Story highlights

GOP candidates are feuding in S.C. ahead of Saturday primary

Trump on Cruz: He's 'so slimy'

CNN will host town hall meetings with the GOP presidential candidates in South Carolina on Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m. ET

Summerville, South Carolina CNN  — 

They’re calling each other losers and liars, mocking one another’s accomplishments and questioning each other’s character.

In South Carolina, the Republican presidential primary is turning into the nastiest kind of political war.

Days out from the GOP primary contest here on Saturday, the party’s top White House contenders have turned on each other in the most vicious way yet, leveling relentless attacks in stump speeches, media interviews, political ads and on social media.

The political attacks will likely intensify in the coming days as several candidates attempt to catch up to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in the state. A new CNN/ORC poll out Tuesday shows Trump at 38%, followed by Cruz at 22%. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are behind them at 14% and 10%, respectively.

South Carolina is infamous for its blistering campaign style and dirty politics. But the intra-party onslaught is raising fresh concerns that the eventual Republican nominee will head into the general election bruised and vulnerable.

Debbie Ramsey, a retired federal government employee from Summerville, said she was “disappointed” by the abundant name-calling among the GOP candidates.

“It would be a shame if the Democrats win this election because of all the disputing and name-calling and the way they tend to act during debates,” said Ramsey, who is supporting Rubio.

Attacks in every direction

The attacks are flying in every direction – and growing particularly nasty between Trump, Cruz and Rubio.

Cruz held a press conference Wednesday to slam Trump for sending a cease-and-desist letter aimed at a Cruz ad that uses comments the real estate mogul gave NBC’s Tim Russert in 1999 when he said he was “very pro-choice.”

“I have to say to Mr. Trump you have been threatening frivolous lawsuits for your entire adult life,” Cruz said. “If you want to file a lawsuit … file the lawsuit.”

Trump, leading the polls nationally as well as in South Carolina, has spent weeks calling Cruz a “liar.” During a rally Tuesday in North Augusta, South Carolina, the New York real estate developer called Cruz “so slimy” and “so nasty.”

Cruz released a scathing new video Tuesday afternoon accusing Trump of “playing games with the sanctity of life” and having been “enthusiastically pro-abortion” for most of his adult life.

Trump quickly shot back, billing himself “pro-life” in a statement and accusing Cruz of “attempting to smear me and totally lie about my beliefs and positions on almost all of the issues.”

Trump isn’t the only one calling Cruz a liar.

Rubio is taking a similar tack in South Carolina, accusing his Senate colleague of spreading falsehoods about his record on everything from same-sex marriage to immigration.

“I’ve been saying for a while now that Ted unfortunately has proved that he is willing to say or do anything to get elected,” Rubio said Wednesday in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. “What we’ve seen in the last couple weeks is disturbing”

Cruz responded with some tough words for Rubio at his press conference.

“Marco Rubio is Donald Trump with a smile,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bush’s family is joining in on the action.

His brother, former president George W. Bush, stumped for him for the first time in North Charleston Monday night. Though the ex-president did not once mention Trump’s name, the implicit message was clear: Trump is not a serious candidate.

“Strength is not empty rhetoric, it is not bluster,” George W. Bush said, in what was a clear swipe at the GOP front-runner. “In my experience, the strongest person usually isn’t the loudest in the room.”

Bush’s stump speech came just two days after Jeb Bush and Trump exchanged sharp words on Saturday at the Republican debate over George W. Bush’s legacy on the Iraq War and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In Leesville on Tuesday, Bush responded to Trump’s suggestion that the country wasn’t safe under his brother’s watch, calling Trump a “complete loser” and a “bully.”

If Jeb Bush has mostly targeted Trump on the trail, his allies are also eying Rubio.

Right to Rise, a pro-Bush super PAC, is out with a new ad that compares Rubio to President Barack Obama. The ad bills Rubio as a “first-term senator” with “no major accomplishments.”

“Marco Rubio simply isn’t ready for the biggest job in the world,” the ad’s narrator says.

Bracing for more fighting

With four days left until voters head to the polls here, South Carolinians are bracing themselves for more fighting.

Penny Merriman, a 63-year-old retired school board member from Summerville, is deciding between Rubio and Trump. Attending a campaign event for Rubio on Tuesday afternoon, Merriman said she wished the candidates would “just stick to the issues” and feared the sustained attacks may turn off independent voters.

“If I were an independent and heard all the nah nah nah nah nah, I think I would just run the other way,” she said.

But Merriman was also resigned to the fact that as a lifelong South Carolinian, she’s long become “desensitized” to the negativity in her state.

“Are we really that bad? Isn’t that bad?” she said. “I’ve lived here all my life. Sometimes I feel a little defensive – if you can’t take the heat, then get out of the race.”