There was no Trump, no mercy and no winners in the Republican debate this week. Prodded by the moderators, the candidates spent the evening in heated exchanges on immigration, terrorism and health care. The front-runner followed through on his boycott and Cruz took Trump’s place in the firing line, remaining on the defence all night. Rand Paul launched some cutting attacks against Cruz and Rubio, making the most of his time back on the main stage. Bush and Rubio engaged in attacks on each other and on Cruz, particularly warring over immigration. And Christie turned even the most unrelated questions into attacks on Clinton.
As the second favorite in the polls, Cruz should have had a great night. However several times he started whining about the number of attacks against him, threatened to leave the stage and even let the moderators best him in a couple of exchanges. His attitude felt petulant, an approach which could prove damaging to his popularity if it continues. The most baffling comment of the night came from Ben Carson when he said “Putin is a one-horse country: oil and energy”. Unfortunately this is indicative of the current state of the Carson campaign, which has been beset by many problems, including the resignation of several top aides.
There was an element of the outrageous that was missing from the debate, partly because of Trump’s absence but also partly because the candidates were aware that stumbling on the eve of the Iowa caucuses could mean the death of their campaign. Unfortunately none of the candidates took this opportunity to stand out from the crowd and significantly improve their standing against the front-runner. And despite the large number of Republican debates so far, some Iowans are ready and willing to change their vote at the last minute, so every public appearance matters and the candidates should take this into account.
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