By Zeke J Miller
February 25, 2016

The five remaining GOP candidates will face off in Houston Thursday night for the final debate before Super Tuesday, when more than 20% of the delegates to the GOP convention will be awarded. Donald Trump walks in with momentum, having won the three of the four early voting states, while the remainder will be challenged to explain their pathway to getting past their other rivals and defeating the bombastic frontrunner. So far, each candidate has struggled to stay alive, with Ted Cruz needing to win in Texas next week, and Marco Rubio and John Kasich requiring victories in Florida and Ohio respectively on March 15. But those states only keep them in the race, rather than providing them an avenue to winning it.

Trump’s rise is setting up to thwart the careful planning of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who is looking to turn the GOP into a party of serious policy. Trump’s freewheeling style and rhetoric fly in the face of the Speaker’s efforts over the last five months and Ryan will be loathe to simply fall in line.

Facing firm GOP opposition to any Supreme Court nominee, President Obama is preparing to exact pain on the opposition as it leaked that he was considering the Republican Governor of Nevada. Forcing the Senate GOP to block a charismatic Latino leader of their own party, Obama is preparing to use their pledge against considering anyone to score political points.

Mitt Romney waded into the 2016 cycle, suggesting a “bombshell” exists in Donald Trump’s tax returns that could disqualify him from the White House — the same tactic used by Harry Reid against him in 2012. Rubio embraces the label of being an underdog. And Trump taps foreign work force for his Florida club.

Here are your must-reads:

Must Reads

The GOP’s Last, Best Chance to Trump Trump
Who can take him down? [TIME]

Republican Race Puts Donald Trump and Paul Ryan on Collision Course
The Speaker’s proactive agenda and the bombastic front-runner are at odds [New York Times]

Pressure Mounts for Republican Governors to Veto Bills Considered Anti-LGBT
Advocacy groups are filling their cannons with economic and emotional appeals, TIME’s Katy Steinmetz reports

U.S.-China Showdown Keeps Inching Closer
Beijing dispatches more military might to the South China Sea, TIME’s Mark Thompson explains

The Only Strategy For Hillary Clinton Is To Scorch The Earth
It’s a contrast election for the Democratic front-runner [BuzzFeed]

The Day Donald Trump Became the Establishment Candidate
A former Romney and Christie strategist explains [TIME]

Republican Governor of Nevada Brian Sandoval Being Considered for Supreme Court
Obama seeks to pressure GOP as party promises to block his nominee [Washington Post]

Sound Off

“The reality was that you had a year of disruption, a year of outsiders making a compelling case to people who were deeply disaffected and angry, and I just didn’t get the breakthrough that I needed in the early states and felt it was important to not move on without a clear path to winning.” — Jeb Bush on his failed presidential campaign on a conference call with donors

“We really ought to see from all three of these fellas what their taxes look like to see if there’s an issue there … I think in Donald Trump’s case, it’s likely to be a bombshell.” — Mitt Romney on Donald Trump’s tax returns

Bits and Bites

PETA Calls for Guantanamo Bay to Become ‘Empathy Center’ [TIME]

Joe Klein: Donald Trump Derangement Syndrome and the Lizard-Brain Campaign [TIME]

Romney Says Trump’s Tax Returns May Contain a ‘Bombshell’ [TIME]

Jeb Bush Apologizes to Donors for Failure of His Campaign [New York Times]

Marco Rubio Winning Big When Jeb Bush’s Donors Defect [TIME]

The Real Story Behind Donald Trump’s Pig’s Blood Slander [TIME]

After a Nevada Stumble, Ted Cruz Looks Home to Texas [Washington Post]

Donald Trump Taps Foreign Work Force for His Florida Club [New York Times]

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