The 6th Republican debate was the candidate’s last chance to sway undecided voters before the primary season starts in earnest on 2 February.

While Donald Trump is still leading in national polls at around 33 percent, it’s a fierce battle between him and Ted Cruz in Iowa, where the latest Bloomberg poll indicates a 3 point lead of Cruz over Trump. All other candidates are polling far behind Trump and Cruz, both nationally and in early voting states, and clearly felt the pressure to make an impression at the Fox Business debate last night.

But first let’s take a look at the two frontrunners: With Ted Cruz coming closer, Donald Trump had started attacking the Texas Senator, questioning whether Mr Cruz, who is an American citizen but was born in Canada, was even eligible to run. Mr Cruz easily fended off the attack, which has no basis in constitutional law, as has been made clear by numerous scholars in recent weeks. When John McCain ran in 2008, he’s had to clear up similar issues as he was born in the Panama Canal zone, but like Mr Cruz to an American parent.

Regarding Trump’s attack Cruz said:

“Since September, the constitution hasn’t changed – but the poll numbers have. And I recognize that Donald is dismayed that his poll numbers are falling in Iowa. But the facts and the record here are really quite clear.”

He joked that even Mr Trump would be excluded from running if one followed the kind of legal interpretation that he had suggested:

“The birther theories that Donald is relying on say that you have to have two parents born on US soil. I would be disqualified, Marco Rubio would be, Bobby Jindal would be disqualified. And Donald Trump would be disqualified.”

Mr Trump’s mother was born in Scotland.

Trump’s statements were also the subject of the other big fight of the night, when Jeb Bush attacked the businessman for his racist rhetoric on Muslims and his plan to freeze all Muslim immigration to the US and urged him to reconsider this “unhinged” proposal.

he continued:

“Every time we send signals like, this we send a signal of weakness, not strength. It was an unhinged statement, which is why I’m asking him to consider changing his views.”

Marco Rubio didn’t have a great night. He is trying to defend his No 3 spot behind Cruz and Trump, which could elevate him to the top of the list of actually electable candidates and garner him GOP establishment support. But instead of staying away from the nasty parts of the battle and let the two anti-establishment candidates take each other out, he got into an unnecessary confrontation with Chris Christie, over which of two was more conservative.

Chris Christie defended himself well, if not a hundred percent truthfully, against Rubio’s charges he supported  planned parenthood and has implemented relatively strict gun laws while Governor of New Jersey. He then quickly turned his anger against President Obama:

“You had only 21 Republican governors in this country. And now after seven years of your policies, we have the biggest majority we’ve had since the 1920s in the House; a Republican majority in the Senate; and 31 out of 50 Republican governors. The American people have rejected your agenda and now you’re trying to go around it.”

Mr Rubio had tried to follow the same strategy of bashing the incumbent all night, but never to the same effect.

Ben Carson and John Kasich were also present on stage. Neither man made a lasting impression and especially for Kasich one wonders why he is still in the race at all. Apart from frequent references to his record as governor of Ohio, there was not much he had to say. Carson on the other hand is clearly still there because his weird, and sometimes all-out crazy, statements are entertaining. Especially in the early stages of the campaign that’s a feature, not a bug. This time he warned American’s of the danger of terrorists using nuclear missiles to take down the power grid with an electromagnetic pulse. He probably thought it sounded scientific.

Overall little has changed in the setup before the campaigns move into Iowa for the next two weeks. The questions are still the same:

  • Will Trump’s support collapse once people actually have to show up to vote as opposed to just turn on their TVs to keep the Donald show going?
  • Will Ted Cruz be able to turn a victory in Iowa into a serious campaign on the national level?
  • And who will be the  candidate that eventually ends up securing the support of the GOP establishment? It sure looks like Rubio is still in the best position here, but after this debate Bush and Christie are still very much in the race.