--CRUZ SAYS TRUMP’S IMMIGRATION POLICY AMOUNTS TO ‘AMNESTY’: Ted Cruz has praised Donald Trump for making illegal immigration a central issue of the Republican presidential race, but in an exclusive interview with ABC News, Cruz said that Trump’s immigration plan amounts to amnesty. "So Donald Trump's position is once you deport them, it's what's called touchback. A lot of establishment Republicans had touchback. Basically you make them fly back to their country for a minute, touch the ground, and then they come back with amnesty as citizens. Now, Donald is entitled to do that. He can advance that position, but he doesn't get to pretend that it's not amnesty if he's legalizing and making citizens 12 million people here illegally,” said Cruz in an exclusive interview with ABC’s GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS. Cruz also accused Trump of latching onto the issue of illegal immigration for political gain, ABC’s JESSICA HOPPER writes. Cruz says during the battle over the 2013 “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill, Trump was notably absent. http://abcn.ws/1SBiGDa
--CRUZ ON TRUMP’S TWITTER HABITS. When asked if Trump was qualified to be commander-in-chief, Cruz said, “That's gonna be a determination that the American people are making.” “I will say, anyone who wakes up every day and sees a slight drop in the polls and responds in a frenzy of tweets -- I would suggest that the next commander-in-chief instead of living or dying by the daily polls and -- and by the latest Twitter storm should focus on identifying our enemies, listening to the expert advice of generals, and admirals, and national security experts and doing whatever is necessary to keep this country safe,” Cruz said. FULL INTERVIEW: http://abcn.ws/1PIOwYr
--ANALYSIS -- ABC’s RICK KLEIN: So it comes to this: The Republican establishment cannot decide which of its front-running presidential candidates needs to be stopped – or at least stopped more urgently. Leading conservative thought leaders, as encapsulated by the remarkable series of essays published by National Review, are engaged in an all-out assault on Donald Trump as not representing the true strains of the movement they’ve fought for over decades. Leading conservative elected officials, meanwhile, are sounding alarms about Ted Cruz – viewing him as a threat less to ideology than to the existence of a viable national party. Sen. Lindsey Graham is likening the choice to choosing the manner of your death, and there is an element of which brand of poison conservatives are more eager to swallow. The fact is, though, that voters are indicating that the causes Trump and Cruz are being hit for not representing – ideology, and governing realities – simply don’t matter the way they have in the past. There’s still room (and room for hope among what’s left of the establishment) for another candidate to emerge to save the GOP’s principles from the party’s own voters. Yet if this race comes down to Trump and Cruz, we’ll be witnessing the end of the Republican Party as it’s been organizing itself for the past half century.
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING -- DINERS AND TRUCK STOPS: THE LESSER-KNOWN LANDMARKS ON THE IOWA CAMPAIGN TRAIL. Presidential candidates are everywhere in Iowa this time of year, and as journalists move from coffee shops to Pizza Ranches and event halls, it's easy to fly past the many landmarks that make the state unique. ABC’s JOSH HASKELL takes you to a few of those in the eastern part of the state while he travels between campaign events. http://abcn.ws/1ncpAl8
TODAY ON THE TRAIL with ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: It’s a busy Granite State day: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Martin O’Malley, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum and even Jim Gilmore are all in New Hampshire. Clinton holds an afternoon town hall in Rochester before attending a dinner hosted by NARAL’s New Hampshire branch celebrating the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion legal in this country in 1973. This evening she holds another town hall in Manchester. Sanders has three town halls today starting this morning in North Conway, then in Bedford in the afternoon and Hudson tonight. He also meets with student in Concord this afternoon. Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee are lonely in Iowa today, but not for long. Carson holds four town halls today beginning this morning at 9AM in Clarinda and ending at 8pm tonight in Des Moines, making stops in Mt. Ayr and Creston in the afternoon. Huckabee holds a whopping six events today. He stops in Spencer, Spirit Lake, Algona, Thompson, and Garner, before heading to the famous Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake to play bass with a 1980’s glam metal band (yes, you read that right).
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS GAME COULD RE-SHAPE THE NEW HAMPSHIRE PRIMARY. Don’t expect voters in Goffstown, N.H. to dawdle at Ohio Governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich’s town hall on Sunday afternoon. The event is expected to break up shortly before the New England Patriots take on the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game that night. "Everything stops here when the Pats are on. I know a hundred guys that would walk out,” says Tom Murphy, a maintenance worker at nearby Rivier University in Nashua. The school is just twenty minutes from Goffstown, and only a few miles away from the Massachusetts border, ABC’s BRAD MIELKE has more. http://abcn.ws/23iJ6xf
YESTERDAY ON THE TRAIL with ABC’s VERONICA STRACQUALURSI and PAOLA CHAVEZ
BERNIE SANDERS LAUNCHES AD BLITZ TO RALLY PRIMARY VOTERS. The Bernie Sanders campaign has released three new ads in two days, which taken together constitute the progressive presidential candidate’s closing argument to primary voters, less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses. The three new ads, which will air on stations in Iowa and New Hampshire, are part of a major new push on television from the campaign. In New Hampshire, for example, the Sanders campaign will spend a tiny bit more from November through January than Hillary Clinton’s campaign will spend in total since August. One ad is focused on oil pipelines and the environment. A second deals with “judgment” and “experience,” and the senator’s vote against the Iraq War. The third is hardly about Sanders at all, but instead, set to the moving Simon and Garfunkel song “America, ABC’s MARYALICE PARKS notes. http://abcn.ws/1ZPHgEN
NOTED: RACIALLY TINGED BATTLE ERUPTS OVER NEW SANDERS ADS. The Sanders and Clinton campaigns spent Thursday night in a knock-down war of words that started when Bernie Sanders released a new television ad earlier in the day. The powerful ad is set to the music of Simon and Garfunkel’s "America" and showcases crowds of supporters across the country coming to see the Vermont Senator. David Brock, a top Clinton ally and head of a pro-Clinton super PAC, told the Associated Press that "from this ad it seems black lives don't matter much to Bernie Sanders." “It’s bad enough that Hillary Clinton is raising millions in special-interest money in her super PACS. It is worse that she would hire a mudslinger like David Brock. She should be ashamed of her association with Brock,” Sanders’ spokesman Michael Briggs said in a statement, ABC’s MARYALICE PARKS reports.
CLINTON JABS SANDERS FOR IDEAS THAT ‘WILL NEVER MAKE IT IN THE REAL WORLD.’ With just 11 days until the Iowa Caucus, Hillary Clinton sharpened her attacks on Bernie Sanders Thursday at a campaign event in Indianola, criticizing her Democratic rival for proposing ideas “that will never make it in the real world.” Speaking to an energized crowd of more than 500 people at Simpson College, Clinton launched attacks on the Vermont senator for his health care plan and foreign policy to make the case that she’s the more qualified candidate to be president. ABC’s LIZ KREUTZ reports that new polls in Iowa and New Hampshire show Clinton losing her lead in the early voting states, and her campaign is bracing for a possible upset when the voting begins in less than two weeks. Yesterday, Clinton made clear she is gearing up for the fight -- adding a new section to her speech focused on Sanders’ foreign policy. http://abcn.ws/1RBWg4q
JEB BUSH’S AD PUSH IN NH FEATURES BARBARA BUSH. With the New Hampshire primaries only three weeks away, Jeb Bush is trying to revive an ailing campaign with a new advertisement push in the state featuring a very special guest...his mother. Former First Lady Barbara Bush, in a web-video entitled "A Message From Barbara Bush" attempts to sway voters, as only she can, praising him as "a wonderful son" whose "heart is big. "When push comes to shove, people are going to realize Jeb has real solutions. Rather than talking about how popular they are, how great they are, he's doing it because he sees a huge need and it's not being filled by anybody," she says in the video, seemingly taking a dig at frontrunner Donald Trump. Though the video, for now, is planned for the internet only, Bush accidentally announced it at his town hall Thursday night before his campaign had officially released it, ABC’s CANDACE SMITH reports. http://abcn.ws/1P9zcaZ
DEMI LOVATO GIVES ‘CONFIDENCE’ BOOST TO HILLARY CLINTON. As the race tightens, Hillary Clinton turned to a 23-year-old pop star for a little boost of confidence, ABC’s LIZ KREUTZ notes. Demi Lovato joined the Democratic presidential candidate for a large campaign rally in Iowa City last night where she sang four songs, beginning with her hit single “Confident" -- a song title that holds a bit more meaning as Clinton braces for a potential upset in the primary race. "I don’t think there is a woman more confident than Hillary Clinton,” Lovato told the cheering crowd inside an auditorium at the University of Iowa. "I am voting for her because of her beliefs, her strength and the fact that she completely embodies the concept of women empowerment.” http://abcn.ws/1RXFoFL
ALL ABOARD CHRIS CHRISTIE’S EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER. Chris Christie’s ability to captivate his audiences on an emotional level is at the heart of his strategy to move voters into his camp, with the campaign now seeking to capitalize on some of their candidates most powerful moments with a new video series titled “True Heart,” which is named after Christie’s answer to a debate question in which the candidates were asked what their Secret Service name would be. The first video, released this week, features an exchange Christie had with an Iowan man who suffered from a severe stroke and aphasia. “I can see in your eyes the frustration and the sadness that this brings to you and it touches my heart,” Christie tells the afflicted man in a video released by the campaign from a Coralville, Iowa, town hall. ABC’s JORDYN PHELPS has more. http://abcn.ws/1Ktkczi
RUBIO: TRUMP IS NOT ‘READY’ TO BE PRESIDENT. Marco Rubio has largely avoided saying what he thinks of Republican front-runner Donald Trump. But when he sat down at Ron Morrison’s table at a diner in Manchester, New Hampshire, Morrison pressed him for a straight answer, ABC’s INES DE LA CUETARA writes. “I don’t think he’s ready to be president of the United States,” Rubio conceded. In September, the Florida senator said that Trump hadn’t come up with any “serious” policy proposals. Now, with less than two weeks until the Iowa caucuses, it would appear Rubio has changed his mind. “We have a right to be angry and upset about the direction of our country,” said Rubio. “But that alone won’t be enough. You gotta know what you’re going to do about it.” http://abcn.ws/1nBikQ9
RUBIO JOKES HIS BOOT AREA IN ‘UNDISCLOSED LOCATION.’ These boots were made for talkin'. Marco Rubio said that his famed heeled boots -- which made headlines earlier this month -- are stashed away in an undisclosed location, the candidate quipped to Jimmy Fallon "The Tonight Show." As soon as Rubio (R-Florida) sat down for his interview, Fallon put his feet up on his desk to reveal his pair of leather boots, poking fun at Rubio's footwear, according to ABC’s BEN GITTLESON. “Do you like my boots?” Fallon asked. "I do,” Rubio replied, going along with the joke. “Can I keep them? I need a backup pair. I need one in Iowa and one in New Hampshire.” Rubio's boots, and specifically their heels, served as the butt of jokes from commentators and other candidates earlier this month, prompting Rubio to call the focus on his feet "craziness." http://abcn.ws/1lAOpG2
BEN CARSON RESTARTS HIS CAMPAIGN AFTER TRAGIC DEATH OF VOLUNTEER. Speaking to ABC News exclusively in his Marriott hotel room as he prepares to return to the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson said Thursday he and his staff have used the past two days to recover after a tragic van accident, that left three injured and 25-year-old campaign volunteer Braden Joplin dead. "I am telling my staff that obviously this is not their fault. Everybody does the best that they can do, but bad things happen in the world,” Carson said. “Let’s always look for the good. Is there anything good that comes out of this? I think recognizing what kind of person Braden was and how he was so dedicated to making other people feel good. Wouldn’t that be a great thing for all of us to start doing? I call (this process) 'The Braden Effect.'” Restarting his campaign Thursday in Glenwood, Iowa, Carson says he will be honoring the memory of Joplin as he travels through the state, ABC’s KATHERINE FAULDERS reports. http://abcn.ws/1RWxfRX
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
TED CRUZ GETS A LIGHTSABER. Did Ted Cruz just join the ranks of Luke Skywalker and Yoda? Not exactly. At a town hall in New Hampshire on Thursday, an attendee asked Cruz to join the Jedi force against Citizens United and handed the Republican presidential candidate a lightsaber. Cruz laughed and accepted the fictional Jedi weapon from the “Star Wars” film series. But ultimately Cruz turned down joining the fight against the controversial Supreme Court decision. http://abcn.ws/1nq42Ce
@ThisWeekABC: RNC strips National Review of debate hosting gig after cover story attacking Trump http://abcn.ws/1ZG84SG
@AshLeeStrong: "Ryan doesn’t want the House to be a counterweight to the nominee...wants it to be complementary, supplying ideas" http://bit.ly/20iLcdU
@tackettdc: "Most coveted person in Iowa politics is an undecided person or O’Malley nonviable folks.” http://nyti.ms/1PahKDt
@wexler: Future pro-Trump mail piece: ‘Davos elite alarmed at prospect of nominee Trump’ http://www.reuters.com/article/us-davos-meeting-trump-elite-idUSKCN0UZ2MD …
@CandaceSmith: Jeb @ Timberland: Really good candidates stay on msg all the time... I'm not a really good candidate so I'm going to say something different