While Donald Trump has been busy these last few days fabricating and retweeting racist lies in the latest phase of his white nationalist campaign, his fellow competitor, Sen. Ted Cruz, has initiated a subtler but more consequential pivot: He has started disagreeing with Trump, about literally anything.
It was hard to tell for a while whether Cruz was running against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination or merely serving as the president of Trump’s fan club. As former presidential candidate Gov. Bobby Jindal put it in September, “Ted Cruz is clinging to Trump like a limpet to an oil tanker, hoping to suck up his votes when Trump eventually sinks.” Cruz shrewdly, and cynically, recognized early on that Trump had tapped into something visceral and real with a segment of Republican primary voters whose votes Cruz ultimately needs for himself.
While the media and several other Republican candidates expressed horror at Trump’s rhetoric toward undocumented immigrants over the summer, expecting his rhetoric to do him in by Labor Day, Cruz puckered up. “Quite a few members of this field have attacked Donald Trump. A lot of folks in the media have asked me ‘Ted Cruz, will you do the same?’ ” Cruz said in early August. “I have been glad to praise Donald Trump for speaking out boldly and brashly and for focusing on illegal immigration.” The two formally crystallized their relationship over a meeting, per Cruz’s request, at Trump Tower. The strategy allowed Cruz to maintain a reservoir of good will among Trump’s supporters, and it also kept Cruz out of Trump’s trigger-happy Twitter-rant crosshairs.