With the Nevada Caucuses reportedly descending into chaos, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who finished a disappointing third in South Carolina, needs to do well tonight to counter a rising Rubio, and he needs to do it without any scintilla of controversy. The Cruz campaign rallying cry of “Trusted” has started to become tainted over the reported dirty tricks deployed during the Iowa caucus–and the fiasco that erupted over a patent falsehood peddled by Cruz’s communications director about Rubio’s encounter with one of the Texas senator’s staffers who was reading a Bible in the lobby of a South Carolina Hampton Inn.
The communications director, Rick Tyler, had suggested that Rubio had mocked the Bible; that was not the case and was promptly fired earlier this week. With Trump winning the Nevada caucus (as expected) and projected to do well in the southern states on Super Tuesday, this could be the last chance Cruz has to stop his closets rival, Rubio. Alexis Levinson at National Review has more:
…Cruz needs a good night in Nevada, and state Republicans say that means he must at least finish close to Rubio. Though the few public polls that have been conducted in the Silver State are considered unreliable, Nevada Republicans believe Rubio and Cruz are locked in a battle for second place behind Trump. Win or lose, Cruz needs to prevent Rubio from beating him badly. Otherwise, he risks cementing the narrative that he is fading at just the wrong time. “I think Ted Cruz has the most to lose,” says former Nevada GOP Chairman James Smack, who is backing the Texas senator.
The expectations for Rubio here are higher than they are for Cruz. He has invested more resources in the state, and he has spent the past 36 hours barnstorming with a who’s who of Nevada elected officials: Lieutenant Governor Mark Hutchison, former Governor Bob List, Senator Dean Heller, Representative Mark Amodei, and Representative Cresent Hardy, to name a few.
“If [Cruz] comes out of here without any change in momentum I think it starts to paint a pretty bad picture for him,” said Nevada GOP consultant Cory Christensen, who decided over the weekend to back Rubio.
Additionally, some on the Cruz campaign are starting to see that attacking Rubio might not be the best strategy:
Two of Ted Cruz's top backers say that it's time for him to stop going after Marco Rubio — and that he should turn his attention to taking on Donald Trump instead.
“I think he should forget about Rubio completely and focus on Trump,” said Bob Vander Plaats, one of Cruz’s national co-chairs. “Rubio is just taking from Cruz. And so the more you give attention to Rubio, the more it dilutes your message. I would give a clear, consistent, conservative message that draws the distinction between the judgment and temperament of Donald Trump versus the judgment and temperament of Ted Cruz.”
“I don’t think you can fight a two-front war,” Vander Plaats said. “That’s not a smart strategy anywhere. And I think what it’s doing is, it’s elevating Rubio.”
He went on to stress Cruz, not Rubio, has already proven he can beat Trump — Cruz bested the real estate mogul in Iowa while Rubio has yet to win a state — and said Cruz has a clearer path to the nomination.
For the latter point, it’s still dubious that Cruz has a clear path to the nomination. The South Carolina loss reinforces that notion and if the “consistent conservative” fails to have a strong showing against Rubio tonight–it only reinforces what some have already said about the campaign: it’s the beginning of the end.
Let's see who emerges on top from this blood sport.