Too little, too late? Probably so, but Ted Cruz has belatedly begun to deploy what might be the only effective weapon against Donald Trump, which is … the pre-2015 Donald Trump. Cruz went on ABC’s Good Morning America to push back against Trump’s attack on his immigration policies, and reminded George Stephanopoulos that Trump used to sing a very different song on the issue. Plus, Cruz argues, Trump’s touchback is just another form of amnesty:
Presidential candidate Ted Cruz has praised Donald Trump for making illegal immigration a central issue of the Republican presidential race, but in an exclusive interview with ABC News, Cruz said that Trump’s immigration plan amounts to amnesty.
“So Donald Trump’s position is once you deport them, it’s what’s called touchback. A lot of establishment Republicans had touchback,” Cruz said in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “Basically you make them fly back to their country for a minute, touch the ground, and then they come back with amnesty as citizens. Now, Donald is entitled to do that. He can advance that position, but he doesn’t get to pretend that it’s not amnesty if he’s legalizing 12 million people [who are] here illegally.”
Cruz also accused Trump of latching onto the issue of illegal immigration for political gain. Cruz said Trump was notably absent during the battle over the “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill in 2013.
“I would note at that time, right in the middle of the fight, Donald Trump was publicly supporting amnesty. He was supporting Marco Rubio’s Dream Act,” Cruz said. “He was criticizing Mitt Romney for being too tough on immigration. That’s where Donald Trump was in 2013. Now, when he launched his campaign for president, suddenly he discovered illegal immigration was a problem.”
Cruz is literally correct about Trump and “amnesty” in 2013:
Congress must protect our borders first. Amnesty should be done only if the border is secure and illegal immigration has stopped.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2013
— Robert A. Redmond (@RealWriter24) January 22, 2016
If other Republicans want to do some damage to Trump’s standing, this is where they need to attack. For Cruz, though, it’s a bigger problem. He’s been playing footsie with Trump for months, refusing to comment on Trump’s positions and even complimenting him on the campaign trail. Everyone understands why, of course — Cruz wanted to position himself to inherit Trump’s voters if/when the tycoon either tired of the race, or the voters tired of the tycoon.
However, understanding the strategy doesn’t help Cruz claim the moral high ground on Trump’s flip-flops at this late stage of the race. The question will be why Cruz suddenly wants to make them an issue now, and the answer is obviously because Trump started attacking Cruz. It’s akin to being shocked, shocked that there is gambling in Rick’s casino.
Trump may have attacked first, but these issues with Trump have been ready to use for months. Why didn’t Cruz make this argument in April, May, or June? Because Cruz thought it would be to his advantage to draft behind Trump for as long as possible in the race until he was ready to take it over. Now Cruz is ready to attack Trump on his strength, but he waited far too long and allowed Trump to get far too strong before doing so.
Besides, the “touchback” option may be “amnesty” of a sort (especially since “amnesty” has become utterly indefinable by now), but it still fills the emotional need to punish those who broke the law before granting some sort of mercy. It’s wildly impractical, and unless Congress includes 300 or more Trumpians it won’t ever happen, but it appeals to a legitimate grievance that people who broke the law will get rewarded for their transgressions rather than properly punished for them.
Cruz opened another line of attack that might end up being very fruitful, if he presses it and has enough time left to make it stick. A number of Republicans in Washington expressed a preference for Trump yesterday over Cruz, considering the billionaire the more reasonable man. Cruz frames this shrewdly as the “tell” on Trump: Should voters trust someone with whom the establishment feels they can compromise, or the man they think will stick to his guns? If Team Ted wants to change minds, that should be their next attack ad in Iowa and New Hampshire.