Welcome to a special Republican-debate edition of Trail Guide, your host through the wilds of the 2016 presidential campaign. We're live in Des Moines, the site of the last debate before Iowa's caucuses, as well as Donald Trump's competing event for veterans, and here's what we're talking about:Sen. Ted Cruz was given the chance during Thursday’s debate to whack Obamacare, a pet target of Republicans for years, and he unleashed a flurry of claims about the law’s negative effects.“Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, have been forced into part-time work, have lost their health insurance, have lost their jobs, have seen their premiums skyrocket,” Cruz said, before advocating for a plan that, he said, would not rely on “top-down” healthcare administration.But, as the Times’ Noam N. Levey noted during a previous GOP debate, there is little evidence of such an economic downturn. In fact, the private sector has consistently added jobs since Obama signed the law in 2010.Read moreA statement from a Fox News representative: Roger Ailes had three brief conversations with Donald Trump today about possibly appearing at the debate – there were not multiple calls placed by Ailes to Trump. In the course of those conversations, we acknowledged his concerns about a satirical observation we made in order to quell the attacks on Megyn Kelly, and prevent her from being smeared any further. Furthermore, Trump offered to appear at the debate upon the condition that Fox News contribute $5 million to his charities. We explained that was not possible and we could not engage in a quid pro quo, nor could any money change hands for any reason. In the last 48 hours, we've kept two issues at the forefront — we would never compromise our journalistic standards and we would always stand by our journalist, Megyn Kelly. We have accomplished those two goals and we are pleased with the outcome. We're very proud to have her on stage as a debate moderator alongside Bret Baier & Chris Wallace. Federal government surveillance may not be tops on the minds of Americans, but it's always front and center for Rand Paul.
The senator from Kentucky leads the Republican candidates in efforts stop the government from spying on U.S. citizens and insisted during Thursday's debate that the bulk collection of Americans' data did not stop any terrorist attacks.Paul brought the Senate to a standstill last year with a quasi-filibuster against allowing a phone data collection program to continue with reforms.The changes represented the first major overhaul to the spy program after former government contractor Edward Snowden disclosed it.But Paul believed the reforms didn't go far enough to protect privacy.Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, meanwhile, broke with Paul to vote for the bill. It passed. And the spy program continued, with new limits.Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was asked at the Thursday night debate about his past promise to "carpet bomb" Islamic State terrorists. It's not the first time he's discussed the issue . The Times' Chris Megerian
wrote about Cruz's position when he was asked about it in a December debate. Read moreAhead of Thursday's debate, our politics team answered some crucial questions. Here's the rundown:I've had more 2 a.m. phone calls than everyone here put together.He's an entertaining guy. He's the greatest show on Earth.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.Minutes before the main Republican debate Thursday night, Donald Trump said host Fox News apologized to him and urged him to give up on his plans to skip the debate. "They called me just now," said Trump in an interview on CNN aboard his personal plane, which had just arrived in Des Moines for a fundraiser for veterans he was to attend instead. "They want me there very badly."
Trump declined to name who at Fox News offered the apology.The billionaire businessman and front-runner for the GOP presidential race has said he was skipping the debate because the network mocked him for challenging the credibility of anchor Megyn Kelly, who will moderate the main debate.“I'm not a person who respects Megyn Kelly very much," he noted in the interview. The two clashed in the initial debate in August when Kelly pressed Trump on derogatory statements he's made about women.We may be given a gift from the Lord in the presidential race here. I don't know who to root for, Cruz or Bush -- or ... what's that guy's name?The four candidates in Thursday's undercard debate -- former Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore -- are not suddenly running out of time to show evidence that they are galvanizing voters. No, that happened months ago for most of them. Still, here's what we noticed from the second-tier debate:It’s not their fault. It’s the media.
All four candidates blamed their poor standing in the polls on the media.“I don’t think it’s the message isn’t working. I think it’s the message isn’t getting out,” Huckabee said, leading off the conversation.Fiorina called out both Fox News and moderator Martha MacCallum for asking Santorum why he failed to show up for last week’s antiabortion march in Washington: “It is outrageous, frankly, that Fox News and you would question the pro-life credentials of Rick Santorum.”Santorum’s face turned tight as he screamed angrily about his second-tier status: “This debate was called the undercard debate. The undercard debate!” he said, pausing at the indignity.“This is what the media has been doing,” he said, “to take Iowans out of the process.”Don’t worry, Senator. This may be the last undercard debate.Though some in this group may stay in the race to further a cause or build name recognition, most will be gone soon.The issues remain the same
The lower-tier candidates share many positions with the poll leaders. Fiorina touted her three-page tax code and zero-based budget, similar to promises made by others to shrink the federal government. Gilmore, Fiorina and Santorum criticized President Obama’s Iran deal, a standard among the GOP poll leaders. Huckabee wants to “obliterate” the Islamic State with military force and financial pressure. Fiorina sticks with visceral attacks
When confronted with her past promise that she would focus on issues rather than level personal attacks against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Fiorina contended that she was doing just that. Then she went on to charge that Clinton had stuck with her husband because she “will do anything to hang and hold onto power.” "If my husband did what Bill Clinton did, I would have left him long ago," Fiorina said.She said more than once that Hillary Clinton belongs in jail.The partisan crowd whooped and hollered.The four candidates in the undercard debate made a final pitch to Iowans ahead of Monday's caucuses that launch the 2016 presidential nominating contests. Here's what they said:Rick Santorum:
"You're good people. ... Pick the right person, pick the leader you know is best for this country." Santorum won the 2012 Iowa caucuses. Carly Fiorina:
"In over 150 events, I have come to know and love the people of Iowa."Mike Huckabee:
"Hello, Iowa, it's me. You know me." Huckabee won the 2008 Iowa caucuses. Jim Gilmore:
"I'm not about to go across town and carry the coat for some billionaire," he said of Donald Trump's event for veterans later in the evening, which Santorum and Huckabee were to attend. 5:12 P.M.|Reporting from des MoinesSeema Mehta
Carly Fiorina relaunches her assault on Hillary Clinton's marriage
(Chris Carlson / Associated Press)Carly Fiorina tore into Hillary Clinton during Thursday's undercard debate, arguing that the Democrat had stayed with her adulterous husband because of her hunger for power.Fiorina was asked about a statement she made in the last Republican debate two weeks ago, when she said that “unlike the other woman candidate, I actually love spending time with my husband,” and whether that squared with her earlier pledge to not engage in personal attacks.“He’s right there, he’s right there,” Fiorina said, pointing at her husband, Frank, in the audience, before standing by her statement.“It wasn’t a personal attack. I was pointing out the fact that Hillary Clinton will do anything to gain and hang on to power. Listen, if my husband did what Bill Clinton did I would have left him long ago,” Fiorina said.Ever heard of Jim Gilmore? Allow him to introduce himself, in his own words."You've heard of the 'Gilmore Girls'? I'm the Gilmore man," the presidential candidate said in a new video from the Independent Journal-Review. The news outlet dropped its latest vignette on Twitter during the GOP undercard debate. Watch the video above.Hundreds of people waited in near-freezing temperatures here Thursday night to get into Donald Trump's last-minute veterans fundraiser organized after he abruptly withdrew from the Republican debate across town.The line for Trump's event included supporters, some sporting his signature "Make America Great Again" red ballcaps, as well as protesters who said they planned to disrupt the proceedings. And then there was a third contingent: curiosity-seekers who said they had come just to see what the Trump phenomenon is all about. "We're all here to be entertained," said Julia VanPetten, a 19-year-old freshman at Drake University, where the rally was held."He's a spectacle," she said of Trump, who is known for his big, made-for-television rallies featuring dancers and occasional flyovers by his personal jet. "There will never be another candidate like this," she said.
VanPetten, who plans on backing Democrat Bernie Sanders in Iowa's Feb. 1 caucuses, took pictures in front of a Trump sign with several of her sorority sisters.One surprise on the undercard stage tonight at the GOP debate?Jim Gilmore, the former Virginia governor, who has been an on-again, off-again presence at the edge of the Republican primary contest.But he took an early swing at front-runner Donald Trump's fundraiser for veterans later Thursday in Des Moines, reminding voters he's the only veteran in the race."I'm not going to any Donald Trump event across town," he said, or any "faux event" for veterans.
Gilmore has not been a debate regular and often goes without mention. His campaign barely registers in polls.It was Fox's own national poll that helped Gilmore qualify for the debate, putting him at the magic 1% of support. Until then, Gilmore had not registered 1% in a single live-interviewer poll going back to September, although he had notched such support in a few online polls."I have been in Iowa, but this is not the place where I am choosing to begin my campaign," he said, adding that he was focusing on New Hampshire instead.But he does have a website and an ad.You can't win Iowa unless you go out and talk to farmers and housewives.During Thursday's undercard debate, Carly Fiorina accused Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton of negligence over the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, while she was secretary of State, long a point of contention for Republicans when it comes to Clinton. The attacks were the subject of multiple investigations by a Republican-led Congress. A look at what those investigations found:Read moreI don’t think the message is not working, I just think it’s not getting out.You have a chance on Monday to put the record straight on who you want, not who you want to entertain you.And, as moderator Bill Hemmer noted, Rick Santorum will be attending Donald Trump's fundraiser for veterans in Iowa during Thursday's main debate.