Why GOP presidential candidates aren't attacking Trump

But a major reason they’re laying off Trump, apparently giving him a free ride in Iowa and New Hampshire so close to the first two contests on the primary calendar, is because they all want to run against him. Tearing down Trump could clear a path for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, or Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, or possibly one of the governors in the race — and all are deemed more formidable than Trump.

Indeed, with the exception of former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida lately attacking Trump verbally on the stump, the candidate facing the most paid media attacks by the most candidates and super PACs — including Bush super PAC Right to Rise USA — is Rubio. The Republican field views the senator as a dangerous long-term threat to their nomination hopes, even though he is currently running third in Iowa, second in New Hampshire and third in South Carolina.

These Republicans also dread Cruz. He’s captured the imagination of many conservative voters and assembled a well-funded, well-oiled grassroots operation that extends across the country. A Trump win in the Iowa caucuses, where Cruz leads narrowly, could blunt the Texan’s momentum. Among the front-runners, only Rubio has consistently attacked Cruz since the campaign entered a more aggressive phase late last year.

“No doubt they fear Cruz more than Trump in a two-way,” Republican strategist Brad Todd said. “There is a school of thought that Trump puts a lid on Cruz for the time being. I’m not sure that’s right but it’s a common theory.”