Strategy Session

Decoding Ted Cruz's Five Lines of Attack on Donald Trump

The Texas senator launched a volley of criticism at the Republican front-runner on Thursday.

Trump Jumps to 11-Point Lead in CNN/ORC Iowa Poll

On a week-long bus tour through New Hampshire, Ted Cruz made his move to push Donald Trump out of the conservative “lane”—and shove Marco Rubio off the road entirely—in anticipation of a one-on-one showdown with the New York businessman for the Republican presidential nomination.

At a news conference at Saint Anselm College on the final day of his trip Thursday, the Texas firebrand unleashed a torrent of attacks on Trump, hoping to do what all of his GOP rivals have failed to do for six months: take him down a peg.

Here are five lines of attack Cruz offered:

1. The Republican establishment is ‘rushing to support’ Trump

THE ARGUMENT: “We’re seeing the Washington establishment abandoning Marco Rubio—I think they’ve made the determination that Marco can’t win, and they’re rushing to support Donald Trump,” Cruz said. “And just yesterday Bob Dole explained why the establishment is supporting Donald Trump. They say he’s someone we can make a deal with,” he continued. “So if as a voter you think what we need is more Republicans in Washington to cut a deal with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, then I guess Donald Trump’s your guy.”

THE GOAL: Surveys show that Republicans are deeply dissatisfied with their leaders, and large majorities of them want their politicians to stick to conservative principles rather than compromise. Cruz is trying to define himself as the principled conservative and Trump as an enabler of compromise.

2. I’m more like Reagan than Trump

THE ARGUMENT: “The last time we beat the Washington cartel,” Cruz said, using his preferred term for the powers that be, “it was 1980, it was the Reagan revolution. And I would note that Mr. Dole then opposed [Ronald] Reagan, and said we need someone who’ll go to Washington and cut a deal.”

THE GOAL: The GOP’s profound love for the Hollywood actor-turned-president has morphed modern Republican primaries into de facto contests of who’s more like him, and Cruz is trying to claim that mantle.

3. Trump was a ‘supporter’ of Clinton, other Democrats

THE ARGUMENT: Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, Cruz said, “embodies” the “corruption of Washington.” He continued, “Donald has been an active supporter—he gave $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation. He’s actively supported Hillary Clinton as a political candidate. He supported Chuck Schumer, he supported Andrew Cuomo, he supported Rahm Emanuel. So they know he will cut a deal.”

THE GOAL: Cruz is trying to disqualify Trump with GOP voters by pointing out his past flirtations with Democrats. Other Republicans have tested out this message, but it has so far fallen flat. Trump has retorted that he previously warmed up to politicians from both parties for business reasons, and that he gained an understanding of a system he now wants to upend for the sake of ordinary Americans.

4. Trump backed bank bailout, stimulus

THE ARGUMENT: “Policy distinctions are fair game,” Cruz said, noting that “Donald Trump supported the TARP big bank bailout, and I opposed it” and that “Donald supported the Obama stimulus plan and said it should have been bigger, and I opposed it.”

THE GOAL: Again, Cruz is trying to convince Republican voters that Trump cannot be trusted to stand for conservative values. A new CNN poll of Iowa Republicans found Trump and Cruz statistically tied on the question of who “best represents the values of Republicans like yourself.”

5. Trump is ‘rattled’ by the polls

THE ARGUMENT: “This past week as our poll numbers have surged, as Donald’s numbers keep dropping, he’s getting more and more rattled,” Cruz said. “And each day he’s engaging in more and more personal attacks.”

THE GOAL: Here Cruz is trying to get on Trump’s nerves by suggesting that the self-styled winner isn't really winning. But his assertion is dubious—major national polls show that the race has been remarkably stable in recent weeks with Trump leading and Cruz often behind by double digits.

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