LAS VEGAS -- Ted Cruz knows he'll be a center of attention, if not the center of attention, at the fifth Republican debate here in Nevada Tuesday. In the first GOP debate, back in August, questions went to Donald Trump, and Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush, and Trump again before moderators got around to Cruz. (The first question: "How can you win in 2016 when you're such a divisive figure?") It won't be that way this time, with Cruz now leading the RealClearPolitics average of polls in Iowa and in second place to Trump nationally.
The Cruz camp expects attacks to come from Trump, from Rubio, and perhaps a few others. Apart from Trump, whose jabs can come from anywhere -- he calls Cruz is "a bit of a maniac" -- it's likely most of the criticism will be on national security grounds, with Rubio likely to repeat charges that Cruz is an "isolationist" who voted to "weaken U.S. intelligence," who opposes funding American troops, and would cut aid to Israel.
As the debate approaches, the Cruz team seems unconcerned. They feel Cruz can defend himself toe-to-toe with Rubio on the facts of the issues, and, in a larger sense, they're confident Republicans simply will not buy the idea that Ted Cruz is weak on national defense.
Cruz insiders point to the new Des Moines Register poll, in which Cruz came out on top when Iowa Republicans were asked which candidate they believe will be the best commander-in-chief. Thirty-four percent said Cruz would make the best commander-in-chief, compared to 25 percent for Trump and 18 percent for Rubio. In addition, Cruz outscored Rubio, 32 to 13, on the question of who can best combat Islamic terrorism.