Golly, I thought populists liked it when Cruz did that. Now it turns out that type of insolence is a liability in a president. Frankly, that attitude sounds … establishment-y.

I guess it’s time for the “Donald Trump scolding other people for incivility” act of this circus.

Donald Trump bashed Ted Cruz’s “temperament” and defended his presidential campaign’s ground game during an appearance Tuesday at the John Wayne Birthplace Museum.

“Ted has got a rough temperament, you can’t call people liars on the Senate floor when they are your leaders. Not a good thing to do if you want to curry favor and get the positive votes later on own,” Trump said.

“Ted is worried about his temperament, people are talking about his temperament. I haven’t talked about his temperament but he’s got to be careful because his temperament has been questioned a lot.”

While Trump is busy hitting Cruz on intangibles, Cruz is hitting Trump on amnesty:

“I like Donald Trump, I respect him personally, and in this campaign he’s talked a lot about illegal immigration and amnesty,” Cruz told the crowd. Going on to detail the 2013 immigration reform battle in Congress — legislation he opposed — Cruz continued, “We were on the verge of losing this fight, and 12 million people here illegally would be granted amnesty. And yet when that fight was being fought, Donald was nowhere to be found.”

Prodding further on an issue that is central to Trump’s campaign, Cruz continued, “If you didn’t stand up and fight amnesty when the stakes were live or die, when the stakes were, ‘Do we lose this permanently or do we win?’ then I would suggest as voters you have reason to doubt the credibility of the promises of a political candidate who discovered the issue after he announces for president.”

Some Trump fans on social media laughed at Cruz for the idea that a private citizen could have done anything meaningful to fight the Gang of Eight bill when it was simmering in the Senate. I don’t know: Any Sarah Palin fan would insist that she’s done lots of good agitating against Obama’s initiatives and mobilizing grassroots conservatives over the years since she left office. The prestige of conservative talk radio is based on the same idea, that an effective communicator with a giant media megaphone can move opinion. How many private citizens in the United States had the sort of omni-partisan media reach that Trump had back in 2013? There’s Oprah and … who else? Trump slammed the Gang of Eight bill in his CPAC speech that year, but that was a speech to a small niche of committed conservatives. What’d he do to try to rally the other 97 percent of his “Apprentice” viewership?

Two points about the significance of Trump attacking Cruz’s temperament. One: It signals that he’s probably now resigned to conservative talkers turning on him. One of the few times he’s gotten smacked by Rush et al. this primary was when he called Cruz a “maniac” last month for antagonizing Senate Republicans. Said Mark Levin at the time:

“This has to be the dumbest strategy yet, defending the establishment,” Levin continued abut Trump’s Fox News Sunday interview. “Trashing Cruz? Look, there are things you can question Cruz about, his past position on immigration, his past position on trade, substantive, positions you can question him about. This is not that! You and I rally around him and have because of the way he’s taken on the establishment, because of the establishment that Trump’s taking on. So why raise a stupid issue?”

Trump backed off a few days later at the debate, insisting that Cruz has a “wonderful” temperament. Now he’s back to smacking Cruz for insulting McConnell, knowing that talk radio has no choice but to punish him for it. In fact, that’s exactly what Cruz fans have been waiting for — a peg to start the “Trump is part of the establishment” attacks. Here it is. No turning back.

Two: We’re back to the question of who the establishment itself would prefer if forced to choose between Trump and Cruz as nominee. Cruz fans are completely invested in the idea that it’s Trump; Cruz’s brand rests on him being seen as an indefatigable scourge of the “Washington cartel” from the right. Trump’s position is more nuanced. He can’t cuddle up too closely to Beltway Republicans or else it’ll undercut his populist cred, but a little cuddling arguably helps by signaling that he won’t be the dangerous loose cannon as president that his critics fear. If Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan think they can learn to live with him, surely undecided voters can feel better about handing power to him. He’d almost certainly be easier for them to influence as president than Cruz would, as House Republicans are reportedly now recognizing.

On the other hand, how likely is it that people who crave political stability would rather gamble on Donald Trump than Cruz?

Rich Lowry says that Republican establishment types are telling him that they think Trump would run better than Ted Cruz in the general election. That would seem unlikely given the publicly available data. Trump is running behind Clinton in head-to-head polling, while Cruz is ahead of her. Neither does Trump seem to have much room to grow among general election voters. Trump’s favorability numbers are toxic among independents and Democrats (and not that great among Republicans.) If you were simply going for the most “electable” candidate, Cruz wouldn’t be your first choice, but he makes much more sense than Trump. So what are the establishment types doing?

If I had to guess a reason (beyond spite and incompetence – though those would suffice) for why Republican establishment types are talking up Trump’s chances in the general election, it would be to prevent a panic stampede to Cruz among the chamber of commerce conservatives and upper-middle-class moderates that make up the constituency for candidates like Rubio, Christie, Bush, and Kasich.

Cruz beats Trump in head-to-head polling. Trump beats Rubio in head-to-head polling. Trump only beats Cruz if there is a strong three-way race (with Rubio in third place.)

That seems too cute by half. Trump and Cruz are neck and neck in Iowa; if Trump’s the one you fear, why on earth would you take the risk of puffing him up two weeks before Iowa votes? I don’t think there’s any looming stampede headed Cruz’s way anytime soon unless Rubio crumbles in New Hampshire, in which case you’ll probably see his voters split between Cruz and whoever the establishment candidate is. Until then, Trump has time to woo center-right voters by grumbling about Cruz’s bad manners towards Washington and hinting at how much better he’d work with Congress than Cruz would. Voters like compromise in theory, if not in practice. This is Trump’s small way of suggesting that Cruz is the real radical in the race, not him.