Thursday's Republican debate was what it looks like when candidates stop being polite, and start getting real. Three big themes emerged from the more than two-hour live event, and gave a strong idea of what the phase of the campaign looks like in the final stretch before voting begins in Iowa on Feb. 1.
Donald Trump and Ted Cruz's nonaggression pact collapsed as Trump's ongoing effort to sow doubts about Cruz's eligibility for the presidency finally pushed Cruz to respond. Cruz delivered a strong answer when he pointed out that Trump himself had said earlier in the year that he considered the legal issue over Cruz's Canadian birthplace settled. They also had an exchange over Cruz's accusation that Trump embodies "New York value."
Trump has defined the Republican primary and the debate showed just how far he's shifted the conversation. His rivals — even the more moderate candidates running on their appeal outside the party — are adopting a darker tone and more bellicose rhetoric.
Cruz and Marco Rubio have been at each other's throats for months and now it's an all out war. At the debate they had a series of meatier arguments on national security, immigration and taxes that reveal genuine ideological splits within the party.