It says a lot about the Republican party that it looks as if it will spend the next few months deciding whether Donald Trump or Ted Cruz should be the standard bearer for all of its hopes and aspirations in November's presidential elections.
Of course much can change - and probably will - by then, but in the meantime we have weeks' worth of hard-right posturing on the part of those two lead candidates to get through. And it's taken some doing, but Ted Cruz is managing to make Trump look like a decent, compassionate, upstanding and moderate man of great political wisdom. Cruz is an unprincipled flip-flopper (see this detailed take-down of his various immigration positions) whose pronouncements and rallies carry the deep whiff of sulphur, but the recent Republican debate exchange at least showed him being verbally out-manouevred by the Donald.
Cruz took a swipe - as he has done previously - at what he calls "New York values". Now "New York values" can often be used as shorthand in America for a variety of unseemly accusations. The very first episode of the seminal political drama "West Wing" saw this sharp exchange on the subject between liberal Toby and a hard-right Christian activist:
But Cruz meant social liberal. When he referred to "New York values" he was addressing his fundamentalist Christian base and attacking such anathema as same-sex tolerance, diversity and liberal ethics. And he might have meant Donald Trump, whose outsize personality is certainly very definitely of New York. Cruz' unpleasant insinuations could have been left hanging, but Trump rose to the occasion for once, and gave a great take-down.
Trump may lose out to Cruz in Iowa - due Feb 1st - while Cruz may lose out to Trump in New Hampshire. But if they keep the top two spots as the primary season goes on, the whole Republican party is going to be the one that loses out. Yet you get the impression that for many members losing out on the White House is an acceptable consequence of keeping the Republican brand tea-party pure. What a party.