Trump isn’t king of the GOP hill anymore--at least not on the debate stage. Like an expert matador, Ted Cruz wasted no time goring the frontrunner bull Donald Trump. After the first commercial break of the evening, Cruz was asked to address Trump’s birther charge that he’s not a “natural” born citizen because he was born in Canada to an American mother (which would make him ineligible to be president).
Without pause, Cruz hit Trump between the horns.
“I recognize that Donald is dismayed that his poll numbers are falling in Iowa. But the facts and the law here are really quite clear. Under longstanding U.S. law, the child of a U.S. citizen born abroad is a natural-born citizen.”
And he wasn’t finished, Cruz elaborated with gusto “that the birther theories that Donald has been relying on -- some of the more extreme ones insist that you must not only be born on U.S. soil, but have two parents born on U.S. soil”.
Under that theory, not only would I be disqualified, Marco Rubio would be disqualified, Bobby Jindal would be disqualified and, interestingly enough, Donald J. Trump would be disqualified.
“Because -- because Donald's mother was born in Scotland. She was naturalized.”
Loud applause filled the auditorium, emboldening Cruz with confidence. Trump looked shocked and dismayed that one of his challengers had found the balls to stand up to him.
Brushing off the jab, Trump fell back on his favorite line that he’s “beating” Cruz in the polls, which is true. Trump insisted, “very, very fine constitutional attorneys, that feel that because he was not born on the land, he cannot run for office.”
And the frontrunner added:
“Democrats are going to bring a lawsuit, and you have to have certainty.”
Not backing down, like a matador taunting the bull with his cape, Cruz responded to raucous applause from the crowd.
“Well, listen, I've spent my entire life defending the Constitution before the U.S. Supreme Court. And I'll tell you, I'm not going to be taking legal advice from Donald Trump.”
From that moment on, Cruz owned the night and danced circles around Trump, taunting the bullish frontrunner, waiting to go in for the kill.
When asked to explain what he meant by saying Trump “embodies New York values,” Cruz replied, “everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro-gay-marriage, focus around money and the media.”
Describing an interview Trump did with Tim Russert. Cruz noted Trump had flipped his positions on the issues and in that interview he said Trump told Russert "look, I'm from New York, that's what we believe in New York. Those aren't Iowa values, but this is what we believe in New York."
“And -- and I guess I can -- can frame it another way. Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan. I'm just saying,” finished Cruz.
Trump quipped that lots of conservatives come from Manhattan, “including William F. Buckley and others.” While the night was still young, it was clear from the first 30 minutes the debate -- or rather, bullfight -- had comfortably settled between Trump and the matador Cruz.
Trying to break up the Cruz-Trump fight, Senator Marco Rubio -- though he gave a strong performance punctuated by yelling -- seemed like he was playing the role of Robin to Cruz’s Batman. Rubio accused Cruz of flip-flopping his position on immigration and supporting guest workers, birthright citizenship and doubling the number of green cards.
But while it was a good retort, Cruz had already gored Rubio in his earlier response on the threat our weak immigration laws pose to national security. Cruz reminded the crowd Rubio led the Gang of Eight fight in the Senate, with Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer, to grant amnesty to illegals.
Cruz pointed out that Rubio-Schumer amnesty bill expanded President Barack Obama's power to let in Syrian refugees without mandating background checks.
“I voted yes to suspend that. Marco voted on the other side. So you don't get to say we need to secure the borders, and at the same time try to give Barack Obama more authority to allow Middle Eastern refugees coming in, when the head of the FBI tells us they cannot vet them to determine if they are ISIS terrorists.”
The night belonged to Cruz. But Trump still loomed large. The party’s frontrunner giving a strong performance, particularly in his defense of a Muslim ban and his astute knowledge of China’s trade policies and currency manipulation that harms American economy and jobs.
“I’m sorry, you lost me,” said Fox Business moderator Neil Cavuto to Trump’s proposal to impose a US tariff on Chinese goods
“It's not that complicated actually,” Trump responded.
“I'm saying, absolutely, we don't have to continue to lose $505 billion as a trade deficit for the privilege of dealing with China,” he added.
What’s clear from last night’s bullfight is that Cruz disrupted Trump. And the battle for the nomination is far from settled.