February 19, 2016 10:05 AM EST

The South Carolina primary has a reputation for nastiness and dirty tricks and it’s living up to its reputation in spades in 2016. The Republican race is more bitter than most thought possible, as a fast-paced game of attacks, counter-attacks, and counter-counter-attacks playing out on television and Twitter. The fighting has centered around Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who have been trading attacks on each others’ credibility for more than a week. But it’s not just them—Pope Francis weighed into the fray Thursday suggesting that Trump and other candidates who focus on building border walls are not Christian.

Rubio’s campaign appearances with Nikki Haley and Tim Scott—two endorsers—is showing the diversity the GOP has been hoping for since the 2012 election, showing glimmers of the Republican Party fulfilling its autopsy recommendations. But those visions are facing a stiff test from Trump and Cruz, who are making the case for a GOP that turns out more of its traditional voters, rather than bringing new faces to the party.

Jeb Bush is fighting for his political life in South Carolina, facing doubts about how long he can continue his candidacy should Rubio beat him in the state. Bush is stumping with his mother, son, and two brothers in hopes of putting up a better-than-expected result on Saturday with his national security-heavy message.

Meanwhile. Trump is facing new questions about his positions on the Iraq War and 9/11. And Rubio is facing questions after backing out of a conservative gathering at the last minute.

Across the aisle, Bernie Sanders is accusing Hillary Clinton of embracing President Obama to pander to black voters. Joe Biden weighs in on Obama’s Supreme Court nomination. And a Black Lives Matter activist snubs the White House.

Here are your must-reads:

Must Reads

South Carolina Republican Mudslinging Reaches New Heights in 2016
The state is living up to its reputation—and then some [TIME]

Pope Francis Joins the 2016 Race at Key Time
A shot at Trump takes over the GOP race, TIME’s Elizabeth Dias writes

Republican Insiders Plan for a Convention Fight Against Donald Trump or Ted Cruz
The most likely outcomes, they warn, are Trump or Cruz wins, or a contested convention [TIME]

Rubio Endorsement Rally Shows a More Diverse Vision for GOP
Haley and Scott fulfill GOP dream after 2012 [TIME]

Donald Trump Challenged Over 9/11, Iraq War Comments
As poll approval ratings fall, Trump is called to defend inconsistencies and controversial statements [CNN]

Rubio Bails Last Minute On Conservative Gathering Packed With Cruz Supporters
Cruz campaign charges cowardice [BuzzFeed]

Sound Off

“I thought it was probably inappropriate for the Pope to intervene at the—in the height of a contested primary in that way. I don’t—I don’t question Donald Trump’s Christianity, that’s between him and his creator. The fact is, he’s got the wrong policy, building a wall and making Mexico pay for it is not a policy.” — Jeb Bush on Pope Francis’ comments about Donald Trump in an interview with MSNBC’s Morning Joe

“By the time the war started, I was against the war.” — Donald Trump explaining his comments in favor of the Iraq War, though he now claims he was against the war

Bits and Bites

Why No Republican Woman Has Ever Served on the Senate Judiciary Committee [TIME]

Sanders: Clinton Is Embracing Obama to Pander to Black Voters [CNN]

Rubio Campaign Fires Back at Cruz Over Photoshopped Image [TIME]

Black Lives Matter Activist Says Obama Meeting Was Positive [TIME]

Ted Cruz’s Politically Risky Tax Proposal [TIME]

Black Lives Matter Activist Snubs White House Invite [TIME]

Biden Suggests Obama’s Supreme Court Pick Shouldn’t Be Too Liberal [Washington Post]

John Kasich Hugs Grieving Student in Emotional Moment in South Carolina [ABC]

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