It's been the theme of the Republican race for the past few weeks that Donald Trump doesn't know what to do with Ted Cruz. Trump's on-ramp into the race last June was Tea Partiers over illegal immigration; Senator Cruz is the ultimate Tea Party icon. To attack Cruz on issues substance means to turn on a significant chunk of his core support and expose his lifetime Democrat allegiances; to slime and smear Cruz risks turning Tea Party anger against himself. Yet Cruz has passed him in Iowa and caught him nationally. It's Trump's instinct to attack when threatened, and pretty much when not threatened as well. That's what "high-energy" pols do.
Trump's breach of the his patently and mutually cynical "bromance" with the Texas senator came a couple of weeks ago when he questioned the topic of Cruz's constitutional eligibility for the presidency (a topic that we have pragmatically covered at length), not constitutionally but out of sheer, rank ignorance, but did so passively, in a "The Democrats are going to challenge his constitutional eligibility, you know; that's a problem for Ted" kind of way. Cruz, knowing Trump's attacks were coming, bemusedly responded with a tweet slyly suggesting that with this gambit, The Donald's candidacy had jumped the shark. Trump's fusillade of words escalated last Thursday at the most recent GOP debate in markedly less passive fashion, and Cruz, again fully knowing what was coming, calmly and effortlessly and, frankly, with embarrassing ease dismantled Trump's entire offensive and even turned it back against him. Trump's increasingly desperate and petulant stridency is finally beginning to erode the spell under which he has so many one-time conservatives. His frontrunner status, the Republican nomination, which has been so tantalizingly close and which he has taken for granted is already in the bag, is now slipping away from him.
Trump doesn't know what to do. Which would matter if he were any kind of deep thinker or political strategist. But he's not; He's Trump. And so he's doing that he always does - doubling down on the birther ball shots, to the point of threatening to challenge Cruz's eligibility in court himself:
Despite saying during last week’s debate that he would not file his own lawsuit, on Saturday Mr. Trump would not rule out the possibility.
“I’ll think about it,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s not something that I would want to do. It’s certainly something I would have standing to do.
Gee, that pledge to not sue Senator Cruz didn't even last forty-eight hours, did it? Seems like he's made flip-flopping an art form, and in inverse proportion to his target's physical proximity. Sure, we can trust him to stand up to Putin and Xi and Kim and the mullahs and al-Baghdadi. Trump sure is a standup guy, huh?
A day later (yesterday) he got even bolder:
Stephanopoulos told Trump that some legal scholars have suggested Trump himself would have standing to sue Cruz.
“Oh, that’s an interesting case. Wow, that sounds like a very good case. I’d do the public a big favor,” Trump responded, but he would not say whether he’d actually file such a suit. “It’s a good idea– maybe I’ll talk to them about it. I’d like to talk to Ted about it, see how he’d feel about it. ‘Cause you know, when I file suits, I file real suits.”
Indeed he does. But he'll never file this one, for reasons we've already discussed: Trump would lose, spectacularly, not based upon constitutional originalism (i.e. no judge today understands the Constitution as originally intended) , but on the Obama Precedent alone. And he's not going to do anything that makes himself look like a loser, because that's like stuffing a vampire in a tanning booth. And while such a suit has been filed in Texas, it won't attract much attention unless Trump talks about it in order to keep what he wants to believe is that "cloud" above Senator Cruz's head. Because as little as it is, that's pretty much all he's got.
And that's the catch-22 for Trump, because the more he plays up the birther angle, the more opportunities Cruz has to dismantle him one brick at a time:
“That has got to drive him nuts, and I imagine it sent him out of bed this morning tweeting and tweeting and tweeting,” Cruz said. “I think in terms of a commander in chief, we ought to have someone who isn’t springing out of bed to tweet in a frantic response to the latest polls.”…
Cruz also wondered aloud why Trump had reacted angrily to comments Cruz made a day earlier blasting the policies of New York Democrats. The two candidates have been tangled over Cruz’s use of the phrase “New York values.”
“It does raise the question of, ‘Okay, if you are offended at my pointing out how much the failed policies of Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio have hurt New Yorkers, then which of those policies do you agree with?” Cruz said. “Given the fact that for much of his life, Donald was financially supporting those politicians, writing checks to Hillary Clinton, writing checks to Andrew Cuomo, it’s a fair inference that he supports their policies.”…
Cruz continued to sketch a number of other contrasts with Trump, bringing up gun and property rights when pressed to detail policy differences with the billionaire. Asked to say where he differs with Trump on national security, Cruz flatly replied, “To be honest, I don’t know what Trump’s position is.” [emphasis added]
If the Texan wanted to touch on Trump's personal flip-flops regarding himself, he could contrast this nasty tirade from yesterday....
....with these kind words from not all that long ago:
“Do you still think he’s ineligible to be president because he was born in Canada?” ABC’s Jon Karl asked in September.
“No, from what I understand everything is fine,” Trump said. “I hear it was checked out by every attorney and every which way and I understand Ted is in fine shape.”
And then there was Trump's description of the "nasty maniac and hypocrite" at the December 15th GOP debate as having a "wonderful temperment". You'd think that the Cruz campaign would have put out an ad highlighting all of this two-faced schizophrenia by now.
Oh, wait, they already have:
I thought the hallmark of the professional politicians that Republican voters always claim to loathe, especially this cycle, is that they'll say anything to scrounge votes and scam their way to election. It sure looks like Donald Trump is personifying this description, and at the expense of "Mr. Tea Party" himself. And the more he does so, the more Senator Cruz twists the knife.
It's a thing of beauty, isn't it?
UPDATE: The next stanza? Popping the mythical bubble of Trump populism:
So how do you chip away at this rapport [with blue-collar voters]? You start by shattering the illusion that Trump is a friend of the little guy. To his credit, Trump possesses an uncanny ability to perceive, identify, and harness the wants and needs of the average Joe. The problem is that Trump takes this unique insight into the working class and exploits it for his own gain…
The bottom line is that you need to disabuse people of the notion that Trump is on their side. This is a con, and we are the collective mark. You do this by exposing his penchant for screwing over the little people- whether via Trump U, the Polish Brigade, Atlantic City, Kelo, or even H-2B visas, just pick your poison.
Oh, I think Senator Cruz already has the poisons picked, locked, loaded, and ready to go, don't you?
UPDATE II: A headline one would think Trump wouldn't want to see: "What’s Driving the Establishment’s Preference for Trump over Cruz?"