Trump and Cruz Lead the GOP Field

The discussion was largely framed by the proposals of Donald Trump, who has increased his lead over the rest of the GOP pack in most of the latest national polls. His bold positions have provoked angry outcries from the liberal media as well as slightly milder criticism from most of the other GOP candidates. Senator Ted Cruz is the only one who has not attacked Trump and his positions. In recent weeks, he has moved up, running a strong second and challenging Trump’s lead in some of the latest national polls.

The debate began with Trump reiterating his proposals for a temporary ban on Muslims visiting the United States, and the deportation of all 11 million illegal aliens now in the country, as well as an earlier proposal to build a wall along the Mexican border to keep illegals from entering the country.

The debate moderator turned to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who has decided that the best way to revive his failing campaign is to sharpen his attacks on Trump, calling his security proposals “unhinged” and declaring him unable to keep the country safe as the commander in chief.

Bush declared once again that Trump was not a “serious” presidential candidate and that his proposals did not add up to a practical strategy to combat ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism. Several times during the debate, Bush turned to Trump and told him that “he was not going to be able to insult his way to the presidency,” but in this confrontation, it was Bush who was doing much of the insulting, while Trump easily deflected the more substantive criticism of his policies, as delivered by Bush and the other candidates on the stage.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie referred to his experience during seven years as a federal prosecutor in New Jersey as his primary qualification as president, claiming it gave him practical experience in fighting terrorism, especially during the days following the 9/11 attack.

He argued that he was much more qualified than candidates who have served as senators and governors to deal with the terrorist threat, He condemned Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democrat presidential nominee, for effectively endorsing the failed security and foreign policies of President Obama and promising the American people more of the same if she is elected president.

ARGUMENT OVER A NEW PHONE SURVEILLANCE MEASURE

The next portion of the debate was dominated by a dispute between Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Marco Rubio over the recently passed USA Freedom Act, which changed the way the federal government monitors phone communications for signs of terrorist activity. The NSA is no longer permitted to collect the metadata on millions of phone calls, including information about who is talking to whom over the telephone. The NSA must now request that information in a more specific manner from telephone companies.

Rubio criticized Cruz for supporting the bill, along with Senator Rand Paul, declaring that the bill makes it more difficult for government authorities to detect and track terrorist activity at a time when the terrorist threat to this country is rising. Rubio called ISIS not only the “most capable” terrorist group in history, “it is the most sophisticated terror threat we have ever faced. We are now at a time when we need more tools, not less tools. And that tool we lost, the metadata program, was a valuable tool that we no longer have at our disposal.”

Cruz denied that the USA Freedom Act puts the metadata out of reach, and says, that on the contrary, it expands the proportion of all phone calls included in the surveillance program, adding calls placed on cell phones as well as land lines.

WHAT HAPPENS IF WE ARE ATTACKED AGAIN?

Rubio declared that the new law, “takes away a valuable tool that allowed the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies to quickly and rapidly access phone records and match them up with other phone records to see who terrorists have been calling. Because I promise you, the next time there is an attack on this country, the first thing people are going to want to know is, why didn’t we know about it and why didn’t we stop it? And the answer better not be because we didn’t have access to records or information that would have allowed us to identify these killers before they attacked.”

Senator Paul jumped into the discussion, declaring that “Marco [Rubio] gets it completely wrong. We are not any safer through the bulk collection of all Americans’ records. In fact, I think we’re less safe. We get so distracted by all of the information, we’re not spending enough time getting specific information on terrorists.”

Rubio countered by saying that, “this metadata program is actually more strict[ly monitored] than what a regular law enforcement agency has now. If a regular law enforcement agency wants your phone records, all they have to do is issue a subpoena. But now the intelligence agency is not able to quickly gather records and look at them to see who these terrorists are calling. And the terrorists that attacked us in San Bernardino was an American citizen, born and raised in this country. And I bet you we wish we would have had access to five years of his records so we could see who he was working with.”

CONFLICTING STRATEGIES FOR FIGHTING ISIS

Rubio and Cruz clashed over their strategies, as a future commander in chief, for fighting ISIS and strengthening the US military whose capabilities have been severely weakened by the policies of the Obama administration.

Cruz was asked about his declaration that he would “carpet bomb ISIS into oblivion,” testing whether, “sand can glow in the dark.” Cruz was asked whether that showed insensitivity to the many civilian casualties that would be caused by conducting such bombing raids against large cities. such as Raqqa now under ISIS control.

Cruz responded by saying, “you would carpet bomb where ISIS is, not a city, but the location of the troops. You use air power directed — and you have embedded Special Forces to direct the air power. But the object isn’t to level a city. The object is to kill the ISIS terrorists. . .

“What it means is using overwhelming air power to utterly and completely destroy ISIS. To put things in perspective, in the first Persian Gulf War, we launched roughly 1,100 air attacks a day. We carpet bombed them for 36 days, saturation bombing, after which our troops went in and in a day and a half mopped up what was left of the Iraqi army.

Right now, Obama is launching between 15 and 30 air attacks a day. It is photo op foreign policy. We need to use overwhelming air power. We need to be arming the Kurds. We need to be fighting and killing ISIS where they are.”

Cruz emphasized that it was “not a lack of competence that is preventing the Obama administration from stopping these attacks. It is political correctness. We didn’t monitor the Facebook posting of the female San Bernardino terrorist because the Obama DHS thought it would be inappropriate. She made a public call to jihad, and they didn’t target it.

“The Tsarnaev brothers, the elder brother made a public call to jihad and the Obama administration didn’t target it. Nidal Hasan communicated with Anwar al-Awlaki, a known radical cleric, asked about waging jihad against his fellow soldiers.”

Cruz said the problem is that “the Obama administration, like a lot of folks here, wants to search everyone’s cell phones and e-mails and not focus on the bad guys. And [this] political correctness is killing people.”

DISPUTE OVER DEFENSE SPENDING

Rubio said Cruz’s voting record in the Senate, opposing defense spending, does not match his belligerent rhetoric calling for the use of overwhelming US military force. The air strikes are important, but we need to have an air force capable of it. And because of the budget cuts we are facing in this country, we are going to be left with the oldest and the smallest Air Force we have ever had. We have to reverse those cuts, in addition to the cuts to our Navy and in addition to the cuts to our Army, as well.”

Rubio noted that Cruz voted three times “against the Defense Authorization Act, which is a bill that funds the troops. It also, by the way, funds the Iron Dome and other important programs. And I have to assume that if you vote against it in the Senate, you would also veto it as president.

Rubio outlined his own strategy for defeating ISIS, declaring that it “cannot just be defeated through air strikes. Air strikes are a key component of defeating them, but they must be defeated on the ground by a ground force. And that ground force must be primarily made up of Sunni Arabs themselves, Sunni Arabs that reject them ideologically and confront them militarily.

“We will have to embed additional American special operators alongside them to help them with training, to help them conduct special missions, and to help improve the air strikes.”

Rubio continued to blast Cruz for supporting “a budget that is called the containment budget. And it is a budget that would radically reduce the amount of money we spend on our military. You can’t carpet bomb ISIS if you don’t have planes and bombs to attack them with.”

Cruz said that he voted against the defense spending bill because it would give the federal government “the authority to detain US citizens permanently with no due process,” He insisted that “ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism will face no more determined foe than I will be.

CRUZ ACCUSES RUBIO OF SUPPORTING CLINTON’S FOREIGN POLICIES

“We will utterly destroy them by targeting the bad guys. And one of the problems with Marco’s foreign policy is he has far too often supported Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama undermining governments in the Middle East that have helped radical Islamic terrorists.”

When asked whether his foreign policy goal would be “to preserve dictatorships, rather than promoting democracy in the Middle East” Cruz answered by explaining, “I believe in an America first foreign policy. . . we need to focus on American interests, not on global aspirations. . . . We need to focus on killing the bad guys, not getting stuck in Middle Eastern civil wars that don’t keep America safe.”

That comment launched a discussion over whether the US should resume its former more aggressive foreign policy attitude towards intervening to resolve problems around the world, advocated by Rubio, or take the more isolationist view advocated by Senators Cruz and Paul.

Rubio said that while “Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s strategy is to lead from behind. It sounds like what he [Cruz] is outlining is not to lead at all. We cannot continue to outsource foreign policy. We must lead. We are the most powerful nation in the world. We need to begin to act like it, again.”

When asked why the Sunni Arab countries have taken a more active role in the coalition to defeat ISIS, Rubio said that, “they have lost complete trust and confidence in this president. This president cut a deal with their moral enemy, the Shia, in Iran. . .

“But they have as much invested in this as we do. In fact, more so, for it is the king of Saudi Arabia they want to behead first. It’s the king of Jordan that they want to dethrone. They want to go into Egypt the way they’ve already gone into Libya.”

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO ASSAD?

Rubio brought up the reluctance of his opponents, including Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, to make the overthrow of the Assad regime a priority, simultaneously with defeating ISIS.

Rubio said that, “Assad is one of the main reasons why ISIS even exists to begin with. Assad is a puppet of Iran. And he has been so brutal toward the Sunni within Syria that he created the space that led to the people of Syria themselves to stand up and try to overthrow him. That led to the chaos which allowed ISIS to come in and take advantage of that situation and grow more powerful.

“And the fact that this president led from behind meant there were no alternative groups on the ground to be empowered, leaving ISIS with the prime operating space they needed to become the force they have now become.”

Cruz disagrees, and argues that the US must focus first on fighting those who pose a direct threat to it.

CRUZ WARNS OF FOREIGN DISTRACTIONS

“Far too often President Obama and Hillary Clinton, and, unfortunately, more than a few Republicans, have gotten distracted from the central focus of keeping this country safe,” Cruz said.

“So let’s go back to the beginning of the Obama administration, when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama led NATO in toppling the government in Libya. They did it because they wanted to promote democracy. A number of Republicans supported them. The result of that — and we were told then that there were these moderate rebels that would take over. Well, the result is, Libya is now a terrorist war zone run by jihadists.

“Move over to Egypt. Once again, the Obama administration, encouraged by Republicans, toppled Mubarak who had been a reliable ally of the United States, of Israel, and in its place, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood came in, a terrorist organization.

“And we need to learn from history. These same leaders, Obama, Clinton, and far too many Republicans, want to topple Assad. Assad is a bad man. Gadhafi was a bad man. Mubarak had a terrible human rights record. But they were assisting us, at least Gadhafi and Mubarak [were], in fighting radical Islamic terrorists.

“And if we topple Assad, the result will be ISIS taking over Syria, and it will worsen US national security interests,” Cruz added.

PAUL WARNS AGAINST REPEATING PAST MISTAKES

Senator Paul joined in by saying, “I think that by arming the allies of ISIS, the Islamic rebels against Assad, that we created a safe space or made that space bigger for ISIS to grow. I think those who have wanted regime change have made a mistake. When we toppled Gadhafi in Libya, I think that was a mistake. I think ISIS grew stronger, we had a failed state, and we were more at risk. . .

In 2013, we put 600 tons of weapons. . . into the war against Assad. . . We had people coming to our Foreign Relations Committee and saying, ‘Oh, we need to arm the allies of Al Qaida.’ They are still saying this. It is a crazy notion. . .

“There are still people, including the majority on the stage, that want to topple Assad. And then there will be chaos, and I think ISIS will then be in charge of Syria.”

TRUMPS WANTS TO FIGHT JUST ONE ENEMY AT A TIME

When Trump was asked about whether Assad should be left in power, he responded, I think Assad is a bad guy, a very bad. Lots of people killed. I think we are backing people [in Syria] we have no idea who they are. The rebels, we call them. We have no idea. A lot of people think that they are ISIS.

“We have to do one thing at a time. We can’t be fighting ISIS and fighting Assad. Assad is fighting ISIS. He is fighting ISIS. Russia is fighting now ISIS. And Iran is fighting ISIS. . .

“We have to get rid of ISIS first. After we get rid of ISIS, we’ll start thinking about it. But we can’t be fighting Assad. And when you’re fighting Assad, you are fighting Russia, you’re fighting a lot of different groups. We can’t be fighting everybody at one time.”

CHRISTIE WARNS AGAINST IRAN

Chris Christie said he thought that the main problem in the region, which the rest of the candidates had lost sight of, is Iran. “The president has set up an awful situation through his deal with Iran, because what [it] has done is empower them and enrich them. And that’s the way ISIS has been created and formed here. . . because of the abuse that Assad and his Iranian sponsors have rained down on the Sunnis in Syria. . .

“When Hillary Clinton says her theory against ISIS will be just about the same as the president, then get ready for more unrest and more murder and more violence in the Middle East.

“We need to focus our attention on Iran, because if you miss Iran, you are not going to get ISIS. The two are inextricably connected because one causes the other,” Christie emphasized.

Christie also confirmed that his willingness to declare a no-fly-zone in Syria along the Turkish border to protect Syrian civilians meant a readiness to shoot down Russian planes should they enter the protected airspace. He said that he would warn Russian President Vladimir Putin about the policy and “yes, we would shoot down the planes of Russian pilots if in fact they were stupid enough to think that this president was the same feckless weakling that the president we have in the Oval Office is right now.”

CHRISTIE DENIES HIS PROPOSALS ARE RECKLESS

Christie’s statement provoked a horrified reaction from Senator Paul, who declared, “Well, I think if you’re in favor of World War III, you have your candidate. . . Russia already flies in that airspace. It may not be something we’re in love with the fact that they’re there, but they were invited by Iraq and by Syria to fly in that airspace.”

Noting that Clinton also supports declaring a no-fly zone, Paul added, “We need to confront Russia from a position of strength, but we don’t need to confront Russia from a point of recklessness that would lead to war.”

Christie angrily denied Paul’s accusation. “I’ll tell you what reckless is,” Christie said. “Reckless is calling Assad a reformer. What’s reckless is allowing Russia to come into Crimea and Ukraine. What’s reckless is inviting Russia into Syria to team with Iran. That is reckless. And the reckless people are the folks in the White House right now. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are the reckless people. . .

“How is it working so far?” Christie asked of the Obama-Clinton Syrian policies. “As we have 250,000 Syrians murdered, slaughtered; millions running around the world, running for their lives. It’s not working. We need to try something else. And that is not reckless.”

PAUL SAYS THAT REGIME CHANGE DOESN’T WORK

When Paul was asked whether he thought deposing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 was a good idea, he responded, “These are the fundamental questions of our time, these foreign policy questions, whether or not regime change is a good idea or a bad idea. I don’t think because I think the regime change was a bad idea it means that Hussein was necessarily a good idea.”

After saying that it was not a simple question of right vs. wrong, Paul explained that he opposes regime change because it doesn’t work. “Out of regime change you get chaos. From the chaos you have seen repeatedly the rise of radical Islam.”

He added, “We have to have a more realistic foreign policy and not a utopian one where we say, oh, we’re going to spread freedom and democracy, and everybody in the Middle East is going to love us. They are not going to love us.”

TRUMP REGRETS WASTED US RESOURCES

Trump said that the results of the recent US military interventions around the world were not worth the cost. “In my opinion, we’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that frankly, if they were there and if we could’ve spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems; our airports and all of the other problems we’ve had, we would’ve been a lot better off.

“We have done a tremendous disservice, not only to Middle East, we’ve done a tremendous disservice to humanity. The people that have been killed, the people that have wiped away, and for what? It’s not like we had victory.

“It’s a mess. The Middle East is totally destabilized,” Trump continued. “I wish we had the $4 trillion or $5 trillion. I wish it were spent right here in the United States, on our schools, hospitals, roads, airports, and everything else that is all falling apart.”

RUBIO’S IMMIGRATION POSITION IS CHALLENGED

Paul criticized Rubio’s support for the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” Senate immigration reform bill in 2013, which would have allowed more immigrants to enter this country with no new security requirements.

Paul said, “the one thing that might have stopped San Bernardino, that might have stopped 9/11 would have been stricter controls on those who came here. And Marco has opposed at every point increased security — border security for those who come to our country.

“On his Gang of Eight bill, he would have liberalized immigration, but he did not — and he steadfastly opposed any new border security requirements for refugees or students. . .

Marco can’t have it both ways. He thinks he wants to be this, ‘Oh, I’m great and strong on national defense.’ But he’s the weakest of all the candidates on immigration. He is the one for an open border that is leaving us defenseless. If we want to defend the country, we have to defend against who’s coming in.”

Paul accused Rubio of having “more of an allegiance to Chuck Schumer and to the liberals [who supported the Senate immigration bill] than he does to conservative policy. . .

“The thing is that every terrorist attack we’ve had since 9/11 has been legal immigration. Marco wants to expand that. I want more rules, more scrutiny, and to defend the country, you have to defend the border,” Paul concluded.

RUBIO EXPLAINS HOW HIS POSITION HAS CHANGED

Later in the debate, Rubio explained how and why his position on immigration changed. “Here’s what we learned in 2013. The American people don’t trust the Federal Government to enforce our immigration laws, and we will not be able to do anything on immigration until we first prove to the American people that illegal immigration is under control.

“And we can do that. We know what it takes to do that. It takes at least 20,000 more additional border agents. It takes completing those 700 miles of fencing. It takes a mandatory e-verify system and a mandatory entry/exit tracking system to prevent overstays. After we have done that, the second thing we have to do is reform and modernize the legal immigration system.

“And after we have done those two things, I think the American people are gonna be reasonable with what do you do with someone who has been in this country for 10 or 12 years who hasn’t otherwise violated our laws — because if they’re a criminal they can’t stay. They’ll have to undergo a background check, pay a fine, start paying taxes. And ultimately, they’ll be given a work permit and that’s all they’re gonna be allowed to have for at least 10 years.” Only then, Rubio said, would he be willing to let them apply for a green card [permanent legal resident status].

Cruz said that when there was a battle over the issue in the Senate, “some chose, like Senator Rubio to stand with Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer and support a massive amnesty plan [while] others chose to stand with Jeff Sessions and Steve King and the American people and secure the border.”

THE FRONT LINE WITH ISIS IS AT KENNEDY AIRPORT

Cruz added that today, “front line with ISIS isn’t just in Iraq and Syria, it’s in Kennedy Airport and the Rio Grande. Border security is national security. And, you know, one of the most troubling aspects of the Rubio-Schumer Gang of Eight Bill was that it gave President Obama blanket authority to admit refugees, including Syrian refugees without mandating any background checks whatsoever. Now we’ve seen what happened in San Bernardino. When you are letting people in, when the FBI can’t vet them, it puts American citizens at risk.”

Cruz said that if elected president, he would adopt Donald Trump’s proposal to “build a wall that works” on the southern border with Mexico.

He added, “We need a commander in chief who does what Ronald Reagan did with communism, which is he set out a global strategy to defeat Soviet communism. He directed all of his forces to defeating communism.

“One of the things we’ve seen here is how easy it is for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to get distracted from dealing with radical Islamic terrorism. They won’t even call it by its name.

“We need a president who stands up, number one, and says, we will defeat ISIS. And number two, says the greatest national security threat facing America is a nuclear Iran. . . ISIS and Iran have declared war on America, and we need a commander in chief who will do everything necessary to keep our children safe,” Cruz declared.

CRUZ HARDENS HIS IMMIGRATION POSITION

Cruz declared, “I have never supported legalization, and I do not intend to support legalization.” Cruz referred to his proposal for strictly enforcing the current federal immigration law, in contrast to “the Obama administration’s policy of releasing criminal illegal aliens.”

After the debate, on the campaign trail, Cruz hardened his position against those in this country illegally, whom he has begun referring to as “undocumented Democrats,” suggesting that Democrats have a politically selfish motive for wanting to grant them amnesty. He is now pledging to oppose legal status for them “today, tomorrow, forever.”

SYRIAN REFUGEES ARE A SPECIAL PROBLEM

On the question of President Obama’s proposal to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the US, Rubio, in the debate, adopted a more cautious attitude.

“It’s not that America doesn’t want to accept refugees,” Rubio said. “It’s that we may not be able to, because this is an issue we have to be 100 percent right on. If we allow 9,999 Syrian refugees into the United States, and all of them are good people, but we allow one person in who’s an ISIS killer — we just get one person wrong, [then] we’ve got a serious problem.

“And there is not a single person in the national defense apparatus of this country that can guarantee you [that they] are going to be 100 percent right.”

On the Syrian refugee question, Christie said, “this debate stops with me in the discussions with the FBI director. I’m a former federal prosecutor, I know Jim Comey. We’ve worked together. He was the US attorney in Manhattan when I was a US attorney in New Jersey. And when Jim Comey gets up before Congress and says, we cannot effectively vet these people, for me as president, that’s the end of the conversation. We have to put America’s security first.

“We need to open our ears. The American people are not whispering to us that it’s our job to actually make this government work. It’s so dysfunctional under Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. It’s so ineffectual that the American people say, we don’t trust them to do anything anymore. So I’m not going to let any Syrian refugees in this country.”

TRUMP INSISTS THAT ALL ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS GO HOME

Trump weighed in by agreeing that the US must be much tougher on who it lets into the country.

He reiterated his “very hardline position” on the issue, declaring, “People that have come into our country illegally, they have to go. They have to come back into through a legal process.

“I want a strong border. I do want a wall. Walls do work. You just have to speak to the folks in Israel. Walls work if they’re properly constructed.”

Trump noted that in the attack in San Bernardino and 14 years ago in the attack on the World Trade Center, there were other immigrants to this country, family members of the terrorists, “that knew what was going on” and remained silent.

Trump said, “I would be very, very firm with families. Frankly, that will make people think because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families’ lives.”

BUSH AND TRUMP DUEL AT THE PODIUM

Jeb Bush jumped into the discussion, accusing Trump of being inconsistent in his policy towards terrorism. “Look, this is troubling because we’re at war. They’ve declared war on us and we need to have a serious strategy to destroy ISIS,” Bush said.

“But the idea that is a solution is just crazy,” he continued. “It makes no sense to suggest this. Look, two months ago Donald Trump said that ISIS was not our fight. Just two months ago he said that Hillary Clinton would be a great negotiator with Iran. And he gets his foreign policy experience from the shows. That is not a serious kind of candidate. We need someone that thinks this through. That can lead our country to safety and security.”

Trump responded by repeating his prior accusation that Bush was too “nice” a person and not tough enough or intelligent enough to give the US the leadership it needs in these times.

The two candidates went back and forth, with Bush deliberately cutting off Trump’s remarks, noting that by doing so, he was giving, “A little of your own medicine there, Donald,” while Trump reiterated, “We need a toughness. We need strength. We’re not respected as a nation anymore. We don’t have that level of respect that we need. And if we don’t get it back fast, we’re just going to go weaker, weaker and just disintegrate.”

Trump added that Bush’s previous weak stand on protecting the border was a symbol of his weakness, and that, “he’s saying the same thing right now with radical Islam,” and concluded, “with Jeb’s attitude, we will never be great again.”

TRUMP PROMISES NO 3RD PARTY RUN

A moderator asked Trump about renewed fears among Republicans that he might be considering a third party run should he not get the GOP nomination. In response, Trump issued a clear assurance that he is “totally committed to the Republican party [and] I feel very honored to be the front runner. If I’m so fortunate to be chosen, I think I’ll do very well. Polls have come out recently saying I would beat Hillary. I will do everything in my power to beat Hillary Clinton, I promise you.”

Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Ohio Governor John Kasich also participated in the main debate, but had very little that was new or original to add to the discussion. Carson and Fiorina have been sliding in the recent polls. Outside of New Hampshire, one of the last moderate Republican strongholds where Kasich is currently running 5th behind Trump, Cruz, Rubio and Christie, the Ohio governor is at 2 percent nationwide.

TRUMP EXTENDING HIS LEAD IN THE POLLS

Trump’s already impressive lead in the nationwide polls over his Republican opponents continues to widen. In the five most recent national polls, Trump’s support ranged between 28-41 percent, over his nearest rival, Ted Cruz, whose support ranged from 14-24 percent. The latest poll, published by Quinnipiac Monday, showed Cruz closing the gap to 28-24 percent support, only 4 points behind Trump. The polls had Rubio slightly leading or tied with Ben Carson for third place, with about 10 percent support each. They were followed by either Bush or Christie in fifth place nationwide. Christie has joined the top tier of candidates as a result of his strong performance in last week’s debate. The leaders were followed by Paul, Fiorina and the other GOP candidates, most of them scoring in the lower single digits.

The crowded GOP field was narrowed Monday when South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s most bitter critics, dropped out of the race, after failing to attract any significant voter support.

Bush has still been unable to gain any traction in the race despite recently stepping up his attacks on Trump. In some national polls he attracts on 2% support.

TRUMP AND CRUZ RISING WHILE CARSON IS FALLING

In the Fox News poll released Friday, Trump has increased his level of support to 39 percent from 28 percent a month ago. Trump’s increase and the recent rise in Cruz’s support, which has put him firmly in second place behind Trump, have come at the expense of Ben Carson, who is widely viewed as not tough enough to deal effectively with the terrorist threat. Surveys show that 70 percent support Trump’s controversial call for a temporary halt to Muslims visiting this country.

According to the Fox News survey, Trump’s recent rise in the polls can be attributed largely to increased support from men, going up from 28 percent in November to 46 percent now, and blue collar, non-college graduates, which has increased from 30 percent to 45 percent. Trump is also winning support from evangelical Christians.

Trump’s consistent lead has also convinced a 65 percent majority of Republicans, many of whom were previously dubious, that his presidential candidacy must be taken seriously.

TRUMP AND CRUZ LEAD ON THE MAIN ISSUES

On the main campaign issues, Trump and Cruz consistently score in first and second place as the most qualified among the GOP candidates. These include handling the economy (Trump 52 percent, Cruz 13 percent), fighting ISIS (Trump 49 percent, Cruz 17 percent) and qualifications to serve as commander-in-chief, (Trump 31 percent, Cruz 21 percent. On the commander-in-chief qualification, Trump (+12 points) and Cruz (+8 points) have both improved significantly since November.

The only significant bad news for Trump is that he has lost his lead over Clinton in a one-on-one matchup in the Fox News poll. In November, he was up by 5 points, but in the current Fox poll, she beats him by 11 points (49-38). On the other hand, the poll found that Cruz and Clinton would come out tied with 45 percent support each, while Rubio would beat her by two points, (45-43), within the poll’s 3-point margin of error.

In Monday’s Quinnipiac poll, Clinton leads Trump by 47-40 percent, while Clinton and Cruz are tied with 44 percent each, and Clinton leads Rubio narrowly by 44-43 percent.

PUTIN PAYS TRUMP A COMPLIMENT

Even though the escalating fight between Cruz and Rubio attracted attention in the media coverage of the debate, Trump soon resumed his domination of the media. He made the most of a highly unusual endorsement by Vladimir Putin during the Russian President’s Thursday press conference. Putin, ignoring all the other US presidential candidates, called Trump “brilliant” and “talented without a doubt.”

Trump responded by saying that he thought that he and Putin could cooperate if he were to be elected president. “We’re all tough guys. But wouldn’t it be nice if Russia and us could knock out an enemy together? Not us bear the full cost, sometimes? You know, we’re always fighting.”

Some of Trump’s GOP rivals objected, and said they would not meet or talk with the Russian leader because of his aggression in Ukraine and his support for Assad and Iran. But Trump said that was a foolish attitude. “What do they want to do? They want to have a World War III?

“But, you know what? If he says something positive, that’s a good thing. “That’s not a bad thing. . . This is good. This would be a great start” to repairing US relations with Russia, Trump said, adding that his GOP opponents were jealous of Putin’s endorsement.

TRUMP CALLS CLINTON CHARGE “ANOTHER HILLARY LIE”

Trump had some tough criticism for Hillary Clinton, who claimed that his call for a temporary ban on Muslims is being used as a recruiting tool by ISIS. Trump blasted Clinton for the statement during a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa as “another Hillary lie.”

In a Sunday news interview, Trump rejected a suggestion from NBC reporter Chuck Todd that he change his language in light of Clinton’s claim that ISIS is using it by saying “Nobody has been able to back that up. It’s nonsense. It’s just another Hillary lie. She lies like crazy about everything, whether it’s trips where she was being gunned down in a helicopter or an airplane, she’s a liar and everybody knows that. But she just made this up in thin air.”

For once, media fact checkers backed up Trump. After a diligent search, they have been unable to find any proof that ISIS has been using Trump’s call to keep foreign Muslims from entering the US in its recruitment efforts.

In response to reporter Todd’s suggestion, Trump said he would not change his rhetoric, “because I think that my words represent toughness and strength. Hillary’s not strong. Hillary’s weak, frankly. She’s got no stamina, she’s got nothing,” Trump said. “She couldn’t even get back on the stage last night.” Trump was referring to Clinton’s delay in returning to the stage after a break midway through the Democratic debate on Motzoei Shabbos.

TRUMP’S PRESENCE FELT AT DEMOCRAT DEBATE

Even though Trump was not present, he dominated much of the discussion between Clinton and her weak challengers, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Vermont’s socialist Senator Bernie Sanders. Trump was attacked by name nine times during the Democrat debate, including five times by Clinton. She warned that Trump’s rhetoric “fans the flames of radicalization.”

O’Malley referred to Trump’s rhetoric as the “fascist pleas of billionaires with big mouths.” Sanders said that he has been telling “people who go to Donald Trump’s rallies, understand: He thinks a low minimum wage in America is a good idea.”

On Monday morning, Trump, in an NBC interview, demanded an apology from Hillary Clinton for her statement at the Democrat debate that Trump had become the “best recruiter” for ISIS and that “they are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists.”

After the fact checkers called Clinton’s accusation false, a spokeswoman for her campaign admitted that Clinton “didn’t have a particular video in mind” when she made the accusation during the debate. Nevertheless another campaign spokesman told MSNBC that Clinton has no intention of apologizing to Trump for the false accusation.

LIBERAL MEDIA LIBELING TRUMP

Overheated rhetoric against Trump in the liberal media has gone over the top. Roger Cohen, a columnist in the New York Times, made a comparison between the current anger at establishment politicians in conservative American political circles today and the chaotic situation in the German Wiemar Republic before the rise of Hitler, suggesting that Trump was playing a similar role. Other liberal commentators made similar comparisons between Trump and Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, and the notorious Senator Joseph McCarthy, who carried out witch hunts for communists in the federal government during the height of the Cold War.

The criticism became so extreme that international publisher Conrad Black, who said, in a letter published in Canada’s National Post that while Trump “is not my preferred candidate,” he is running a legitimate political campaign on a platform which is mostly within the mainstream of current American political discourse.

Conrad says that Trump is doing something admirable by financing his own campaign instead of relying on special interests. “He may not be the answer, but he is not a kook or a menace,” as most of his opponents have claimed.

The demonization of Trump continued on the Sunday news programs. Sanders said on ABC, “I say this straightforwardly. I think you have a pathological liar there,” referring to Trump’s claims that he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering on television after 9/11. “I think much of what he says are lies or gross distortion of reality.”

His Republican opponent, Marco Rubio said on CBS, “Donald Trump had fallen out of the headlines, rightfully, because we had the largest terrorist attack in American history since 9/11,” referring to the killing of 14 people in San Bernardino. “He wanted to get back in the headlines. And he came up with something spectacular and outrageous so that people would respond to it and he could recapture the headlines.”

Rand Paul called Trump’s continued front-runner status “deeply disturbing. I think he will get wiped in a general election,” Paul said.

TRUMP REFUSES TO BACK DOWN

Jeb Bush has tried to revive his flagging campaign by heating up the language he is using to criticize Trump. Over the weekend, he called Trump a “jerk” and in a CBS interview, said that Trump was “not a serious man” and should not be praising Vladimir Putin.

Bush added, “You don’t brag about how great a guy he [Putin] is. He’s not. He kills journalists. Anybody that opposes him ultimately is pushed away.”

When asked about Bush’s comment, Trump replied that he has seen no evidence that Putin kills journalists. In an ABC interview, Trump asked rhetorically, “What am I going to say – he’s a weak leader? [Putin]’s making minced meat out of our president. He is a strong leader.”