Ted Cruz’s “birther issue” and Donald Trump’s “New York values” took center stage at the Republican debate Thursday night.
Those in attendance were treated to fiery clashes over immigration, foreign policy, and border controls on the Charleston, S.C., stage.
The neutral observers I spoke to shortly thereafter judged no one a clear winner or loser, but agreed that Cruz and Trump provided the most drama and electricity of the evening.
Ford O’Connell, another seasoned GOP consultant with no horse in the 2016 contest, told me “there were three winners in this debate: Ted Cruz took it to Donald Trump, and Marco Rubio bested Ted Cruz.”
“The Trump/Cruz 'bromance' is over,” O'Connell said. “While Cruz got a much needed win on the birther issue, Trump backhanded him on 'New York values' by invoking 9/11. Clearly Cruz was playing for a much-needed victory in Iowa, while Trump was playing to a national audience. This was without a doubt Trump's strongest debate performance, but Cruz showed he has the backbone and skills to go toe-to-toe with The Donald."
Obradovich, O’Connell and Rotterman all agreed that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also came out of Charleston a winner on Tuesday. In Obradovich’s words, “Rubio showed more fire than in previous debates and left a few scorch marks on ‘Register/Bloomberg Iowa Poll’ leader Cruz over taxes and claims and flip-flopping. Rubio’s in a tight race with Ben Carson for the third-place ticket out of Iowa, so his performance may help him in the caucuses.”