Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) released a campaign ad Thursday accusing Donald Trump of having a "pattern of sleaze going back decades."
The spot rips Trump for attempting to seize the property of an Atlantic City, N.J., woman who lived next to one of his casinos so he could create a parking lot and for his stated support for eminent domain in certain cases. Trump responded to the ad during a campaign rally in Baton Rouge on Thursday night, calling the spot "so false."
The ad tells the story of the woman, Vera Coking, who fought for years to keep her home.
"To him she was a nobody," the ad states, so Trump "schemed with Atlantic City government to force Coking from her home using eminent domain."
It then cuts to a clip of John Stossel, then an ABC News reporter, interviewing Trump, stating the businessman is bullying people and using his "cronies" in power to his advantage.
"I offered her a lot of money out of this," Trump said, pointing to his chest. "A little thing called heart."
It then cuts to a clip of Coking from the 1990s.
"Heart, he doesn’t have no heart, that man," Coking states.
Trump, it said, "bankrolled politicians to steamroll the little guy, a pattern of sleaze stretching back decades."
The ad, which was first reported by CNN, then goes on to show clips of Trump stating that he supports eminent domain, including one where Fox News's Chris Wallace asks Trump if he supports taking private property for private use. "I am for that," the ad shows Trump saying.
The ad actually truncated Trump's answer, which was:
“If somebody has a property in the middle of a 7,000 job factory, as an example, that’s going to move into the town — but they need this one corner of this property, and it’s going to provide 7,000 jobs in a community that’s dying, of which we have many in this country, Okay? I am for that," Trump said, according to a transcript of the interview.
Trump brought up the ad during his Thursday-night rally and explained to his crowd of more than 10,000 that eminent domain is a necessary practice that can make homeowners a lot of money, especially if they have a good lawyer. He urged his rally crowd not to believe any of the attack ads they see.
"Cruz today took an ad that's so false -- it's so false," Trump said. "It's difficult because I'm a legitimate person. When I see these ads -- remember, these ads are paid for by the special interests, the lobbyists and the donors, they're not paid for by these guys. They have hundreds of millions of dollars and they take these ads -- and they're vicious, and they say anything. They say anything! I just hope you don't believe the c--- because it's all c---, okay? They're lies. I mean, they're lies."
In 2012, a similar strategy proved remarkably damaging to front-runner and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. A pro-Newt Gingrich PAC, Winning the Future, launched a mini-documentary and ad campaign that attacked Romney's work at Bain Capital, interviewing workers who'd lost their jobs in turnarounds. A senior adviser to the pro-Gingrich PAC is now working for Cruz's campaign.
Eminent domain has become an unlikely front-burner issue in the presidential campaign. Cruz started attacking Trump for his support for the procedure by which the government can seize land for public projects started before the Iowa caucuses last month, when Cruz hit Trump for supporting eminent domain in front of New Hampshire voters and later released an ad citing Coking's case.
Eminent domain, the ad stated, is a "fancy term for politicians seizing private property to enroll the fat cats who bankroll them. Like Trump.”
Trump has long defended eminent domain and continued to do so on Thursday, saying that it is often necessary for the construction of hospitals, highways and the controversial Keystone pipeline, something that most Republicans support.
"That thing wouldn't go 10 feet without eminent domain," Trump said. "And remember this about eminent domain: You become rich with eminent domain... I will make you so much money. I'll give you a lawyer who is so good. You will be paid so much money."
Eminent domain has is an issue of import to many libertarian and conservative voters, and has cited ire in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, where utility companies have attempted to use eminent domain for various projects. In South Carolina, a Senate committee Tuesday approved a bill stating that eminent domain could not be used by private companies that are not defined as a 'public utility.' The bill is seen as a way to stop a company, Kinder Morgan, from buying out state property owners to build an oil pipeline.
David Weigel contributed reporting. Johnson reported from Baton Rouge, La.