In the final full day of campaigning before Iowans caucus to choose presidential candidates, the Republican primary in the state devolved into a virtual shouting match between frontrunner Donald Trump and the man he replaced at the top of Hawkeye State polling, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
From morning to early evening, both men were in front of the cameras, and neither missed the opportunity to attack the other on multiple fronts, including personal honesty, political integrity, and electability. It was, in a sense, a condensed version of the last two weeks, a collection of each man’s greatest hits on the other.
Cruz, who has spent much of the campaign refusing to attack Trump, began his morning on Fox News Sunday. Speaking to host Chris Wallace, he continued to insist that he was not attacking Trump, even as he went after the billionaire for his businesses’ multiple bankruptcies.
As Trump’s opponents often do, Cruz blurred the lines between a corporate bankruptcy and a personal bankruptcy, insinuating that Trump had personally failed to pay his creditors and that he owes “hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars.”
Contrasting Trump with his and his wife’s own personal finances, he said, “When Heidi and I take loans, we pay them back.”
Trump, in a pre-recorded interview, whacked Cruz for his failure to disclose to the Federal Elections Commission two large loans that he took out to fund his campaign for the Texas Senate, accusing him of “hiding a record.”
And so it went, for the rest of the day and into the evening. Trump called Cruz a “total liar” over his assertion that Trump is in favor of Obamacare and, perhaps, single-payer healthcare. Cruz ripped Trump’s “chutzpah,” saying, “It’s astonishing. He’s not honest.”
At times, the attacks veered into the ridiculous. Trump has spent a lot of time and energy creating doubt about Cruz’s eligibility for the presidency because he was born in Canada, albeit to an American mother. Cruz, by virtue of his birth, was a de facto Canadian citizen until he gave it up 15 months ago. He has said that he wasn’t even aware that he technically held Canadian citizenship.
On Sunday, however, Trump tried to spin the issue up into a serious conspiracy. Cruz had not just “hidden” the fact that he was a Canadian citizen, he said. Trump claimed he has even disguised the very fact that he was born in Canada. There is no proof of the former, and the latter is absurd – Cruz’s birth in Canada has been part of the record for as long as he has been a public figure.
Trump also jumped all over revelations that the Cruz campaign had sent get-out-the-vote mailers to potential voters printed on official-looking forms that said they were guilty of a “violation” for not voting in recent elections. The mailers listed individuals and their neighbors, and their respective records participation in elections.
The data was pulled from public information, and while it made people uncomfortable it was 1) legal, and 2) not an innovation created by the Cruz campaign. The idea of “shaming” people into voting is not new and, in fact, Cruz isn’t the only one using it in this campaign. Marco Rubio, the Florida senator currently polling in third place sent similar mailers in Iowa.
That, of course, didn’t stop Trump. In an interview with MSNBC’s Hardball Sunday evening, said the mailers were “one of the most disgraceful things I have seen in politics.”
Plainly, Trump hasn’t been paying attention.
But the former reality television star wasn’t the only one stretching the truth. Cruz continued to push his claim that the Affordable Care Act has been a major “job-killer” and then went on to insist that Trump’s health care proposals are “identical” to those of Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Both the first claim and the second claim have been definitively debunked by fact checkers, including Politifact, which bestowed a “Pants-on-Fire” rating to Cruz’s insistence the “Obamacare” has cost the nation jobs.
With the Iowa caucuses happening tonight, Americans can be sure of two things. First, the rhetoric and misinformation in this campaign will get worse. Second, and more hopeful, with the primary season officially under way, the end is in sight.