Trump gets stuck in reverse

John Roberts reports from Manchester, New Hampshire


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Buzz Cut:
• Trump gets stuck in reverse
• Rubio consolidates support
• Hillary stumbles on Wall Street answer, again
• Take Five: Buckeye bullseye?
• They’re big wheels now

It might sound laughable to you for a candidate who has trafficked in the wildest rumors about his rivals to suddenly be in an enormous lather about another campaign’s lax fact checking.

But here we are.

Donald Trump has not been shy about, ahem, extrapolating from press reports or what “everybody has told [him]” to elevate rumors into national news stories. Some highlights include calling Ben Carson “pro-abortion,” suggesting Ted Cruz backed the Keystone pipeline because he was seeking to aid his native Canada, and, most famously, nurturing conspiracy theories about President Obama’s birthplace.

Trump said those things because he was trying to bring down a rival, and in the case of Carson, at least, weeks of damaging attacks and speculation, including about Carson’s mental health, did their work. And Trump has shrugged off those who have complained about his tactics. As one of his mottoes goes: “When somebody screws you, screw ‘em back, but a lot harder.”

But having lost in Iowa despite a long-standing lead in the polls, Trump has adopted a love of pure political discourse that would make the League of Women Voters stand up and cheer.

Trump is full of outrage that Cruz’s staff pushed out a CNN report to caucus goers that Carson was heading home to Florida instead of on to New Hampshire, suggesting his departure from the race was imminent. Carson, as it would turn out, was actually not leaving the trail for good, but rather heading home for a fresh change of clothes. Trump also now takes issue with a piece of pre-election Cruz junk mail that unwitting voters might have believed was a formal notice from an election official.

Leaving aside virtue and propriety, which is always good practice when talking about politics, the question is: Did Cruz’s tactics work?

Cruz may have helped pad his margin, but it’s doubtful that any of that swung the race to Cruz. Both he and Carson outperformed pre-election polls, so there’s not much evidence that the rumor mongering did significant harm. And it is not likely that Trump would have been the main beneficiary of any votes lost to the Cruz tactics. A late surge for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., suggests that he might have been the recipient of any additional Carson runoff.

So Trump’s loss seems most attributable to the fact that his voters did not show up to caucus despite having told pollsters they would. If Cruz’s ploys worked, they were only of marginal significance.

How about Trump’s new gambit? Can an effort to invalidate his Iowa defeat by howling about unfair play change the narrative? It may have begun as a fit of pique, but now it is his current campaign strategy. With voting in New Hampshire five days away, it looks like a bad idea.

Trump’s current lead in the RCP average of New Hampshire polls is 21 points, meaning that Iowa should already be in his rearview mirror, if he wanted. 2012 second-place Iowa finisher and New Hampshire shoo-in Mitt Romney sure wasn’t still talking about Iowa three-days later he was hyping up his coming triumph.

Trump's need to focus on New Hampshire is even greater. We know that voters there are capable of big post-Iowa swings and we also know from Monday’s result that Trump’s coalition didn’t turn out for him the way he needed. While Romney had spent years cultivating New Hampshire voters and served as governor of neighboring Massachusetts for four years, Trump is new in town and lacks any discernable large-scale organization in the state.

While it is still hard to believe Trump would lose, it’s also hard to believe that his looking back in anger at Iowa will do anything but harm him in New Hampshire. As with his decision to skip the only Iowa debate, Trump risks alienating supporters and reinforcing the notion that he can’t handle adversity.

Trump can fight Cruz on issues or even character, but if he doesn’t stop re-litigating Iowa, he could find that his next bunch of sour grapes will be of the Concord variety. 

WaPo: “Rick Santorum dropped out and endorsed Marco Rubio. The winner of the 2012 Iowa caucuses has few followers in his own right, which is why he dropped out, but his backing sends a significant signal to social conservatives that Rubio is acceptable. It will make it harder for Cruz to consolidate his support in the evangelical lane. … Rubio also got the backing of Pat Toomey. The Pennsylvania senator faces a tough reelection campaign, and many D.C.-based Republican strategists do not believe he can survive in the Keystone State with Trump or Cruz at the top of the ticket. He's not a household name, but Toomey has serious street cred among fiscal conservatives as the former head of the Club for Growth. … South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott cut this 30-second spot promoting Rubio that will hit the airwaves in his home state today…”

[FiveThirtyEight does the math on Rubio’s endorsement surge, which has put him in the lead in that metric.]

On this date in 1826, James Fenimore Cooper, perhaps the first great American novelist published “Last of the Mohicans,” a thrilling tale set during the French and Indian War. Cooper’s memorable characters and vivid descriptions of Upstate New York have captured imaginations for generations. The region where the novel takes place was settled by Cooper’s family and Cooperstown, now home to the Baseball Hall of Fame, is named for them. As Literary Traveler describes: “[Cooper’s] inspiration to write was rooted in a fervid imagination and his boyhood memories of an earlier Cooperstown and his father’s pivotal role in its settlement. James and his older brothers roamed and explored the ‘interminable woods,’ sometimes with reckless abandon according to his sister Hannah. Although he seldom encountered Indians, he met and listened to the stories of white hunters and Revolutionary war veterans and observed wagon trains of settlers passing through the village on their way west.”

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Real Clear Politics Averages
National GOP nomination: Trump 35.8 percent; Cruz 20.3 percent; Rubio 10 percent; Carson 7.5 percent
New Hampshire GOP Primary: Trump 32.8 percent; Rubio 11.8 percent; Cruz 11.3 percent; Kasich 11 percent; Bush 9 percent
National Dem nomination: Clinton 51.6 percent; Sanders 37.2 percent
New Hampshire Dem Primary: Sanders 54.6; Clinton 38.8 percent
General Election Clinton vs. Trump: Clinton +2.7 points
Generic Congressional Vote: Republicans +0.5

Fox News: “Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton proved Wednesday to be unabashed about accepting millions of dollars in speaking fees from Wall Street firms amid an increasingly competitive race with self-proclaimed ‘democratic socialist’ Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. At a CNN town hall in Derry, N.H., moderator Anderson Cooper asked the former secretary of state, ‘Did you have to be paid $675,000?,’ a reference to her fees for three speeches to Goldman Sachs. Clinton responded, ‘I don't know. That’s what they offered.’”

Lurching leftward - USA Today: “Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, speaking in separate appearances at a CNN town hall here Wednesday night, disputed each other's definition of ‘progressive.’ Sanders, I-Vt., responding to a question from moderator Anderson Cooper, said he respects the former secretary of state, but there are issues where she is ‘just not progressive.’ He cited Clinton’s vote in favor of the war in Iraq, her support for past trade policies and her reluctance to come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. ‘I do not know any progressive who has a super PAC and takes $15 million from Wall Street,’ Sanders said. Appearing on stage after Sanders, Clinton said she and Sanders have similar goals and she’s not bothered that Sanders has set himself up as ‘the gatekeeper of who’s progressive.’”

High stakes for debate - AP: “The face-to-face meeting between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is rooted in an intensifying debate over who understands the great divide between rich Americans and everyone else. … But the real battle is for the votes of liberal Democrats who will decide whether Sanders or Clinton becomes the party’s 2016 presidential nominee. The intensity is fed by the context: The debate Thursday night comes after Clinton scored a gossamer-thin victory in the Iowa caucuses. But a win is a win, and she wants it to stay that way through the New Hampshire contest Tuesday and beyond.”

[Watch Fox: Shannon Bream hosts special coverage after the debate starting at 11 p.m. ET]

The Judge’s Ruling: Hillary’s Nixonian negatives - Fox News’ Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano looks behind Hillary Clinton’s disappointing Iowa finish: “In her statement to supporters, standing in front of her gaunt and listless looking husband, she was not able to mouth the word ‘victory’ or any of its standard variants. She could barely hide her contempt for the Iowa Democrats who disserted her…Hence the question: What do the Iowa Democrats know that caused thousands of them to flee from her? They know she is a crook.” Read here.

Real Clear Politics’ congressional reporter, James Arkin, says New Hampshire will be harder for Republicans to hold than Ohio. Despite Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s popularity in the state, her challenger, Gov. Maggie Hassan, presents stiff competition in the secular-leaning state. In Ohio, however, Sen. Rob Portman has plenty of cash on hand and his challenger former Gov. Ted Strickland has a primary challenge from former Cincinnati city council member P.G. Sittenfeld. But there’s one state Arkin can’t get a read on. WATCH HERE.

Your tally - Fox News First reader votes rank the five Republican held senate seats at greatest risk of turning blue as: 1) Illinois; 2) Wisconsin; 3) Pennsylvania; 4) Ohio; 5) Florida.

Race Notes:
New Hampshire - “Hassan’s final State of the State likely to set the stage for Senate run” – NHPR

Ohio - “Sen. Rob Portman pushing for heroin bill approval” – WTAM

Wisconsin - “Sen. Ron Johnson’s identity challenge with voters” – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Illinois - “Robert F. Kennedy Jr. endorses Alan Grayson in U.S. Senate race” – Tampa Bay Times

Don’t forget to vote! - Share your picks of the key GOP-held seats in the battle for control of the Senate. Email them – just your top five, please – to FOXNEWSFIRST@FOXNEWS.COM or tweet @ChrisStirewalt.

AFP: “Fed up with their banks’ reluctance to lend, an Italian dairy cooperative has raised 6 million euros by issuing bonds guaranteed by huge wheels of Parmesan cheese. ‘We already have some loans but, after a certain point, the banks don’t want to give you any more,’ said Andrea Setti, the financial controller of the 4 Madonne cooperative. The cooperative, based near Modena in northern Italy, produces the famous cheese from milk supplied by some 40 dairy farmers. It has seen business boom in recent years…But when it sought additional funding to boost its presence in the US market and concentrate on longer-aged cheeses, the cooperative ran into a wall of indifference from traditional lenders…The solution lay in an Italian Government-backed mini-bonds scheme under which investors provide funding for six years in return for a 5 per cent yield backed by cheese assets valued at 120 per cent of the bonds’ worth.”

“I think [the Cruz-Trump feud] has a weird effect of helping Rubio.  This is the scenario where the two top dogs, the two coming out of Iowa, the two who dominate the national polls attack each other.  They each are somewhat diminished by it.  And then Rubio just kind sneaks in there.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier” Watch here.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.