Ted Cruz is a great guy. As Trump would say, he’s terrific. One-on-one, there may be no better conservative politician in America. I’m being totally serious. If you were to walk up to Ted Cruz and have a conversation with him, by the end you’d make up your mind. As a conservative, you would probably support him because he’d convince you of his arguments.
Unfortunately, as much as he’d like to, Cruz can’t talk one-on-one with every voter. So he relies on messaging. The message he’s selected is “TRUSTED,” emphasis on the Trust and also on the Ted. It’s a powerful message for those who believe what Ted believes.
But it doesn’t communicate what Ted believes, only that he should be trusted. And that left him wide open on the blind side for attack. It took the focus off issues and put it on the candidate. Cruz’s rivals have exploited the message and turned it back on him. The crux of the attack is that no, you cannot trust Ted.
In order to win the nomination, Cruz has to dominate the field, and “put a relentless beat down on Trump” for the rest of the campaign. Trump’s not going to allow that, by deflecting the heat onto Cruz and the way his campaign is being run.
And every time you see Ted standing in front of his “TRUSTED” background, it will remind voters to ask the question “should I trust Ted?” Imagery is powerful, and Trump, Carson, and Rubio have deeply planted this question into undecided voters’ heads.
Cruz has a tough fight ahead of him.
The interests line up in such a way that he has to fight a two-front war against Rubio and Trump. He can either fight it out and probably lose or not fight it out and definitely lose. The only way Cruz wins now is if he leaves a smoking crater where Trump used to be, while holding off Rubio. It is as simple as that.
There’s an air of dirty tricks surrounding the Cruz campaign now, and if he doesn’t act quickly, it will poison his chances. South Carolina was a small heart attack signaling a fatal one.
“Tonight, despite millions of millions of dollars of false and nasty attacks, despite the entirety of the political establishment coming together against us, South Carolina has given us another remarkable result,” he declared.
But one of the more problematic upshots of the past ten days for Cruz could be that it has crystallized a new line of attack that will continue to dog him as he moves on: the perception that he is a “liar” campaigning on a dishonest premise.
For Cruz, who pitches himself as the candidate voters can trust to uphold conservative principles no matter what — he spoke Saturday night, as he often does, in front of a large “TRUSTED” logo — it’s a line of attack that could do him damage.
“Cruz’s opponents, at this point, are looking to cut into the central narrative of his campaign,” says Joel Sawyer, a South Carolina Republican consultant not aligned with any campaign. “The central narrative of the Cruz campaign is, ‘Yeah, these other guys might be conservative, but I’m the most consistent conservative’. And his opponents are opening up a new line of attack on his integrity that really goes beyond the issue and tries to cut into the central narrative.”
That attack is particularly damaging because it echoes the sentiment among many Republicans that Cruz is very much a political animal, willing to say or do whatever it takes to win.
That’s bad. In states where the undecided count is high, in a three-man race, evangelicals are wavering. If Cruz can’t carry them, he’s finished.
It’s time for Cruz to tell everyone why we should trust Ted, and get rid of the negative imagery. And the sooner the better (as in, today).