At Slate Josh Voorhees predicts it'll be a bloodbath. Trump and Cruz have had nothing but nice things to say about each other at past debates. But their bromance is likely to end tonight...
Trump has spent the past several weeks hitting Cruz on his Cuban ancestry, questioning his religion, and reliving his past opposition on federal ethanol subsidies, a particularly sensitive subject in the corn-rich Hawkeye State. More recently, Trump’s reached into his birther bag of tricks to stoke concerns that Cruz isn’t even eligible to be president since he was born in Canada. The Texas senator, who last year was willing to turn the other cheek, finally began to swing back earlier this week (perhaps because he’s been slipping in the Iowa polls), taking aim at Trump on everything from his flyby campaign strategy to his foreign policy chops—and even highlighting the former reality TV star’s past ties to Hillary Clinton to suggest his former BFF is now working in concert with the enemy.
...and the "establishment" candidates will most likely rip into each other. Voorhees says we can expect a "brawl" tonight:
Rubio, Christie, Bush, and Kasich have all bet big on New Hampshire, where GOP primary voters are significantly more moderate and establishment-minded than caucusgoers in Iowa. But as much as they’d love to win the Granite State, their more pressing concern is coming out on top of their Republican Party–approved rivals.... We’ve seen this dynamic start to play out in recent weeks in New Hampshire, where Rubio, Christie, and co. have left Trump and Cruz largely untouched in favor of training their fire on one another. Christie is blasting Rubio, Rubio and Kasich’s respective super PACs are both attacking Christie, Bush’s super PAC is carpet-bombing the field, and seemingly everyone is making fun of Rubio’s fancy shoes. The group is unlikely to forgive and forget by Thursday night.
Two other big questions going into tonight's debate: Will Rand Paul show up? Paul has been relegated to the undercard/kids' table debate—because his poll numbers are terrible—so Paul is threatening to take his bat, his ball, and his hairpiece and go home. Will Ben Carson have any staffers left by the time the debate kicks off? Carson's finance chair resigned today, following his campaign manager, his communications director, his top fundraiser, and the entire paid staff of Carson's super pac (all five of those staffers left their paid positions with the Carson campaign to volunteer for Ted Cruz).
I'm hoping someone on stage brings up what Chris Christie had to say about Planned Parenthood in 1994:
''I support Planned Parenthood privately with my personal contribution and that should be the goal of any such agency, to find private donations, '' said GOP freeholder candidate Chris Christie. ''It's also no secret that I am pro-choice... But you have to examine all the agencies needing county donations and prioritize them. I would consider all groups looking for funding, but there is a limit and we have to pick and choose."
These days Christie boasts about being the "first ever pro-life governor of New Jersey," and brags about defunding Planned Parenthood. But how much money did Christie donate to Planned Parenthood back in his pro-choice days? And when did he make his last donation to Planned Parenthood?
And we can rely on someone bringing up today's big NYT scoop:
As Ted Cruz tells it, the story of how he financed his upstart campaign for the United States Senate four years ago is an endearing example of loyalty and shared sacrifice between a married couple. “Sweetheart, I’d like us to liquidate our entire net worth, liquid net worth, and put it into the campaign,” he says he told his wife, Heidi, who readily agreed. But the couple’s decision to pump more than $1 million into Mr. Cruz’s successful Tea Party-darling Senate bid in Texas was made easier by a large loan from Goldman Sachs, where Mrs. Cruz works. That loan was not disclosed in campaign finance reports.
Cruz has criticized Wall Street and preferential treatment for big banks while failing to disclose the preferential treatment he was getting from a big Wall Street bank. If a moderator brings it up, Cruz will attack the media, the audience will cheer, and that will be that. So here's hoping one of his rivals brings it up.
The kids' table debate—with Santorum, Huckabee, and Fiorina—starts at 3 PM West Coast time; the main event—with Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Carson, Christie, Bush, and Kasich—starts at 6 PM West Coast time. Both debates will be streaming for free on FoxBusiness.com.