Ted Cruz tried to paint himself as a maverick during Thursday's debate, but ended up pointing to a time he rode a wave of popular opinion.
When Donald Trump vaguely promised to get the federal budget under control by eliminating "waste, fraud and abuse," Cruz saw an opening. He countered that voters want candidates to name specific cuts and pointed to his own vow ahead of the Iowa caucuses to end federal help for ethanol, the corn-based fuel that has long been the untouched third rail of Iowa politics.
But Cruz's attempt to paint himself as a the candidate willing to buck popular sentiment and make hard decisions falls short of the reality of the moment. As The Times' Evan Halper found, even Iowans have begun to move on from ethanol.
Where are the stinging insults? The low blows? The none-too-subtle slights about the size of a candidate's hands or another, more private part of a man's anatomy?
The raucous infighting that has characterized many recent GOP debates is missing tonight. In its place is a conversation about issues -- trade, immigration, education -- that appears downright respectful in tone.
"I cannot believe how civil it has been up here," Donald Trump said at one point.