Washington Week

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What to watch for during tonight's GOP debate

By Dan Cooney

Tonight marks the first Republican presidential debate of the new year, the first of seven scheduled times the GOP candidates will gather to debate in 2016. Much has happened since the last Republican debate, which took place almost a month ago in Las Vegas. But how will the events of the campaign affect the debate tonight? Here are two things to watch for tonight:

Donald Trump vs. Ted Cruz

As the campaign began, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and businessman Donald Trump were engaged in “an odd political bromance,” as the Washington Post put it. While other candidates publicly attacked Donald Trump for his statements about Sen. John McCain’s war record, Muslims and Syrian refugees, Cruz did not. Even after Cruz questioned Trump’s “judgment” during a private fundraiser late last year, the relationship seemed to stay cordial. That all changed after Trump called the fact that Cruz was born in Canada “a very precarious” situation for the candidate and the Republican Party. Cruz – who was born to an American mother and renounced his Canadian citizenship two years ago – decided enough was enough. The Texas senator attacked Trump by saying he “embodies New York values” in a recent radio interview.

With just three weeks until the Iowa caucuses, Cruz maintains a 3-point lead over Trump in a recent Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa poll. But nationally, Trump has widened his lead to 13-points over Cruz in the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.  

Now that the two candidates will share the same stage tonight, will we see the rhetoric escalate? How will this back-and-forth affect both candidates’ status in the race? Will Trump use a recent negative headline to jab Cruz further? Tonight certainly represents a potentially big moment in the relationship between Trump and Cruz.

Marco Rubio’s defense

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has seen some negative press recently, with reports about a potential conflict-of-interest during talks on immigration legislation and other candidates attempting to portray him as weak. Clearly, other candidates are ready to pounce on Rubio. Tonight’s debate represents the first high-profile chance for Rubio to take on those issues. Will he continue to attempt to shed his establishment label tonight?

In light of these recent headlines, will Jeb Bush openly take on his former protégé? Reports indicate the former Florida governor has been urged not to, and a previous debate encounter did not end well for Bush. Tonight’s debate may include fireworks between the two.