Christmastime on the campaign trail is anything but merry and bright. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are brawling with each other over immigration. Clinton and Bernie Sanders are pointing fingers over voter data thefts. And Jeb Bush is going after Trump with a vengeance.
"I gotta get this off my chest -- Donald Trump is a jerk," Bush said during a Saturday morning town hall in New Hampshire. He added: "He doesn't have much intellectual curiosity."
Trump's retort Monday invoked Bush's family when mocking Jeb's presidential campaign. "It's very sad. His family's so ashamed," he said.
Trump's insults have been a constant in the 2016 campaign. But the rest of the field seems to be joining as the season of peace on earth and goodwill towards men rolls around. Many candidates have started throwing their nastiest stuff yet in ways that would make Ebenezer Scrooge blush.
Timing plays a big role. The campaign is set to enter a lull between Christmas and New Year's when voters have visions of sugarplums, not bitter politics, in their heads. The candidates are running out of time to change their momentum before the first votes are cast at Iowa's caucuses on February 1
From there, it's on to the New Hampshire primary on February 9, where many Republicans are expecting a wide set of establishment-type figures -- Bush, Rubio, Chris Christie, John Kasich and others -- to be trimmed down.
So you see quotes like Christie calling President Barack Obama a "feckless weakling" while Hillary Clinton is "Mrs. Happy Talk."
Or Carly Fiorina attacking both Hillary and Bill Clinton, bashing "the Clinton way to get elected: lie as long as you can get away with it."
"Bluster" and "Chutzpah"
On the Democratic side, the race exploded on Friday when it was revealed that Sanders' campaign gained unauthorized access to Clinton's proprietary voter files through a glitch in a Democratic National Committee system. When the DNC retaliated by temporarily locking Sanders out of his own voter files, the long-simmering fight between the liberal insurgent candidate and the party's establishment spilled into the open.
"They are attempting to cripple our campaign and we're not going to stand for it," Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver told Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "The Situation Room."
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz hit back, saying that "the Sanders campaign doesn't have anything other than bluster at the moment that they can put out there."
The Clinton campaign stoked the fires, with spokesman Brian Fallon saying that the Sanders camp "went hog wild" downloading data, adding and calling the Sanders lawsuit against the DNC "an outright act of chutzpah."
Clinton also took on Trump with a startling accusation -- one that hasn't been proven -- during Saturday's Democratic debate, saying of Trump's proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States: "He is becoming ISIS's best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists."
Trump hit back with harsh criticism of his own on NBC's "Today" show Monday, saying he wants an apology. "She lies about emails, she lies about Whitewater, she lies about everything. She will be a disaster about everything as president of the United States."
Is that apology coming?
Fallon's reply: "Hell no."
Rubio vs. Cruz
Rubio and Cruz have decided that their paths to the GOP nomination run through each other -- turning two ambitious men who rode tea party waves into their Senate seats bitterly against each other.
They've shed the usual coded Senate-style insults, such as describing one's opponent as "my very good friend," for more overt hits.
Cruz swung at Rubio in a National Review interview last week, saying Rubio is "hiding from the grassroots" and waging his campaign "from a TV studio" -- a reference to a Rubio schedule that's less jam-packed with events than some of his opponents'.
And Cruz's campaign spokesman Rick Tyler gleefully noted that Rubio skipped Friday's vote on the massive spending bill they both opposed.
.@marcorubio FOUND! - Missed the spending bill vote today b/c he had 1 event in a row in Iowa - a record-setting breakneck pace for Marco, Tyler tweeted.
Rubio, for his part, hit Cruz on NBC's "Meet the Press" over his votes against defense spending bills, saying that Cruz "talks tough on some of these issues" but doesn't have the votes to back it up.
And the two Cuban-American freshmen have spent much of the month in a war over immigration.
At a campaign rally in Virginia, Cruz charged: "Sen. Rubio unfortunately made the decision not to honor the promises he made to the men and women who elected him. Instead he sided with Chuck Schumer and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and big money interests in Washington to lead the fight for amnesty."
Rubio returned the volley Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
He said Cruz's shtick is to "spend your whole time telling people that you're a clear talker, and you say what you mean, and everyone else is a sellout, but you're the only purist."
Bush got in on the Cruz-bashing Monday when he backed a path to legal status for undocumented workers. "By the way, that view, Ted Cruz had until he went into the witness protection program," Bush said.
The former Florida governor, stuck in the low single-digits, on Tuesday repeated the "chaos candidate" criticism of Trump he used at the CNN Republican debate last week and said Trump isn't serious because of his insults and profanities.
"Trump is not going to be president because he says these things that turns people off," Bush said
. "For crying out loud, we're two days before Christmas. Lighten up man."