The Truth about the recent Cruz vs. Rubio Feud
After NH, Cruz assumed he was solidly in second in SC, but there was a huge gap with Donald Trump. The Cruz campaign decided they needed to make that up by bringing Trump down and trying to get as many Rubio voters as possible. That would mean a war on two fronts, which isn’t easy. To make it more manageable, the Cruz campaign settled on a strategy of trying to tie Rubio and Trump together in every attack. You can look back to Cruz’s statements in SC up until today, and you will see that he was doing this constantly. This strategy is the source of almost every lie Cruz told about Rubio in South Carolina. It’s easy to paint Trump as a liberal (because he is), especially on issues life and marriage, but much harder to do that with someone as conservative as Rubio. So when Cruz started attacking Rubio as being weak on these issues and having similar positions to Trump, it came across as silly and dishonest. Thus Cruz’s strategy failed in a big way (not the first time that has happened to him… “Trump is terrific”). The Rubio campaign, which is known for counter-punching, saw an easy opening: they would simply point out how ridiculous and dishonest the Cruz attacks were. Instead of abandoning this strategy, Cruz double and tripled down throughout the week and it really cost him. Combined with a few other incidents (Carson in Iowa, robocalls, mailers with things attacks Cruz himself used to call “not accurate” on trade etc.) it created the perception that Cruz was running a very dirty and dishonest campaign. As Rubio started calling out Cruz for legitimately lying about him, Trump also saw an opening and joined in to deflect from Cruz’s honest portrayals of his liberal record. Some Cruz fans blame Rubio for joining Trump in calling Cruz a liar, but it was really Cruz’s strategy of lumping them together that gave people that impression and allowed Trump to join in.
Currently, Cruz’s broken strategy has shifted only slightly. Instead of grouping Rubio and Trump for policy attacks, he now groups them by saying they are getting down into the mud for calling him dishonest, then he proceeds to constantly proclaim that he is above those types of non-substantive attacks. This new strategy requires people to ignore that in it self is a non-substantive attack and that Cruz constantly engages in other similar attacks. The only people willing to ignore that are already devoted Cruz fans. That is why his new strategy, which is also dishonest, is backfiring just as much as his old one did. The Rubio campaign has no reason to stop calling him on this dishonesty for as long as Cruz chooses to maintain it.
That’s exactly what happened in the last few days. The Cruz campaign spread a clearly false and despicable attack on Rubio’s faith yesterday and got caught. This added to the perception that they are running a dirty campaign. Cruz desperately needs to counter that perception so he had no choice but to fire his communications director (who had several other issues). That firing could have stopped some of the bleeding, but Cruz chose to use the press conference announcing the firing/resignation to redeploy the attacks from his current strategy. These attacks are clearly dishonest, and it gave the Rubio campaign another opening to keep calling him on it. A lot of Cruz supporters were upset that the Rubio campaign took that opening (while ignoring the attacks Cruz engaged in at his press conference), but they should really be pissed at their own candidate for not coming up with a better strategy to attack his opponents.
I think some of this is also the frustration some Cruz supporters are feeling as they realize that he now has an almost impossible path to the nomination given how close March 1st is and how he can’t compete with Trump or Rubio in many of the contests that follow.