DAVID GREENE, HOST:
If you want to know how the Republican presidential race is shaping up, last night's debate laid it out pretty clearly. After months of playing nice, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz really went after each other. Meanwhile, the candidates in the race from the establishment wing of the GOP were battling it out for the chance to take on the frontrunners. NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro was up very late watching all of this, and he joins us on the line. Hey, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So two weeks from the Iowa caucuses, we're finally getting there, smaller number of candidates on the stage. Did this Trump-Cruz kind of going after each other really start to change the dynamic here?
MONTANARO: You bet. And particularly, you know, you note the Donald Trump-Ted Cruz dynamic. You know, the two of them coming into this debate before the last couple of weeks have had something of an alliance, where, you know, they were kind of reticent to really attack each other because they're kind of going after the same voters, not last night. They went after each other. Cruz was under attack from Trump because of his eligibility to be president because he was born in Canada, which Trump decided to push again last night. And then, Cruz hit back at Donald Trump, saying that he had New York values. And Trump really kind of ran into a professional debater when you think about Ted Cruz. He was a college champion debater at Princeton and really was able to kind of lower Trump in. And I'm not sure if Trump has actually seen that kind of skill from a debater, but it really does mark a new phase in this campaign where we're getting very close to votes. There's desperation time kind of setting in. And, you know, after the debate, Trump was asked if the bromance was over between the two of them, and he said, I guess the bromance is over.
GREENE: I guess it's over.
MONTANARO: Right (laughter).
GREENE: Well, on the other side, could you say the same sort of thing about the dynamic if people Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, are they sort of going after the same establishment votes, and is the pressure sort of growing on them to duke it out and one of them sort of emerge?
MONTANARO: I mean, the pressure on them is almost bigger because you've got them all sort of positioning to be the person who could go up against Donald Trump or Ted Cruz or both. The problem is they're all splitting up the vote amongst each other. So they really needed last night to try and, you know, make people, mainstream Republicans, especially in New Hampshire, look at them, one of them, and say, OK, that's my guy. And it was really notable to see that it was Chris Christie and Marco Rubio who got into it most last night. It really tells you about the dynamic of the establishment race. And Rubio questioned Christie's conservative credentials as governor of New Jersey. Christie rattled off some of his accomplishments and said Rubio is only attacking him because he knew he was a threat. Who you didn't hear from from in that back and forth, Jeb Bush, with all that money with that super PAC. You know, he still was trying to go after Donald Trump, and John Kasich was really off to the side.
GREENE: Any policy differences really stand out last night, or was it just sort of style points?
MONTANARO: Well, there were issues that came up that they tried to talk about. I mean, things from China tariffs came up between Jeb Bush and Donald Trump. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz got into it over immigration and whether Rubio supported immigration reform and Ted Cruz's support for or the lack of support for the metadata program within the NSA, his voting against a budget that increased military spending. Chris Christie tried to talk about social security and entitlements to save the program. But there was one area where they all agree, and that's foreign policy. And you heard them try to really outtough each other with very dark language following that State of the Union from President Obama, where he tried to paint a rosier picture of what the country's like.
GREENE: All right, that's NPR's political editor Domenico Montanaro talking about last night's Republican debate in Charleston, S.C. Domenico, thanks.
MONTANARO: All right, thanks so much.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.