When the school bully starts glowering in your direction, the worst thing you can do is hold up your hands and say, “Please don’t hit me.” It’s a lesson most of us learn in the schoolyard, but one that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz seems to have forgotten.
Now, here comes the knuckle sandwich.
Cruz, who is making a strong run in Republican presidential primary polling, has done everything he can to put off an inevitable showdown with frontrunner Donald Trump. The reluctance is understandable – Trump’s attacks on other candidates in the race have been devastatingly effective. To avoid them, Cruz has refused to seriously confront some of the billionaire’s most outrageous statements, and he has repeatedly said how glad he is to have Trump in the race.
Late last week though, the mask slipped ever so slightly. In a closed-door meeting with supporters last week, according to a recording obtained by The New York Times, Cruz suggested that voters might be concerned Trump doesn’t have the “judgment” necessary to be in charge of nuclear weapons. Further, he said that his repeated praise of Trump has been calculated to assure that when the former reality television star falters, he will collect “the lions share” of trump voters.
Cruz at first tried to cast doubt on the accuracy of The Times story, but when the audio was released, he could no longer deny it. Instead, he took to social media to proclaim that he doesn’t want to fight with Trump, whom he referred to as “terrific.”
Trump took a few lazy swipes at Cruz on social media heading into the weekend, but it was in two taped interviews for CNN’s State of the Union and Fox News Sunday that he revealed the line of attack he’s planning to use.
And, in keeping with the schoolyard bully metaphor, it boils down to: “Nobody likes you!”
Okay, even Trump is more subtle than that, at least sometimes. What he went after Cruz for was his “temperament,” saying that the Texan doesn’t have the personality to be president.
Many will no doubt view it as beyond parody that a thin-skinned former reality television star, who lashes out on social media and in public remarks at the most trivial of slights, should be talking about his opponent’s temperament. But, as with a lot of the attacks Trump has leveled on his opponents in the past, there’s a grain of truth in his criticisms that he will, by constant repetition, try to force into the minds of Cruz supporters.
In this case, it’s that people who know Ted Cruz just don’t like him.
By most accounts, Cruz is loathed by many of his fellow Republicans in the Senate, to the point where he is now often refused common legislative courtesies. Journalists have done multiple pieces exploring Cruz’s background, and with few exceptions they find former colleagues and acquaintances practically standing in line to say they can’t stand him. Now Trump appears to have made the decision that Cruz’s inability to make people like him is his biggest vulnerability.
Asked by CNN host Jake Tapper on Sunday morning why voters should prefer him to Cruz, Trump said, “Because I’m more capable. Because I have a much better temperament. Because I actually get along with people much better than he does.
“People don’t know that about me. I actually have a great relationship with people. In fact I was criticized at the beginning because I get along with Democrats and liberals and Republicans and conservatives. I get along with everybody...”
“And he doesn’t?” Tapper cut in.
“No, I don’t think he does,” Trump replied.
He went further in a conversation with Fox News, after host Chris Wallace asked him about comments Cruz made
“Do you notice he said it behind my back?” Trump began. “Look, I don’t think he’s qualified to be president, because I don’t think he has the right temperament. I don’t think he’s got the right judgment.”
“When you look at the way he’s dealt with the Senate, where he goes in there, frankly, like a little bit of a maniac. You’re never going to get things done that way. Look, I built a phenomenal business. I’m worth many, many billions of dollars. I have some of the greatest assets anywhere in the world. You can’t walk into the Senate and scream and call people liars and not be able to cajole and get along with people. He’ll never get anything done, and that’s the problem with Ted.”
It’s a criticism that works on two levels. First, the fact that many people who know Cruz genuinely dislike him is seeping into the public consciousness, and could have an effect on how he is viewed by voters who haven’t yet made up their minds. However, it points out that Cruz has a relatively skimpy list of legislative accomplishments, in part because he is a first-term senator, but also in part because his colleagues don’t want to work with him.
As one observer on Twitter put it Sunday morning, “Trump is like a heat-seeking missile for the other candidate's fatal flaw.” We’ll see how many hits Cruz can tolerate.