Increasingly desperate and facing a likely loss in Indiana, Ted Cruz told everyone exactly what he thinks of likely Republican nominee Donald Trump at a news conference in the Hoosier State this morning. The senator from Texas called Trump a "narcissist," a "pathological liar" and a "philanderer" — among other things — and cast Tuesday's Republican presidential primary as a moral choice between good and evil.
Cruz's kitchen-sink strategy won't work — for one very specific reason.
Trump has effectively turned Cruz into "Lyin' Ted" in the eyes of lots and lots of Republican primary voters — in Indiana and everywhere else. From the rope-line confrontation Cruz had with Trump supporters in Indiana on Monday, to cable coverage and focus groups, it's clear that the "Lyin' Ted" nickname has very much caught on.
That's Cruz's fault, not Trump's.
Remember back to the fall for a moment. (It seems sooooooo long ago.) Cruz went OUT OF HIS WAY to praise Trump and to avoid attacking him: "I'm very glad that Donald Trump's being in this race has forced the mainstream media finally to talk about illegal immigration," Cruz said in the second Republican debate. "I think that's very important."
He tweeted this gem out in December.
The Establishment's only hope: Trump & me in a cage match.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) December 11, 2015
And then there was this: "I've sung his praises. He's bold, he's brash, and I think the support he's gaining right now in the polls is because people are looking for someone willing to stand up to Washington."
The reason Cruz played nice with Trump then was patently obvious to anyone with even a passing knowledge of how politics works: Cruz thought Trump would eventually flame out and wanted to make sure he was in position to scoop up all of the former Trump voters. Playing nice — even when Trump was questioning his ability to be president because he was born in Canada — made perfect political sense for Cruz.
Then Trump didn't go away. In fact, he just kept winning states and, in so doing, knocked out all of the other serious candidates — leaving only Cruz standing. Which meant that it was time for Cruz to switch strategies. And he did — quickly shifting into "attack Trump" mode as winter turned to spring.
Trump, smartly, wouldn't let Cruz pivot without making him pay a political price. "Lyin' Ted" was born — a way to cast Cruz as someone who espouses piety ("Bible held high") and consistency but, in fact, is nothing more than another shifty politician.
It worked. And worked, and worked, in large part because Cruz's shift on Trump — from daring to devil — was so transparent. He loved him two months ago. And hates him now. What changed? Trump is no more a narcissist or serial liar or philanderer today than he was last fall when Cruz went out of his way — again and again and again — to praise him. That's a tough pill to swallow even for people who are supporters of Cruz.
The roots of what everyone expects to happen tonight in Indiana — a Trump win — began to grow months ago when Cruz, short-sightedly, refused to say what he really thought of Trump. Doing so today is way too little and way too late to save Cruz's chances in the Hoosier State and maybe in the race. The blame for that reality lies with Ted Cruz and no one else.