Cruz in spotlight at GOP debate

Julie Pace
Associated Press

Washington – — Donald Trump will be standing at center stage, but Ted Cruz will be in the spotlight at Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate.

The Texas senator is challenging Trump’s lead in the kickoff Iowa caucuses, and he has the money, campaign infrastructure and conservative appeal to compete deep into the GOP primary season. Those assets now make him a target for his rivals, most notably Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Trump and Cruz have getting along for months, and that has protected the senator from the harsh criticism the businessman has flung against other opponents. But signs of a split have emerged in recent days, with Cruz appearing to question Trump’s judgment at a private fundraiser, according to audio obtained by the New York Times, and Trump calling Cruz “a little bit of a maniac.”

“Looks like @tedcruz is getting ready to attack,” Trump wrote on Twitter last week. “I am leading by so much he must. I hope so, he will fall like all others. Will be easy!”

Cruz’s rise in Iowa has been accompanied by a precipitous decline for Ben Carson, the Detroit native and retired neurosurgeon who has struggled with inexperience on national security matters.

Another intriguing dynamic in Tuesday’s prime-time debate in Las Vegas involves Cruz and Rubio. Both are first-term senators and Cuban Americans who see themselves as alternatives to Trump, who has baffled Republican leaders with his political durability.

Cruz and Rubio have been sparring from afar for weeks, particularly over national security, which is now a top campaign issue following the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California. Rubio has tried to brand Cruz as an isolationist and has criticized his support for ending the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, saying it weakens the government’s ability to identify potential terrorists.

More broadly, Rubio’s campaign is eager to cast Cruz, who prides himself on being a conservative “truth-teller,” as a politically expedient flip-flopper who is willing to say whatever is necessary to win an election. Rubio’s campaign has raised questions about the consistency of Cruz’s positions on sending troops to the Middle East, as well as his ambiguousness on whether he would allow immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to stay in the country.

Cruz’s campaign has dismissed Rubio’s criticism.

GOP debate


Undercard: 6 tonight

Main stage : 8:30 tonight