With just two GOP debates left before the Iowa Caucus, it's crunch time for the seven candidates remaining on stage. Here's what to look out for at Thursday's debate.
The candidates will take the stage in Charleston, S.C., just two days after the party’s front-runner was indirectly attacked by both the state’s Republican governor, Nikki Haley, and the country’s Democratic president, Barack Obama.
While it was no surprise to hear Obama being critical of Trump – or, at least, Trump-like rhetoric – it was a bit more surprising to hear Haley reveal on “The Today Show” Wednesday morning that Trump was, indeed, the target of her ire.
Perhaps the biggest question as the candidates head to another debate is whether Trump will continue to draw strength from the attacks directed at him from inside and outside his party. So far, the criticism only seems to further fire up his supporters, most of whom express some disdain for politics as usual and like his provocative, bad-boy persona. With the negative attention further inflating the Trump balloon rather than popping it, his primary opponents have tended to shy away from taking him.
But one candidate in particular is going after Trump hard. The Donald Trump-Ted Cruz battle is out in the open now.
Trump’s attacks on Cruz continued this week. “There is no way that Ted Cruz can continue running in the Republican primary,” he said.
And, for the first time, Cruz is openly responding. Cruz went after The Donald this week, saying he “embodies New York values” and should play Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” to open rallies. The Fix’s Philip Bump took offense.
Trump and Cruz are just the two candidates leading the Iowa polls. Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Ben Carson and John Kasich are all desperate to grab a second- or third-place finish in either Iowa or New Hampshire -- or better if things really change -- and as such are going after the other candidates in their weight class. This week, that meant Rubio.
It seems like every candidate not named “Marco” is going after Rubio on immigration. A brutal online ad from a super PAC supporting Cruz is perhaps the ultimate case against Rubio on this count. And a new Right to Rise (Jeb Bush’s super PAC) ad this week pokes fun at those oh-so-stylish boots, while also hammering Rubio for “flip-flopping” on his support for immigration reform.
Footwear aside, the ad goes to show how much the Bush-Rubio relationship has deteriorated. Cruz has his own anti-Rubio ad running, while Christie called Rubio a “truant” this week, referencing the Florida senator’s well-known absences from the Senate floor.
The stage in Charleston will host the fewest candidates of any of the main GOP debates so far, with just seven candidates appearing. That will give each candidate more screen time, and more chances to go after each other directly.
With Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina off the stage, the stretch run to Iowa begins.