With Trump Gone, Cruz Feels the Heat

Finally at center stage, Texas senator assaulted from all sides — even the moderators

With Donald Trump absent from the stage during Thursday’s Fox News GOP debate, the other candidates drew their knives and went straight for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz with gusto.

Since up to this point the only real challenge to Trump’s success has come from Cruz, Trump’s decision to skip Thursday’s seems a brilliant calculation designed to draw negative attention to his biggest competition leading into the Iowa caucus.

If so, it might very well have worked.

The charges of ideological insincerity, style over substance and flip-flopping on important issues — usually directed at Trump — were flying from all sides, including the moderators, directly at the Texas senator.

The moderators were relentless in their attacks on Cruz. They questioned his desire to execute a war against ISIS before asking Florida Sen. Marco Rubio what he thought about an earlier Cruz recording that did not match his rhetoric. The panel then asked Christie if he thought Cruz is “ready to be commander in chief.”

The usually cool Cruz was caught off guard by the hostility.

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“Chris, I would note that the last four questions have been, ‘Rand, please attack Ted. Marco, please attack Ted. Chris, please attack Ted. Jeb, please attack Ted,’” Cruz said with barely contained frustration.

“Gosh, if you guys ask one more mean question, I may have to leave the stage,” he said, referring to Trump half-jokingly.

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During questioning regarding immigration, moderator Megyn Kelly pounded Cruz on his apparent inconsistency on the issue.

“When Senator Rubio proposed that bill creating a path to citizenship, you proposed an amendment. It would have allowed for legalization but not citizenship,” Kelly stated, before running video footage of Cruz seeming to support just such a position.

Cruz defended himself well, explaining that “the fact that each amendment didn’t fix every problem didn’t mean that I supported the rest of the bill.” But the seeds of doubt sown by the question itself and accompanying video footage were planted.

Other candidates gladly joined in the effort to spread such doubt.

“I saw Ted Cruz say, ‘we’ll take citizenship off the table, and then the bill will pass, and I’m for the bill.’ The bill would involve legalization. He can’t have it both ways,” said Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

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Cruz’s conservative credentials were soon brought into question by Rubio.

“This is the lie that Ted’s campaign is built on … that he’s the most conservative guy, and everyone else is a — you know, everyone else is a rhino,” Rubio charged.

Cruz returned fire by attacking Rubio for his Gang of Eight amnesty flip-flop, but the damage was already done.

A Trump-free evening should have provided expert debater Cruz the chance to dominate the stage. But Trump’s absence also ensured that Cruz — the only viable anti-Establishment candidate other than Trump — was the main target of the guardians of the Establishment as well as the not-so-viable anti-Establishment candidates looking to assert their outsider integrity.

Trump has so far been a master at manipulating the media, especially Fox News. In refusing to appear on stage Thursday night, Trump was not only able to ensure he would enter the Iowa caucus from a position of strength, but also that his main opponent Cruz would experience his most hostile debate yet.

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