Could Republicans really rally around Donald Trump?
Today's endorsement by New Jersey governor Chris Christie, the first from a key party figure for the billionaire, suggests that it can, although there are many signs that it will be tough for others to follow Christie's lead.
The New York real estate developer and GOP frontrunner traded a flurry of attacks and counter-attacks at a Republican debate Thursday with his chief rivals, Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. All three were looking to make gains before voters in 11 states take part in the Super Tuesday primaries on March 1.
But Rubio's repeated jabs at the one-time reality TV star weren't simply related to disagreements over policy or execution. They were personal digs at character and integrity, the types of swipes that aren't so easy to paper over.
"This has very much been a policy-free contest so far," Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, a Washington policy institute, said in a phone interview. "I haven't liked the tone at all in many cases, particularly his. If you want to run for president, you ought to act like a president, and sound presidential."
In one memorable exchange, Trump accused Rubio of taking part in a pay-to-play scheme around the sale of his Miami house. Rubio, though, was quick to counter, accusing Trump of being a sliver-spoon rich kid who would be walking the streets if not for a comfortable inheritance.