Ronald Reagan famously cited the “Eleventh Commandment” on the campaign trail -- Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican. But it seems there aren’t many Republicans in the 2016 election with a feel for that old time religion.
Appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Tuesday morning, GOP frontrunner Donald Trump amped up his recent attacks on Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), who is running neck-and-neck with Trump in Iowa.
“He is a liar. That's why nobody likes him. That's why his Senate people won't endorse him. That's why he stands on the middle of the Senate floor and can't make a deal with anybody,” said Trump.
“He looks like a jerk. He's standing all by himself. And you know, there's something to say about having a little bit of ability to get other people to do things. You can't be a lone wolf and stand there. That's sort of what we have right now as a president,” the former reality TV star continued.
The comments are the kind of bombast voters have come to expect from Trump, who at one time or another has taken shots at every candidate running for the GOP nomination, and has likewise come under fire from them.
One of the few party stalwarts willing to raise the subject of decorum has been House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is increasingly playing the role of referee as the presidential primary barrels toward the Iowa caucuses.
Speaking Monday on conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt's radio program, the Wisconsin Republican emphasized that he plans to remain neutral in the GOP race for the White House -- but he issued a warning to the sharp-elbowed contenders nevertheless.
"I do worry about a conservative circular firing squad. All that does is play into the hands of the left, and give them the election victory by default that they're looking for," Ryan said.
He warned that Democrats “want to bait us into looking like reactionaries so that we can’t win elections. So the mantra is going to be we are the fringe, we’re out there, we’re angry, we’re un-relatable, so that we cannot build a national movement, a majority campaign, and win the Electoral College, win the presidency and keep Congress.”
He again hammered home the need for Republicans to roll out an alternative policy agenda before the GOP meets for its convention this July in Cleveland.
Ryan’s message may paint him as a bit of a scold, but maybe that’s exactly what’s needed as his party’s hopefuls turn to increasingly personal attacks ahead of next week’s caucuses.
Contrast that with the Democratic primary, in which the three contenders have gone out of their way not to attack each other personally and have instead emphasized policy issues -- the kind of talk that perks up the ears of wonks like Ryan.
For instance, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was asked during a Monday night town hall event about whether former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was better prepared for the presidency than him.
The question elicited a heartfelt preamble from Sanders.
“All right, let me shock everybody here. This is true. I've known Hillary Clinton for 25 years,” he said, after standing up from his chair to address the audience directly.
“I like Hillary Clinton and I respect Hillary Clinton. And Hillary Clinton has devoted her life to public service and I have tried, as I hope you all know, not to run a negative campaign, not to be attacking every other day, to keep this discussion on a high level, where we debate the issues facing this country,” said Sanders.
“And by the way, with a few exceptions, we're doing a lot better than the Republicans in that regard,” he said before rattling off a list of issues where the two diverged.
Ryan probably wishes more of his party’s hopefuls would take such a moment before tearing into each other, but for now Trump’s comments indicate that this Thursday’s GOP debate, four days before the caucuses, could be the most brutal yet.