Nine Republican candidates will squeeze onto a Las Vegas debate stage on Tuesday, but the lights seem to be shining brightest on two of them at the moment: Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
While Trump has expanded his lead in national polling to new heights over the last two weeks, Cruz has surged in Iowa and edged ahead of the billionaire boaster in the crucial first-in-the-nation voting state. Vying for the same set of conservative voters, the two for months have had something of an informal nonaggression pact. But that has frayed in the last few days, and it may be shredded in Las Vegas.
First, Trump seized on reports that Cruz criticized him in private and referred to the uncompromising Texan as “a little bit of a maniac.” Cruz initially responded in jest to Trump’s taunts, tweeting clips from Flashdance and Tommy Boy. But as a former college debating star occupying center stage for the first time on Tuesday night, he might have something bigger planned for Trump.
While the last GOP debate took place just over a month ago, the contest in Las Vegas—airing on CNN at 8:30 p.m.—will be the first since the terror attacks in San Bernardino. And it will occur on the same day that a bomb threat caused officials to shut down the entire Los Angeles public school system. Moderator Wolf Blitzer will undoubtedly press both Trump and his rivals on Trump’s widely-condemned proposal to bar Muslims from entering the United States. And they will—hopefully—be forced to speak with more clarity and specificity on what other measures they would take to protect the homeland and how, or whether, they would expand the war President Obama launched against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.