When Republican candidates for the White House take the stage for the final primary debate of 2015, frontrunner Donald Trump will face a new challenger – Ted Cruz.
The young first-time senator from Texas has surged in recent polls, beating Trump in Iowa, the first state in the primaries, and wresting the second spot nationally from Ben Carson.
Cruz, 44, has been careful to not clash with Trump publicly, but on Tuesday night (Wednesday morning for viewers in India) he may be forced to. By Trump himself, possibly.
The real estate tycoon from New York continues to lead the Republican field in all polls, opening the gap between him and his next rival even more in recent weeks.
Trump is polling at 33% compared to Cruz’s 16.1% in the national average of all polls compiled by Real Clear Politics, and crossed the 40% mark in a recent poll.
Trump remains the candidate everyone on the stage would like to bring down but, as in the past, he is known to retaliate viciously, which has made rivals wary of him.
Even off the stage and on the campaign trail, Trump has been quick to punch back, with none of the niceties of practiced politicians — he once questioned Carly Fiorina’s looks.
Cruz, known for throwing sharp punches himself, has been careful not to attack Trump publicly and has generally seemed better disposed towards him than others.
But in a private speech to donors, which leaked, Cruz questioned Trump’s “judgement”, unwittingly triggering a war. Trump was prompt with his rebuttal, calling Cruz a “maniac”.
Tramp didn’t stop at that. He became personal. “I do like Ted Cruz, but not a lot of evangelicals come out of Cuba,” he said, questioning his faith.
Cruz is of Cuban descent (and never fails to remind voters of that, unlike Bobby Jindal), and has positioned himself as an arch religious conservative to appeal to the party’s base.
Evangelical Christians believe in the Bible’s primacy, as against the church — Cruz’s father is an evangelical preacher — and are hugely influential in Iowa primary caucuses.
Most political commentators and experts expect to see Cruz in a verbal duel with Marco Rubio, also 44, of Cuban descent and a first time senator, on Tuesday night.
Rubio is currently polling at Number 3 in the nationwide average and has emerged as an alternative to Jeb Bush as the candidate of the party’s establishment and leaders.