Paul says grace

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Buzz Cut:
• Paul says grace
• Maple Menace Alert: Illinois rules Cruz can run
• Hillary’s schizophrenic New Hampshire strategy
• Bernie not built to last
• Get into your briefs

Many in the Republican Party have had plenty of hard feelings about Rand Paul over the years, but today they ought to be thanking him.

After a disappointing fifth-place finish in Iowa, the Kentucky senator is calling it quits today and clearing the way for his party to continue the work of sorting itself out in New Hampshire.

While he was hardly the frontrunner, Paul was certainly in a position to try to use his small but sturdy share of the New Hampshire GOP electorate to inflict pain on the rest of the field.

Without a path to victory, however, he is choosing to bow out. There are at least three other candidates with chances no better than Paul’s to ever be president who aren’t just staying in, but are launching intensifying attacks on still-viable opponents.

With the stakes so high, Republicans owe a debt not just Paul but also his forbearers in forbearance, Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., former Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., and, yes, even Gov. George Pataki, R-N.Y.

Paul, who is perhaps the most purely ideological of the candidates, may have more motivation than most to see the race reshaped away from a battle of personalities and into a fight over ideas.

The two candidates atop national GOP polls have often taken libertarian positions. Donald Trump sometimes sounds libertarian on foreign policy and Ted Cruz sometimes sounds like Paul on domestic surveillance. But neither has been true to the creed. Cruz’s foreign policy and social conservativism is far afield from the Paul family’s message, and Trump is a big-government Republican on domestic issues.

And third-place Marco Rubio is no libertarian dreamboat. Far from it. But neither has he pretended to ever be one. The only reason for any of Paul’s support to flow to Rubio would be from those who are simply seeking an anti-Trump or anti-Cruz candidate. Many will probably just sit this primary out.

Welcome to American politics. Very seldom do voters actually get to choose what they want most, but are usually forced to vote against what they can’t tolerate. And most primaries offer few appealing choices for any but the most committed partisans.

The question for Republicans this cycle is whether they are concerned enough about Trump to organize against him. Iowa’s results would seem to indicate that the sentiment against the frontrunner is real.

This year’s Iowa Republican caucuses saw more voters than ever: 186,874 in total. And while Trump rightly boasts that his second-place finish with 45,427 votes was the second best ever, Trump's claim forgets that that leaves 141,447 votes against him, the frontrunner in the polls there and nationally.

But even if Republicans are actually ready to get their Trump on, a speedy sorting of the crowded field is necessary. If the candidates would have kept on in the way they were threatening, the chances of catastrophic failure, including a brokered convention, and exhausted financial resources, would have been very real.

Whichever candidate Paul, or any Republican favors, a lengthy, fratricidal conflict between many contenders would all but guarantee Hillary Clinton a return trip to the White House – presuming she is not a defendant in a federal prosecution.

Paul’s choice was no doubt a hard one to make, especially given the early hype surrounding his campaign, and his hopes to realign and unify Republicans. But in choosing to leave before he was forced out, Paul demonstrates patriotic grace.

[NYT’s Nate Cohn explains ‘late movement scenario’ among GOP voters and what it means going forward.]

Trump admits ducking Iowa debate hurt him - Fox News: “Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump admitted Tuesday that his decision to skip the final debate before Monday’s Iowa caucuses could have cost him victory in the Hawkeye State. Despite leading in most of the pre-caucus polls, the real estate billionaire finished second behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and barely held off Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who placed a close third. ‘That could've been with the debate,’ Trump told reporters at a rally in Milford, N.H. ‘I think some people were disappointed that I didn't go into the debate.’”

[WaPo’s Max Ehrenfreund explains why he think’s Marco Rubio’s strong finish in Iowa gives him the best chance at his party’s nod.]

Maple Menace Alert: Illinois rules Cruz can run - WashEx: “Texas Sen. Ted Cruz secured two major victories Monday, winning the Republican Iowa caucuses and also receiving a favorable decision from the Illinois Board of Elections, which confirmed his U.S. citizenship met the state’s primary ballot requirements. The Illinois news got lost in the caucus coverage, which lagged into Tuesday morning and absorbed much of the media’s attention. The GOP senator has had his presidential bid challenged in recent months by Iowa GOP runner-up Donald Trump, who claimed Cruz's Canadian birthplace disqualifies him from being president.”

That’s a lot of exclamation marks - Weekly Standard: “Florida governor Jeb Bush received 5,165 votes in Iowa. His vote total constitutes 2.8 percent of the Republican turnout, placing him in sixth place in the Iowa caucus. Yet no candidate in either party spent more in the race than Bush. According to MSNBC, Bush spent $14.9 million in Iowa, all coming from Bush's super PAC. (In fact, if one were to consider national ads and money from the campaign, the total would be significantly more.) That means, the once Republican frontrunner spent $2,884 per Iowa vote.”

[A new ad from Team Jeb hits Trump hard in New Hampshire titled “Turn off the Trump.”]

GOP delegate counts: Cruz 8; Trump 7; Rubio 7; Carson 3; Paul 1; Bush 1 (1,237 needed to win)

Music is only for the wealthy in China, or so says Quartz: “[China’s] music-listening audience is markedly broken up by wealth. China’s most affluent consumers are the heaviest music listeners, while interest in music peters out in the lowest socioeconomic tier. Those in the top income tier (defined as individuals with an average income of US $33,000) listen to about 19 hours of music per week, while middle-class listeners (average income $19,000) take in 16 hours, and music-listeners in the lowest tier (average income $9,000) tune in for 12 hours. It’s not necessarily an issue of access—pirated content in the country is rampant and therefore readily available—but more likely one of disparate income, responsibility, and free time…Western music companies looking to China for growth—in particular, streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music—will just have to note that non-affluent Chinese customers aren’t likely to jump on board anytime soon.”

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Real Clear Politics Averages
National GOP nomination
: Trump 28.6 percent; Cruz 23.9 percent; Rubio 16.9 percent; Carson 7.7 percent
New Hampshire GOP Primary: Trump 33.4 percent; Cruz 12.2 percent; Kasich 10.8 percent; Rubio 10.4 percent; Bush 9 percent
National Dem nomination: Clinton 51.6 percent; Sanders 37.2 percent
New Hampshire Dem Primary: Sanders 55.5; Clinton 38 percent
General Election Clinton vs. Trump: Clinton +2.7 points
Generic Congressional Vote: Republicans +0.5

The messages from Hillary Clinton’s campaign today are schizophrenic to say the least. While former President Bill Clinton is heading down to South Carolina to shore up support for the fourth Democratic contest, the campaign is also dispatching 150 staffers for an all-out blitz in New Hampshire.

First of all, if you have 150 staffers to even send to New Hampshire at your headquarters your campaign is probably more bloated than a busload of sumo wrestlers at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

But whatever the bloat-level in Brooklyn, Clinton seems to be trying to have it both ways: simultaneously downplaying the New Hampshire Primary where she trails insurgent Sen. Bernie Sanders by double-digits, while at the same time hustling to cut into his lead.

Her husband was right to write-off New Hampshire on Tuesday, pointing out to MSNBC that “nobody from a state bordering New Hampshire has ever lost a Democratic primary to a non-incumbent president.” It might be pure Clintonian spin, but it does have the advantage of being true.

The Clinton campaign underperformed in Iowa, leaving the state with a split decision and sour feelings. The prospect of a ringing, stinging defeat in New Hampshire is surely not pleasant for a woman who’s second White House run is starting out all too similarly to her first.

But she should relax. While Clinton clearly has substantial problems as a general election candidate, Sanders is not a credible threat to the nomination.

Rather than dispatching resources to New Hampshire, or even campaigning there herself, Clinton should tip her cap to the Vermont socialist, and congratulate him on a great outing. While she smiles, Clinton should be preparing to roast him in Nevada two weeks, and South Carolina the week after that.

Clinton’s goal shouldn’t be to cut after Sanders’ lead in New Hampshire so much as it should be to wallop him by equal or greater margins in subsequent contests.

The media narrative about Clinton’s weakness is fed by her evident misery in defeat. Sanders is still a fringe candidate. As she learned with her campaign’s unseemly attacks on the 74-year-old socialist already, political combat with him only adds legitimacy to his bid.

While there are always dangers in ceding any race to a rival Clinton could learn a lesson from 2008 Republican nominee John McCain, who made no bones about skipping Iowa but decisively won the GOP nomination anyway.

Clinton is like McCain or even 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney: a potent frontrunner with a few bad spots. She is not like her Republican counterpart Donald Trump in the sense that her support is solid and time-tested and is backed up by the most extensive organization in politics.

When she starts winning, she will keep winning, even after a couple losses. Reinforcing the media narrative that she is trying and failing only makes her look more desperate for power.

Clinton camp warns of long slog - NYT: “Hillary Clinton’s hair’s-breadth win over Bernie Sanders in the first contest of the Democratic nominating season has sent a loud message: Every day from now until November is going to be a battle. That realization was settling in Tuesday with a party hierarchy that has united almost unanimously behind her candidacy — many on the assumption that the former secretary of state had practically a clear shot at becoming the Democratic standard-bearer. But the narrowness of Clinton’s margin over the Vermont senator, who had been trailing by 30 points in polls as recently as November, came as a surprise to many of her backers. Indeed, had it not been for the superiority of her ground operation in Iowa, many say privately that she would have been swamped by the wave of enthusiasm for Sanders.”

Hillary taps Holder for South Carolina spot - Time: “Hillary Clinton enlisted former Attorney General Eric Holder for her first campaign ad in South Carolina, an early-voting state with a significant African-American population. Holder, who served as deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton and in the Obama Cabinet alongside Hillary Clinton from 2009 to 2013, touts his long relationship with her in the ad, titled ‘25 Years.’”

Bernie not built to last - FiveThirtyEight: “Iowa and New Hampshire also lack nonwhite voters, who form a huge part of the Democratic base. Can Sanders win over some of these voters? Clinton has held a lead among nonwhites of nearly 40 percentage points in national polls. In Nevada, which votes after the New Hampshire primary, the electorate for the Democratic caucuses in 2008 was 15 percent Hispanic and 15 percent black. After Nevada comes South Carolina, where a majority of Democratic voters will be black. Our polls-only forecast in South Carolina gives Clinton a 94 percent chance to win, and our polls-plus forecast gives her a 96 percent chance to win.”

Iowa Democrats’ debacle tars Clinton’s claims - DMR: “It’s Iowa’s nightmare scenario revisited: An extraordinarily close count in the Iowa caucuses — and reports of chaos in precincts, website glitches and coin flips to decide county delegates — are raising questions about accuracy of the count and winner. This time it’s the Democrats, not the Republicans. Even as Hillary Clinton trumpeted her Iowa win in New Hampshire on Tuesday, aides for Bernie Sanders said the eyelash-thin margin raised questions and called for a review. The chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party rejected that notion, saying the results are final.”

Democratic delegate count:  Clinton 22; Sanders 21 (2,382 needed to win)

AP: “Hundreds of southeastern Mississippi citizens received jury summons that incorrectly instructed them to call a sex hotline. Multiple news outlets report that at least 350 jury summons with the incorrect phone number were sent out in Jackson County to potential jurors. Circuit Clerk Randy Carney says people started calling the circuit clerk’s office Monday morning to report the problem. Others stopped by in person to address the issue. Carney says he doesn't know what caused the mix-up. He has drafted an apology letter that will go out those who received the erroneous summons. He says he doesn’t know if his office will be liable for costs associated with any potential jurors billed for using the hotline. Carney added that he’ll personally review summons before they’re mailed out from now on.”

“You add up Cruz and Rubio, both of them conservatives - one more conservative, fundamentalist if you like than the other and what you have is 51 percent of Iowa whose conservative and one quarter Trump is populist. And that tells me that Republicans in the end are likely to stay with their roots which is as a conservative party and not be accept the siren song of populism like Trump is championing.” – 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.