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Debate analysis: Smaller field, higher stakes, tougher jabs

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[h=4]Debate analysis: Smaller field, higher stakes, tougher jabs[/h]Donald Trump and Ted Cruz had an unofficial non-aggression pact at the first five Republican presidential debates — Trump held a wide lead over Cruz, after all, and Cruz was hoping to cultivate Trump’s supporters — but the sixth one Thursday night quickly became a flurry of mutual scorn.

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USA TODAY's Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page and politics editor Paul Singer analyze what happened in the GOP debate hosted by Fox Business Network.


Republican presidential candidates participate in the Republican presidential debate.(Photo: Scott Olson, Getty Images)


The bromance is over.
Donald Trump and Ted Cruz had an unofficial non-aggression pact at the first five Republican presidential debates — Trump held a wide lead over Cruz, after all, and Cruz was hoping to cultivate Trump’s supporters — but the sixth one Thursday night quickly became a flurry of mutual scorn.
Trump questioned whether Cruz, born in Canada to an American mother, met the constitutional requirement of being a “natural-born citizen.”
“The fact is there’s a big overhang, a big question mark on your head, and you can’t do that to the party,” he said at the Fox Business News debate in North Charleston, S.C. Democrats surely would sue “and if you became the nominee, who the hell knows if you can run for office?”
Cruz accused Trump of playing politics because he feels threatened by the Texas senator’s rise. “You know, back in September my friend Donald said he had his lawyers look at this every which way and there was no issue here,” he said. “Since September, the Constitution hasn’t changed, but the poll numbers have.”
USA TODAY
Cruz turns tables on Trump with citizenship question




A few key numbers help explain the sharp change in tone: The contenders on the main stage had been winnowed from 11 to seven. The opening Iowa caucuses were just 18 days away. And the latest polls in the Hawkeye State showed Trump and Cruz separated by less than one-half of a percentage point at the top of the field.
After months of a Republican presidential race that has defied conventional wisdom, the blustery billionaire and the contentious senator find themselves locked in a fierce battle to carry the Iowa caucuses, claim the momentum that would bring — and then, each hopes, roll to the presidential nomination over competitors preferred by the GOP establishment.
Other candidates jockeyed in hopes of emerging as the alternative to Trump and Cruz. But in a race that is increasingly well-defined, the two leaders in Iowa and national polls were in the spotlight. Trump gave no quarter. Cruz parried questions about his citizenship and his failure to disclose a loan he and his wife took out to finance his 2012 Senate race, dismissing it as “a paperwork error.”
USA TODAY
Ted Cruz blasts 'New York Times' article




USA TODAY
Trump uses 9/11 to counter Cruz's 'New York values' attack




Cruz expanded on a recent comment that Trump held “New York values.”
“Most people know exactly what New York values are,” he said. “I promise you in the state of South Carolina they do.” He described New York City residents as “socially liberal, are pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage, and focus around money and the media.”
Trump bristled, recalling the city’s dogged recovery after the devastating terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. “When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely,” he said, prompting even Cruz to join in applause.<span style="color: Red;">*</span>“That was a very insulting statement that Ted made.”
With a smaller field, the debate seemed more like hand-to-hand combat. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio spoke faster and with more passion than in previous debates, including sparring with Cruz on their past positions on<span style="color: Red;">*</span>immigration. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has seen his support ebb, tried harder to get into the conversation. A trio of governors — former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — pushed for equal time.
Bush called Trump “unhinged” in calling for a temporary ban on all Muslim immigrants. Rubio accused Christie of endorsing “many of the ideas that Barack Obama supports,” including Common Core. Christie scoffed, “When you’re senator, what you get to do is just talk and talk and talk.”
More talk ahead: The next debate is in two weeks.
[h=2]More coverage of the GOP debate:[/h]USA TODAY
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