Like Donkey Kong. Ted Cruz scored a surprising third-place finish in New Hampshire in yesterday’s first-in-the-nation primary, and now it looks like he’s going for a knockout before South Carolina. Cruz tweeted out the campaign’s latest web ad after his victory, one that takes aim at the winner, Donald Trump. The ad depicts children playing with their new “Donald Trump action figure,” and says what he does most is “pretend to be a Republican”:
It’s a tour de force of counter-Trump arguments. The ad manages to mention Trump’s friendship with Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid (and adds in a shot at Anthony Weiner, too). Bailouts and Too Big To Fail get mentioned, but it’s Trump’s support for eminent domain that gets most of the attention:
GIRL DOLL: Check out my house, Mr. Trump!
TRUMP DOLL: That’s a lousy house! I’m gonna take your house with eminent domain — and park my limos there.
KIDS: [while destroying dollhouse] Eminent domain! Eminent domain!
VOICEOVER: We wouldn’t tolerate these values in our children. Why would we want them in a president?
Ridicule can be a powerful tool in politics, and it might be the only kind of attack that will work on Trump. His supporters don’t appear to care much about Trump’s lack of policy substance and consistency; they like his attitude and his ability to shift the Overton window on acceptable debate. Trump has a thin skin, though, and Cruz does not. If he can force Trump to demonstrate that thin skin, it might undermine the perception of Trump’s toughness, while still appealing on policy grounds to other voters.
This still holds some risk. Some voters might not appreciate the use of children to make these points (perhaps especially the reference to Anthony Weiner, considering the context). Cruz got some media heat for using his own kids in a Saturday Night Live skit, which was ludicrous, but this might reopen that debate. Trump and his supporters will complain that it’s a low blow, but since Trump himself often ridicules his opponents with personal attacks, that’s a non-starter. In fact, Cruz might be counting on that reaction to counter Trump’s recent attack on him as a “pussy,” to demonstrate that Trump might be suffering from a case of projection.
It’s a good time for Cruz to go on the attack. It got lost in the John Kasich shuffle last night, but Cruz far outperformed expectations in New Hampshire, beating out Jeb Bush for third place. Combined with his win in Iowa, Cruz has significant momentum, and is aiming to take over the race by beating the other leading candidate rather than punching downward or sideways, as Team Jeb is doing. This ad could steal some of the post-primary buzz from Kasich, and set up a real fight in South Carolina.