Did the earth just tilt on its axis? After a bad week for Senator Ted Cruz that saw the heartburn of his unreported loan from Goldman Sachs and his facing repeated questions about whether or not he even can legally be president, Cruz finally confronted Donald Trump for his ridiculous birther accusations…and it was brutal.
Cruz, who had been trolled by Trump for being born in Canada, took Trump and the audience through a 5th grade civics lesson of why American children born abroad are eligible to run for president of the United States. He noted John McCain’s birth at a military base in Panama, George Romney’s birth in Mexico, and how the standards of Trump would also disqualify Marco Rubio.
Then Cruz dropped the bomb – he pointed out that under Trump’s own dogma, Donald J. Trump too would be disqualified.
Trump, was knocked back on his heels and could only rattle off a confused and disjointed answer. There was stifling laughter and booing coming from the audience.
This moment was one that many thought would never come. Since the start of the campaign, Ted Cruz has refused to criticize or even attack Donald Trump. He employed a strategy of not upsetting Trump’s supporters so that his own poll numbers didn’t drop. It frustrated many in the party, who thought that Cruz had a responsibility to stand up to Donald Trump’s toddler-like temper tantrums and verbal diarrhea of a stump speech.
But waiting has made the impact of Cruz’s attack all the more powerful. Having kept his powder dry all of these months and waiting, strategically, until when most voters are starting to pay attention, Cruz has only enhanced the impact of Cruz’s smackdown of Trump.
Even more satisfying for Cruz, it was Trump who shot first with his casting doubt on Cruz’s eligibility. For the past several days, Cruz politely declined to attack Trump, pointing out it was legally laughable or saying that the Donald had “New York values.”
But with millions of viewers tuned in, it was time to take the bait.
He previously kept the high ground and waited until the right moment, the sixth GOP debate, to truly rebut and diminish Trump.
Most of the GOP presidential candidates have attacked Donald Trump at some point in time and not seen a boost in the polls. At the same time, Trump’s numbers have not declined. However, in this instance, with just over two weeks before the Iowa Caucus, Ted Cruz has earned some respect.
Will that respect translate into votes?
Evan Siegfried, a Republican strategist and columnist, is president of Somm Consulting. You can follow him on Twitter at @evansiegfried