WASHINGTON (AP) — Presidential candidates invariably have an engaging story to tell about where they came from and how. Sometimes these stories are even true.
Often, though, these tales get embellished, whether because of human nature, fuzzy memory or pure political calculation.
No, Hillary Clinton didn’t dodge sniper fire in Bosnia, as she claimed in a previous campaign. Yes, Marco Rubio’s parents came from Cuba, but not to flee Fidel Castro’s regime.
And now, Ben Carson’s account of his past is being sharply challenged by a look-who’s-talking rival, Donald Trump.
Some candidate narratives are rock solid. Others fall apart on closer inspection. And many fall somewhere in between: a little bit cock-eyed or requiring the addition or subtraction of a key detail or two.
“If you’re going to err, you are probably going to err on the side of advancing your own cause — and that’s true for everybody,” says Stanley Renshon, a political psychologist at City University of New York.
As Trump wrote in one his books, “A little hyperbole never hurts.”
A closer look at some of the tales told by the campaign class of 2016 — and the back story to those back stories.
Clinton re-raised some eyebrows this week with her Veterans Day tale of checking out whether she should join the Marines back in 1975. She was 27 that year, the year she married Bill Clinton and was working as a lawyer in Arkansas.
She said the Marine recruiter “looks at me and he goes, ‘Um, how old are you?’ ” Clinton recalled. “And I said, ‘Well, I’m 26, I’ll be 27.’ And he goes, ‘Well, that’s kind of old for us.’ And then he says to me … ‘Maybe the dogs will take you,'” meaning the Army.
Why would Clinton, a lawyer, want to join the Marines? The idea was met with skepticism back in 1994, when she told the story as first lady, and again this week, when Republicans used it as an opportunity to rehash any number of alleged Clintonian embellishments.
Her campaign told AP “her sole reason for visiting the recruitment center was to determine if there was a suitable opportunity for her to serve in some capacity. Her interest was sincere and it is insulting, but not surprising, that Republicans would attack her for this, too. “
The episode inevitably brought reminders of Clinton’s 2008 tale about a harrowing visit to war-torn Bosnia in March 1996 as first lady. Clinton, during her 2008 run for president, recalled landing under sniper fire and running with her head down to get in her vehicle. She joked that one mantra around the Clinton White House was that “if the place was too small, too dangerous or too poor, send Hillary.”
But officials said at the time that she took no extraordinary risks. Video of the visit shows her being greeted by a child on the tarmac and given a warm hug — not ducking and running.
The retired neurosurgeon and political neophyte has crept to the front of Republican polls with his inspirational tale of rising above an impoverished upbringing in Detroit and overcoming violent tendencies as a youth to reach the top ranks of medicine. His campaign rise has brought a cascade of questions about elements of his personal history.
Carson last week clarified previous claims that he’d been offered a scholarship to West Point, saying that while he’d been told he could get an appointment to the school, he never applied.
He also faced questions about his oft-repeated claim that he tried to stab a close friend as a teenager.
In addition, police in Baltimore recently said they didn’t have enough information to verify Carson’s account of being held at gunpoint at a fast-food restaurant there more than 30 years ago.
Trump went after him mercilessly on the subject of his personal biography in an Iowa speech Thursday night and put out a video ad that calls him either a “violent criminal” or “pathological liar.” Carson brushed off the “politics of personal destruction.”
Trump’s status as super-rich businessman is an integral part of his campaign persona as a self-made capitalist success story who had beat long odds.
“I mean, my whole life really has been a ‘no,’ ” Trump, the son of a successful real estate developer, told New Hampshire voters last month. “And I fought through it.”
He did have a little help along the way, though.
“I started off in Brooklyn. My father gave me a small loan of $1 million,” Trump said. “I came into Manhattan and I had to pay him back. I had to pay him back with interest. “
Describing a $1 million as a “small loan” caused a few double-takes.
As for his wealth, Trump is proud to declare himself worth an eye-popping $10 billion.
His personal financial disclosure to regulators shows his assets to be worth at least $1.4 billion. But it’s impossible to tell from the documents exactly how much Trump is worth because the figures are detailed in broad ranges, with the top category being “more than $50 million.”
Trump complained that the forms aren’t adequate to reflect his wealth. He once sued an author for a lowball estimate of his fortune. But in a deposition, he once acknowledged that his estimates of his wealth can vary with his mood. “Even my own feelings affect my value to myself,” he said.
He’s also admitted to “truthful hyperbole.”
“I play to people’s fantasies,” he wrote in “The Art of the Deal.”
“People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.”
Fiorina loves to recount her tale of rising from a secretary position to the executive suite at Hewlett-Packard. Her political action committee’s website is fromsecretarytoceo.com.
This isn’t exactly a rags-to-riches story, though. Her father was a lawyer and her mother was an abstract painter.
Fiorina’s stint as a secretary at a real estate brokerage firm came when the Stanford graduate quit law school after deciding it wasn’t for her. “I answered the phones. I typed. I filed,” she recounted in a 2001 commencement address at Stanford. “My parents were, understandably, quite concerned. This wasn’t exactly what they’d hoped for, for their Stanford graduate.”
Eventually, she went off to Italy to teach English, and then decided to go to business school and get an MBA. From there she soon began her march up the management ladder.
Rubio’s bio on his Senate website says his parents “came to America from Cuba in 1956 and earned their way to the middle class working humble jobs — my father as a bartender in hotels and my mom as a maid, cashier and retail clerk.”
That’s a revised version of the story Rubio related early on as a freshman senator, when he offered himself as “the son of exiles” who “understand what it means to lose the gift of freedom.” His Senate biography once said he was “born in Miami to Cuban-born parents who came to American following Fidel Castro’s takeover.”
In fact, Rubio’s parents left for Miami nearly three years before Castro seized power in a revolution against dictator Fulgencia Batista. Rubio’s father was a store security guard when he and his wife left, and came to the U.S. for economic reasons, his staff said in 2011. Rubio said then his family had tried to return to Cuba in March 1961 but quickly left because they did not want to live under communism.
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AMES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa supporters’ response to Donald Trump’s 95-minute eruption? An “ugh” and a shrug.
The reaction Friday to his speech in which the real estate mogul used a four-letter word not common to presidential campaign speeches, viciously attacked a rival and called the voters “stupid” was a mix of mild offense and resignation.
Trump’s speech, which at times seemed to edge close to meltdown territory, was a change from recent behavior for the Republican presidential contender, who has appeared to be trying to tone down his rhetoric to broaden his appeal. And it comes as the Republican establishment has been growing increasingly alarmed at his staying power.
“He did not do himself any favors when he said that. That’s not the kind of thing you need to be doing,” said Plymouth County Republican Chairman Don Kass, who is neutral in the GOP race. He said Trump’s s comments could turn off undecided voters as well as end up “galvanizing the opposition.”
But Dick Graves, a Trump supporter who attended the rally, said that while the candidate’s comments were perhaps “a little rash,” he wasn’t offended.
“It’s Donald. And he’s an entertaining speaker. I didn’t take it too seriously,” he said.
Trump’s political demise has been wrongly predicted numerous times already. But his support only grew stronger after he repeatedly insulted popular Fox News host Megyn Kelly and after he questioned former prisoner of war John McCain’s hero status, saying he preferred people “who weren’t captured.”
In the theater at Iowa Central Community College Thursday night, the mood changed as Trump continued past his usual one-hour mark and turned his focus to lambasting Carson, the soft-spoken retired neurosurgeon whose inspiring life story and low-key approach have helped him surge past Trump in some polls.
For some of Trump’s supporters, the remarks were just the kind of outburst they were hoping he was moving past.
“I said to (my husband), ‘Why did he do that?’ He didn’t need to do that,” said Diane Jorgenson, a loyal Trump supporter from Ledyard who was working as a volunteer at the event.
While the performance won’t change her mind about supporting him, she said she’d be relaying her concerns to Trump’s team in Iowa.
In recent weeks, Trump has been spending less time lobbing insults and more time talking about how his business experience and negotiating skills qualify him for the presidency. He was visibly mellower during this week’s fourth GOP debate and told reporters he’d been trying to be nicer.
“He’s learning to tone it down,” said Debbie Mabe, a Fort Dodge Democrat and strong Trump supporter who was in the audience and had welcomed the change.
But the performance Trump delivered was far from that.
In a dramatic monologue that at times involved voices and acted-out scenes, Trump compared Carson’s childhood temperament to that of a child molester and questioned his religious conversion. He also railed against the people of Iowa as naive and gullible for believing Carson’s stories.
“How stupid are the people of Iowa?” he said. “How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?”
On foreign policy, Trump laid out his anti-Islamic State policy by saying he would “bomb the s— out of” their oilfields.
Trump had appeared tired Thursday and arrived unusually late for the event in Iowa — his fourth state in as many days. He’d been in Illinois Monday, appeared at the debate in Milwaukee Tuesday, and then jetted to New Hampshire, where he bragged about having had just an hour-and-a-half of sleep.
Unfazed, his team showed no signs of backing down Friday, posting an online video that continued to question Carson’s account of trying to stab a friend when he was young.
“Violent Criminal? Or pathological liar?” It asked. “We don’t need either as president.”
Carson said Trump’s broadside was “expected” in politics, but he decried “the politics of personal destruction.”
“I’m hopeful at some point that we reach a level of maturity that we can actually deal with the issues that are facing us right now and stop getting into the mud and doing things that really don’t matter,” Carson told reporters in South Carolina.
Shelby County Republican Chairman Larry Madson, who saw a clip on the news Friday morning, said he thought Trump’s insults “will wear thin with the Iowa voters.”
Even before the speech, he said, he’d been hearing from voters who like Trump, but want him to offer more detailed policy plans. “We’ve got to have more from Trump than putting people down,” he said.
Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann dismissed Trump’s statement about voters as “ridiculous.”
“You can call us a whole lot of things out here, but stupid isn’t one them,” he said.
Lucey reported from Des Moines. Associated Press writer Bill Barrow in Greenville, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — Uruguayan cabbies are blocking Uruguay’s first training session for Uber drivers.
Dozens of taxis on Friday cut in downtown Montevideo outside the hotel where the class was scheduled to be held.
A spokesman for a communications company hired by Uber said two classes had been planned in the South American country. He said only a handful of people arrived for the first session because of protests and the second session was canceled. The spokesman spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to be quoted by the press.
The demonstrators belong to a union representing owners of vehicles used as taxis.
Drivers of the Uber ride-sharing app have faced angry protests in Mexico City, Paris and other cities.
DUBAI, Emiratos Arabes Unidos (AP) — El militante de la organización Estado Islámico “Yihadi John”, blanco de un ataque estadounidense con drones, horrorizó al mundo con sus brutales decapitaciones de rehenes. Pero sus videos, con sus provocaciones a Occidente, fueron una importante herramienta de reclutamiento en el oscuro y sangriento mundo de los extremistas.
Los ojos marrones de Mohamed Emwazi que asoman entre máscaras negras y su acento londinense fueron una de las primeras imágenes físicas que tuvo el mundo de esta agrupación, por más que los extremistas ya habían realizado asesinatos masivos, violaciones y esclavizado gente en su marcha por Irak y Siria.
La razón de ello fue la sofisticada producción de los videos de las carnicerías que él y otros militantes cometieron frente a las cámaras. Entre sus víctimas hubo estadounidenses, británicos y japoneses.
Su primer asesinato filmado fue el del periodista estadounidense James Foley. El video fue difundido en agosto del 2014. Los tabloides inmediatamente lo bautizaron como “Yihadi John”, el apodo que rehenes liberados dijeron le habían dado a sus captores con acentos británicos y que aludía al beatle John Lennon.
En ciertos sentidos, sus actos de violencia no fueron nuevos. Ya había habido terribles videos de decapitaciones en el Medio Oriente en el pasado.
Como uno del predecesor del Estado Islámico, al-Qaida de Irak, difundido en el 2004 y que mostró la decapitación del empresario estadounidense Nicholas Berg. En el video de su asesinato, Foley lucía un uniforme anaranjado como los de una prisión parecido al que vistió Berg el día de su muerte.
Pero mientras que la declaración que acompañó el video de la matanza de Berg fue en árabe, Emwazi habló inglés en sus videos, lo que hizo que el mensaje tuviese mucho más eco. Nacido en Kuwait, Emwazi se crió en Gran Bretaña, lo que aumentaba el simbolismo.
“La escuchas en tu propio idioma, por lo que la amenaza suena peor todavía”, expresó Raffaello Pantucci, autor de “We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists” (Queremos la muerte del mismo modo que ustedes quieren la vida: Los terroristas suburbanos de Gran Bretaña) y director de estudios de seguridad internacional del Instituto de Servicios Reales Unidos de Gran Bretaña.
“Le habla a la audiencia y dice, ‘somos ustedes. Ustedes piensan que somos algo extraño, pero no, venimos del seno de sus comunidades”’, declaró Pantucci.
Luego de la matanza de Foley, Emwazi apareció en otros videos de decapitaciones, incluida la matanza de varios soldados sirios capturados. En la mayoría de los videos hace de narrador, desafiando a Occidente y prometiendo una victoria de Estado Islámico, aunque los videos no aclaran su fue él quien llevó a cabo las matanzas.
Partidarios de los extremistas descargan los videos en sus portales y los distribuyen a través de aplicaciones de teléfonos y otros aparatos, algo que no se podía hacer diez años atrás. Atraen a gente interesada en el apocalipsis que plantea Estado Islámico e inspira a que mucha gente se una al “califato” creado por esa organización.
No está claro si Emwazi murió en el ataque estadounidense en Siria. Era uno de los principales blancos de Occidente después del líder de Estado Islámico Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi y de sus colaboradores más cercanos.
El presidente estadounidense Barack Obama había dicho que su país sería “implacable” en la búsqueda de los asesinos de Foley.
“Cuando alguien la hace daño a un estadounidense donde sea, hacemos lo necesario para que se haga justicia”, afirmó.
Jon Gambrell está en Twitter como www.twitter.com/jongambrellap .
LONDON (AP) — A jury has cleared a Ukrainian man accused of plotting to blow up the Russian embassy in London after being radicalized by the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Prosecutors said 35-year-old Vadim Bezkorovainiy searched the Internet for explosives, filmed himself with home-made petrol bombs and scouted the area around the embassy. Police found images and video files at his home they said suggested he was plotting an attack.
He denied the charge, saying he planned to return to Ukraine to fight and had made the videos for a propaganda website he was creating.
On Friday a jury at London’s Central Criminal Court acquitted Bezkorovainiy of preparing an act of terrorism.
The conflict between government forces and Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 8,000 lives since April 2014.
CALAIS, France (AP) — Odai Ahmed cycles hard every day and dreams of reaching England. But as weeks turn to months, the 24-year-old Syrian feels like he’s on a road to nowhere.
Like most of the thousands camped near Calais hoping to cross the English Channel, he’s tried more than a dozen times to breach security at the nearby ferry port and more distant terminal for cross-Channel trains. Each time, networks of newly constructed 15-foot-high (5-meter-high) razor-topped fences and boosted police patrols have defeated him. He’s already been arrested and held for five days in Calais after nearly boarding one train.
Disillusioned, Ahmed spends his afternoons recharging his smartphone on a stationary bike with a manual generator. It takes 2 ½ hours’ pedaling to fill the battery.
It gives him time to think. That maybe, he and his Syrian tent-mates might have to turn back and claim asylum somewhere on the continent. He finds this idea particularly frustrating because he’s studied English for half his life and knows barely a word of French or German.
“If we knew the situation was like this, maybe we would have tried to settle in Germany instead,” he said. “We can’t live here. Syria is better than here.”
Near Ahmed’s cycling station, a public notice board lists more than 200 camp residents by name, nationality, age and cell phone number. They all seek refugee protection in France and await allocation of state-funded housing. That can take many months in France’s overwhelmed asylum system, particularly for single men, who receive lower priority for shelter.
A 50-year-old Pakistani man, Zerdullah Khan, looks for his name but it’s not on the board yet. “Maybe next week,” he said, describing his own doomed attempts to scale fences or sneak aboard trains.
“Younger ones may feel free to risk their life, but I’m too old for this,” he said. “I will try to learn French.”
Of related interest: “Seeking Home: Life inside the Calais Migrant Camp” — a 360-degree, virtual reality video documents the Calais camp. For Google Cardboard-compatible or 360 video: https://youtu.be/YKPDIUH9-Y8 or download the Ryot VR app: https://bnc.lt/m/2wIw0FsWeo