Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz got personal and strongly clashed during Thursday’s primetime GOP debate. The 2.5-hour event sponsored by Fox Business Network was filled with testy exchanges between the seven candidates on stage. Cruz and Trump are battling for first place in Iowa with less than three weeks until the state’s caucuses, though the businessman has a commanding lead nationally. And with pressure mounting for someone to emerge as an establishment alternative to Trump and Cruz, sparks flew between Marco Rubio and Chris Christie.
The showdown between Trump and Cruz was slow to begin, but when it did it packed a punch. Cruz forcefully responded to Trump’s accusations that he isn’t eligible to be president because he was born in Canada — a controversy that Trump has only recently embraced. The tension between the two men, who until now have maintained a certain peace on the debate stage, was palpable. Trump essentially admitted he’s now getting tougher on Cruz because he’s rising in the polls in Iowa – and gave no ground over the course of more than two hours.
Trump was more dominant Thursday than in previous debates. In one of the most memorable exchanges of the night, Trump responded to Cruz’ recent accusation that the businessman “embodies New York values.” Cruz explained that not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan. Trump fired back with an emotional response. He recalled seeing the World Trade Center towers collapse on September 11, 2001. The resilience of New Yorkers in the aftermath, Trump said, revealed the true spirit of New York.
I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York. Trump said. “The people in New York fought and fought and fought. We saw more death and even the smell of death and it was with us for months.”
Trump and Cruz have been on friendly territory but as polls in Iowa tightened ahead of the February caucuses, Trump hoping to eat into the senator’s support in Iowa, has repeatedly questioned whether Cruz, whose mother was a U.S. citizen, is a natural born citizen. Cruz noted that some of the more extreme theories on the topic would conclude that someone can only become president if both parents were born in the United States. Under that standard, Cruz noted, Trump himself would be ineligible for the presidency because his mother was born in Scotland.
On the issue of citizenship, Donald, I’m not going to use your mother’s birth against you.”
Trump fired back saying because it wouldn’t work. In the final moments of the debate, Rubio slammed his fellow senator for hiding behind the pretense of conservative values. Rubio listed a string of issues on which he said Cruz had flip-flopped on, including immigration and ethanol subsidies.