These intraparty skirmishes will continue in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries, and their resolution will determine who are the final two Republicans standing. Cruz’s belated decision to hammer Trump suggests that only one of the antiestablishment candidates will emerge from February’s South Carolina primary with a clear shot at the nomination. And Rubio’s decision to focus on Christie underscores his campaign’s belief that he needs to consolidate establishment support once and for all. Iowa will help settle the grassroots favorite, while New Hampshire will crown the establishment leader.
All four candidates demonstrated one thing in common: an urgent tone that matched the pitched anger within the Republican electorate. Rubio, most significantly, amped up his anger in talking about ISIS, President Obama’s executive order on guns, and Hillary’s Clinton’s qualifications for higher office. Christie’s prosecutorial approach played well with the South Carolina crowd, particularly his jibes at Obama as a dictator and petulant child. Cruz is a natural performer who opened the debate by channeling deep anger among conservatives over Obama’s defense of Iran after the seizure of American military personnel. Trump was, well, Trump.