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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

What became clear after latest GOP debate

Republican presidential candidates, from left, Ohio Gov. John

Republican presidential candidates, from left, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., businessman Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush take the stage before the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt) Photo Credit: AP

As these Republican presidential debates slog on, some things are becoming increasingly clear.
One is that it’s probably time to just give in and make the contest a blood-pressure test. Angriest person wins. That certainly seems to be what every candidate except Ohio Gov. John Kasich wants. Another lesson is that going after Donald Trump is dangerous. His rivals found that out the hard way again last night in South Carolina.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who’s supposed to be the best debater in the field, found himself on the short end of two exchanges last night, one on the increasingly dicey question of whether his birth in Canada disqualifies him from being president. That was merely a warmup for Trump’s utter takedown of Cruz for his recent jab that Trump embodies “New York values.” Cruz smugly tried to explain that everyone knows what that means. And Trump responded with an homage to New York City and its people that centered on the Sept. 11 attacks, the city’s response to that horror, and how the world saw that “no place on earth could have handled it more beautifully, more humanely.” It was one of several times Trump drew applause from one of the debate season’s more demonstrative audiences.
For a long time, Jan. 16 had loomed tastily on the GOP debate schedule. The sixth installment of this highly rated series was positioned two days after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech, and barely two weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Sparks seemed likely just because of that timing, and that was long before we knew Trump would be questioning Cruz’s citizenship, Cruz would be fending off reports of unreported big-bank loans to his 2012 Senate campaign, and the rest of the unruly field would be nipping at the unlikely front-running duo’s heels.
Thankfully, the GOP field had been whittled by polling down to seven for the main debate, which created more air and space on stage for the survivors. That didn’t translate into any better or more truthful answers (or better questions from the Fox Business News hosts), but it did put some things into sharper focus.
Kasich finally came across as the adult in the room, an image he has desperately tried to create for himself. He and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush stood out for their compassionate-by-comparison stands on immigration. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came across a one-note attack dog, nearly incapable of modulation. Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio verified that attacking each other for flip-flopping stands on a variety of issues is going to be a staple of the campaign going forward.
And Dr. Ben Carson confirmed that he is very much the odd man out, in many ways. His loopy answers on questions about complex issues showed why he has been plummeting in polling. But he also called out — perhaps inadvertently — some of his colleagues, the basic tenor of the campaign, and many people around the country for what he called the divisiveness of our society. “We have people at everyone’s throats,” he said, and lamented those who call each other all sorts of names in online exchanges.
It was heartfelt, and it was his best moment … but soon enough Trump and Cruz were at it again.
One more to go before Iowa.