Trump-Cruz battle headlines GOP debate

Credit: Jamie Dupree

Credit: Jamie Dupree

From North Charleston, South Carolina -

The Republican race for President took a new turn in a debate in this key early voting state on Thursday night, with Donald Trump and Ted Cruz exchanging barbs for the first time, as Cruz rejected assertions that he may not be eligible to run for President because he was an American citizen born in Canada.

Cruz was ready when the issue of his birth came up, as he quickly noted that Trump had originally said he thought questions about eligibility for Cruz were settled.

"Since September, the Constitution hasn't changed, but the poll numbers have," Cruz said to cheers in the debate hall.

"No, I didn't care before, It's true," Trump said, openly admitting that the polling surge of Cruz had forced a different approach.

Let's take a quick look at the Fox Business debate.

Donald Trump - Trump had his ups and downs in this debate. On the positive side, he strongly defended his controversial plan to temporarily bar the entry of Muslims into the U.S. because of terrorism concerns. He also had a strong answer on trade with China, and was on very sure footing when talking about business issues. But when Trump tangled directly with Ted Cruz over Cruz's eligibility to run for President, Trump did not seem to come out on top in that exchange. Trump did score points when he invoked the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks later, when he took exception to a different jab from Cruz. Trump did well overall, but did not seem to get the better of Cruz, who has clearly become his main primary challenger.

Ted Cruz - After refusing to take on Trump in previous debates, Cruz proved that he could not only go toe to toe with Trump, but that he could get the best of Trump as well on the issue of whether Cruz can really be President. Cruz later trolled Trump by saying that 'few conservatives come out of Manhattan' - just like Trump's jab at Cruz in Iowa that 'few evangelicals come out of Cuba.' The birther exchange may have been the best debate moment for Cruz so far, and certainly shows that he is a threat to Trump overall. Cruz did have one sour point, when his answer to a broadside from Marco Rubio seemed to fall flat. Still, many will likely say that Cruz was the winner of this debate.

Marco Rubio - For much of the debate, Rubio was like everyone else, overshadowed by the Trump-Cruz battles. But late in the debate, Rubio unloaded a series of charges on Cruz, accusing the Texas Senator of changing his vote on a farm bill just to avoid criticism in Iowa. It was a reminder that even though most of the attention now is on the Trump-Cruz dynamic, one shouldn't forget that Rubio is trying to gain ground on Cruz in the GOP race. Rubio used the rest of his time to slam President Obama and Hillary Clinton, and made sure to throw a few elbows at Chris Christie. It was another solid night for Rubio.

Ben Carson - Carson had a few funny lines that made people laugh in the debate hall, but really did not get involved in an exchange that seemed to bring about a big change in his fortunes, which have been heading the wrong way in recent weeks. Carson's day began with his top finance official resigning, raising more questions about troubles inside his campaign. Carson has only two and half weeks to turn things around in Iowa. His closing statement at the debate was efficient and advertised his campaign website, but he no longer seems to be central to the conversation about the GOP race.

Jeb Bush - Once again in this debate, Bush seemed to do well in standing opposite to Donald Trump on certain issues, urging Trump to reconsider his plan to bar Muslims from entering the United States. "All Muslims?" Bush asked with an incredulous tone. "Seriously?" Bush also spent time going after President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Democrats in general. "The idea that somehow we are better off today than the day Barack Obama took office is an alternate universe," Bush said. Bush also scolded Cruz and Rubio at one point, labeling them "backbench Senators." But Bush didn't really have a magic moment in this debate - again overshadowed by Trump, Cruz and even Rubio.

Chris Christie - Christie had a few good lines and once again tried to give a verbal forearm shiver to both Senators Cruz and Rubio - but it didn't seem like he was able to push the ball down the field as far as in earlier debates. After jabs from Marco Rubio, Christie's response raised questions as to whether he had been straight on his support for Justice Sonia Sotomayor and backing for Planned Parenthood. Christie's best moments were verbal jabs at Rubio: "You already had your chance, Marco," Christie said. "You blew it." Still, Christie has had better debates.

John Kasich - Kasich has tried several different tactics in the debates, emphasizing his record in Congress and by going after Donald Trump. The Ohio Governor mixed in a lot of his record again in this debate, but was really just nibbling on the edges of where the news was being made in this debate. Kasich's road to a future in this race is to do well in New Hampshire - as he may have a better chance to convince voters one on one, rather than trying to come up with a 'magic moment' in a GOP debate.