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This morning, Byron York tweeted that Sen. Rubio and Sen. Cruz were fighting each other and that this fight was happening in The Donald’s shadow. That statement would’ve been true a month ago. It was still true 2 weeks ago. It isn’t true anymore.

During Thursday night’s debate, Sen. Rubio emerged from Trump’s shadow, thanks in part to Trump’s decision to skip the debate because he was too petulant to tolerate being asked questions by Megyn Kelly. (I suspect he didn’t appear because he didn’t want to give Ms. Kelly the opportunity to prove she’s a great journalist. If Megyn asked him some tough, fair questions, then he couldn’t credibly tell his sycophants on Twitter that she’s a terrible journalist anymore.)

During the debate, GOP activists learned nothing negative about Sen. Rubio. They were reminded that he was part of the Gang of Eight bill, which everyone knew. Admittedly, Sen. Rubio took a couple hits. Still, Cruz came out of that exchange the worse for wear because Sen. Paul, Sen. Rubio and Ms. Kelly exposed Sen. Cruz as a fraud on being the only flawless politician on immigration. They proved that he played games in an attempt to have it both ways.

The thing that lifted Sen. Rubio out of Mr. Trump’s shadow, though, was his turning his fire outward towards Mrs. Clinton with laser-like precision. He especially hit her hard when he ridiculed her for saying she’d appoint President Obama to the Supreme Court. Sen. Rubio hit Hillary hard when he said she was disqualified for lying to the families of the men who died in Benghazi.

The thing that capped Sen. Rubio’s coming out party was his appeals to lead America into a new “American Century.” That’s something his opponents on stage haven’t talked about. That’s something that Mr. Trump has only paid lip service to. Make America Great is Trump’s slogan but his stump speeches are mostly him praising himself and reciting his big leads in polls. Nobody in their right mind thinks that Trump has a clue about implementing public policies that will get America’s economy humming again. Mr. Trump had a casino go bankrupt while the economy was going well. Think about that. Bankrupting a casino takes some doing. The deck is stacked against the players.

Despite the inherent advantage of being the house, Mr. Trump’s casino went bankrupt. We’re now supposed to trust him in getting the U.S. economy going? That’s rich. Sen. Rubio has outline a series of reforms that will help the private sector turn the economy around.

Tim Carney’s article is worthwhile reading. People ready to anoint Trump the winner in Iowa should consider this:

TRUMP’S LEAD IS VULNERABLE TO TURNOUT WEAKNESS

Trump’s lead is five points in this survey, that’s smaller than other recent surveys. It is widely assumed Ted Cruz will have a strong turnout operation (which is more crucial in caucus states than in primary states), and that Donald Trump will have a weak one. If these assumptions are true, that five point lead should be considered a tie — especially given the 4.4 percent margin of error in the poll.

The other thing that can’t be ignored is the fact that there’s lots of people who are still persuadable:

Trump supporters and Cruz supporters are less persuadable, more committed than average voters — 71 percent and 62 percent respectively, say their mind is made up.

If these figures are accurate, that means 8% of Trump’s supporters are persuadable. It also means that 9% of Sen. Cruz’s supporters are persuadable. (It doesn’t say what percentage of Rubio supporters are persuadable so I can’t make that calculation.) Carney puts things this way:

RUBIO HAS THE MOST UPSIDE POTENTIAL

Rubio wins on the second-choice contest, with 20 percent to Cruz’s 17 percent (Trump is in 4th place with 7 percent).

This is anyone’s race, with Trump and Cruz having the advantage going into the last full day of campaigning.

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz has more egg on her face now that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have agreed to do 4 more debates. Though the details of the agreement are still being worked out, what’s clear is that Ms. Wasserman-Schultz’s iron-fisted statement that there would be 6 debates was thrown under the proverbial bus. This just additional proof that Ms. Wasserman-Schultz has lost control of the party she supposedly leads.

When the article starts by saying “If the Democratic National Committee were to sanction a Democratic debate on Feb. 4 in New Hampshire, it would likely do so without being co-sponsored by the state’s largest newspaper, three sources familiar with the plans have confirmed,” that’s stating the DNC has essentially lost control. Ms. Wasserman-Schultz’s past statements can now be hung around her neck. She fought for keeping a lid on the debates.

Now that Hillary’s in trouble, Hillary wants additional debates. Sen. Sanders agreed but only if it was expanded to multiple debates. Mrs. Clinton wanted a single debate right before the New Hampshire Primary. Here’s a hint for Hillary. Additional debates might help in the short-term but they won’t help save her from the fact that she’s a terrible candidate.

Late this week, the Cruz campaign sent out a “report card-style mailer” in an attempt to persuade people to caucus for Sen. Cruz. It failed and then some. The mailer said “You are receiving this election notice because of low expected voter turnout in your area. Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors’ are public record. Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. Caucus on Monday to improve your score and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well.”

When Thomas and Steffany Hinkeldey received the mailer, Thomas posted a picture of the mailer through Twitter. Steve Deace, the most popular radio talk show host in Iowa by a wide margin and a staunch Cruz supporter, tweeted that Hinkeldey wasn’t a real person. Less than 40 minutes later, Hinkeldey replied to Deace, saying “hi Steve. I am very real.” Later, Hinkeldey confirmed that he will attend caucus Monday night, something he hadn’t planned on doing. The bad news for the Cruz campaign is that he’s caucusing for Sen. Rubio.

Additionally, Paul D. Pate, Iowa’s secretary of state, issued a statement, saying in part “Today I was shown a piece of literature from the Cruz for President campaign that misrepresents the role of my office, and worse, misrepresents Iowa election law. Accusing citizens of Iowa of a ‘voting violation’ based on Iowa Caucus participation, or lack thereof, is false representation of an official act. There is no such thing as an election violation related to frequency of voting. Any insinuation or statement to the contrary is wrong and I believe it is not in keeping in the spirit of the Iowa Caucuses.”

When the Twitterverse exploded with this news, the Cruz campaign arrogantly issued this statement:

I will apologize to no one for using every tool at hand to encourage Iowa voters to come out and vote.

That wasn’t a statement from a campaign staffer. That statement was made by Sen. Cruz himself. My reaction to this is simple. Sen. Cruz isn’t exercising good judgment. He’s caught up in the campaign. He’s making inflammatory statements that aren’t remotely close to the truth. At one stop, he resorted to fearmongering:

At a sometimes awkward early morning gathering in a middle school in snowy Hubbard, 60 miles north of Des Moines, the Texas senator warned that even other Republicans would put at risk religious freedoms if they were in the Oval Office, and would allow a “lawless” supreme court to push a radical leftwing agenda.

That’s proof of Sen. Rubio’s statement earlier in the day that Sen. Cruz will say anything to get votes.

Sen. Cruz’s favorability/unfavorability is taking a hit because of his dishonest mudslinging. Sen. Rubio is gaining traction without misrepresenting the truth. It’s possibly the truth that he’s gaining traction because he isn’t misrepresenting the truth. One thing’s certain according to the DMR/Bloomberg poll: Sen. Cruz dropped 2 points since early January while Sen. Rubio gained 3 points.

David Brody just tweeted a link to this interview Marco Rubio did on the subjects of homeschooling and school choice. I wish this had come out earlier because it would’ve catapulted Rubio past Sen. Cruz with evangelical Christians, minorities and women. Mike Farris conducted the interview with Sen. Rubio.

The first question Mr. Harris asked about education was “What’s your experience been with homeschooling families, what’s your interaction, what’s your view of homeschooling?” Sen. Rubio replied, saying “, we have a lot of friends that homeschool. In fact, during the campaign, there will be elements of homeschooling that we’ll use. My kids’ school in South Florida has a sort of homeschooling component of their curriculum, which we’ll be able to use when we’re on the road with our kids during the campaign.”

Sen. Rubio wasn’t finished there. He added “But in general, I think it’s not only a valid way to teach your children, you see from the empirical evidence that homeschool children are outperforming many children attending traditional schools. I believe in parental choice—homeschooling, faith-based schools, private school of your choosing, what public school you want to go to instead of the one you’re zoned for. But I view homeschooling, and especially the explosion of homeschooling in America over the last 15 years, as a great development that we’ve seen. And we see how well homeschoolers are performing once they’re getting into college and universities across the country.”

The point I think is important to make is that conservatives have to have a positive agenda that’s governed by the Constitution but that also connects with voters of all stripes. Education is an issue that, if done right, would expand the conservative base. School choice and homeschooling are winning issues with women and minorities. It’s important that conservatives rally to the one candidate that’s run an uplifting campaign based on expanding the conservative while protecting the United States from terrorist attacks.

There’s only one candidate that fits that description. His name is Marco Rubio. That’s why I’ve called him ‘the complete package conservative’ in my tweets.

In the days leading into the Iowa Caucuses, though, Sen. Cruz has taken to telling fanciful things that don’t have anything to do with the truth.

In Ringsted, IA, Sen. Cruz told people “If you look, in particular, at President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty, Marco Rubio’s gone on Univision and said, ‘No, no, no. I wouldn’t rescind amnesty.’” That isn’t spin. That’s an outright lie that Sen. Cruz should apologize for telling. Further, Sen. Cruz might be a world-class debater but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need a dictionary. Sen. Cruz needs a dictionary because he apparently doesn’t know (perhaps he doesn’t care?) about the definition of amnesty. The definition of amnesty is a “general pardon for offenses, especially political offenses, against a government, often granted before any trial or conviction; Law. an act of forgiveness for past offenses, especially to a class of persons as a whole; or a forgetting or overlooking of any past offense.”

I know Sen. Cruz enjoys employing inflammatory, misleading, rhetoric in making his case. Unfortunately, his fidelity to the truth isn’t a high priority. He’s got a history of insisting that he’s the purest of the pure, the noblest of the noble, the man who stops one step short of being able to walk on water.

Bill O’Reilly interviewed Sen. Rubio last night. Here’s what Sen. Rubio supports:

  1. Building the 700-mile wall on the US-Mexican border
  2. Implement E-Verify and build the wall before any discussion about what to do with illegal aliens already here
  3. Hire 20,000 new border agents
  4. anyone with a criminal background are deported.

Sen. Rubio hasn’t denied being part of the Gang of Eight legislation. His argument has always been that Sen. Cruz has said he’d support legalization.

Sen. Cruz is likely resorting to this heated rhetoric because Sen. Rubio is gaining momentum in Iowa.

Reuters’ debate analysis sounds either like a paid Trump ad or it was written by an alien from another solar system. Their article starts by saying “Even in boycotting a debate with his Republican rivals, front-runner Donald Trump managed to upstage the event on Thursday with a typical dramatic flourish.”

My initial response is “Seriously”? Wow. It gets worse from there, with Reuters’ team of reporters throwing accuracy to the wind when they wrote “Instead of attending a seventh debate, the former reality TV star held a competing event across town that he said raised $6 million for U.S. military veterans. In doing so, he cast a shadow over his rivals, who frequently tossed barbs his way.”

I watched the debate. The candidates didn’t frequently toss barbs his direction. There were a half dozen mentions of him. That’s hardly frequent in a 2-hour debate. The accurate adjective in this instance is sparse, not frequent.

Further, Trump’s absence made for the best, most substantive debate of the cycle. Sen. Cruz summed it up best when responding to Megyn Kelly’s question about the “elephant that’s not in the room” when he said “Let me say, I’m a maniac, and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly, and Ben, you’re a terrible surgeon. Now that we’ve gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way,” he finished to laughter.”

Otherwise, Mr. Trump was an afterthought at best. This statement is just wrong:

Senator Ted Cruz from Texas and Senator Marco Rubio from Florida, the two top challengers to Trump in Iowa, engaged in squabbles over immigration and national security and did not appear to threaten Trump’s lead. He holds the edge over Cruz in polls of Iowa Republicans.

The polls actually show Trump and Cruz virtually tied. The Monmouth University poll that shows Trump with a 7-point lead is based on a turnout model that’s more fantasy than scientific. Further, let’s stipulate that Trump’s most loyal supporters aren’t going anywhere. They simply aren’t. The latest Quinnipiac poll, though, shows 39% of Republican caucusgoers might still change their minds. They aren’t likely to break in Trump’s direction.

Reuters needs to discipline these reporters because their reporting is woefully inaccurate.

The latest Monmouth University poll shows Donald Trump with a 7-point lead in Iowa. It’s a lead that doesn’t exist at this moment. According the poll’s horserace numbers, “Donald Trump earns 30% support [with] Ted Cruz [at] 23% support when likely caucusgoers are asked who they will caucus for on February 1st.” Marco Rubio finished with 16%.

The bad news for Mr. Trump’s supporters is that “the current poll estimates turnout will be approximately 170,000 voters, which would far surpass the 122,000 record GOP turnout from four years ago.” Yesterday, reporters on the ground in Iowa said that there hasn’t been a big upswing in Republican registrations in Iowa. In fact, National Journal’s Ron Fournier noted that Republican registrations are down slightly from 2012.

That’s proof that the onslaught of new Trump voters hasn’t materialized, at least at this point. The Trump wave will either have to happen Caucus night or it won’t happen. Projecting a record turnout is one thing. It’s quite another to project a turnout that would be 50% bigger than the record turnout.

Decreasing the turnout projection to 130,000 voters, which would still be a record level, puts the race in a tie at 26% for Trump and 26% for Cruz, with Rubio at 15% and Carson at 12%.
“Turnout is basically what separates Trump and Cruz right now,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ. “Trump’s victory hinges on having a high number of self-motivated, lone wolf caucusgoers show up Monday night.”

Most of the reporters on the ground in Iowa are projecting a record turnout in the 130,000-140,000 range.

The bad news for Trump-Cruz is that last night’s debate was Sen. Rubio’s coming out party. Last night, Sen. Rubio showed himself to be the only ‘complete package’ candidate in the race on either side of the aisle. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been a Rubio guy since Scott Walker dropped out. With that on the table, let’s get into why I was impressed with Sen. Rubio.

It wasn’t that Sen. Rubio didn’t stumble. When they got into a discussion about immigration, he took a couple of hits. It’s that he focused much of his attention on his vision for the economy and foreign policy while training his attacks on Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and President Obama. Sen. Rubio’s quip that Sanders “would be a good president — of Sweden” was followed by him saying “We don’t want to be Sweden. We want to be the United States.” It was the best line of the night.

This Federalist article raises questions about the legitimacy of Trump’s fundraiser. The Federalist is reporting that the website thrown together is really an extension of the Donald J. Trump Foundation. Specifically, they’re reporting that “100% of the money raised on the site goes directly to Donald Trump’s personal non-profit foundation.”

That’s a major problem for multiple reasons. First, Trump has been saying that “100% of your donations will go directly to Veterans needs.” Next and most importantly, the Federalist is reporting “Trump’s non-profit donated more money to the Clinton Foundation than it did to veterans causes.”

To be fair with Trump, I don’t think he’d shaft veterans. That being said, I think it’s entirely appropriate to question his statements. If he’s saying that “100% of the proceeds” are going to veterans, then he’d better live up to that promise. Getting 80% of the proceeds isn’t enough after making that promise. That means if there are administrative costs involved in getting veterans’ organizations the money, Trump should eat those costs. Period.

It would be different if he hadn’t made that statement. Then the regular rules of charities would apply. Trump upped the ante by making this statement. Now he’s obligated to fulfill that obligation.

Finally, the fact that he’s given lots of money to the Clinton Foundation is disturbing and telling. I know what he’s saying now. I know that it doesn’t match up with what he said earlier. That trust factor isn’t there like it is with other candidates. That’s the price you pay when you change positions rapidly.

By throwing his latest hissy fit, Donald Trump, who had controlled the GOP presidential nomination conversation, lost control over the message to Iowa voters right when candidates are making their closing arguments. That’s foolish both from a PR standpoint and from a strategic standpoint. Based on his monologue, Rush Limbaugh apparently understands Mr. Trump but he doesn’t understand the typical Iowa voter. During Wednesday’s show, Rush said “Everything he’s doing goes against the book. Everything that any analyst or consultant or professional would tell you not to do, Donald Trump is doing it, and he’s leading the pack. This creates its own set of emotions and feelings and thoughts that run from person to person. Now, the political business, if you want to look at it that way, is like any other business. It has its people who are considered the elites in it, and like any business, they hate outsiders. They don’t want outsiders just storming in trying to take over, and much less succeeding at it.”

Rush is right from the standpoint that the GOP consultants and elites don’t want to relinquish control of the nominating process. There’s no disputing that’s part of the establishment’s upset with Mr. Trump. What Rush apparently isn’t taking into consideration is that Trump isn’t beloved by the voters. The voters loved Reagan. They don’t love Trump. This year, the voters are pissed at everyone and everything. They’re pissed because their wages have been stagnant, their jobs aren’t providing a path to financial stability and their freedom is getting crushed by an administration that puts a higher priority on regulating people than it puts on liberating them.

Donald Trump hasn’t met them with a message of shrinking regulations, cutting taxes on small businesses and letting families make most decisions. He’s yapped about making America great again without telling the people what that means. The closest he’s come to explaining his slogan is essentially to tell people to trust him, that he’s done this before. He’ll do it again for the entire nation.

The other component involved in picking a president is the people want to feel comfortable with the thought of him/her in a crisis. Trump created a crisis that’s mostly driven by his ego. He got full of himself and demanded that Megyn Kelly be removed from Fox’s panel of moderators. Anyone who’s watched Roger Ailes’ leadership at Fox knows that wasn’t going to happen. Trump thought he was painting Ailes into a corner. Instead, he painted himself into a no-win situation.

Immediately after confirming that he wouldn’t participate in Thursday night’s debate, Trump announced that he would hold a fundraiser for “veterans and wounded warriors.” Then he hinted that he’d get another cable network to cover it. CNN will cover the event but the damage to Trump’s campaign has already been done.

It’s great that he’s raising money for vets but that isn’t what’s important to Iowa voters. They want to take the full measure of each candidate. The long-standing joke in Iowa and New Hampshire is about 2 neighbors talking about who they like. Here’s how that conversation often goes:

Fred: George, who are you supporting?
George: I don’t know yet. I really like Rubio and Trump but I’ve only seen Trump 4 times and Rubio 5 times. Give me another week and I’ll probably decide.

The latest Quinnipiac Poll shows that 39% of all likely GOP caucusgoers are either undecided or say that they might change their minds. By stomping his feet and throwing another hissy fit, Trump is telling those undecided voters that he isn’t interested in their votes.

Saying that that’s a YUGE strategic mistake is understatement.

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Earlier today, I wrote this article for Examiner.com. The article centered on whether a detectable anti-Trump trend had started in Iowa. Based on what the reporters on the ground were seeing and the comments from likely caucusgoers, the answer is that there’s definitely an anti-Trump trend happening in Iowa.

Whether we’re talking about reporters covering the campaign for newspapers or magazine columnists appearing on TV or whether it’s voters themselves, people aren’t hesitating in saying they don’t like Mr. Trump’s temperament, calling him unreliable or worse. That isn’t the image candidates want to send during their closing arguments. Since Mr. Trump confirmed that he wouldn’t participate in Thursday’s Fox News/Google GOP debate, Mr. Trump has announced that he’s hosting a fundraiser for veterans and wounded warriors in Des Moines while the Fox News/Google debate is happening.

Trump clearly hopes to earn some good will by hosting an event for veterans. That plan might be backfiring. According to that article, one veterans organization is refusing money raised at the Trump rally. Paul Rieckhoff, the founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA, tweeted “If offered, @IAVA will decline donations from Trump’s event. We need strong policies from candidates, not to be used for political stunts.”

The advertising axiom is that there’s no such thing as bad PR. This time, that axiom isn’t playing out like they’d expect. The Trump campaign, specifically Corey Lewandowski, is setting expectations impossibly high:

“When Donald Trump goes to Des Moines and we start raising money for veterans and wounded warriors and we have multiples of millions of dollars raised for these people and the American people tune in because they want to support that and Fox goes back and say they should have had 24 million watching their debate and instead they got 1 million, it’s a disservice to the American people,” Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said today on “Good Morning America.”

Lewandowski also claimed this morning on MSNBC that other campaigns have “asked us proactively” to participate in the event and that “it’s very possible” that other candidates could skip the debate as well.

Mr. Lewandowski isn’t too bright. Setting expectations high like he’s just done is political suicide, especially when you consider the fact that Wounded Warrior Project doesn’t have the greatest reputation:

About 40 percent of the organization’s donations in 2014 were spent on its overhead, or about $124 million, according to the charity-rating group Charity Navigator. While that percentage, which includes administrative expenses and marketing costs, is not as much as for some groups, it is far more than for many veterans charities, including the Semper Fi Fund, a wounded-veterans group that spent about 8 percent of donations on overhead. As a result, some philanthropic watchdog groups have criticized the Wounded Warrior Project for spending too heavily on itself.

I suspect that Iowa voters will nod approvingly at supporting veterans and then getting mad that Trump didn’t attend the Fox News/Google debate. It’s inevitable that Trump will whine about how Fox didn’t treat him fairly but that won’t explain a rapid decline if that happens.