As resident mean girl of the Republican primary field, Donald Trump has never been reluctant to poke and prod at his opponents’ weak spots, and when he’s been able to find one that resonates with the GOP electorate, the effect has been dramatic. “Low-energy” Jeb Bush is only his most recent victim.
Now, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is about to find out what a full-on Trump assault can do when it is coupled with a coordinated attack from another key player in the GOP field.
Cruz on Monday fired his communications director, Rick Tyler, after he publicized a video that – however improbably – appeared to show Florida Sen. Marco Rubio “insulting” the Bible in a crowded hotel lobby. The details are here, but the short version is that the video included misleading subtitles that were promptly refuted by the Rubio campaign.
Under different circumstances, the Cruz campaign might have been able to sweep that particular mistake under the rug, but the Texas senator’s opponents, arguably without real evidence, have been working hard to paint him as a “dirty” campaigner.
And his campaign has played into their hands. Surrogates in Iowa incorrectly spread a rumor that retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was ending his campaign even as that state’s voters were caucusing, and a Cruz-supporting super PAC in South Carolina financed controversial robo-calls in advance of that state’s Saturday primary.
On balance, it’s created the impression – one that opponents have been anxious to reinforce – that Cruz is a cheater. And while his decision to get rid of Tyler was an obvious effort to blunt that criticism, Trump and Rubio don’t appear to be ready to let it go.
Not long after Cruz took the all-but-inevitable pro-active step of requesting Tyler’s resignation, the Trump assault was launched.
This time, though, it was coupled with an attack from the Rubio campaign as well.
Considering how recently this most story broke, it’s unlikely that it will have much effect on tonight’s Nevada caucus. But with Super Tuesday just a week away, attacks on Cruz’s honesty are likely to be a daily feature of the campaign until next Wednesday – the day both Trump and Rubio are hoping will be the first without the Texas senator as a major competitor.