As the presidential primary race moves into a more urgent and combative phase, there is growing acceptance among Republicans, including the Washington and financial elite, that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are the two candidates most likely to become the party’s nominee.
Their commanding performances at the sixth debate — along with their continued dominance in national and early state polls — have solidified the conclusion of many Republicans that the campaign is becoming a two-person contest.
Long expected to become a race between an outsider and an establishment candidate, it is coming down instead as one between two outsiders, with dwindling time for their rivals to change the trajectory before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1.Cruz, however, is not a total outsider:
Cruz, who has a more traditional finance operation, is aggressively courting establishment financiers. He held a fundraiser Monday at the New Orleans home of Mary Matalin, a Bush family loyalist and close adviser to former vice president Richard B. Cheney, and drew support there from some traditional party players.And both have vulnerabilities:
Their debate-night argument over whether the Canadian-born Cruz meets the constitutional requirements to serve as president spilled onto the campaign trail Friday in Iowa, where Trump revived his so-called “birther” attack in a CNN interview. He also hit Cruz over his recent admission that he had failed to properly disclose a loan during his 2012 Senate campaign.
Meanwhile, Cruz is starting to make an assertive case that Trump is an untrustworthy and unprincipled conservative. At the debate, the senator raised Trump’s past claim that he had “New York values,” charging that his once-liberal views on social issues were out of step with red America.
Trump got the better of Cruz by calmly and emotionally recalling New York City’s painful recovery from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
But Cruz advisers believe the “New York values” attack will have lasting currency among conservatives in Iowa especially. Through social media and releases to reporters, the Cruz campaign pushed out archival footage of Trump in a 1999 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with the late moderator Tim Russert saying that his “New York values” were different than “Iowa values.”