GOP debate: Donald Trump and Ted Cruz take the gloves off as the 'angry ones' dominate debate

If the Trump blimp crashed, Cruz wanted to be positioned to woo over his supporters. It hasn’t, though

Click to follow
The Independent US

Donald Trump exited the latest debate between Republican contenders for president on Thursday confirming the obvious. The “bromance” between him and Senator Ted Cruz was over. The two are atop polls in Iowa, which kicks off the nomination process in just over two weeks. The gloves are off. 

The penultimate bout before the Iowa caucuses, the debate in South Carolina was essentially a two-sided affair. Most arresting was the Trump-Cruz sparring. But then there were the other five men on the stage, especially those who might be described as “establishment” Republicans. Each is striving to emerge as the viable alternative to the “angry ones”: Messrs Trump and Cruz. 

Even until recently, the two men had seemed determined to avoid striking one another. It perhaps made most sense for Senator Cruz. If the Trump blimp crashed, he wanted to be positioned to woo over his supporters. It hasn’t, though. Nationally, Mr Trump’s lead, according to polls, is still only getting wider.

The sharpest exchange centred on disparaging remarks from the senator about Mr Trump hailing from New York. It seemed like a solid tactic in the American Midwest where conservatives see Gotham as a sewer. “Everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro-gay-marriage, focus around money and the media,” Mr Cruz attempted.

Mr Trump was ready, however, recounting emotionally how New Yorkers rose to the challenge of the 9/11 terror attacks. “When the World Trade Centre came down I saw something that no place on earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely,” he said. “That was a very insulting statement that Ted made.” So loud was the applause that even Senator Cruz was obliged to clap for his opponent.

The exchange prompted an equally memorable front page from the New York Daily News , which simply urged Mr Cruz to “go back to Canada”, a reference to the other recent line of attack opened by Mr Trump, suggesting possible legal difficulties for Mr Cruz seeking the White House, as he was born in Calgary. 

Breaking through the Trump racket remains difficult for “establishment” hopefuls for whom a good showing in the New Hampshire primaries one week after the Iowa caucuses will be crucial. Among them Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie may have been most effective on Thursday night, the former trying to paint the latter as too liberal. Mr Christie countered that rather than “talk and talk and talk” like senators do, governors actually govern.

Right now, polling in Iowa shows Mr Trump being squeezed out by Senator Cruz, but the gap is narrow. The developer headed straight to Iowa yesterday, renting a cinema to offer free screenings to voters of a film about the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and the role of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, in the disaster which left four dead, including the US ambassador.