The Many Frenemies of Ted Cruz – New York Times

Senator Ted Cruz addressing Donald Trump during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by ABC News at St. Anselm College on Feb. 6 in Manchester, N.H.

One evening at a hotel bar in Des Moines shortly before the Iowa caucus, a top strategist for the campaign of Senator Ted Cruz looked up from his adult beverage, allowed himself an amused smile and observed, “We probably have had more frenemies than anyone else in the field.”

The strategist then checked off the various other presidential candidates who, at one time or another, had briefly allied themselves with Cruz for their own strategic gain. Early in the debates, Jeb Bush’s viability required that his fellow Floridian Marco Rubio be wounded. Cruz obliged Bush by chiding Rubio for his support of the Gang of Eight immigration bill. Rubio, in turn, needed Donald Trump to lose altitude in Iowa in order for him to gain any. Cruz thus did Rubio a solid with his attacks on Trump’s sketchy allegiance to the Republican Party.

Governors Bush, Chris Christie and John Kasich all needed a strong showing in New Hampshire in order to survive, and thus needed someone to deny Trump the momentum that a victory in Iowa might provide. Cruz was only too happy to help. Then, on the eve of the Feb. 6 debate hosted by ABC News, he argued that Carly Fiorina deserved a spot on the debate stage despite her low standing in the polls — a move that allowed him to look magnanimous toward a lagging challenger while also serving his own interests (because Fiorina’s speechifying would mean less time for others to be taking shots at Cruz). Though Fiorina still ended up outside looking in on debate night, Cruz earned himself a new frenemy, at least for a few days.

There’s some oddness to all these moves, given Cruz’s reputation of less-than-coziness with other Republican politicians. When Rubio said in the Jan. 28 debate that Cruz’s claim to be the only true conservative in the race was “the lie that Ted’s campaign is built on,” he was echoing the long-held charge by many that Cruz has never been the purist he asserts himself to be. They recall that today’s denouncer of the “Washington cartel” first sought advice in the early 2000s from the cartel’s leading political strategist at the time, Karl Rove. They point out that when he ran for the Senate in 2012 as an anti-establishment Tea Partyer, he hired as his campaign’s general counsel Ben Ginsberg, the quintessential Washington establishment attorney. And Cruz’s campaign, as Trump has taken pains to observe, has been heavily backed by wealthy private donors and conservative groups — but not by a single colleague in the Senate.

Whenever Cruz has initiated efforts to forge alliances with colleagues, they have frequently gone awry. In the 2014 election cycle, he offered to campaign on behalf of George P. Bush, Jeb Bush’s son, who was running for Texas land commissioner. But that was only after he refused to endorse Bush in the G.O.P. primary, when the candidate could have used some support — rather than in the general election, when he was already coasting to victory against a weak Democrat. As one of Bush’s allies put it, “It was obvious he just wanted to claim credit for George P.’s victory.”

Similarly, Cruz offered his services in October 2014 to the Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst, who was in a close race with the Democratic candidate, Bruce Braley. “When she needed him — which was during the primary — he was nowhere to be found,” recalls one of Ernst’s former advisers. “Then, two weeks before the general election, when we’re looking to appeal to swing voters, he tried to come into Iowa in a very crass maneuver. To a person, no one on the campaign thought that having Mr. Government Shutdown two weeks before the election was going to help anyone other than Ted Cruz. So we said no thanks.”

More recently, Cruz rankled his fellow G.O.P. presidential candidate and professed friend, the easygoing Ben Carson, when on the day of the Iowa caucus his campaign circulated the erroneous claim that Carson was suspending his campaign. During last Saturday’s debate, Cruz apologized but also seemed to blame the media for initiating the rumor — an explanation that Carson clearly did not buy. Cruz’s chief antagonist, Trump, gleefully took note of this. During the closing statements of the debate, when Cruz mentioned his victory in Iowa, Trump followed with a sneering, “That’s because you stole Ben Carson’s votes, by the way.”

To some degree, the suggestion that Cruz is singularly off-putting is unfair. He does not have a reputation as a cold and abusive boss like some of his colleagues in the Capitol. Nor, as a candidate, is he prone to tantrums or divaesque demands (beyond not wanting a packed morning schedule). Though Cruz is an infrequent and numbingly scripted interviewee, he is as polite to reporters one on one as he is contemptuous of them in his stump speech.

And Cruz has no exclusive claim on unattractive demeanor among those still fighting for the G.O.P. nomination. Trump’s schoolyard invective puts himself in a class of his own, of course. Christie and Kasich can be foul-tempered to subordinates, political colleagues and the public alike. Bush is not known for his warmth. Rubio, for all his seeming charm, has been far less accessible to campaign audiences and the media than Cruz. Even the affable Carson has prompted a few smirks with the oversize entourage that buffers him as he moves from one event to the next. Still, Cruz remains dogged by the “nobody likes Ted” label that Trump affixed to him.

For the moment, however, the two front-runners have tacitly declared a truce. The present enemy, for the entire field, is the surging Rubio. And so during last Saturday’s debate, while Christie and Bush heaped scorn on the first-term Florida senator, Cruz refused the ABC News moderators’ invitation to attack Trump’s temperament. Instead, when discussing his plan to erect a wall at the Southern border to keep out illegal immigrants, Cruz turned to the billionaire developer and said, “I’ve got somebody in mind to build it.”

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