Having been smacked around by Cruz over the so-called 'birther' issue on last week's debate stage, Donald Trump is turning to his Feuding 101 playbook: Personal insults. He previewed his character assault against Cruz last month ("maniac"), quickly calling off the rhetorical dogs when the Texas Senator assiduously adhered to his strategic nonaggression pact. But now that Cruz has thrown multiple punches in defense of his own constitutional eligibility to seek the presidency, Trump is unleashed:
The fracas between the Republican presidential front-runners escalated Sunday as Donald Trump went after Ted Cruz’s likability, calling the Texas senator a “nasty guy.” “Nobody likes him, nobody in Congress likes him, nobody likes him anywhere once they get to know him,” Trump said in an interview airing on ABC’s “This Week” ... Trump revived the charge in his interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC, calling Cruz a hypocrite and “very dishonest.” “He wants to look like Robin Hood,” Trump said. “That he’s the one protecting the people from the banks, while he’s actually borrowing money and personally guaranteeing it and not disclosing it, which is illegal” ... And Trump said he’ll consider filing his own lawsuit challenging Cruz’s eligibility to be president based on his birth. “Maybe I’ll talk to them about it,” Trump said. “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."
Let's set aside the surreal richness of Donald Trump -- who has ridiculed a disabled reporter, attacked female opponents' looks, mocked POWs, tried to bully a widow out of her home, and withheld healthcare from his brother's sick infant (admittedly!) out of spite -- calling somebody else a "very nasty guy." The real estate mogul taunts that "nobody" in Congress likes Cruz, a perception that Democrats would certainly try to exploit in a general election setting, but that falls like manna from heaven in the context of this year's GOP primary. He recycles the 'undisclosed loan' attack based on a New York Times story, even though Cruz did disclose the unremarkable (and since repaid) loan prior to his 2012 elections. Cruz has acknowledged a clerical error in the specific filing of that disclosure. And now Trump appears to be threatening to file his own lawsuit over the birther issue. Remember when Trump pretended he was merely asking eligibility questions for Cruz's own good? That pretense is long gone.
The billionaire's new flirtation with a lawsuit over this non-issue actually constitutes an abrupt about-face from Thursday night. In Charleston, Trump vowed, "I'm not bringing a suit. I promise," instead predicting that Democrats would sue if Cruz ended up on the Republican ticket. Now he's considering bringing a suit. Donald Trump is an intemperate, impulsive man who does and says whatever he perceives to be in his immediate interests -- which is why supporters who expect him to keep his word on policy matters (to the extent that they care about public policy at all) ought to brace for bitter disappointment in the unlikely event that he's elected. One issue on which Trump managed to draw blood against Cruz was the "New York values" flap, for which Cruz is now impishly "apologizing" by lamenting how liberalism has failed New Yorkers. Marco Rubio, who's chasing both Trump and Cruz nationally, was asked about the "New York values" controversy on Meet the Press yesterday, and offered a pretty cunning response (skip ahead to the 3:00 mark):
Todd: What does that phrase mean to you?
Rubio: I've never used that phrase. I think we're all Americans. I'm campaigning on behalf of American values, and I don't seek to divide people against each other. That's the problem we have with the current president. I think the bigger problem is Ted has raised a lot of money out of New York ; he didn't say that when he was there raising money. He says that in one state and says something different in another. Time and again, it's proven this level of political calculation that voters are only starting to find out about now as the campaign gets deeper and more heated.
Cruz is a divisive figure, like Obama, Rubio suggests. And he doesn't use that sort of language when he's in Manhattan rattling his cup for campaign contributions. Savvy play all around. Although it's worth noting that elsewhere in the interview, Rubio reiterates his support for an eventual path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants -- which he claims isn't too different from Cruz's old position on the issue (fact check: half true). I'll leave you with this:
Sponsored content: Trump camp amplifies "birther" attacks on Cruz with paid Facebook ads... pic.twitter.com/tZBPDtRWZT— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) January 18, 2016
Between paid ads and lawsuit threats, it appears as though The Donald is going all-in on birtherism. And the escalation is a two-way street:
Cruz: Let's face it, Trump's a phony conservative who's obsessed with tweeting: https://t.co/2y7bKxzdkv— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) January 18, 2016