It took him 24 hours but he finally got around to responding to yesterday’s NYT story about Cruz questioning his “judgment” at a fundraiser.

Is this, at long last, war? People on Twitter seem to think so but it doesn’t sound like war to me.

That’s mild by Trump insult-comic standards, more of a “watch your mouth” shot across the bow than an opening of hostilities. The only bit that stings a little is the reference to Cruz’s “bosses,” by which Trump means his donors. So there’s one hint at how Trump will attack him if they start fighting in earnest: Unlike Trump, who loves telling voters that he’s self-funding his campaign even though he isn’t, Cruz is bought and sold by the same sort of rich special interests as Bush, Rubio, and so forth. That’s a smart way to criticize him as it undercuts his populist credibility. If Trump exposes Cruz as a phony “man of the people,” it could hurt him not just with the Trump voters he’s hoping to convert but with some tea partiers too.

Last night the Times posted five minutes of audio recorded at the fundraiser in which Cruz lays out his battle plan for the primary. Some of it you’ve heard many times before; he talks openly in interviews about the “conservative” lane and the “moderate” lane and how there’s a 50-car pile-up in the moderate lane for once while the conservative lane is clear for him. What’s new, at around 1:50, is his admission that he’s been smothering Trump and Carson with love to ingratiate himself to their voters in the expectation that their support will crumble organically as people get serious about the race. I wonder if that’s what set Trump off or if he held his fire until today because he wasn’t sure until the audio was published that Cruz had really questioned his judgment after all. It’s interesting that Trump advisor Dan Scavino, in accusing Cruz of having finally showed his “true colors,” didn’t clip the audio of Cruz talking about Trump’s judgment but rather the bit where he admits to bear-hugging Trump as a matter of strategy. To any other candidate, it would be obvious that Cruz’s friendliness was purely mercenary. (A RINO scourge like Cruz must detest Trump’s leftward tendencies in private.) To an ego like Trump’s, though, it may be genuinely wounding that Cruz, despite insisting here that he “likes and respects” Trump, is essentially playing him for votes.

I don’t think this is war for the simple reason that Cruz won’t respond. If anything, Cruz being Cruz, he’ll issue a quasi-apology saying he regrets that his “friend” Donald was offended or whatever. Press play below and listen to the man yourself. The name of the game is “bear-hugging” and there’s no reason for that not to continue unless Cruz falls behind again in Iowa and starts running out of time before the caucuses. In fact, with Christie making his move in New Hampshire, I’d say that Cruz has more reason than ever to lie low against Trump right now. Christie’s going to start throwing punches at Trump to try to close the gap in NH and some of those punches may help weaken Trump in Iowa. Why should Cruz anger Trump fans by taking him on when Christie will soon be doing his dirty work for him?

Update: Good lord. I knew he’d grovel but this is obsequious even for Cruz.

What if conservatism’s only hope is him and Trump in a cage match? Worth doing then, or can conservatism be risked in the name of taking down “the establishment”?