Cruz Drags His Lectern Next to Trump’s — and Steps Into His Sights

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 9.29.51 AMMAGGIE HABERMAN

Monday, December 14, 2015

 

Good Monday morning. Both parties have debates this week, though the Democratic candidates have a few more days to prepare for theirs. The Republican lineup has been finalized, the stage arrangements have been rearranged, and the candidate who has held center stage since the first forum may be feeling some new heat from his flank.

Donald J. Trump and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas were on a collision course in the Republican primary even before CNN announced podium positions for Tuesday’sdebate in Las Vegas. Thanks to Mr. Cruz’s surge in polls, the two men will be standing at lecterns next to each other.

Mr. Cruz, after privately raising questions about Mr. Trump’s judgment at a fund-raiser, has done nothing but heap praise on his rival ever since. Mr. Trump has been less magnanimous since learning of Mr. Cruz’s critique. Among other barbs as two new polls show Mr. Cruz moving ahead of Mr. Trump in Iowa, Mr. Trump described Mr. Cruz as behaving like a bit of a “maniac” in his often-heated criticisms of Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader. Mr. Cruz, at the fund-raiser, described his approach to both Mr. Trump and Ben Carson as giving both a “bear hug.”
(On Sunday evening, Mr. Trump posted on Twitter that, in essence, Mr. Cruz had been behaving politically by raising doubts about him in private and then denying it; Mr. Cruz responded with a clip from the movie “Flashdance” set to the song “Maniac.”)
Things are likely to get even more awkward when they are standing side by side with millions watching. And Mr. Trump could amplify attacks on Mr. Cruz over issues like immigration in ways no other candidate can. Nonetheless, Mr. Cruz has durable popularity with conservatives and with the Tea Party faction, and he may be more difficult to slay with insults than other opponents in the race.
That political dynamic is being watched closely from across the aisle by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, which views Mr. Trump as an unlikely nominee but a hard-to-predict factor in the race. Many of Mrs. Clinton’s advisers say they believe that Mr. Cruz is the most likely nominee, according to people briefed on their views. That idea is not unanimous, but it is prevailing, and, as Politico reported, it is said to be the view of Bill Clinton, among others.
But even discussing that view, as have two of Mrs. Clinton’s allies — David Brock, who runs a “super PAC” that is coordinating with the campaign, and John D. Podesta, her campaign chairman — could also have the effect of minimizing Senator Marco Rubio, whom her campaign views as a more formidable general election rival than Mr. Cruz, but who has not yet gained serious traction in any early states.