As the Democratic presidential race next moves to the heavily black electorate in South Carolina, two misleading smears of candidate Bernie Sanders by prominent African-American supporters of Hillary Clinton taint the critics' fairness and that of their institutions.

Washington Post editorial board member Jonathan Rep. John Lewis officialCapehart and Georgia Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights hero shown in an official photo at right, separately suggested that Sanders had puffed up his 1960s civil rights activism.

The controversies arose as Sanders and Clinton scramble for African-American support in the South Carolina primary Feb. 27 following Clinton's victory in the Nevada caucuses Feb. 20. Looming ahead on March 1 are Super Tuesday contests in 11 states. Most are in the South where, as in South Carolina, much of the Democratic electorate is African-American.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie SandersLewis dissed Sanders Feb. 11 at a news conference called by Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee at the Capitol Hill headquarters of the Democratic National Committee,

"I never met him," Lewis said of Sanders, referencing the early 1960s when Lewis led the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in courageous civil rights struggles that included the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" march in Selma, Alabama. "But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President Clinton."

Two days later, Lewis had to walk back his remarks by noting that Sanders had been active in the early 1960s, whereas the Clintons had attended high school then and Lewis did not meet them until the 1970s.

Also on Feb. 11, Capehart published a Washington Post column Stop sending around this photo of ‘Bernie Sanders,'  citing Randy Ross, the widow of former Chicago student Bruce Rappaport, as saying her late husband was the man shown standing in a photo (below) that the Sanders' campaign had been using to illustrate the presidential candidate's commitment to civil rights.

Both Sanders and Clinton have refrained from comment, thereby standing above the battle.

But the controversy shows the deceptive tactics of candidate surrogates and media organizations in seeking a competitive edge for Clinton, the establishment candidate.

More dramatically, a much-honored photographer and civil rights figure, Danny Lyon, stepped forward to set the record straight. 

1960s Civil Rights Student Activist

As a student at the University of Chicago, Sanders led a chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) in sit ins that protested the university's tacit support of segregated student housing in its Hyde Park locale surrounded by black neighborhoods. Sanders also participated in the famed 1963 March on Washington led by famed civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The University of Chicago has long identified Sanders as the man standing in the 1962 photo. Lyon, a photographer for the Maroon student newspaper, shot the photo and went on to become the official photographer for SNCC in pioneering civil rights activism.     

Bernie Sanders at 1962 University of Chicago CORE sitin Danny Lyon photoCapehart is a contributor on MSNBC, whose host Chris Matthews presented the controversy as if it were a major campaign scandal that implied devious tactics by the Sanders camp just as the Vermont senator was trying to win African-American support following his strong showings in the white-dominated states of New Hampshire and Iowa.

If Sanders had falsely puffed up his civil rights record it would have been one of the worst possible introductions to the heavily black Democratic primary audiences in the South.

But the photographer Lyon stepped forward to confirm that Sanders was the man standing in the photo. Lyon denounced Capehart for shoddy reporting.

The photo, along with a similar one shown on the next page of this column, is courtesy of the Danny Lyon/Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library).

The Lyon statement, confirmed by his release last week of his "contact sheets" of images when he was developing his images for the university's student newspaper, casts a poor light on Capehart, as well as his newspaper and cable colleagues at the Washington Post and MSNBC.

As one dimension, the website Men's Trait reported in Pro-Clinton Columnist In Bed With Clinton Staffer — Literally that the pundit has been been living for years with a Clinton staffer.

True, such conflicts of interest between journalists and political advocates are common in Washington and other media centers, and are rarely revealed.

But it's Capehart's bad luck that his factually inaccurate smear during a presidential race elevates his questionable behavior into news, as here.

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The most raucous and otherwise remarkable debate in modern presidential history took place Feb. 13 in South Carolina — and seems likely to lead to a stunning victory for front-runner Donald Trump in the state's primary Feb. 20.

Peace Center Greenville, SCTrump — by insulting several of his rivals and GOP eminences as well as most of the audience — managed to surpass even his own unmatched record among major contenders for contrarian positions that have confounded his establishment opponents.

Yet nearly all instant polls showed him as winning the debate. A Drudge poll (albeit unscientific) showed him winning 53 percent of the 650,000+ votes cast by 11 p.m. Sunday. Eleven other polls assembled by the Conservative TreeHouse site showed Trump winning, at least initially. Details: Who do you think won the Republican Debate tonight? 

Even a more scientific poll by CBS, the moderator of the debate at the Peace Center auditorium in Greenville, SC, showed Trump finishing second with 24 percent to Marco Rubio, who polled 32 percent in a sample of 601 persons in the overnight poll. 

Out of all the polling since the presidential race began last spring, these results carry special significance as a predictor of how the South Carolina and national GOP contests will play out.

Even though the polls drew from national and not state samples, they seem to indicate that Trump did not seriously hurt himself and none of his five remaining opponents (with the possible exception of Rubio) helped himself significantly.

That's great news for Trump, who currently leads polling in South Carolina by 42 to 20 for Ted Cruz and 15 percent for Rubio in a CBS poll released Feb. 14. Nationally, Trump also leads by large margins over his GOP rivals, although the margin is single digits over Cruz for the most part.

Even better for Trump than the margins, the specifics of the next stage of the race and of his rivals' vulnerabilities enhance his strengths further.

In essence, all of Trump's rivals have major weaknesses at least in the short term. Several are being accused of scandalous behavior, as examined below. Yet none are likely to drop out before the South Carolina primary, which will be regarded as a predictor for the 11-state March 1 votes, most of them in the South.

This is likely to split the anti-Trump vote and deny his rivals a chance for victory in this crucial next phase of the campaign. In the modern era of primaries, no GOP presidential candidate has ever won the party nomination without winning a contest in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina. 

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The two presidential candidates disdaining corporate donations won huge victories in the New Hampshire primaries Feb. 9. But the next steps in their races remain unusually open as the campaigns move this month to Nevada and South Carolina.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders won a 60-38 victory in the Democratic primary over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by relying on individual donors and without a political action committee (PAC) accepting corporate donations.

Donald Trump at GOP debate Aug. 6, 2015Similarly, billionaire businessman Donald Trump (shown in a file photo) won 35-16 in a more crowded Republican field by relying nearly entirely on self-funding and free media. Trump thereby defeated Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the second-place finisher, and six other candidates who accept corporate donations through their PACs.

Both winners tapped into deep voter discontent with the political, business, and media establishments in the country and in the two major parties, as illustrated by the graphic below by Sanders supporters. In New Hampshire and elsewhere, the winners have attracted huge, enthusiastic crowds dwarfing those of their competitors.

Yet the specific contours of each party’s race mean that even the winners’ huge margins failed to clarify the ultimate outcomes of the party nomination fights.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders graphicSanders — while exceeding expectations in dealing a harsh defeat to Clinton with the help of independents allowed to vote in the primary of their choice in New Hampshire — now faces far more difficult terrain for him.

Only Democrats may participate in the caucuses in Nevada. The primary landscape is even more forbidding for Sanders in South Carolina. There, the Democrats-only primary electorate is 55 percent African-American. That compares to single digits for blacks and Hispanics total in New Hampshire and Iowa. Sanders narrowly lost the Iowa caucuses to Clinton in caucuses Feb. 1.

Clinton, in part via her husband Bill’s presidency, has built many relationships in the black community. These ties are especially strong among older minority leaders and voters. Sanders, however, has shown an edge in grass roots enthusiasm.

Sanders' self-description as a "democratic socialist" creates discomfort in conservative regions, where Sanders has polled far below Clinton (at least until he introduces himself). There is an upside, however. In New Hampshire exit polls, he won 91-5 on the issue of being more trustworthy.

 

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Attacks on Ted Cruz’s eligibility for the presidency have seriously undermined his campaign in the crucial days before the Feb. 1 caucuses in Iowa.

Ted Cruz presidential buttonToday, we describe that eligibility as an open question that cannot be resolved easily, in part because the Cruz campaign is withholding the facts about his birth in Canada that are necessary for clear-cut resolution.

We explore also recent revelations that the first term Texas senator won his upset victory in his 2012 campaign with the help of $1.2 million in Goldman Sachs and Citigroup loans that he failed to report as required by federal election law.

April 5 Update: Trump and Cruz went on to win nearly all state contests as of early April in an increasingly nasty rivalry that has included repeated sex scandal allegations against Cruz (which he denied) front-paged by the National Enquirer. Also, Cruz won a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision stating that he was eligible for the presidency despite his Canadian birth. But that Pennsylvania decision is vulnerable to attack, as described in an appendix to this column. For one thing, the suit did not address issues related to the citizenship of Cruz's mother.

Both the eligibility and Goldman Sachs loan issues are important because they coincided — and probably helped cause — Cruz’s decline in the Iowa polls over the past month. Donald Trump now leads in the most recent Iowa poll, as of Jan. 30, by a 5 point margin, according to the prestigious Des Moines Register poll conducted with Bloomberg News.

Trump held a 6.3 margin over Cruz in a RealClear Politics average of six recent polls, as of Jan. 30. Cruz had led or tied in four straight Iowa polls between Dec. 17 and Jan. 7, according to the RealClearPolitics summary.

But on Jan. 5, GOP rival Donald Trump used a New York Times interview to question Cruz’s eligibility for office under the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that a president must be a “natural born” citizen. The Founders did not define the term in the Constitution. But it was widely understood at the time of the Revolution to require birth on a nation’s own territory for the most part.

Donald Trump Pointing Finger Gage Skidmore DMCAIn crafty fashion, Trump (shown in a file photo by Gage Skidmore) did not raise the question as an outright attack on Cruz, but floated it in response to a reporter's question more as a concern that Democrats would litigate the issue for years, thereby damaging the Republican Party and the nation.

Whatever Trump’s intention, he has since moved more into outright attack mode on the question and prompted a massive pro-and-con constitutional debate among legal scholars and pundits. The leading arguments are excerpted below in an appendix, enabling anyone to form at least a preliminary judgment.

Shortly afterward came the revelation of Cruz's unreported campaign loans from two top Wall Street investment banks. Most came from Goldman Sachs, which employs Cruz’s wife Heidi Cruz as a managing director in its Houston office.

Cruz dismisses both matters as non-issues, as described more fully below.

But each accusation put his campaign on the defensive, particularly they both undercut his campaign image. For one thing, he opposes leniency in immigration law and favors “strict construction” of the Founders’ language in the constitution. Additionally, Cruz memorably opposed “New York values” supposedly embodied by Trump – but surely also by the top financial institutions that control so many leaders in Congress and the Executive Branch via lavish donations and other payments to officeholders.

The Goldman Sachs taint became especially newsworthy this month because federal authorities imposed $5.1 billion in fines and other penalties on Goldman Sachs for its actions helping cause the 2008 financial crisis that so deeply hurt so many Americans. 

The senator, a star student at Harvard Law School and former Texas solicitor general, has dismissed the loans as a bureaucratic oversight of scant importance. He thereby suggests what his fans regard as commendable anti-regulatory focus – and what opponents regard as additional reason for deep suspicion and scrutiny.

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Key GOP party leaders are assisting Donald Trump by denouncing his chief rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, just before the Iowa caucuses Feb. 1.

Recent developments show high stakes, intrigues, and back-stabbing as Trump seems to be winning one of the most remarkable momentum turnarounds in recent political history.

A new poll by Fox News Jan. 24 shows Trump with an 11 point lead in Iowa over Cruz, who was ahead by four points in the same poll just two weeks ago. A CBS/YouGov poll of likely voters shows Trump with a five-point lead.

Cruz opponents, some using harsh words far beyond normal criticism, include six-term Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, former GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole of Kansas, senior Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, New York Congressman Peter King, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Iowa's senior U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley made a surprise appearance at a rally Jan. 23 that generated coverage by a London newspaper half a world away under the headline Legendary Iowa senator speaks at Trump rally. Donald Trump National Review cover Jan. 21, 2016

That followed former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin's mid-week endorsement of Trump. as shown below (credit: Alex Hanson). Even a pro-Cruz SuperPAC fund leader, longtime GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway, described the Palin endorsement as a plus for Trump.

Perhaps most remarkable, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (shown below in an official photo) trashed Cruz last week even though Trump had shocked conventional Washington last summer by questioning McCain's Vietnam War record.

Even so, two major conservative opinion journals, the National Review with a cover shown at left and the Weekly Standard, are denouncing Trump in their current cover stories. Each assembled numerous pundits unified in opposition to a Trump nomination.

John McCainAs recently as Jan. 12, the Republican Party’s national elected hierarchy attacked their party’s frontrunner Trump by orchestrating South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s sneers against Trump's "siren call of the angriest voices" during her nationally televised response to President Obama’s State of the Union address.

This was in the same spirit as the party leadership's secret meeting in December to hold, in effect, a "Stop Trump" strategy session. Those attending included campaign representatives of GOP contenders Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, a clearly unfair advantage for them.

That was then.

Sarah Palin, Donald Trump Jan. 19, 2016 endorsement Alex Henson via FlickrThese days? GOP Party Chairman Reince Priebus, who vetted Haley’s veiled attack on Trump Jan. 12 (as did Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan), responded to the National Review by dismissing the magazine from co-moderating the next GOP debate this week because of its coverage.

Nothing remotely like these kinds of gyrations have occurred in modern presidential politics, at least since the 1964 GOP internal jousting between the Goldwater and Rockefeller factions.

Today's column is the second in our series on the GOP nomination contest, where Trump and Cruz are the current frontrunners in both Iowa and nationally. Our overview set the stage with, Cruz Campaign Peaks Early, Faces Brutal Counterattacks, arguing that Cruz's campaign is doomed if he fails to win Iowa, given his advantages there.

What’s going on?

Many of these new Trump endorsers and Cruz critics see their party’s viability endangered if Cruz wins the nomination.

Yet Trump's opponents see risk also. "If Trump were the nominee," conservative syndicated columnist Michael Gerson wrote in the Washington Post Jan. 7, "the GOP would cease to be."

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Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz seemed poised for victory in the Iowa caucuses over most of the past month but has suffered tough counterattacks from critics within his party at the worst possible time for him.

Ted CruzAs often happens in presidential politics, Cruz's difficulties arose from rivals in his own party.

Setbacks cascaded just as he began leading several polls beginning in December for the first national contest, the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1.

Cruz's momentum in Iowa is fueled by its strong base of evangelical Christians and tea party enthusiasts, along with his other logistical advantages over rivals. These include Cruz's unusually strong and controversial initiative to use data harvested from Facebook users to target them with pinpoint precision.

But a cascade pf sudden attacks during recent days are hurting Cruz and could doom his candidacy because of the primary calendar, which magnifies the importance of a few states in ways especially harmful to the Texas senator if he slips in Iowa.

In fact, the Trump ascendancy in recent days arguably represents the most astonishing reversal of fortune among presidential candidates in modern history during a two-week period.

Today's column provides an overview of these developments, which are explored more fully in a series to be published here over the next few days. Topics include:

  • GOP fears of a Trump nomination, illustrated by establishment attack on Trump during the Jan. 12 party-vetted GOP reply to President Obama's State of the Union address;
  • Cruz's growing strength illustrated by his controversial data mining operation and rejection of Trump's overture to join a Trump-led GOP ticket next fall;
  • Trump's challenge to the eligibility of the Canadian-born Cruz to be presidency under the Constitution's requirement of "natural born" citizenship;
  • Revelation that Cruz received $1.2 million in loans from Goldman Sachs and Citibank that he failed to report as funding for his successful campaign that year for a U.S. senate seat for Texas;
  • Opposition to Cruz from GOP leaders, including Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, former GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole, and others.
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