Ted Cruz’s strategy for winning the Republican presidential nomination is becoming clearer by the day.
The Texas senator continues to march toward primary season methodically cobbling together the segments of GOP voters, winning endorsements and rising at the polls particularly in Iowa.
But his increased appetite for taking on Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), as well as his repeated resistance to taking the gloves off with Donald Trump, sheds light on the senator’s fourth-quarter strategy.
“This week was probably his best week,” Ford O’Connell, an unaffiliated Republican strategist, said, noting the endorsement of major Iowa evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats, who has backed the last two Iowa caucus winners.
And for the first time since June, Cruz overtook front-runner Donald Trump in three Iowa polls over the past seven days, adding to his momentum in the early voting state.
But as his numbers and profile continue to rise, Cruz has deepened his feud with Rubio, who has also seen a rise in polls and profile, through barbs in the media, in dueling statements, and through surrogates.
O’Connell said that their “inner squabble” is a big deal as far as who can emerge as Trump’s biggest foil even though the “differences between them are so minute.”
“Rubio wisely figured out that national security would be his ticket to the nomination, and with events lining up the way they are lining up, it was a very smart play. Cruz sees that and wants to find a way to tamp down Rubio,” he said.
He added that the increasing emphasis on national security could be “extremely dangerous for Cruz—that’s why he’s busy…mitigating these attacks.” Cruz repeatedly brings up Rubio’s past support of a pathway to citizenship and casts him as a member of the party’s establishment that have failed to win the White House over the last eight years.
“Cruz has completely changed his M.O,” O’Connell said.
“In Washington, he’s always standing up and making spectacles on the Senate floor. Now that he’s running for president, he’s trying to paint the exact opposite of how he’s acted in Washington.”