Everyone, particularly the establishment, has been waiting for Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) to begin attacking each other in the GOP primary. For months the two candidates have been friendly, even accommodating of each other, but all of that changed last week during the most recent GOP debate. When debate moderator Neil Cavuto brought up Trump’s recent attacks on Ted Cruz over the idea that Cruz may be ineligible to be President, Cruz responded with some of the most biting and destructive lines of the campaign thus far.
Cruz reminded everyone that back in September, Trump had told the media that he had had his lawyers study the issue of Cruz’s eligibility “backwards and forwards” and they had concluded that Cruz was eligible. However, now just a few months later, Trump was using the eligibility issue to attack Cruz. What had changed? Nothing but the poll numbers.
It was a devastating assault on Trump’s “birtherism” but Trump himself made things even worse when he admitted to Neil Cavuto that the entire line of attack was because Cruz was gaining on him in the polls.
Neil Cavuto: Why are you saying this now? Why are you raising this issue now?
Donald Trump: Because now he is doing a little bit better. No, I didn’t care if he, no, it is true. He never had a chance. Now he is doing better. He got probably 4 or 5 percent chance.
Perhaps the most amazing part of the video was the raucous cheering for Cruz and the equally thunderous booing for Trump. It sure seemed like we could see the tide turning against Trump during this debate (though to his credit Trump did well throughout much of the rest of the debate).
Things got worse for Trump after the debate when viewers were treated to Fox News’ post-debate focus group analysis by pollster Frank Luntz. Luntz began the segment by asking his focus group of 26 Republican voters from South Carolina who won the debate;
“We got 26 South Carolinians and they are very clear about what happened tonight. Normally I do a show of hands. This time, I’m going to do a count down and you’re going to tell the American people who won this evening. Are you ready? Three, two, one…”
At that moment the entire crowd of 26 shouted “Cruz” in one voice.
The after-debate analysis seemed to reach a consensus that Cruz and Trump had the best night, with Marco Rubio and Chris Christie also giving solid performances. The other candidates on stage; Dr. Ben Carson, Jeb Bush and John Kasich appear ‘all-but-finished,’ and I wouldn’t be surprised if another one or two candidates are cut before the next debate. As the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire draw closer it’s looking more and more like a fight between Trump and Cruz, with the preferred establishment candidates Rubio and Christie hoping to steal the nomination from the two frontrunners.