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Outside Challenger Donald Trump’s grasp on the Republican presidential nomination growing increasingly stronger, the billionaire businessman’s rivals get one more chance to challenge the GOP front-runner on the debate stage before next week’s slate of Super Tuesday contests.
The situation is likely more dire for the other GOP candidates than they’d like voters to believe. Yet Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have so far shown little willingness to take on the former reality television star when the national spotlight shines brightest.
That could change Thursday night in Houston.
“The vast and overwhelming majority of Republicans do not want Donald Trump to be our nominee,” Rubio told NBC, suggesting that Trump is winning only because the other candidates are splitting up the majority of the electorate.
For his part, the New York billionaire predicted the relative civility between Rubio and himself is about to disappear. The ninth Republican debate of the presidential campaign will take place just a few days before 11 states hold GOP elections that will either cement Trump’s dominance, or let his rivals slow his march to his party’s presidential nomination.
Both Cruz and Rubio know full-well that the strategy of ignoring the front-runner is not working. How they tackle Trump remains to be seen, to date, Trump has proved largely immune to traditional political attacks, something he reveled in on Wednesday. “I seem to have a very good track record when to do go after me,” the New York real estate mogul told NBC.
The task is made more complicated by the shift from single-state campaigns to a new phase of the race, where the candidates must compete across several states at the same time. Next Tuesday features voting in a mix of states that include Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, Massachusetts and Virginia, with more to come in the weeks after.
Trump won Nevada’s presidential caucuses on Tuesday with more than 45 percent of the vote, scoring his third consecutive primary victory in dominant fashion. Rubio edged out Cruz for runner-up for the second consecutive race, with Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson far off the pace.
As they seek to become the Trump alternative, Cruz and Rubio have significant liabilities of their own.
Cruz comes into the debate at the weakest point of his presidential campaign after a staff shakeup and three consecutive third-place finishes.
The Texas senator ousted a senior aide on Monday after the aide promoted an inaccurate news report that Rubio had condemned the Bible during a chance encounter with Cruz’s father. The aide’s dismissal helps legitimize Trump and Rubio charges that Cruz has been running an unethical campaign.
Even while vulnerable, Cruz signaled an aggressive stance heading into the debate. He lashed out at Trump and Rubio as “Washington dealmakers” while talking to reporters in Houston on Wednesday. Rubio, Cruz said, had worked with Democrats to craft an immigration overhaul, while Trump has given money to Democrats and backed their priorities at times in recent years.
“I don’t think the people of Texas and I don’t think the people of this country want another Washington dealmaker to go and surrender more to the Democrats, giving in to the failed liberal agenda,” Cruz said.
Rubio, meanwhile, is just one debate removed from a primetime meltdown. The Florida senator repeated himself several times in a New Hampshire debate less than three weeks ago, triggering what he now calls “the New Hampshire disappointment.” He avoided a similar mistake in the subsequent debate, but critics in both parties will be laser-focused on anything that suggests the 44-year-old legislator isn’t sufficiently prepared to move into the White House.
But Rubio, who has been reluctant to publicly talk about Trump by name, stepped up his aggressiveness Wednesday.
In an appearance in Houston, he criticized Trump for what Rubio said was a failure to strongly oppose the federal health care law derided by critics as “Obamacare.”
The Florida senator also said “the front-runner in this race, Donald Trump, has said he’s not going to take sides on Israel versus the Palestinians because he wants to be an honest broker.”
Rubio said there was no such thing “because the Palestinian Authority, which has strong links to terror, they teach little kids, 5-year-olds, that it’s a glorious thing to kill Jews.” He also named Trump in accusing him of thinking “parts of Obamacare are pretty good” drawing boos.
Emboldened by the recent departure of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush from the race, Rubio has fresh momentum after two consecutive second-place finishes. His team is convinced they must dispatch with Cruz before turning their full attention to taking down Trump.
Rubio also said that he’d respond to Trump and Cruz if attacked in Thursday’s debate, but that, “I didn’t run for office to tear up other Republicans.”
And after eight debates, it’s unclear what sort of attacks could work against Trump. As his resume would suggest, he’s proven to be a master showman on primetime television.
Businessman Donald Trump inched closer to the U.S. Republican presidential nomination after easily outdistancing his rivals in the Nevada caucuses Tuesday, giving him his third win in four early nominating contests.
Broadcast networks called the state for Trump almost immediately after voting ended, with the state Republican Party confirming the victory soon after.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was in second place, with Ted Cruz, a U.S. Senator from Texas, coming in third.
Trump’s decisive win is likely to further frustrate Republican establishment figures who, less than a month ago, were hoping that the outspoken billionaire’s insurgent candidacy was stalled after he lost the opening nominating contest in Iowa to Cruz.
But since then, Trump has tallied wins in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and now Nevada, with a suite of southern states ahead on March 1, so-called Super Tuesday.
“If you listen to the pundits, we weren’t expected to win too much, and now we’re winning, winning, winning the country,” Trump said at a victory rally in Las Vegas.
Polls suggest Trump will do well in many of those Super Tuesday states, placing further pressure on Cruz, Rubio, and Ohio Governor John Kasich, another presidential candidate who was not a factor in Nevada, to come up with counter-measures quickly.
In the run-up to Nevada, most of Trump’s rivals left him alone, preferring to tussle with each other in a bid to be the last surviving challenger to the front-runner.
Not long after Trump’s win was certified in Nevada, Cruz’s campaign released a statement criticizing Rubio for not winning the state, but did not mention Trump at all.
Rubio, who has emerged as the Republican establishment’s favorite to derail Trump’s progress, can take some solace in finishing second. But that also has to be viewed as somewhat of a setback considering that he had frequently campaigned in Nevada, having lived there for years as a child. A Cuban-American, he had attempted to rally the support of the state’s large Latino population.
Rubio had also benefited from the departure Saturday of Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, from the race. That brought an influx of new funds, a bevy of endorsements, and a wealth of media attention. But none of it was enough to overtake Trump.
As for Cruz, he is facing mounting questions about the viability of his campaign. After Cruz’s Iowa win, Trump has made serious inroads among his core base of conservative supporters, draining anti-government hardliners and evangelicals.
Cruz attempted to appeal to Nevada’s fierce libertarian wing, appealing directly to those who supported local rancher Cliven Bundy’s armed protest against the federal government in 2014 and a similar more recent one staged by Bundy’s sons at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon. But that, too, was not enough.
The upcoming March 1 primary in his home state of Texas is looming as a make-or-break moment for him.
Despite early reports on social media of procedural irregularities at many Nevada caucus sites, the Republican National Committee and the party’s state chapter said voting ran smoothly. Higher-than-normal turnout was reported, although historically, few of the state’s citizens participate in the Republican caucus.
Nevada’s contest had been viewed as a test of whether Trump had organizational might to match his star power. Unlike primaries, caucuses are more dependent on the abilities of campaigns to motivate supporters to participate. Trump’s failure to do that in Iowa was viewed as contributing to his defeat there.
He had no such problems in Nevada. And he is expected to win the bulk of Nevada’s 30 delegates, That would give him more than 80 before February ends, dwarfing the tallies of Cruz and Rubio.
While more than 1,200 are needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination, Trump has built a formidable head start.
The Trump Machine rolled into Dallas, Texas Monday night, two nights before what is shaping up as a fiery and must-win showdown for many of his GOP rivals as they battle for relevance at the CNN Republican debate at the Reagan presidential library in California.
Donald Trump walked boldly onto the stage at a sports arena in Dallas, which was transformed into a rally of thousands of fervent supporters, and reinvented the time honored tradition of candidate debate prep ahead of Wednesday’s crucial showdown.
“I hear they are going after me. Whatever. Whatever,” Trump told roaring fans, many wearing “Make America Great” ball caps, T-shirts emblazoned with his likeness, and even one woman in a paper dress with multiple photos of the billionaire.
While most GOP White House hopefuls have light schedules going into the debate, the billionaire real estate investor, who repeatedly tells people he has only been a politician for three months, does things his way. Trump basked in the adulation of the crowd in the public glare where he thrives, using his Texas stop to further his efforts to tap the anger and hostility of many conservative Republicans heading into the 2016 White House race.
It was red meat rhetoric for a red meat state. Trump was boastful and mocked his rivals, slamming the media, and even envisioning his own inauguration as president in January 2017 as he ridiculed the time it is taking contractors to repair the corroded dome of the iconic U.S. Capitol.
“I like the idea of the scaffolding being down when they are swearing me in, I do,” Trump said, at the rally, which almost had the feel of one of the party’s national conventions, all before a single vote is cast in the nominating race.
If he emerges triumphant from the debate, when he will face Republican rivals who are increasingly concerned about his long run at the top of the polls, Trump’s show of bravado in Dallas will add more intrigue to the contest.
In the arena that’s home of the Dallas Stars and Dallas Mavericks sports franchises, which was packed, Trump ran through the routine he will use to parry attacks on Wednesday night, as his hour-long monologue was punctured by vibrant standing ovations and chants of “USA, USA”.
The biggest cheers, in border state Texas, came over his vow to build a wall on the southern frontier and to make Mexico pay for it, even though many pundits and opponents says it’s an unworkable, expensive idea.
“We have to build a wall. And a wall works. All you have to do is go to Israel and say how is your wall working?” he said, referring to the barrier between the Jewish state and the Palestinian territories on the West Bank.
Trump also complained that rivals like retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former businesswoman Carly Fiorina were being praised for “surging” in the polls when he was really the one setting the pace. He took shots at conservatives like George Will and Karl Rove and pundits who had doubted his campaign would ever get off the ground.
“One person, a real loser said ‘he’s a clown.’ Now they are saying, ‘How are we going to stop this guy?'” he said. “I haven’t heard the word clown in a while.”
Trump’s rhetorical style, which often comes across as rambling and disconnected on television, works better in a crowd. He leans over his lectern, in his patriotic red, white, and blue, suit, shirt and tie combo and really seems to be engaging his audience.
On Monday night, he was clearly preaching to the converted.
Many people in the crowd said that Trump was talking to them in the kind of blunt, and politically incorrect language they use themselves, in a way that no other politician dared to do.
“He is willing to say what he thinks, he is not worried what people think about him. He says what a lot of us are thinking and just keep to ourselves,” said one attendeee from Dallas.
Asked whether she was worried that Trump lacked in-depth knowledge of foreign policy that could expose him as president, Hunter argued that strength was more important.
“It is not about foreign policy. It about attitude. We are a great nation. Speak up and let’s get back to what we were,” she said.
For those in the crowd, Trump and Texas seemed to be made for each other. There is no reliable polling of the delegate-rich state in the GOP primary so far, but the billionaire seems likely to challenge local hero Sen. Ted Cruz in the early running.
And his decision to choose Dallas to hold a rally, days before the debate, was a sign of the political astuteness that many pundits thought Trump and his political operation lacked when he set out to fight for the GOP nomination.
Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, said that there was no doubt his boss would be ready to go on Wednesday night, despite criticism from rivals that he often barnstorms through public appearances to disguise his shaky command of details. “Mr. Trump will be prepared for the debate in California. I think you will see Donald Trump come prepared to discuss the issues.”
“You have a number of candidates on the stage who have held elective office and have been involved with national foreign policy and national defense spending issues,” he said. “We will let those candidates decide how they are going to prepare for their own debate. We are only worried about the campaign we are involved with, which is the Trump campaign.”
Various Republican governors with an eye on the White House can point to tax cuts and other business-friendly policies they spearheaded as they enter the crowded 2016 presidential contest. But many of them can’t highlight robust economic growth.
Among the handful of governors and former governors competing for the Republican presidential nomination, only one – former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who declared his candidacy last week – can say that his state has outpaced the national economy over the past four years.
Economic growth lagged in other states whose governors are expected to run for president, according to U.S. government figures released on Wednesday.
“Only Perry can really brag,” said George Mason University economist Stephen Fuller. “The other guys just haven’t been there long enough and don’t have anything to show for it, anyway.”
The Texas economy grew by 17.8 percent between 2011 and the beginning of 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, well above the national pace of 6.3 percent during that period. The state’s economy, however, has begun to show signs of weakness recently as oil prices have plunged.
In Ohio, Governor John Kasich, who has been mulling a White House run, presided over a state that grew by 6.0 percent over those four years, slightly less than the national average. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, considered a likely Republican contender, oversaw growth of 4.3 percent in his state.
In New Jersey, the state economy under Governor Chris Christie grew by 3.8 percent, while Louisiana grew by only 1.2 percent during that period under Governor Bobby Jindal. Both Christie and Jindal are eyeing White House bids.
Governors have a limited ability to shape a state’s economy in the short term, economists say.
Investments in education and highways can take years to bear fruit, while tax cuts must be offset by spending cuts to keep budgets in balance, resulting in little overall stimulus in the short term.
“If you shift state tax policy to make it more inviting for businesses to expand here, that can increase employment,” said Dale Knapp, research director at the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. “But that’s a long-term impact.”
The dynamics of the particular industries that dominate in a region play a significant role as well. Economists say that manufacturing-heavy Wisconsin, for example, is more susceptible to recession than an oil state like Texas.
Experts say the true impact of any governor often isn’t apparent until years after the person leaves office.
But that has not stopped potential candidates from talking up their economic track records on the campaign trail as they criticize Democratic President Barack Obama for presiding over sluggish growth at the national level.
Walker, for example, argues that tax cuts and weakened labor laws have helped Wisconsin climb out of recession, even if he fell far short of his promise to create 250,000 jobs by the beginning of 2015.
In Texas, Perry’s spokeswoman said growth was boosted by Perry’s focus on low taxes, business-friendly regulations and limits on lawsuits.
In Louisiana, Jindal’s administration cites a growing population, rising income and favorable ratings by business magazines to argue that the economy has improved, despite the tepid growth of recent years.
In New Jersey, Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts said Democrats have slowed his efforts to cut taxes and implement other changes. New Jersey’s economy also suffered when Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the coast in 2012.
No matter the facts on the ground, White House hopefuls will find a way to argue that they are leaving their states in better shape than when they arrived, said James Pethokoukis of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
“For these guys there’s only two kinds of situations: a booming economy or a turnaround economy, and in both situations they get the credit,” he said.
Perry also cited his blue-collar background and military service Tuesday, and said he could win Iowa and Pennsylvania’s presidential nominating contests if he runs in what is expected to be a crowded Republican field in 2016.
Whoever wins, it will have nothing to do with “what your last name is,” Perry said, referring to pundits’ assertions that the White House will be won by another Bush or a Clinton. Instead, the winner will be “who it is that gives us hope that the best days are ahead of us,” Perry said.
Perry cited the questions that have been raised over foreign donations to the Clinton family’s charitable foundation, and Hillary Clinton’s handling of the Benghazi attack while she was secretary of state.
“I can’t get past all the drama we see with the Clintons,” Perry said.
Perry didn’t step all the way in the race, as Texas Senator Ted Cruz did on Monday. He did say that if he were president, he would put an end to the days of big government.
“The heavy hand of government works against you,” Perry said. “It kills jobs all too often.”
Sounding familiar Republican themes, Perry said he supports lifting the U.S. ban on most crude oil exports, and he wants to secure the U.S. border with Mexico as a prelude to comprehensive immigration reform. He also said TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline to bring more Canadian crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast should be approved.
“I would get North America in the worldwide energy business in a big way,” Perry said. “I think it is a major error we are making not allowing our crude to be used.”
He added, “If energy is going to be used as a weapon, we need to have the largest arsenal.”
On education, Perry said he disagrees with Washington putting in place policies that tell states what to do. He did say that accountable public schools translate into a skilled workforce.
He also addressed foreign affairs. Perry described Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin as a fool, and said continuing to grow American energy production is the best way to force Putin to change his stance against the rest of the world.
“Mr. Putin, there is going to be massive amounts of American liquefied natural gas coming,” Perry said.
Low oil prices will continue to challenge producers, and will have a significant impact on Texas shale communities like Odessa and Midland, Perry said. He said the pain will be temporary, and prices will rebound.
A federal judge in South Texas on Monday temporarily blocked President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration, giving a coalition of 26 states time to pursue a lawsuit that aims to permanently stop the orders.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen’s decision comes after a hearing in Brownsville in January and puts on hold Obama’s orders that could spare as many as five million people who are in the U.S. illegally from deportation.
“The genie would be impossible to put back into the bottle,” he wrote, adding that he agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that legalizing the presence of millions of people is a “virtually irreversible” action.
The White House in a statement early Tuesday defended the executive orders issued in November as within the president’s legal authority, saying that the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress have said federal officials can set priorities in enforcing immigration laws.
“The district court’s decision wrongly prevents these lawful, commonsense policies from taking effect and the Department of Justice has indicated that it will appeal that decision,” the statement said. An appeal would be heard by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
The first of Obama’s orders – to expand a program that protects young immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the U.S. illegally as children – was set to start taking effect Wednesday. The other major part of Obama’s order, which extends deportation protections to parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for some years, was not expected to begin until May 19.
Joaquin Guerra, political director of Texas Organizing Project, called the ruling a “temporary setback.”
“We will continue getting immigrants ready to apply for administrative relief,” he said in a statement.
The coalition of states, led by Texas and made up of mostly conservative states in the South and Midwest, argues that Obama has violated the “Take Care Clause” of the U.S. Constitution, which they say limits the scope of presidential power. They also say the order will force increased investment in law enforcement, health care and education.
In their request for the injunction, the coalition said it was necessary because it would be “difficult or impossible to undo the President’s lawlessness after the Defendants start granting applications for deferred action.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the decision a “victory for the rule of law in America” in a statement late Monday. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who as the state’s former attorney general led the state into the lawsuit, said Hanen’s decision “rightly stops the President’s overreach in its tracks.”
Hanen, who’s been on the federal court since 2002 after being nominated by President George W. Bush, regularly handles border cases but wasn’t known for being outspoken on immigration until a 2013 case. In an order in that case, Hanen suggested the Homeland Security Department should be arresting parents living in the U.S. illegally who induce their children to cross the border illegally.
Congressional Republicans have vowed to block Obama’s actions by cutting off Homeland Security Department spending for the program. Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled House passed a $39.7 billion spending bill to fund the department through the end of the budget year, but attached language to undo Obama’s executive actions. The fate of that House-passed bill is unclear as Republicans in the Senate do not have the 60-vote majority needed to advance most legislation.
Among those supporting Obama’s executive order is a group of 12 mostly liberal states, including Washington and California, as well as the District of Columbia. They filed a motion with Hanen in support of Obama, arguing the directives will substantially benefit states and will further the public interest.
A group of law enforcement officials, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association and more than 20 police chiefs and sheriffs from across the country, also filed a motion in support, arguing the executive action will improve public safety by encouraging cooperation between police and individuals with concerns about their immigration status.
Perry, who two weeks ago wrapped up a 14-year tenure as Texas governor, ran the gamut of problems he said face the United States, raising concerns about the U.S. economy and American foreign policy under the current administration.
But Perry, who is considering launching his second presidential campaign, offered some hope, saying the next two years would be “about hope and revival.”
“There is nothing wrong in America that cant be changed by a change in leadership,” Perry said at the American Principle Project’s annual gala.
That change in leadership, the former governor said, shouldn’t come from Washington.
“I’m kind of skeptical that an agent of change can come from Washington,” Perry said. “America is looking for a new path forward, and beginning today, let’s give it to them.”
Perry is not the first of current and former governors considering the presidency to suggest the country would best be served by a governor Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said a governor should be the next president the same day, at an event hosted by the same organization.
Gearing up for his all-but-certain presidential campaign, Perry was slated to announce more than 80 donors Thursday that will support his political action committee and potential campaign.
Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, has quietly been gathering support from around the country to mount a second run for the White House.
“It’s very encouraging and exciting that so many influential leaders in this country are signing on to assist the Governor spread his positive vision of conservative values around the country,” said Jeff Miller, Perry’s chief political adviser.
As he neared the end of his stint leading the Lone Star State in December, Perry hosted supporters, political activists, and potential donors for elegant lunches and dinners at the governor’s mansion. After playing a video recounting his successes, he spoke making a potential pitch about his time in Austin and vision for conservative leadership in America.
The Washington Post first reported the upcoming donor announcement. It comes as other potential 2016 candidates are beginning to hire staff and collect big donors to help finance campaigns.
In his own backyard, Perry will have to compete for money with the likes of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (brother of former Texas Governor and President George W. and son of President George H.W.), Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who last week recruited Texas GOP Chairman Steve Munisteri as an adviser.
Perry ran for president in 2012 but was unsuccessful after his late entry and some political gaffes throughout the campaign.
This time around, he’s set to compete with a stronger, more disciplined operation. He’s taking in policy briefings, working with speech coaches, and hiring seasoned staff to for a run.
Perry has also been appearing and scheduling to appear at many of the high-profile candidate events, like the Iowa Freedom Summit last month, where he made spoke openly about a White House run.
“After six years of disappointment of mediocrity and decline a slow course correction is NOT what voters are going to be looking for in 2016,” Perry said. “Now I might surprise a few of you here today, but I’ve been thinking a little about 2016. After six years of the most divisive president in our modern history I believe Americans are looking for leaders who will bring the country back together.”
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