One thing I’ve learned from writing about politics for 10 years is that you’ll never talk someone out of believing something they really want to believe. (At least you won’t if you’re a mediocre writer. Maybe great writers are different.) Another thing I’ve learned is that there’s no way to cover ratf*cking without participating in it. An accusation is made, it reaches a critical mass of public awareness, then you’re forced to choose between ignoring a matter of public interest and spreading the accusation by addressing it. It’s a testament to how far this has spread already that Cruz himself felt obliged to say something.
Here’s the National Enquirer story alleging that Cruz has had affairs with at least five women. Wait, let me rephrase: Here’s the National Enquirer story alleging that there are “claims” that “private detectives” are investigating affairs with at least five women that Cruz has “supposedly” had. Two possibilities here:
1. It’s all true. Better men than Cruz have exploited their stature in Washington for sexual conquests. And the Enquirer’s been right before about political sex scandals that no one else would touch. As every Trump fan on Twitter will eagerly tell you today, they got the John Edwards story right. Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for further details on the 12 mistresses Barack Obama supposedly has. Or how it could be that Hillary Clinton had six months to live six months ago. Or why no major mainstream newspaper has yet exposed the fact that Antonin Scalia was assassinated by a hooker hired by the CIA. Personally, I’m more interested in that one than this Cruz business.
2. It’s a smear. As it turns out, the Enquirer is emphatically pro-Trump. They endorsed him a few weeks ago. He’s been friends with the paper’s CEO, David Pecker, for years. And this wouldn’t be the first time they’ve done him a solid by publishing a spoonfed attack on one of his opponents, according to Gabriel Sherman. Supposedly it was Team Trump that handed the Enquirer a story last year about Ben Carson leaving a medical sponge inside a patient. It’s also noteworthy, as Cruz himself mentions in the clip, that Trump advisor turned Trump cheerleader Roger Stone is the only quoted source in the Enquirer piece. Stone’s reputation for bareknuckle politics is so infamous, the profile of him that the New Yorker published a few years ago was titled “The Dirty Trickster.” (Cruz’s odd reference in the video to copulating with a rat is, of course, an allusion to ratf*cking, at which Stone is said to be a practiced master.) Trump himself has been known in the past to feed stories to the media which he knew were false, simply because it benefited him to do so. Here’s an innocuous example from someone who used to work for him:
“Donald was such a promoter,” Res says. “There’s nobody like him. Nobody.”
She would sometimes hear him posing as a nonexistent John Barron while giving phone tips to reporters, once falsely saying that Princess Diana was seeking an apartment in Trump Tower.
“Page Six calls the palace, which of course has no comment,” Res says. “He was brilliant at stuff like that.”
Whether or not the target denies the claim is unimportant. The point is to plant the possibility that it’s true in the audience’s minds, knowing that some will believe it. So here we have with the Cruz accusation a publication that’s in the tank for Trump, that’s allegedly willing to fling sh*t for him, and that’s in contact with people renowned for their own willingness and ability to supply sh*t to the media. Could it be that the accusation is sh*t itself?
In a weird twist, Trump’s own spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson — a former spokeswoman for Cruz — is identified in the Enquirer piece as one of the alleged mistresses via a partially distorted photo that’s nonetheless clear enough. Pierson denies any relationship with Cruz:
Of course the National Enquirer story is 100% FALSE!!! I only speak to myself, however.
— Katrina Pierson (@KatrinaPierson) March 25, 2016
What's worse? People who actually believe the trash in tabloids, or the ones who know it's false &spread it anyway? #stupidity on all levels
— Katrina Pierson (@KatrinaPierson) March 25, 2016
Trump, meanwhile, denies any relationship with the story — while noting, of course, various Enquirer scoops that have been borne out:
Donald J. Trump Responds to Cruz Accusations on National Enquirer Story pic.twitter.com/kOzGsJcDv8
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) March 25, 2016
My impression of Cruz, take it or leave it, is that he’s been running for president since he was six years old. Even to a supporter like me, he often comes off like a man who hasn’t had a thought in 20 years that wasn’t somehow devoted to advancing his career. His message discipline is so strict that he can seem, even in personal conversation, as someone not quite fully human. If you’ve never read it before, go read Andrew Ferguson’s story about trying to have a low-key chat with Cruz during a car ride after a long day of covering him, only to have Cruz mechanically lurch into one of his stump speeches — leading Ferguson to want to open the car door and throw himself into oncoming traffic. To his political rivals he’s famously calculating, and his campaign is acclaimed as the most well organized and disciplined in the field. He can seem at times less like a person than a highly advanced conservative robot that hasn’t quite made it all the way through the uncanny valley. As I say, better men than Cruz have been ruined by a weakness for skirt-chasing, but he strikes me as a guy who has, and has had, his eyes on the prize and only on the prize for a very long time. If this is anything more than a smear aimed at driving a wedge between a candidate and his evangelical fans, I’ll be surprised to put it mildly. But form your own judgment. I’ll never talk someone out of believing something they really want to believe
Whatever else happens, though, I think we can now safely write off the chances of a Trump/Cruz unity ticket at the convention. If Cruz wasn’t #NeverTrump before, he will be soon: “I will say this, I do not make a habit out of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my family.”