Cracks are showing in the long-held truce between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz as the simmering rivalry between the two candidates running atop GOP primary polls appears ready to spill into the open.
Trump has been openly warring with the entirety of the GOP presidential field — with the exception of Cruz — making the point that he’ll only go on the attack if he’s hit first.
Cruz, meanwhile, has been drafting behind Trump, openly acknowledging that it would be poor strategy for him to bash a candidate whose supporters he seeks and accusing the media of trying to arrange a “cage fight” between the two.
But there was movement on Cruz’s end Thursday, when The New York Times reported that Cruz questioned Trump’s judgment in front of donors at a closed-door fundraiser in Manhattan.
It was a soft jab that Cruz sought to soften further by calling the Times report “misleading.”
Still, Cruz did not challenge the central facts of the story, making it the furthest he’s gone toward criticizing Trump to date.
Republicans say Cruz has likely opened the door to a furious response from the Trump, the unpredictable showman who has been itching for a fight.
“Trump’s strategy has been to generate controversy, tout his standing in the polls, and go on the attack,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “With Cruz gaining on him, you can bet Trump will go after him as soon as he moves past this latest firestorm over not allowing Muslims into the country.”
The Trump campaign is not yet tipping its hand.
But Republicans say Cruz’s “judgment” jab could also be effective by framing the showman as unpredictable and erratic.
“A lot of Republicans view Trump as strong on national security issues and believe he’s a strong leader,” said O’Connell. “So by questioning his judgment, Cruz is subtly pointing out that Trump is erratic and liable to fly off the handle, which isn’t a quality people like in a leader.”