Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman and GOP presidential frontrunner, has taken off the gloves in his fight with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. What was friendly jabbing in the Fox Business Channel debate has gotten nasty as Trump now directly questions Cruz’s eligibility to serve as president and the $1 million loan Cruz took from Goldman Sachs to jumpstart his Senate campaign.

“Goldman Sachs owns him, he will do anything they demand. Not much of a reformer!” Trump tweeted.

“Ted Cruz purposely, and illegally, did not list on his personal disclosure form personally guaranteed loans from banks,” Trump added. “They own him!”

Trump is tying the citizenship accusation and the undisclosed loan question together. Trump is now floating the idea Cruz, who was born in Canada and a dual Canadian citizen until June of 2014, may have more undisclosed loans, possibly from Canadian banks. “Based on the fact that Ted Cruz was born in Canada and is therefore a “natural born Canadian,” did he borrow unreported loans from C banks?” Trump asked.

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“Donald’s record does not match what he says as a candidate,” [Cruz] told reporters before a national security forum here at a church, delivering an assessment of the onetime ally in the race that would have been unthinkable as recently as last week. “I recognize what Donald says on the campaign trail today is fairly conservative, but voters are discerning.”…

“It does raise the question of, ‘OK, if you are offended at my pointing out how much the failed policies of Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio have hurt New Yorkers, then which of those policies do you agree with?” Cruz said. “Given the fact that for much of his life, Donald was financially supporting those politicians, writing checks to Hillary Clinton, writing checks to Andrew Cuomo, it’s a fair inference that he supports their policies.”

Cruz added he was especially surprised that Trump would object to the idea of “New York values” because “he’s the one who laid out this analysis” in a 1999 TV interview. In the interview with Tim Russert, Trump repeatedly attributed his liberal stands on some issues to the fact he is from the solidly Democratic Empire State.

Cruz continued to sketch a number of other contrasts with Trump, bringing up gun and property rights when pressed to detail policy differences with the billionaire. Asked to say where he differs with Trump on national security, Cruz flatly replied, “To be honest, I don’t know what Trump’s position is.”

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“This is really coming down to a two-horse race between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz,” Cruz campaign national chairman Chad Sweet told the Washington Examiner on Thursday, immediately following the first prime time debate of 2016. “Even though both Trump and Cruz are strong, one’s got a much more consistent track record on all the major issues that conservatives care about.”…

“It’s a rare contrast to see [Trump] be compassionate in invoking 9/11,” Cruz’s campaign chairman said. “But it doesn’t address the fundamental thing that the senator raised. What that tells you is, he doesn’t want to tangle with the senator, actually, on what he’s raising. If you look at Donald Trump, he has had a pattern of insulting many different groups. But for some reason, when New Yorkers get insulted, he’s the first to cry out. I come from the South, and we say, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.'”…

The Cruz camp believes the image of Cruz and the months-long national frontrunner going to toe-to-toe will elevate the Texan’s stature and siphon votes from others if they can manage to convince voters that the senator is the only viable alternative to a candidate that isn’t all that conservative, or Republican, to begin with. It’s not necessarily a bad approach, some GOP strategists say.

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Bill Kristol argues that because Republican presidential candidates aren’t focusing on such issues as Obamacare and Supreme Court appointments—crucial issues on which Donald Trump is quite vulnerable—GOP voters are becoming “increasingly comfortable” with the notion of casting a ballot for Trump. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll of likely Republican primary voters provides further evidence of this increasing level of comfort…

The speculation has always been that Trump couldn’t prevail if it ever came down to a two-man race—the theory being that most GOP voters would presumably prefer almost anyone to Trump.

The NBC/WSJ poll, however, asked voters who they would support if the race came down to Trump versus either of his two leading challengers. In a two-man race between Trump and Cruz, the poll found that Cruz would win, 51 to 43 percent. In a two-man race between Trump and Rubio, the poll found that Trump would win, 52 to 45 percent. Either way, that’s hardly a rout.

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The most important part of the calculation is that if Trump doesn’t win Iowa, Cruz very probably will instead. In fact, if Trump slumps during the final two weeks of the campaign, Cruz could win resoundingly in Iowa, since polls suggest that he’s the second choice of many Trump voters.

So what would the other candidates rather have: an overwhelming Cruz win in Iowa or a close finish between Cruz and Trump?

Rubio, for example, might prefer a close finish. For one thing, if Cruz and Trump almost evenly split their vote, there’s an outside chance that Rubio could win Iowa himself with something like the 25 percent of the vote Mitt Romney got in 2012.1 Furthermore, a big Cruz win in Iowa, coupled with a big Trump loss, might be enough for Cruz to surge to the top of New Hampshire polls and win there too…

After months of buddying up to Trump, Cruz is now shifting into attack mode. While Cruz might prefer a cordial victory over Trump in Iowa, maintaining a favorable image with Trump supporters so as to convert them into his camp later on, Trump remains too much of a threat too late in the race for Cruz to feel assured of that now.

It might seem ironic that the establishment could soon be counting on Cruz to save itself from Trump. (Cue the scene from “Jurassic World” when T. Rex is summoned out of its cage to battle Indominus Rex to the death.)

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It is more than an open secret that the Republican Establishment so hates Ted Cruz that they are more and more openly rooting for Donald Trump to win Iowa.

The Establishment thinking is that if Trump beats Cruz in Iowa, they can then beat Trump with Rubio, Bush, or Christie.

But that is horse manure and if they were not all incompetent morons they would know it. These guys have not made a dent in Trump’s popularity. The only guys who has is named Ted Cruz, and he has done it by being humorous and kind to Trump.

If Trump beats Cruz in Iowa, the man still does not bleed. That makes him stronger and more and more locks Trump in as a viable contender. It makes it more likely that Cruz’s coalition breaks to Trump and sustains Trump, who can also pick up blue collar voters in northern states and the Rust Belt to sustain his candidacy.

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The developing feeling among House Republicans? Donald Trump is preferable to Ted Cruz.

“If you look at Trump’s actual policies, they’re pretty thin. There’s not a lot of meat there,” says one Republican member in Ryan’s inner circle, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about the two front-runners as leadership has carefully avoided doing all week. If Trump were to get the nomination, he would “be looking to answer the question: ‘Where’s the beef?’ And we will have that for him,” says the member…

“Look at the Senate. He hasn’t been a team player. He’s always been his own person with his own aspirations and his own vision, only concerned with where he wants to go. And, you know, for us, we want to work closely with the president. And with Cruz, there’s a question of whether that could happen.”…

“Most pollsters are saying that Cruz may create even more trouble than Trump, because Trump has some crossover appeal to working-class voters who may not traditionally vote Republican,” says one ELC member privy to the presentation. “With Ted Cruz . . . it’s hard to see where his appeal lies outside of classic primary voters,” who, it should be noted, are a diverse group in their own right. “We just have to hope our agenda and our policies can get ahead of that. It’s definitely on our minds right now.”

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“Trump and Cruz sucked all the oxygen out of the room, which is bad news for the establishment folks,” said Barry Bennett, a veteran GOP strategist who recently resigned as campaign manager to Ben Carson. “It doesn’t look like much is going to stop them. They’re in a tier off to themselves, and I think our nominee is going to be Cruz or Trump.”

Republican donors, who had long assumed that the outsider candidates would self-destruct and that voters would rally around someone such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush, are suddenly adjusting their thinking and strategies.

Spencer Zwick, the national finance chairman for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, said power brokers and financiers are now trying to cozy up to Trump in various ways, such as reaching out through mutual friends in New York’s business community.

“A lot of donors are trying to figure their way into Trump’s orbit. There is a growing feeling among many that he may be the guy, so people are certainly seeing if they can find a home over there,” he said.

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Those states ac­count for only 53 del­eg­ates of the 2,472 total in play, but a Trump vic­tory in both could make wins more likely in South Car­o­lina and Nevada later that month, which, un­der the laws of pres­id­en­tial-primary “mo­mentum,” could make his nom­in­a­tion all but in­ev­it­able

Fleis­cher agreed that a Trump nom­in­a­tion would res­ult in both short- and long-term dam­age to the GOP’s stand­ing as a na­tion­al party. He ad­ded that stop­ping that from hap­pen­ing, should Trump win the first two con­tests, would re­quire self­less­ness from all but one of the es­tab­lish­ment can­did­ates—former Flor­ida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Sen. Marco Ru­bio. (Sen. Ted Cruz, who is also run­ning as an “out­sider” and sim­il­arly scares the es­tab­lish­ment wing of the party, is seen as hav­ing little chance if he loses Iowa.)

“Un­less all but one of the main­stream can­did­ates drop out, there’s no stop­ping Trump,” he said. “And it has to hap­pen soon­er rather than later.”

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You talk a lot about conservatives uniting. But what about the scenario that you and Donald Trump keep going and divide your vote?

It’s actually not exactly that, that we’re dividing the same pool of voters. If you look at Donald’s base, a significant chunk of his voters are self-described moderates and liberals. Another chunk of his voters are evangelicals. Another chunk are tea partiers. And then another chunk, I would describe as Reagan Democrats, working class. We have significant overlaps but not complete overlaps. His support is also pulling votes out of the more establishment lane.

So in a three-way race, if it gets down to you, Trump and X, that doesn’t benefit X?

It doesn’t. Donald has publicly suggested that this race is becoming a two-man race between him and me and I think that is a very plausible interpretation of what’s happening. Certainly the numbers here in Iowa and nationally seem to be trending in that direction. Now, a month can be an eternity in politics but the dynamic that I believe is playing out is national poll numbers historically tend to reflect name-ID earned media, whose name is being repeated over and over again on the TV. What I think is more relevant is where primary voters end up as they get closer to voting, as they begin studying the records of candidates. And informed voters are moving more and more towards us. As primary voters examine our records, we see evangelicals moving solidly to us, we see tea party voters moving solidly to us.

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We’ve entered, it seems to me, a two-man race for the GOP nomination. There is Trump, there is Cruz, and then there’s a bunch of guys who just won’t win…

[T]he theory of someone overtaking Trump and Cruz depends a lot on the idea that there’s a natural order to GOP primaries. The base spouts off, various unelectable candidates rise to the top of the polls, and then the moderates turn out to crown their champion, the eventual nominee, while conservatives fall in line because they want someone who can beat the Democrat. You know, someone like Romney. And here we are, with Trump looking like he could potentially do as well with moderate-to-liberal Republicans as good old Mitt.

That’s not to say that Trump will definitely be the Republican nominee. Charlie Cook thinks that Republican voters will eventually sour on Trump after they’ve finished “venting their spleens,” start taking The Donald’s unpresidential temperament into consideration, and settle on another candidate, most likely Cruz. Ross Douthat, who is as pessimistic about Trump’s chances as anyone on the right, recently suggested a rather similar theory and also identified Cruz as a major beneficiary of a late-stage Trump collapse.

Both of these scenarios are, at the very least, plausible, and underscore why Cruz still has a real shot at the nomination. Plus, a Cruz victory would likely keep the party more or less intact, while a Trump win at least raises the prospect of a split. Preventing the all-out dissolution of the GOP may, in the end, prove to be a powerful motivator among Republican voters, and Cruz could at least promise to keep the party united through the election.

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So how do you beat a verbal bully? We’re actually starting to see it happen. Stanley Elkin sketched a strategy in his 1964 short story, “A Poetics for Bullies.” In it, a young bully named Push torments and leads all the kids in the neighborhood until he is undone by a princely newcomer John Williams, whose accent can’t be mocked, whose skin has no blemish, whose intelligence is impervious to insult.

Nobody would ever mistake Ted Cruz for John Williams. No Adonis, he looks like a broken-nosed character actor in a film noir. He even whines when he talks. But inside his own head, Cruz is John Williams. He has been polishing the Cruz act for his entire life, making himself a perfectly smooth, unchanging object upon which no New York bully can get a grip. Although Trump may have bested Cruz on several topics in last night’s presidential debate as they fought toe-to-toe for the first time, the mogul seems unable to get under Cruz’s skin the way he has with Bush, Carson, Rand Paul (ridiculing him for being short, just 5’8”!), and the other candidates.

Like Trump, Cruz commands an alpha male’s ego. When towel-snapped, he does not shriek. When denigrated or teased, he does not frown or wince. He does not have to be perfect because he already thinks he’s perfect, which is just one of the reasons why the rest of Congress despises him.

The best way to beat a trash-talking bully is to convincingly pretend you cannot hear him. Donald Trump, you have met your John Williams.

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DAVID BROOKS: Well, I wish we had gray men in suits. We don’t have that.

But the donor class could do something. Frankly, the country is filled with state legislators who are Republicans, congressmen, senators, local committeemen, a lot of whom are in panic. And so maybe they should do something about it. Maybe they should have a MoveOn.org-type organization and get some rallying, which the other side has already done, and have a counterweight, so they don’t send the party into suicide.

And that might involve, not now, but after New Hampshire, winnowing the field, and donors and other people going and saying, we’re just going to pick this guy. We’re going to pick Rubio. I’m sorry, Jeb, you’re not going to be president. Christie, you can be secretary of treasury, but we’re going to get organized here and we’re not going to go quietly into the night…

I mean, it’s — right now, Trump and Cruz are both looking pretty good. And I don’t think either is electable, and neither do a lot of Republicans. And so the question is, why do they just sit there and do nothing?