This broke last night but it slipped through the cracks amid the hubbub over the SOTU, Nikki Haley attacking Trump, and John Kerry reminding Iran that he still loves them no matter how much they humiliate American sailors. Don’t miss it, though, as it’s necessary prep for Thursday’s debate. I don’t want to raise expectations, but between this and yesterday’s shot at Trump for being an easier challenge for Democrats as nominee, we may see Ted Cruz rediscover his balls onstage if Trump comes after him tomorrow night over his eligibility.

“New York values” are a good thing, right, red-staters? Dynamic, cultured, financially savvy — what a nice compliment for Ted Cruz to pay to his good friend Donald.

“Well, look, I think he may shift in his new rallies to play ‘New York, New York’ because Donald comes from New York and he embodies New York values,” Cruz said, referring to the famous Frank Sinatra song…

On Tuesday, however, Cruz twice appeared to take jabs at Trump, telling reporters earlier in the day that supporters of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton were “eager to support Donald Trump and the attacks that are being tossed my direction.”

In the radio interview, Cruz reiterated this argument. In response to a clip of Clinton saying Trump was “a Democrat before he was a Republican,” Cruz said, “Well, I would say, Hillary would know well how to identify Democrats. She has been a partisan Democrat herself obviously and, uh, she and Donald know each other well and I do think it’s interesting that Hillary Clinton’s key supporters are doing everything they can to echo Donald’s attacks on me.”

He actually took a third shot at Trump yesterday, noting in an interview with Hugh Hewitt that he doesn’t get his foreign policy just from watching the Sunday shows. Nice.

In any previous year, a GOP candidate being accused of “New York values” in the primary would be a fatal blow. This year? Hmmmm:


Cruz’s core message is that no one’s been bolder in standing up to the “Washington cartel” than him, yet when voters are asked whether “bold” describes each candidate, Trump nearly doubles him up. When asked whether each candidate tested is an “outsider,” Trump more than triples Cruz’s total. The Trump/Cruz war in Iowa seems to be almost a pure test of “strong” versus “conservative,” which explains why Cruz is showing off the “New York values” talking point here. Makes me wonder if he shouldn’t try focusing a bit on aspects of Trump’s weakness instead, like his willingness to make nice with the likes of the Clintons in the interest of navigating a cronyist political system. Trump is smart enough to attack Cruz’s strengths, accusing him of being pro-amnesty and essentially of being a foreigner in challenging his status as a natural-born citizen. Until Cruz attacks Trump’s image as a strongman, he’s not really repaying him in kind. You’re not going to end this guy by accusing him of not being a conservative. He’s a “conservative” on immigration. For many righties, that’s apparently enough.

Relatedly, we haven’t yet blogged this morning’s big Selzer poll of Iowa but here it is in case you missed it elsewhere. The good news for Cruz fans: He still leads Trump, 25/22, and the eligibility attacks haven’t penetrated much, with just 15 percent of likely voters saying it bothers them that he was born in Canada. The bad news: Cruz was at 31 percent in this same poll a month ago. He’s actually lost ground at a moment when Ben Carson should be disintegrating. (Carson is at 11 percent now, down two points from December.) I don’t know how to explain that, as his favorable rating is sky high — 76/19, the best in the field and more than 20 points better than Trump’s — and he’s far ahead when you combine the number of voters who have him as either their first or second choice with those who say they might conceivably vote for him. Cruz scores 89 percent on that metric; Trump is way back at 67 percent, just four points ahead of Rubio. If Selzer is right (and she usually is), Trump seems to have a hard ceiling in Iowa in the low 20s, which makes it hard to imagine how Cruz can lose. On the other hand:

Roughly a third of Trump’s supporters say this will be their first caucus, compared to 22 percent for Cruz, 25 percent for Rubio and 41 percent for Carson. Those numbers suggest Trump and Carson have a greater challenge in turning out their supporters because veteran caucus-goers tend to be more reliable.

Numbers of first-time caucus-goers can be the barometer for an upset, however. A month before the 2008 caucuses, which saw freshman Senator Barack Obama upset establishment favorite Hillary Clinton, 36 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers told the Iowa Poll they’d be attending for the first time. By caucus eve, that number had risen to 60 percent.

If a respected pollster is ever going to be wildly wrong in their turnout model, it’s with an X-factor candidate like Trump whose coalition is enthusiastic but hard to clearly define and therefore unpredictable. If Trump ended up edging Cruz with 35 percent on caucus night, would anyone be really, bolt-out-of-the-blue surprised?

Here’s Cruz’s on “New York values.” Exit quotation via Marco Rubio: “The bottom line is Ted is a natural born citizen. You can only be naturalized or natural-born, and he wasn’t naturalized. It’s a non-issue. If Donald [Trump] wants to spend his time talking about it, let him talk about it, but I’m going to focus on the future of this country.”