Just as businessman Donald Trump seemed to be closing in on a victory in Iowa, which could make him the presumptive favorite to win the Republican nomination, he gave Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) a closing argument to Iowa voters: Trump will make deals with the same leftists who have been destroying the country, but I will fight for you.
It is an argument that could sway caucus-goers towards Cruz even though Trump has surged in recent Iowa polls.
Trump has been overreaching in his attacks on Cruz. Last week, responding to reports that establishment Republicans prefer him to Cruz, Trump told a rally in Las Vegas: “You know what? There’s a point at which: Let’s get to be a little establishment.” On Tuesday, Trump continued to slam Cruz: “He is a liar. That’s why nobody likes him…He’s a jerk.”
The point Trump seems to be making is that unlike Cruz, he can both unify the GOP and reach across the aisle, both of which are necessary to assemble a winning coalition and to govern.
He also told MSNBC: “I always had a great relationship with Harry Reid. And frankly, if I weren’t running for office I’d be able to deal with her [Pelosi], I’d be able to deal with Reid, I’d be able to deal with anybody.”
If that is what Republican voters wanted, former Florida governor Jeb Bush would be leading the polls instead of languishing in asterisk territory. Trump’s appeal is that he promises to challenge Washington, not settle with it.
What Trump misses is how much the conservative base loathes both the GOP establishment and the Democrats. As Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) noted, there is no way to know whether Trump’s dealmaking would be different from what goes on in D.C. already.
Trump’s pledge to be a deal-maker is also poorly timed, coming at a moment when Cruz is challenging his conservative credentials. Trump has yet to resolve those doubts: it is too early to talk about deals.
Beyond the nastiness of Trump’s remarks–which could catch up to him–there is a valid criticism of Cruz: namely, that he has been better at opposing than governing. And voters know compromise is eventually necessary. But they don’t want to compromise at the outset.
Trump, the great negotiator, should know better. He has left an opening for Cruz to come from behind.