LAS VEGAS — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Thursday dismissed recent attempts by GOP rival Ted Cruz to paint him as increasingly cozy with the “Washington establishment,” firing back by drawing attention to Cruz’s notoriously icy relationships with his colleagues in the Senate.
“Here’s a United States senator, Republican, doesn't have the support of one other Republican senator,” Trump said during a ballroom speech here in Las Vegas at the South Point hotel and casino. "There’s something wrong there."
Trump presented himself as an aggressive dealmaker willing to work with Congress. Calling Cruz "slimy," Trump walked a fine line as he explained to the crowd that “we’ve got to get things done, folks.”
The crowd cheered intermittently as he spoke.
“I can tell you, they like me, those guys. And there’s nothing wrong with that, folks. We’ve got to make deals. We don’t want to sign executive orders, we want to make good deals,” he said. “Ronald Reagan would get along with Tip O’Neill and they’d sit down and make great deals for everybody. That’s what the country’s about.”
His comments came amid an intense push by Cruz to undermine Trump’s populist bona fides on the campaign trail. The flamboyant businessman’s steep ascent to the top of the polls, where he has remained since last summer, was fueled by a potent anti-Washington sentiment across the country. Now the two are locked in an increasingly personal feud as they battle for votes in the early nominating states, which will begin voting in February.
Trump received some cover from Cruz's characterization on Tuesday when former Alaska governor Sarah Palin gave Trump a high-profile endorsement in Iowa before joining him for several stops on the campaign trail.
"Establishment? Well, how come Sarah Palin just packed him?" Trump reminded the crowd. "You know what, there's a point at which — let's get to be a little establishment. We've got to get things done, folks," he added later.
A CNN/ORC poll released Thursday shows Trump leading Cruz 37 percent to 26 percent, a commanding lead that demonstrates the enormous energy surrounding Trump's candidacy. But political strategists remain uncertain about how the numbers will translate during the Feb. 1 caucuses. Critics have accused the Trump campaign of failing to develop a robust ground game to turn out the vote, an allegation that the campaign has dismissed and is seeking to disprove.
"Cruz is going down. He's going down. He's having a hard time. He looks like a nervous wreck,” Trump told the crowd. “He's going down. He had his moment. He had his moment. He had his moment, and he blew it.”