Then there were six.
Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump will all meet on Saturday night in Greenville, South Carolina for CBS’s GOP presidential primary debate, a week before Palmetto State voters declare a victor.
Rubio has the most to lose after suffering devastating blows in the last debate delivered by Chris Christie, who dropped out of the race on Thursday; but that’s not the only dynamic to watch for during the debate tomorrow. Rubio has promised supporters in no uncertain terms that he’ll never perform that badly again, almost baiting his other rivals to attempt taking him down.
At this moment, however, it’s a two-person race between Trump and Cruz while everyone else plays for second place. If South Carolina voters believe that’s the case, that’s good news for Cruz. A mid-January NBC/WSJ poll showed Cruz besting Trump by eight points in a man-to-man matchup.
The two men have been dancing around each other since the primaries began and at this point, a confrontation seems unavoidable.
In the run-up to the debate, Trump has frequently called Cruz a “liar” and Cruz’s winning card against Trump seems to be character. The Cruz campaign released a humorous ad on Tuesday that questions whether he would be a good role model for children, while reminding voters Trump supports eminent domain and has donated generously to liberal Democrats.
While Trump and Cruz prepare for a stand off, Rubio is probably comforted by the fact that he has an ally in one of the debate moderators: The WSJ’s Kimberley Strassel, who has eagerly used her column to snidely criticize Cruz.
For example, Strassel has complained of Cruz’s use of the term “squishes” and oddly maintained that the 2013 gun control legislation would have, somehow, defeated itself if it weren’t for Cruz’s efforts to do just that with a threat of a filibuster, joined by Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul. She couldn’t bring herself to credit the men with their brave victory. She fretted that this tactic “only shielded Democrats from owning their gun failure.”
But that is exactly what those squishes, whom Strassel so well represents, count on Democrats to do: defeat themselves so the GOP doesn’t have to take the risk of winning. There are many other examples like this. But we have to move along to the worst.
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