Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has been criticized sharply by many of his rivals, particularly Ohio governor John Kasich and South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham. But one candidate has generally declined to comment on the real estate tycoon’s many controversies, Texas senator Ted Cruz.
All of that will soon be coming to an end, Trump seemed to suggest in a campaign rally in Manassas, Va. yesterday.
“Cruz has been great to me, no matter what I say he agrees,” Trump said, according to The Hill. “But at some point he’s going to have to say, ‘I have to attack him because otherwise I’m going to come in second place or something.’ ”
The bellicose billionaire was repeating an earlier vow he’d made on Monday at a rally in Georgia. “Even Cruz, I think he’s going to have to hit me. It’s going to be a sad day, but we will hit back—I promise.”
Trump was likely responding to a veiled criticism that the evangelical favorite Cruz had lodged against him in a Monday campaign event of his own in Iowa.
“Let me be very clear: I don’t believe Donald Trump is gonna be the nominee, I don’t believe he’s gonna be our president,” Cruz was quoted as saying by Bloomberg. “One of the reasons I love the state of Iowa, because in Iowa, y’all take politics seriously,” he added in an aside that was likely a reference to the fact that Trump is a television celebrity and has been criticized by many conservative activists as an unserious candidate.
It was almost inevitable that Cruz would begin attacking since in a three-way race between Cruz, Trump, and Florida senator Marco Rubio, the New York real estate magnate has the advantage since he draws support from all of the Republican Party’s various constituencies in a geographically diverse manner that his top rivals do not.
Up until the Monday swipe, Cruz had thus far refrained from criticizing Trump as the senator has pursued a strategy of ingratiating himself to supporters of the former reality television star in the event that his campaign collapsed as has been widely expected.
Instead of losing support after making a series of gaffes and extreme statements the way that rival candidate Ben Carson has, Trump’s ratings have held relatively stable, signalling that strategic deference may not be a winning long-term strategy for Cruz. Indeed, it could be argued that Cruz’s status as a leader of the GOP’s far right has actually prevented the sustained criticism Trump has received from rival candidates and the press from having any effect on him.
By declining to disparage any of Trump’s outrageous comments (such as his belief that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in the U.S. celebrated the 9/11 attacks and his promotion of false statistics about race from white-supremacist groups), Cruz has lent his rival the credibility he needs to dismiss any censure as nonsense spewed by political elites–a frequent Trump rhetorical target.
Given Trump’s love for duking it out with his rivals and Cruz’s intense, prosecutorial zeal for any cause in which he engages, the product of any upcoming friction will likely be significantly important in determining the Republicans’ presidential nominee.
Any Trump-Cruz duel may recall an earlier confrontation that Trump had with Ben Carson as the latter’s poll numbers eclipsed his for a short time in the state of Iowa. After being briefly overshadowed by the retired surgeon, Trump unleashed a series of stark attacks on Carson, including comparing him to a child molester. Carson’s poll numbers declined shortly thereafter, perhaps before the effects of Trump’s critiques could be felt.
A writer, television producer, and cybersecurity consultant, Matthew Sheffield is a Bold contributor. He currently is a producer and reporter at The Hill's video division, Hill.TV.