Horrifying new Ted Cruz ad: What if the border were being overrun by ... journalists?

Two words, my friends: Electric fence.

This is clever spot, especially as a contrast to Trump’s first ad. The hardest problem in political advertising right now, with TV in Iowa and New Hampshire saturated, is to get your clip to stand out. Trump’s solution to that was to stress how far he’s willing to go to stop threatening immigrants from coming in. Cruz’s solution is humor aimed at the political class for not taking Americans’ anxiety about immigration seriously. Same policy problem in both cases, very different tones. That’s because Cruz, for all of his rhetoric about winning the general election by mobilizing the right, intends to make a play for some centrists and independents too if he becomes the nominee. He wants to introduce himself to the national electorate next summer by claiming he’s a lot less “radical” than his critics in the media have cracked him up to be. Trump might be comfortable with lefty media dropping headlines like this on him, but Cruz is not. He’s been especially careful (until recently) in guarding his rhetoric on immigration, knowing that the left will use any excesses as Exhibit A in making the case to Latino voters that he hates “brown people” or whatever. Before the last six weeks or so, he consistently defended legal immigration as a wonderful thing, refused to categorically rule out legalizing some illegals, and refused to back any of Trump’s splashier sentiments about mass deportation or barring Muslims from entering the U.S. He’s moved off those positions a bit — for now — because of pressure from Trump from the right, but you can tell from this clip how intent his team is in keeping the mood light on an otherwise racially charged policy question. It’s a neat trick to make a point about illegals crossing the southern border en masse using a bunch of white actors in suits with briefcases.

The other key point here, and part and parcel of Cruz wanting to lower the temperature on immigration, is that this ad is all about economic resentment over immigration, not cultural or racial anxiety. That’s another way in which Cruz has sought to distinguish himself from Trump: You don’t hear much from Cruz about rapists from Mexico but you’ll hear plenty about hard-working Americans having to compete with illegal labor in a tough economy. That’s a smart way to approach the immigration debate if you’re worried about being attacked by the left as a racist, as concerns about wages being driven down by illegals are sufficiently legit among liberals that even progressive saint Bernie Sanders has been known to make the point. In fact, the last big immigration push in Congress before the Gang of Eight ended up being scuttled by a poison-pill amendment offered by Democrat Byron Dorgan in the name of protecting American workers’ wages. Among those voting for it: Sen. Barack Obama. Similarly, Cruz’s new immigration plan proposes restricting legal immigration as president if the unemployment rate grows too high, a move designed not only to impress the Jeff Sessions fans on the right who are flirting with Trump but also to signal to centrists who dislike Trump’s demagoguery that, for Cruz, this is purely an economic issue which they should feel comfortable supporting. That was his point in the memorable line from the last debate featured in the clip below — that if it was white-collar livelihoods, like law or journalism, that were being threatened by competition from illegals, the tone of the coverage would be very different. Which was, of course, a clever twofer, not only showing blue-collar workers that Cruz is on their side but reinforcing his broader argument that he’s running against the political class a.k.a. “Washington cartel.”

Easy prediction: The immigration ads from each campaign will be the most interesting of those to come over the next month. Can’t wait for Team Jeb’s inevitable “Act of Love” spot!

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