ted Cruz is trying to dispense with Marco Rubio by choking off his path to the nomination in New Hampshire.

On Tuesday, Cruz went out of his way to exploit Rubio’s Achilles heel: his support for a comprehensive immigration bill in 2013, opposition to which has become an animating force of the Republican base.

“Open gates and open immigration could very well destroy our republic,” a man told Cruz on the second day of his four-day New Hampshire blitz, at a family-owned food and convenience store in Center Barnstead called the White Buffalo Trading Post.

Cruz didn’t hesitate to agree. “You are exactly right,” he said.

Then he went in for the kill.

“Let’s take the issue of amnesty. Everyone today says they’re against amnesty — well, except for Marco. But the rest of them all say they’re against amnesty,” Cruz quipped, drawing laughter. (In fact, Rubio is running ads saying he opposes “amnesty,” but he remains open to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants after illegal immigration is under control, which some conservatives define as amnesty.)

“In 2013, Barack Obama and Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, joined by a whole bunch of establishment Republicans, including Marco Rubio, pushed a massive amnesty plan that would have granted amnesty to 12 million people here illegally, that would have failed to secure the border, that would have enabled President Obama to bring even more Syrian refugees to this country. Now that was a moment where every Republican could decide where he or she stood,” Cruz said as attendees nodded along. He chose the side of “millions of Americans fighting to stop amnesty, to secure the border, to keep this country safe,” he said.

A Cruz victory would be very difficult in the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary, where Trump leads by double-digits in nearly every poll. He’s placed a greater emphasis on the Feb. 1 caucuses in Iowa, where he had a 3-point edge in the latest Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll.

But Cruz doesn’t need to win in New Hampshire. Just placing ahead of Rubio has the potential to inflict a fatal wound on the campaign of the Floridian, who is stuck in third place in RealClearPolitics’ national Republican poll average, behind Trump and Cruz. Rubio allies worry that without a strong finish in New Hampshire, the state where moderate GOP voters traditionally make their stand, he may fade early.

Cruz benefits from the fight for New Hampshire’s large bloc of establishment-friendly voters between Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich. Recent polls show that each of them, along with Cruz, has a shot at second place. For Christie, Bush and Kasich, the challenges amplify greatly afterward, given their limited appeal to more conservative voters in states such as South Carolina and Nevada, along with Southern states that vote on March 1. Ousting Rubio in New Hampshire would mean dispatching a serious threat before the main event.

The Rubio campaign was prepared to counter Cruz. Two young volunteers stood at the entrance of Cruz’s event on Tuesday, braving freezing weather to distribute leaflets full of opposition research aimed at undercutting Cruz’s assertion that he’s a “consistent conservative.” They noted Cruz’s swift turn from wanting to expand legal immigration to wanting to cut it. As Cruz stepped out of his campaign bus, one of the men waved a sign that read “Ted Cruz: Political Calculator,” and the volunteers handed out actual calculators to make their point.

Rubio himself arrived in the Granite State on Wednesday for a campaign swing that included a speech at the statehouse about his vision to “save the American dream.” The pro-Rubio super PAC Conservative Solutions is running ads in early primary states attacking Cruz as a “calculated” politician.

A one-two finish by Trump and Cruz in the first two contests could quickly turn the Republican primary into a two- man race. The Texan is laying the groundwork for that match-up. After ripping into Rubio on immigration, Cruz launched an unprovoked attack on Trump over the same issue, saying he was “absent from the field of battle” when it mattered during the 2013 debate.

“There are candidates in this race who are talking a lot about immigration now. Donald Trump, my friend — he’s been talking. Listen, the last couple of days he’s been getting rattled, he’s been throwing insults my way,” Cruz said. “But in 2013, the Rubio-Schumer Gang of Eight bill passed the Senate, and Republican leadership planned to take it up and ram it through the House.”

“For anyone who cares about the issue of amnesty, who cares about border security, that moment was the rubicon, it was the battle right there and then,” he said.

After a long pause, he added, “Mr. Trump was nowhere to be found. Did not engage in the battle. Said nothing.”

©2016 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz greets audience members during a visit to Zeb’s Country Store in North Conway, New Hampshire January 19, 2016.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder

In 2016, Marco Rubio Is Both Sunny And Ominous

By Sahil Kapur and John McCormick, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Marco Rubio has adopted a darker tone in the first week of 2016, deploying increasingly apocalyptic rhetoric and fiercer attacks on Republican rivals that provide a stark contrast with the relatively non-confrontational brand of sunny optimism that had characterized his presidential campaign through 2015.

Running behind the edgier campaigns of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz nationally and in key early states, the first-term Florida senator needs to put big points on the board in Iowa and New Hampshire in order to stave off an early collapse, and as a result he’s waging ongoing battles against three Republican rivals.

On Tuesday, Rubio released a TV ad that features him speaking directly to the camera: “Barack Obama released terrorists from Guantanamo, and now they are plotting to attack us,” Rubio says, as ominous music plays in the background. “His plan after the attack in San Bernardino: take away our guns.” The same day, he told a crowd in Mason City, Iowa, “If we get this election wrong, there may be no turning around for America.”

On Wednesday, Rubio sent supporters an email under the all-caps subject line “Fight for gun rights,” and warned that “Obama has waged a war on the Constitution” with his new executive actions aimed at expanding background checks for gun purchases. And shortly after North Korea claimed it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb, Rubio released a statement declaring, “Our enemies around the world are taking advantage of Obama’s weakness.”

While Rubio isn’t jettisoning the hopeful message of reviving the American dream that endeared him to many center-right Republicans, he’s now alternating it with a more ominous one. The effect is to make him sound like Ronald Reagan one minute, and like a character from the popular TV series “24” the next.

“If we capture a terrorist alive, we’re not reading them Miranda rights, they’re not going to be hired a lawyer and we’re going to give them a one-way ticket to Guantanamo, where we’re going to find out everything they know,” Rubio said Tuesday, speaking to a standing-room-only crowd of close to 200 gathered at a trucking company headquarters in Fort Dodge, Iowa. A few minutes later, he oscillated back to a more upbeat tone.

“We will not just save the American Dream. We will expand it to reach more people and change more lives than ever before,” he said. “And when our work is done, the 21st century will not just be as good as the 20th century, it is going to be better.”

Rubio’s more aggressive tone comes as his path to the nomination has grown complicated. He’s in third nationally in an average of recent polls, significantly lagging two rivals who have made anger the hallmark of their campaign rhetoric: Rubio is about 24 points behind Trump and 9 points behind Cruz. In Iowa, where the first votes of the presidential campaign will be cast in Feb. 1 caucuses, Rubio stands in third place, about 20 points behind Cruz. In New Hampshire he’s in second place, 13 points behind Trump, barely leading Cruz and Chris Christie. No Republican under modern primary rules dating back to the 1970s has won the nomination after losing the first two states.

The duality in Rubio’s message — sometimes sunny, sometimes dark — reflects his strategy to appeal to all factions of the Republican Party, including the establishment, tea party and evangelical wings. As a result Rubio’s support is broader, but less intense, than that of rivals, who are focusing their appeals more exclusively on one the party’s various constituencies. For Cruz that’s meant a focus on Iowa, with its disproportionately large evangelical vote, while Bush and Christie are zeroing in on New Hampshire, which has a more establishment-friendly Republican electorate.

“The differences between us and other candidates is that some candidates are focused on only one place and we, of course, are campaigning in multiple places,” Rubio told the Des Moines Register’s editorial board on Wednesday.

Rubio is also battling multiple rivals for the various constituencies he’s trying to win. He used a Monday speech on foreign policy to paint Cruz and Rand Paul — rivals for the tea party and evangelical vote — as “isolationist candidates who are apparently more passionate about weakening our military and intelligence capabilities than about destroying our enemies.” Rubio said the Islamic State terrorist group would have lobbied for the USA Freedom Act, a law to limit bulk government collection of Americans’ phone records. Cruz supported the legislation. Meanwhile Rubio’s campaign also continued to circulate articles Wednesday questioning Cruz’s consistency on conservative causes, continuing a battle that the young Cuban-American senators have been waging for two months.

©2016 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio speaks during a town hall meeting at the Fisher Community Center in Marshalltown, Iowa, January 6, 2016. REUTERS/Scott Morgan  

 

What The 2016 Presidential Candidates Must Do To Win

By Sahil Kapur, Michael C. Bender and Arit John, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Less than four weeks before Iowans kick off the 2016 presidential contest with their Feb. 1 caucuses, the early road to the White House appears to be shaping up as a slippery and uncharted one for the Republican Party.

Since the 1970s, no Republican candidate has won the nomination without winning in either Iowa or New Hampshire, which holds the first primary election of the campaign on Feb. 9. But based on recent polling, which shows U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas with a lead in Iowa and businessman Donald Trump with a substantial lead in New Hampshire, the Republican establishment’s only hope for producing an alternative to those insurgent candidates may require defying history and coalescing around a candidate who loses the traditionally crucial first two contests.

On the Democratic side, the nomination is Hillary Clinton’s to lose.

To help readers track what’s likely to be a chaotic and idiosyncratic start to the nominating season, Bloomberg Politics handicapped the leading candidates.

Republicans

Donald Trump

HOW TO WIN: Do well in Iowa, win New Hampshire, start racking up delegates and force rivals to drop out.

The New York reality TV star has built a campaign tapping into populist disdain for the political class while fashioning himself as a rebel and a winner. Now, he has to prove himself by winning actual contests. That possibility is not far-fetched. Trump is atop national polls and leading in every early contest except Iowa, where he’s second to Ted Cruz. But if there’s a voting bloc that may buy a forget-Iowa message, it’s New Hampshire.

HOW TO LOSE: Fail to turn out supporters at the polls, lose New Hampshire, and see his support vaporize.

While Trump continues to tower over the field, many of his admirers aren’t typical voters. While one study suggests they might turn out in bigger numbers than polls indicate, it’s impossible to know for sure whether they will, and Trump is sufficiently concerned to have added a new line to his stump speeches, urging audiences to vote.

If New Hampshire voters, who like to joke that they pick presidents while Iowans pick corn, don’t deliver Trump a victory after he’s led the polls there for so long, it would raise doubts about his candidacy ahead of South Carolina. And weak performances from Trump in both New Hampshire and South Carolina would give the rest of a Republican field an opening that would be, to borrow a phrase, huuuge. Could a man who has made success such a crucial part of his story recover from failure?

Ted Cruz

HOW TO WIN: Win Iowa, deliver a strong performance in New Hampshire and consolidate conservatives.

The tea party firebrand from Texas is uniquely well- positioned for the battle ahead, with a lead in Iowa, second place nationally, a variety of endorsements from evangelical and tea party leaders, strong field organizing and fundraising (boosted by a nearly $20 million fourth-quarter haul) and a quartet of well-funded super-PACs. He kicked off 2016 with a six-day tour across more than two-dozen counties in Iowa this week.

HOW TO LOSE: Under-perform in Iowa and South Carolina, cede votes to Trump or Marco Rubio and fail to unify the right

A loss in Iowa, a state that is practically tailor-made for Cruz, could be deeply damaging and threaten to split the conservatives who have been unifying behind his candidacy. From there it’s a slippery slope to oblivion if a viable conservative alternative to Cruz emerges. One way to staunch the bleeding would be to win South Carolina, but it’s hard to recover after two losses when you’re widely expected to win at least one.

Marco Rubio

HOW TO WIN: Exceed expectations in New Hampshire, unify the establishment and siphon conservatives from Cruz and Trump.

Running third nationally and polling behind in early states, Rubio’s path to the nomination is murky. His prospects may be made or broken in New Hampshire — if he wins there, he becomes the establishment favorite; if he places a strong second behind Trump, it could create pressure for competitors for the center-right vote like Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich to clear the lane. From there Rubio needs to cut into conservative support for Trump and/or Cruz, which is plausible given his deeply conservative voting record and high favorable ratings with GOP voters.

HOW TO LOSE: Finish behind an establishment candidate in New Hampshire, fail to win South Carolina or Nevada and fade away.

Rubio may be the only Republican candidate who’s well-liked by the establishment and conservative wings. But in a contest with Trump and Cruz, his path requires consolidating the establishment. Finishing behind Christie, Bush or Kasich in New Hampshire would be a potentially decisive blow that could push Rubio into the second-tier, preventing him from gaining any meaningful traction.

Unlike the three establishment-backed governors, Rubio’s national focus and ability to appeal to the establishment and conservative wings of the Republican Party could give him staying power even if he loses New Hampshire, but as the most untested national campaigner in the establishment field, he needs to prove his mettle by notching up strong performances early.

Chris Christie

HOW TO WIN: Win New Hampshire, become the establishment front-runner and carry a burst of support into delegate-rich March states.

Christie is trying to follow in the footsteps of John McCain circa 2008. Both campaigns had tanked the summer before the early voting. As McCain successfully did eight years ago, Christie is betting it all on New Hampshire, hoping that a victory there gives him the boost he needs in news coverage, fundraising and polls across other states. Christie’s challenge is similar to Rubio’s: clear the establishment lane and consolidate center-right votes and money to become the clear alternative to Trump and Cruz.

HOW TO LOSE: Lose New Hampshire to an establishment rival.

Given his limited organizing and lack of innate appeal in more conservative states, it would be difficult for Christie to recover from a loss in New Hampshire. Without Bush’s deep pockets or Rubio’s crossover appeal, it’s hard to see how Christie makes a case that he’s the establishment alternative to Trump if he fails to win the early state that seems particularly well-suited for him.

Jeb Bush

HOW TO WIN: Hope Trump, Cruz and Rubio disappoint, and unify the Republican establishment.

Here’s what Bush is hoping for: Trump loses, or barely wins in the first three states; Ted Cruz disappoints after Iowa; Marco Rubio finishes outside the top two or three in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina; Bush finishes ahead of John Kasich and Chris Christie in the early states.

It’s a complicated must-happen list, but nothing there is completely implausible. The toughest thing to envision for Bush may be the most important all: He needs victories or near- victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina to establish himself as a credible contender.

HOW TO LOSE: Run out of excuses in February.

When Bush dropped the lead to Trump, his super-PAC promised a flurry of ads that would turn around the polls by Thanksgiving. When that didn’t happen, a number of wait-and-see arguments erupted from Bush headquarters in Miami (voters don’t pay attention until after the holiday; the Bush campaign has the strongest operation in March states; early state voters will sign-up once a campaign surrogate speaks with them). But without a strong performance in New Hampshire and South Carolina, it will become increasingly difficult to justify the campaign costs to donors.

John Kasich

HOW TO WIN: New Hampshire, New Hampshire, New Hampshire

Kasich is one of several Republicans in the party’s establishment lane who must exceed expectations in New Hampshire to have a chance to continue. A poll from American Research Group two weeks ago showed Kasich was in the mix for second place in the state with 13 percent support. If the Ohio governor can pull off an upset in New Hampshire, and leverage the moment in South Carolina, he’d be in position to win the delegate-rich primary in his home state on March 15.

HOW TO LOSE: Limp into South Carolina

That ARG poll? It was the first in two months that put Kasich in double-digits.

Ben Carson

HOW TO WIN: Catch lightning in Iowa and South Carolina.

Carson captured the imagination of the party’s evangelical wing with an inspiring story of his rise from childhood poverty to become a renowned neurosurgeon, a climb he attributes to his Christian faith. It struck a chord with plenty of voters; we witnessed one veteran of Republican politics in Florida weep when she touched Carson at a November event in the state. But his climb — he was ahead in a Bloomberg national poll in November and the top choice among evangelical voters in South Carolina — was followed by a quick fall as national security took center stage in the primary battle.

HOW TO LOSE: Continue stumbling on foreign affairs, fail to solve the infighting within the campaign, and keep fading.

Those problems have drastically cut — if not eliminated — his chance to win the nomination, and Carson’s poll numbers have been tumbling since Thanksgiving.

The rest

The campaigns of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania are on the bubble. Chronically lagging in the polls, each requires a surprise breakout performance in one of the early states to prevent a complete collapse of momentum, and the campaign donations that go with it.

Democrats

Hillary Clinton

HOW TO WIN: Don’t screw up.

For Clinton, the name of the game is to keep it slow and steady and avoid unforced errors. She’s leading by about 20 points nationally. She’s also dominating the race for super delegates, endorsements, fundraising and is the only candidate with crossover appeal to the various factions and interest groups within the Democratic Party. She’s arguably the strongest candidate in the modern primary era, and the overwhelming favorite for the nomination.

HOW TO LOSE: Get crushed in both Iowa and New Hampshire, commit a variety of blunders and hemorrhage support.

Clinton can survive a loss in New Hampshire and perhaps also Iowa as they are both predominantly white and more liberal primary electorates that favor rival Bernie Sanders. The primaries then move to South Carolina and Nevada. Both states have larger and more diverse Democratic electorates (read: blacks and Latinos) which overwhelmingly favor Clinton. But if she’s decisively routed early, the wave of negative coverage and expectations shift could spell danger.

Bernie Sanders

HOW TO WIN: Outperform in Iowa, win decisively in New Hampshire, put Clinton on defense and hope the stars align.

Sanders needs a major boost from the early states — he leads in New Hampshire but trails by 12 points in Iowa — to damage Clinton and establish himself as a viable alternative before the calendar moves into more hostile territory for the Vermont senator. Since launching his campaign in May, he has been focused on boosting his credibility with large rallies, competitive fundraising totals and a record breaking number of small donors for a non-incumbent this early in the race. Despite his early bursts of strength, Sanders has failed to show significant growth in the polls over the last two months.

HOW TO LOSE: Fail to broaden appeal beyond white liberals and watch Clinton dominate after Iowa and New Hampshire

To become a real threat to Clinton, Sanders has to prove he can appeal to other segments of the party, including black voters in South Carolina, Latino voters in Nevada and more moderate Democrats that, together, tend to decide primary contests. Sanders’ current course isn’t likely to achieve that feat, although not for a lack of effort. He has aggressively reached out to black and Latino voters.

Martin O’Malley

HOW TO WIN: Vastly exceed expectations in early states and hope Clinton and Sanders have to unexpectedly drop out.

Unless aliens abduct Clinton and Sanders, or another unforeseen event forces them to quit the race, O’Malley’s prospects are slim. If he doesn’t vastly out-perform expectations in Iowa and New Hampshire — he’s struggling in the low single-digits everywhere — his candidacy is toast. O’Malley’s strong resume, generational appeal and progressive credentials have had little effect with Democratic voters who long ago came to view the primary as a two-person race. Unlike Sanders, O’Malley lacks the charisma and grass-roots appeal to make up for weak name recognition against the towering candidacy of Clinton.

HOW TO LOSE: Fail to enjoy a sudden and massive amount of good luck.

O’Malley’s problem isn’t a lack of hard work. He has held 43 more events in Iowa than Sanders and 80 more events than Clinton, according to The Des Moines Register. He has held 79 events in New Hampshire (15 more than Clinton’s 64 and 12 more than Sanders’ 67), according to the New England Cable News. But the candidate who shakes the most hands isn’t guaranteed to win, or even elevate to double-digit support. The current course won’t do much for him. Unless some unlikely event forces both Clinton and Sanders out of the race, it’s hard to see a path forward for O’Malley.

©2016 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) Governor John Kasich, former Governor Mike Huckabee, former Governor Jeb Bush, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, businessman Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, Governor Chris Christie and U.S. Rep. Rand Paul participate in the 2016 U.S. Republican presidential candidates debate held by CNBC in Boulder, Colorado, October 28, 2015. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

 

Analysis: 6 Factors That Could Make A Difference For Republicans In 2016

By Sahil Kapur, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Just four weeks before the first votes of the 2016 presidential contest are cast in Iowa’s caucuses, a bizarre, unpredictable year in American politics comes to an end on Thursday night. With billionaire reality TV star Donald Trump and tea party-aligned Sen. Ted Cruz leading the Republican field, the big question is whether the 2016 election will change American politics as we know it or whether there will be a return to the familiar in the final stretch.

Here are six factors that could make a difference.

1. Cruz loves the campaign trail

Cruz is as comfortable and happy on the stump as he is uptight and gloomy on Capitol Hill. While Republican rivals like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich approach campaigning like a job, Cruz revels in it, often coming across as a boisterous televangelist feeding off the adoration of the crowd. The Texas senator deploys fiery lines and sarcastic jokes from one campaign stop to the next with an identical script and delivery, right down to the pauses for applause and impact, like an actor who has practiced and perfected a routine in the mirror the night before.

2. Rubio’s eyes are on the November prize

Rubio’s pitch to Republican voters is focused on his electability. Campaign allies who introduce him on the stump make a point to mention it, and the Floridian likes to bring it up himself. Rubio’s message of a “new American century” and picking a leader for “tomorrow” and not “yesterday” sneak-previews themes he hopes to use against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in a general election.

That’s why, even as he sounds the conservative note meant for the voters who tend show up at Republican caucuses and primaries, Rubio maintains ideological escape hatches on a number of hot-button issues. For instance, on immigration reform, he emphasizes border security hurdles he’d erect as a prerequisite but he’s open to a path to citizenship for those now living here illegally. On abortion, Rubio says he’d prefer to enact an across-the-board ban, but says he’s willing to support popular exceptions for rape and incest. He doesn’t want to take in new Syrian refugees, but softens that line when it comes to young orphans or elderly widows.

This tendency toward triangulation has bred distrust in some corners of the right where Rubio is seen as too cozy with party elites. But another way to look at it is Rubio is keeping one eye trained on the fall campaign, when winning means attracting voters in the center. Amassing Republican cred does Rubio little good: He says he’s quitting the Senate no matter what happens in the election (his term expires after 2016), so he’s betting his political career on November.

3. The big difference between Cruz and Rubio: temperament

Much has been made of the differences between the Senate’s two Cuban-American freshmen on immigration and national security. Cruz has ruled out legalizing people in the U.S. illegally, while Rubio remains open to a path to eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Rubio espouses a foreign policy of promoting democracy abroad, while Cruz opposes nation-building. Rubio has attacked Cruz for supporting legislation that stopped the government from automatically collecting bulk phone data, although Cruz argues that it protects Americans from terrorist attacks while also protecting civil liberties.

Apart from those disputes, however, there are precious few policy disagreements that separate the two top-tier candidates. The two first-term senators have similar voting records and are rated by right-of-center groups as among the most conservative senators in recent history.

Temperamentally, however, they’re opposites, and that contrast shows on the campaign trail. While Cruz deploys scorched-earth rhetoric calling for a conservative revolution, Rubio offers a gentler touch in calling for a course correction to preserve the American dream. Cruz is appealing to the hard- core conservative wing that has grown in influence during the Obama era. Rubio is trying to court the tea party base that fueled his 2010 Senate bid while also appealing to old-school moderates in the Republican tent, who may not be as loud or excitable but tend to vote regularly and have powered past nominees such as Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008.

4. The rise of the Islamic State is helping Chris Christie

Not coincidentally, the New Jersey governor’s support among Republicans in New Hampshire and nationally has grown since the San Bernardino, Calif., shootings elevated fears of terrorist sleeper cells. A former federal prosecutor who has been accused of embellishing his credentials, Christie has a campaign message that hearkens back to George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign. “This country is in danger and we need a president who’ll protect the American people,” Christie said recently at a stop in Exeter, New Hampshire. “The world is coming apart at the seams, and we can feel it.”

It’s hard to find anybody at Christie rallies in New Hampshire, the early state where he’s placed most of his focus, who doesn’t cite national security as a top concern. The higher that number goes with Republican voters, the more room Christie has to sell his message and grow his base. And he does so with a unique touch — a New Jersey bravado that tells voters he’s a tough guy but also has an empathy that says he cares about them and understands their fears. That could be an effective combination.

5. Trump needs his angry, alienated base to show up

It’s not hard to find people at Trump rallies who think President Barack Obama is a Muslim (he is a Christian). Placards have compared the commander in chief to Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister of Great Britain who infamously tried to appease Adolf Hitler. Some spout darker conspiracy theories that the president wants to help radical Muslims destroy the U.S. Underlying the profound disaffection among Trump’s predominantly white base of supporters: concerns about an economy that has left blue-collar workers behind and about demographic changes that are projected to eventually make whites a minority in the nation.

That may account for Trump’s staying power, defying endless predictions of impending doom, and looming as the single biggest and most consequential surprise of 2015. The million-dollar question in 2016 is whether the estranged and alienated voters Trump has attracted will show up at the polls that count. The answer to that question will determine whether Trump has changed American politics as we know it.

6. Bush is becoming an anti-Trump message candidate

Some candidates may never win, but want to be on the presidential stage to spread a message they care about, whether it’s Ron Paul touting an idiosyncratic brand of isolationist libertarianism or Jesse Jackson crusading for civil rights and workers’ rights. One of the more unexpected twists of 2015 has been the evolution of Bush — a son and brother of former presidents who entered the race as a favorite for the nomination — into something of a message candidate as his poll numbers collapse. His message: Trump is dangerous and “unhinged,” would be a “chaos president,” and would lose to Clinton anyway.

©2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump talk at the end of the debate. REUTERS/Mike Blake

 

Rubio’s Same-Sex Marriage Opposition Clashes With Generational Message

By Sahil Kapur, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Marco Rubio often pitches himself as the candidate of the future, but when it comes to the issue of same- sex marriage, he’s something of a throwback.

The Republican presidential candidate said Sunday that he disagrees with the recent Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide and does not consider it to be settled law.

“It is the current law. I don’t believe any case law is settled law. Any future Supreme Court can change it,” Rubio, 44, said on NBC’s Meet The Press, referring to the landmark June 2015 ruling. “And ultimately, I will appoint Supreme Court justices that will interpret the Constitution as originally constructed.”

On Monday, Rubio rolled out a new campaign ad in which he appeals to Americans who “feel out of place in our own country,” including “millions with traditional values branded bigots and haters.”

While every major Republican candidate opposes gay marriage, Rubio’s position clashes with generational change in the U.S. A Pew Research Center poll in July found that it is supported by 70 percent of millennials (born in 1981 or later) and 59 percent of Generation X (born 1965-1980), while just 45 percent of baby boomers and 39 percent of the silent generation wants it to be legal.

On Meet The Press, Rubio labeled the 5-4 decision “bad law,” arguing that states should be allowed to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples, defending it as a “traditional and age-old institution.” Unlike Hillary Clinton, who came out for gay marriage in 2013, Rubio has consistently opposed it. (He also recently told the Christian Broadcasting Network that he’d overturn President Barack Obama’s executive order aimed at prohibiting federal contractors from making employment decisions on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.)

Opposition to same-sex marriage gives Democrats ammunition against Rubio’s core message that he’s the candidate that best reflects the future of America. “If I am our nominee, they will be the party of the past, and we will be the party of the future,” Rubio said to cheers and applause during the Nov. 10 Republican debate. The generational message, which Obama successfully deployed against Hillary Clinton in 2008, is widely seen as a boon to Rubio in a hypothetical general election against Clinton, the favorite for the 2016 Democratic nomination.

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal national poll finds Clinton and Rubio tied 45-45 percent head-to-head among voters aged 18 to 34, traditionally a stronghold for Democrats.

The divide over same-sex marriage encapsulates Rubio’s dilemma: He’s a young face in a party dominated by older voters. The Pew poll found that while a majority of Americans want gay couples to be able to marry, just 32 percent of Republicans and 24 percent of white evangelical protestants support it. In a candid election postmortem in 2013, the Republican National Committee acknowledged the “generational difference” on gay rights and warned, “If our party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out.”

Sen. Ted Cruz has proposed a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court ruling and let states outlaw it. Rubio is not supporting such an amendment, and argued on Sunday that it “would be conceding that the current Constitution is somehow wrong and needs to be fixed.”

In some ways, Rubio is more relatable to younger Americans. As he often reminds voters in debates and stump speeches, he didn’t pay off his student loan debt until just a few years ago. The son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio represents America’s diversifying youth. He’s also a follower of hip-hop music.

“I’m a big fan. He’s got a nice story,” said Grace Cunnie, an 18-year-old freshman at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire who attended a Rubio campaign event there last month. “He has a very relatable story.”

The generational message doesn’t translate as well on a policy level.

Surveys indicate that Clinton is more in tune with younger generations than Rubio on issues such as raising the federal minimum wage, normalizing relations with Cuba and loosening marijuana laws. While Clinton (like majorities of young voters) favors these ideas, Rubio opposes a wage hike, vows to reverse Obama’s move to open diplomatic relations with Cuba and said in August he’d enforce anti-marijuana federal laws in states that have legalized pot, like Colorado and Washington.

Regardless, some younger Republicans are drawn to Rubio’s pitch.

“I really like how he talks about how the 21st century can be the best years for America,” said Joshua Gagne, a 19-year-old college freshman in New Hampshire. “He’s got a very positive message, unlike some of the other candidates.”

©2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Supporters of gay marriage wave the rainbow flag after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the U.S. Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry.

The Immigration Questions Ted Cruz Won’t Answer

By Sahil Kapur, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Even as he makes immigration a central issue in his presidential campaign, there are two important questions on the topic that Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has repeatedly declined to answer.

The first is what to do about the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. illegally. The second is whether granting them some form of legal status (even something short of a path to citizenship) amounts to “amnesty.”

“I consider amnesty to be forgiving the law-breaking of those who come here illegally and having no consequences and in particular, a path to citizenship,” he told reporters in Clinton, Iowa, before a campaign event, when asked to define the term.

Pressed on whether legal status for undocumented immigrants amounted to amnesty, Cruz moved on and took a different question. As the news conference ended, the Texan was asked that question again, and declined to say.

Cruz has proposed what he calls the “most aggressive” plan to crack down on illegal immigration, but it’s silent on how to handle the current undocumented population. One of his rivals, Donald Trump, has proposed mass deportation, an idea criticized for being wildly expensive (more than $400 billion, according to one conservative estimate). Another rival, Sen. Marco Rubio, is open to a path to eventual citizenship, a position Cruz has blasted as “amnesty” (though Cruz hasn’t said if he believes legal status without a path to citizenship also counts as “amnesty”).

An email to reporters by Rubio’s campaign declared that “Senator Cruz is proving to be rather consistent only in dodging questions.”

Cruz has struggled to find a safe place in between, and said in recent months he won’t discuss what to do about people in the country illegally until the border is “secure.”

So Bloomberg put the question to Cruz in an exclusive interview Monday afternoon between campaign events in Iowa: What will it take to achieve a “secure border” and therefore address undocumented immigrants?

In response, Cruz deflected and attacked Democrats as soft on illegal immigration. Asked in a follow-up if he’d be willing to address the question of what to do about the undocumented population once all the security measures he has proposed — including a border wall, tripling the border patrol and a biometric entry-exit visa tracking system — are in place, Cruz pivoted to insisting he’ll prioritize securing the border and stopping illegal immigration.

The Texan’s challenge is that he’s boxed in: Any hint of support for normalizing the status of undocumented immigrants risks turning off the conservative voters he’s relying on, while mass deportation is widely viewed as impractical — and inhumane by some Republicans. Cruz’s progressive critics say his demurrals are a red-herring — that he’s setting up obstacles that will never be met.

What Cruz preferred to discuss is his vote against comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, a bill despised by many conservatives, and that Rubio supported but has since backed away from. During the press conference in the town of Clinton, Cruz said his record and Rubio’s record are as different as “the arsonist and the fireman,” adding: “Marco Rubio led the fight standing shoulder to shoulder with Chuck Schumer and Barack Obama for a massive amnesty plan.”

Speaking to Bloomberg, Cruz made clear he would, as president, immediately end President Barack Obama’s 2012 program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to grant deportation relief and two-year work permits to roughly 650,000 young people brought to the country illegally as children. Cruz also said he’d end Obama’s 2014 actions to expand deportation relief.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has promised to protect and expand on both programs, a stance that is popular with Hispanic voters, who could decide a close election if it comes down to key swing states like Florida, Colorado and Nevada.

©2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Ted Cruz, right, would rather deflect to criticize Democrats than answer questions. Marc Nozell via Flickr

 

Bromance On The Rocks: Surging Ted Cruz Begins To Poke Donald Trump

By Sahil Kapur, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Ted Cruz’s moment has arrived.

Less than 10 weeks before Iowa voters cast the first votes of the presidential campaign season in Feb. 1 caucuses, a new Quinnipiac poll shows the Texas senator statistically tied with Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump for the lead in the state. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Cruz is tentatively beginning to take on the brash New York billionaire after months of cozying up.

Twice in recent days, the Texan has seized opportunities to distance himself from Trump’s policies and rhetoric.

First, Cruz disagreed with Trump after the New Yorker expressed openness to setting up a registry of Muslim Americans in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. “I’m a big fan of Donald Trump’s but I’m not a fan of government registries of American citizens,” Cruz told reporters in Iowa, according to Politico. “The First Amendment protects religious liberty, I’ve spent the past several decades defending religious liberty.”

Then over the weekend, he politely chided inflammatory rhetoric from fellow Republicans on immigration, citing Trump, in an interview with The Associated Press. “Tone matters,” Cruz said. “Are there some in the Republican Party whose rhetoric is unhelpful with regard to immigration? Yes.”

Cruz’s campaign said to expect more distinctions to come.

“Senator Cruz has drawn policy contrasts with his opponents before and he will continue to do so as he shares his own record and positions with voters on the campaign trail,” said Catherine Frazier, Cruz’s spokeswoman. “As the field continues to narrow, it’s only natural that the contrasts between the front-runners will become more evident.”

The contrast-drawing follows an unusual summer and fall bromance between Trump and Cruz that included a July meeting at Trump Tower in New York, instigated by the Texan, and a September rally on Capitol Hill headlined by the two Republican candidates. On Oct. 8, Cruz admitted his strategy was to eventually win over Trump’s supporters. “In time, I don’t believe Donald is going to be the nominee, and I think in time the lion’s share of his supporters end up with us,” he told WABC’s Rita Cosby.

Trump’s persistent national lead since July, defying a steady stream of predictions about an impending implosion, has forced a strategic shift for Cruz. The Texan is looking to capitalize as he rises to the top tier of the GOP race and as former Iowa front-runner Ben Carson sinks under scrutiny. The new Quinnipiac poll of Iowa Republicans, released Tuesday, found Trump at 25 percent, with Cruz at 23 percent — a 2 percent gap that is inside the survey’s margin of error. Carson was third in the Quinnipiac Poll with 18 percent.

“Ted Cruz should be taken very seriously. He’s laid out a very well thought out grassroots and fundraising network across the country. He’s been very strategic in his timing,” said Ron Bonjean, a veteran Republican operative who is not affiliated with any of the presidential campaigns.

For Cruz, Trump presents an obstacle and an opportunity. The politically incorrect New Yorker has been outperforming the Texas firebrand at his own greatest talent: deploying scorched-earth rhetoric to channel the anti-establishment sentiments in the GOP. But Trump’s bravado gives Cruz a chance to paint himself as something nobody in Washington would accuse him of being: prudent and measured.

“There is massive irony here for Ted Cruz to be asking Donald Trump to tone it down,” said Bonjean. “He’s trying to look like the most adult candidate in the room — the most realistic alternative that could take away Trump voters.”

The irony is that Cruz has built an image upon angering Republican leaders with tactics like incubating the government shutdown of 2013, forcing weekend work as he makes a stand, and calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar on the floor this summer. It has been a tactical use of his Senate seat, Bonjean said, that has enabled Cruz to cultivate his conservative base and that now positions him to seize his political advantage. “He has built a foundation brick by brick for this moment.”

The appeal of Cruz is straightforward: He’s a crusader for tea party and evangelical Christian causes with the scars to show for smashing fists with a Republican Party leadership that is increasingly disliked by the base. And he has an unusually large war chest for a non-establishment figure — $26.5 million as of his third quarter filing with the Federal Election Commission, along with $37.8 million as of June 30 by a quartet of super PACs supporting him — towering over the fundraising of past Iowa caucus winners Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, who are running again and trying to appeal to the same conservative base.

Cruz is battling on a second front with presidential rival and fellow Sen. Marco Rubio, seeking to cast the Floridian as an establishment-friendly foil to his insurgent persona. The two first-term senators, who have been neck and neck for third place in an average of national polls, are duking it out over Rubio’s support for immigration reform in 2013 and Cruz’s vote this year to curtail the government’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone data.

Meanwhile, Trump has suggested Cruz is copying his ideas, telling conservative radio host Laura Ingraham last week that “Ted Cruz is now agreeing with me 100 percent.” The confrontational New Yorker has also indicated he’ll take the gloves off if Cruz becomes a threat to his nomination.

“If he catches on, I guess we’ll have to go to war,” Trump said last Monday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

©2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) (R) greets businessman Donald Trump onstage as they address a Tea Party rally against the Iran nuclear deal at the U.S. Capitol in Washington September 9, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Paris Terrorist Attacks Could Mark A Turning Point In Republican Primary

By Sahil Kapur, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Deadly attacks Friday night by the Islamic State in Paris have thrust foreign policy to the forefront of the 2016 presidential debate in the United States, providing an important gut-check moment for Republican voters who rank outsiders Donald Trump and Ben Carson as their top choices.

One school of thought among Republican strategists is that the new focus could benefit Trump, whom GOP voters trust most on foreign policy. In a Reuters poll released in November, 41 percent picked Trump as their favorite candidate to conduct foreign policy, while 39 percent picked Carson. Sen. Marco Rubio came in third place with 31 percent. Republican voters said they trust Carson most to handle nuclear weapons, followed by Trump, and with Rubio in third.

According to this theory, Trump’s unparalleled knack for bravado — exemplified by his vow in Iowa to “bomb the shit out of” ISIS one day before the Paris attacks — could further endear him to conservative voters, despite his lack of experience on foreign policy.

“Many of us have said that national security policy needs to be central to the elections. Paris only makes that more clear,” said Danielle Pletka, a national security and foreign policy hawk who works at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “Trump is a candidate for people who think reality TV is reality. Perhaps when they see the faces of the dead, they will realize that in real life, slogans don’t save people. Sound policy does.”

Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush — who round out the top five current polling leaders in the GOP field — are trying to seize the moment and show their foreign policy chops.

Bush cast doubt Sunday on whether Trump or Carson can be trusted to be commander-in-chief. “The words that I hear them speaking give me some concern,” he said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

Carson didn’t help himself in a “Fox News Sunday” interview, when he was unable to name any countries he’d include in an international coalition he has called for to go after Islamic State militarily.

“This reframes the candidate choice in the eyes of many voters,” said Kevin Madden, a senior adviser and spokesman for Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. “This race could potentially swing away from candidates who were offering the outsider argument and instead swing toward those candidates touting a more serious and substantive agenda with regard to national security and foreign policy.”

On Sunday, Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the U.S. “won’t be able to take more refugees,” because “there’s no way to background check someone that’s coming from Syria.” (In September, he said told Boston Herald radio he “would be open to” taking in more refugees provided terrorists were screened out.) The Florida senator, who has made hawkish foreign policy a centerpiece of his campaign, also called for invoking Article 5 of the NATO agreement to deem the Paris attack an act of war and fight back collectively.

Cruz said Saturday on Fox News that it “makes no sense whatsoever” to bring in Syrian refugees to the United States, given that “our intelligence cannot determine if they are terrorists here to kill us or not.” He also said that “our enemies are not tired of killing us. This will be coming to America. ISIS plans to bring these acts of terror to America.”

Immigration is also weaving its way into the national security debate, with some Republican candidates channeling the base’s wariness of immigration reform by connecting those proposals to an increased risk of terrorism.

On Friday afternoon, Cruz took a swipe at Rubio for supporting an immigration overhaul in 2013. “If you’re supporting amnesty, you’re supporting the Obama-Clinton weakness and appeasement to radical Islamic terrorism,” he said in Orlando while rolling out an immigration policy blueprint.

Sen. Rand Paul also went after Rubio on Saturday during a speech in the Floridian’s home state for blocking an amendment Paul offered to the 2013 immigration bill which would have imposed higher scrutiny for people coming to the United States. “I think that was a mistake, not only for the bill, but also for national security,” Paul said of Rubio’s opposition, according to CNN. Rubio retorted Sunday on ABC: “Rand just uses this sort of rhetoric to distract from his very weak record on national security issues.”

At a rally Saturday in Beaumont, Texas, Trump called it “insane” for the U.S. to bring in Syrian refugees. He also deployed trademark bravado against a rival, saying Rubio “wants to give everybody amnesty.” He also claimed the Paris massacres may not have been so bad if the country had looser gun control laws.

Mike Huckabee, a marginal candidate in the GOP race, called for closing U.S. borders and imposing an immediate moratorium to keep out people from countries where “there is strong presence of ISIS or al-Qaida.”

It’s unclear how long the issue will reverberate in the primary, let alone how it will resonate in the general election debate. International affairs tend not to be a central consideration for Americans — just 8 percent of American voters said “foreign policy and the Middle East” was their top issue in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken late October, although the number has been higher among Republicans.

In the near future, the attacks will prompt Republican primary voters to consider whether they truly want an outsider handling foreign policy and nuclear weapons, or whether they ultimately want someone with experience in government to be in charge of their security. The candidates are continuing to draw contrasts with President Barack Obama’s policies and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton’s view, expressed Saturday night during a debate, that “this cannot be an American fight, although American leadership is essential” in the battle against the Islamic State.

“Before a major national security event like this, voters reconcile their support for a candidate like Trump by arguing they want something different,” Madden said. “But, after an event like this the idea of a Trump candidacy could give them great pause.”

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidates (L-R) U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, businessman Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson pose before the start of the 2016 U.S. Republican presidential candidates debate held by CNBC in Boulder, Colorado, October 28, 2015. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

Ted Cruz Sets Sights On ‘Moderate’ Marco Rubio

By Sahil Kapur, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — For Ted Cruz, the single biggest obstacle to winning the Republican nomination may not be outsider candidates Donald Trump or Ben Carson, but his fellow first-term senator, Marco Rubio.

After strong debate performances, both Cruz and Rubio — two 44-year-old Cuban Americans — saw their poll numbers rise, and interest from donors jump. The two Republican presidential hopefuls are now locked in a third-place tie according to a national Los Angeles Times poll ahead of Tuesday’s debate in Milwaukee. As a result Cruz and his allies have begun zeroing in on Rubio.

“As I look at the race, historically, there have been two major lanes in the Republican primary. There’s been a moderate lane and a conservative lane,” Cruz told CNN on Thursday. “Marco is certainly formidable in that lane. I think the Jeb (Bush) campaign seems to view Marco as his biggest threat in the moderate lane.”

The Texas hardliner’s mischievous branding of Rubio as a “moderate” is the first shot in a showdown that may unfold in the coming days of the campaign.

The label “moderate” may seem anodyne, but in the context of modern Republican primaries it is generally meant as an insult. Just 24 percent of Republicans self-identify as “moderate” while 70 percent self-identify as “conservative,” according to Gallup. In the era of President Barack Obama, compromising with Democrats is toxic among GOP voters, who prefer that their leaders stand up for conservative principles and have instilled fear by purging long-serving Republicans with moderate views such as Sens. Bob Bennett and Richard Lugar.

“Every day, more and more conservatives are uniting behind our campaign,” Cruz said. “And once it gets down to a head-to-head contest between a conservative and a moderate, I think the conservative wins.”

In a head-to-head match-up, Cruz and Rubio are statistically tied, according to YouGov — 38 percent of Republicans favor Rubio, 34 percent prefer Cruz; the difference is inside the November poll’s margin of error.

Given Rubio’s background and voting record in the U.S. Senate, some Republicans are having trouble with Cruz’s description of him as a “moderate.”

“Of course he isn’t,” said Katie Packer Gage, deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney in 2012. “Cruz is being purposely misleading. It’s dishonest.”

In 2010, Rubio waged a long-shot bid fueled by right-wing groups to defeat GOP establishment favorite Charlie Crist and went on to become one of the mascots of that year’s tea party wave. His Senate voting record is anything but moderate, featuring routine opposition to bipartisan deals to avert government shutdowns and debt default, as well as rejecting popular Democratic-led proposals such as raising the federal minimum wage and toughening equal pay for women laws.

As a result, Rubio has scored a rating of 90 percent from Heritage Action, 93 percent from the Club For Growth and 98 percent from the American Conservative Union, three conservative groups that grade Republicans on purity. By contrast, Cruz’s ratings are 98 percent, 96 percent and 100 percent — not a huge difference. Both are far above the GOP average and rank among the most ideologically conservative senators.

“If we separate ourselves from the current universe that is the Republican Party, Rubio is at the right end of the spectrum,” said Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

In 2013, Rubio made a major exception and broke with conservative orthodoxy to work on a comprehensive immigration reform bill, which he later turned against in the face of intense right-wing opposition. That is shaping up to be a sticking point — a pro-Cruz super-PAC recently released a radio ad in Iowa attacking Rubio’s “amnesty bill.” Cruz’s campaign and various super PACs have no shortage of money to go after Rubio, should they want to — they’ve raised well over $60 million combined this year.

Ornstein said Rubio’s turn against the immigration bill forfeits claims he might make to being a moderate problem-solver. “It is only compared to Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Louie Gohmert or Allen West that you could consider Rubio moderate,” he said. “So I guess by the standards of an insurgent outlier party, he is moderate.”

Cruz and Rubio also differ on trade — Cruz voted against fast-tracking Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal while Rubio voted in favor of it — but neither position is disqualifying on the right.

The most important differences between the two men are not on policy, but rather in their respective styles. Rubio typically steers clear of combustible rhetoric and has a good reputation among Republican leaders, elites and donors (such as billionaire Paul Singer). Cruz, on the other hand, often assails his own party’s leaders as traitors to the conservative cause when they cut deals with Democrats, which has earned him the admiration of the conservative base and the scorn of GOP colleagues and leaders, including being branded a “jackass” by former House Speaker John Boehner

Rubio rejects the idea that he’s an “establishment candidate.” If true, he recently told Newsmax, “I’d be raising a lot more money.” His campaign declined to comment on Cruz’s remarks about him.

Cruz sought Rubio’s endorsement while running for the Senate in 2012, according to the New York Times, but won without it. The following fall, after Rubio embraced Cruz’s push to force a government shutdown if Obamacare wasn’t defunded, the Texan heralded the Floridian as “a critical national leader” in a floor speech on Sept. 24, 2013. Cruz said, “I don’t know if there is anyone more effective, more articulate, or a more persuasive voice for conservative principles than my friend Marco Rubio.”
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(c)2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks at the the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, September 19, 2015. REUTERS/Brian C. Frank

Analysis: Trump Plan Highlights The Dubious Assumption At The Heart Of Republican Tax Proposals

By Sahil Kapur and Michael C. Bender, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump revealed a tax reform plan Monday that, like many of the proposals put forth by his Republican rivals, contains a dubious assumption: that tax cuts will generate rapid economic growth.

Trump’s proposal is similar to the one Jeb Bush unveiled in early September. Both slash the top individual tax rate from 39.6 percent (Trump to 25 percent, Bush to 28 percent), the corporate tax rate from 35 percent (Trump to 15 percent, Bush to 20 percent) and would eliminate the estate tax. Both provide the largest share of benefits to upper income earners.

To address the trillions of dollars in lost revenue, both Trump and Bush point to “dynamic scoring,” a method controversial among economists, and popular with congressional Republicans, that assumes that tax breaks spur economic growth. While Bush assumes 4 percent growth under his plan, Trump said his plan could boost it as high as 6 percent.

“We’re going to have growth that will be tremendous,” Trump told reporters Monday.

Leonard Burman, the director of Tax Policy Center in Washington said a projection of 6 percent growth is “completely implausible.”

“It’s faith-based revenue scoring,” Burman said in an interview.

But Trump is not alone in making that ambitious calculus when proposing large tax cuts.

A paper by four economists, including Jeb Bush adviser Glenn Hubbard, estimates that Bush’s plan will cost $1.2 trillion over a decade under dynamic scoring — and $3.4 trillion without it. That is despite the fact that Bush calls for limiting several specific tax expenditures, most notably by eliminating the state and local deduction, one of the largest in the federal code.

Dynamic scoring assumes that tax cuts will generate economic activity, an idea conservatives broadly embrace. Many mainstream economists avoid that assumption because they prefer not to make projections about macroeconomic impacts of fiscal policy, as economic behavior is difficult to predict and dependent on many factors. Critics note that tax cuts haven’t always been a panacea for growth in the past; progressive economist Jared Bernstein has labeled dynamic scoring “fairy dust.”

On Fox News Sunday, Bush said the tax policies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush “didn’t (add to the deficit) as greatly as the static thinkers on the left think. They created a dynamic effect of high growth, and that’s what we need.”

The Tampa Bay Times‘ fact-checking website PolitiFact rated Bush’s claim “mostly false,” noting that tax cuts under George W. Bush led to the second-lowest rate of average annual inflation-adjusted GDP increase, economic growth among the last five presidents, a rate of 2.1 percent. By contrast, tax increases under Bill Clinton led to an average growth rate of 3.9 percent.

“At this point, the prevailing view among economists is that you’d have some economic benefits but not nearly the amount that (the Trump and Bush plans) assume,” said Roberton C. Williams, a tax expert with the Urban Institute.

Bush’s father, former President George H. W. Bush, questioned the wisdom of relying on tax cuts as an economic driver. As a presidential candidate in 1980, he referred to Ronald Reagan’s plan to do just that as “voodoo economics,” although he embraced the plan after he joined Reagan on the Republican presidential ticket that year.

The concept has gained support in the GOP since then, and many Republicans have invoked dynamic scoring to argue that tax cuts wouldn’t be as costly as traditional budgetary forecasting models predict.

Sen. Marco Rubio’s tax-cut plan — which would slash individual and corporate taxes and repeal taxes on capital gains and investment income — is similarly premised on the promise of growth. “The goal of this plan is to generate growth,” Rubio said at a news conference in March.

The Tax Foundation, which advocates for tax cuts, found that Rubio’s plan (which is co-authored by Sen. Mike Lee) would cost $1.7 trillion under dynamic scoring, and upwards of $4 trillion over a decade without growth assumptions. The Tax Policy Center said it “blows a huge hole in federal finances” as it doesn’t say how it would be funded.

Some Republican contenders — such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — have proposed wiping out the federal tax code and installing a simple flat tax. Paul has endorsed a 14.5 percent flat rate, which Williams said was “just too low” to make up for lost revenue.

While taxes do have an impact on the economy, measuring that impact is a matter of debate, said Matt McDonald, a partner at Hamilton Place Strategies, a Washington-based firm that advises companies on economic policy.

“It’s like trying to measure the exact location of an atom; whenever you measure it, it moves,” said McDonald, a former assistant communications director in the George W. Bush White House.

Apart from rosy assumptions about economic growth, the most detailed Republican tax plans — those by Bush and Trump — both grant disproportionate breaks to high income earners. Democrats will be keen on highlighting that fact in a general election.

“The Trump plan and the Bush plan clearly benefit the wealthy because that’s where the biggest tax cuts are coming from,” Williams said.

(c)2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Marco Rubio Has A New Answer For His Inexperience Problem

By Sahil Kapur, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON – Has Marco Rubio hit on a way to turn two political minuses into a plus?

The 44-year-old first-term senator is competing for the Republican presidential nomination against a crowded field that includes eight governors or former governors and several more experienced lawmakers. He has also been dogged by questions about his acumen when it comes to his personal finances. In recent days he has come up with an argument that seemingly attempts to handle both potential problems.

At a forum last weekend in Ames, Iowa, Republican pollster Frank Luntz told Rubio that “the single biggest knock on you” is that “you haven’t been around long enough.” In response, the son of Cuban immigrants from humble beginnings cleverly morphed job “experience” into life “experience,” arguing that his makes him the most qualified to understand issues facing ordinary Americans.

“I don’t think anybody running for president understands what life is like for people today more than I do,” Rubio said, adding that his parents lived “paycheck to paycheck” and that he had student loans until four years ago. His youth and his financial struggles have given him more of the kind of experience a president needs, he argued.

“No one running has more experience on the issues we face right now, today, in the 21st century, with a world that’s more dangerous than ever and an economy that’s changing faster than we’ve ever seen since the industrial revolution.”

The crowd applauded.

Thursday, in another interview, Rubio trotted out a different version of the same line.

“The world is changing, and no one who is running for president has more experience than I do on the issues confronting our country right now,” the freshman Florida senator told Fox News in an interview Thursday.

Fox host Bret Baier didn’t seem convinced. Why, he asked, is a governor not better positioned for the White House than he is?

Rubio responded that the presidency is a “unique office” that’s “not like being a senator, but it’s not like being a governor, either,” saying that presidents face national security challenges but that they “don’t create jobs.”

Republican voters tend to prefer governors to senators for the White House — and Rubio has been among them in the past as he endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008 and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012. Recently in Iowa, a voter pointed out similarities between Rubio and then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

America’s Socialists Say Bernie Sanders Can Advance Their Cause

By Sahil Kapur, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — When Senator Bernie Sanders declared his long-shot presidential run last week, he became the most high-profile candidate to describe himself as a socialist since Norman Thomas made six consecutive bids starting in 1928.

The Vermont independent — who is pursuing the Democratic nomination and calls himself a “democratic socialist” — was described by two American socialist organizations as the strongest socialist candidate in high public office to carry the torch.

“I think he can advance the socialist movement,” said Socialist Party USA Co-Chair Mimi Soltysik, even as he called Sanders “a different sort of creature” than a true socialist, criticizing his vote for Obamacare (because it relies too much on private insurers), his support for Israel (due to its treatment of Palestinians), and the fact that he’s running for the nomination of a “capitalist party” (they refuse on principle to work with or support Democrats).

He said Sanders is far stronger than the possible alternatives — including Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a favorite of mainstream progressives who isn’t running, as well as Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom Soltysik dubbed one of the “capitalist corporate politicians.”

The Democratic Socialists of America, an advocacy group that differs tactically from the Socialist Party USA in that it supports candidates within the two-party system, has endorsed Sanders.

“We do think he’s the best candidate out there,” said Maria Svart, DSA’s national director. “He’s the only person in Congress who is willing to point out the problems with capitalism….And he’s not afraid of the word ‘socialist.’ ”

Both groups — which have little national influence and scant presence in federal or local public office — love the fact that Sanders embraces the label “socialist,” which is usually deployed as a slur in American politics.

“I think having that word in the discourse — it can help sort of stimulate a positive response, as the stigma wears off,” Soltysik said. “So let’s say hypothetically that Bernie Sanders doesn’t defeat Hillary Clinton in the primary. We’ll still have a lot more people who know what (the word socialism) means. That’s a positive.”

But why does the Socialist Party say Sanders isn’t a real socialist? Soltysik says democratic socialists believe in “community control of institutions,” rather than private control; “local control of the means of production”; and a socialized medical program.

“And we’re anti-capitalist,” he said. “We don’t see capitalism as a reformable institution.”

Sanders has steered clear of the more radical components of democratic socialism. He has instead developed a keen eye for political reality since he was first elected to Congress in 1990, and made a name for himself by fighting for ideas now popular with mainstream progressives, such as taxing the rich, regulating Wall Street, and bridging income inequality.

Appearing Sunday on ABC’s This Week, Sanders stood by the “democratic socialist” label and said the U.S. should learn from Scandinavian countries, arguing that they have better health care, education, and child-care systems. “And in those countries, by and large, government works for ordinary people and the middle class, rather than, as is the case right now in our country, for the billionaire class,” the senator said.

Speaking in Manchester, N.H., over the weekend, Sanders said he’d be willing to register as a Democrat if it was necessary to compete in all 50 states in the primary, according to The Washington Post.

Photo: David Shankbone via Flickr