Until recently, Ted Cruz was enjoying a good New Year. He’s been rising in the national polls and has a small but durable lead in Iowa, where the first contest of the 2016 primary will be held. The success of Donald Trump has made Cruz a more plausible figure, for those in the party who want to harness Trump’s popular appeal but are wary of the risks that come with handing over control of the party to a loud mouth and demagogue. Although Cruz is one of the most right-wing political figures in America and widely distrusted by his own party, in comparison to Trump the Texas senator is a venerable statesman. The fact that Trump and other rivals are attacking Cruz on his Canadian citizenship could also be seen as a good sign, since it means the other campaigns are afraid of him.
But with yesterday’s revelations that Cruz had failed to properly disclose a loan from Goldman Sachs during his 2012 Senate bid, Cruz has given his enemies a sword they can wield against him with great effectiveness.
Cruz’s strategy all along has been to fly under the radar, to attach himself to the winning slogans of Trump and not pick fights with anyone. The idea was that Trump would finish off the establishment candidates and leave Cruz as the only viable alternative. But with both his recent rise in the polls and the Goldman Sachs revelations, Cruz can’t lie low anymore. He’s become a much bigger target. There’s every reason to think the other candidates will go after him with gusto in the debates tonight.
By themselves, the Goldman Sachs revelations are a minor and technical infraction, more a matter of incorrect bookkeeping than corruption. But they hurt Cruz in particular ways. Cruz has crafted an image of himself as an outsider, the enemy of Wall Street bailouts and backroom deals with the big banks. Simply putting Cruz’s name and Goldman Sachs (where his wife works) in the same sentence hurts his brand.
Cruz recently criticized Trump for embodying “New York values.” The idea was that Cruz represented the traditionalist heartland, whereas Trump was a pushy and grubby product of the decadent East. But with this news that Cruz’s political career was so heavily underwritten by the investment banking firm whose name is virtually synonymous with Wall Street, it is hard for Cruz to keep presenting himself as the antithesis of “New York values.”
Finally, Cruz’s now blaring connections to Goldman Sachs presents an ideal opportunity for Trump to return to a favorite theme. Throughout his maverick run for the Republican nomination, Trump has reiterated the fact that since he is rich he isn’t beholden to donors. “I don’t need anybody’s money,” has been a constant refrain.
The flipside is that Trump isn’t shy about calling attention to the fact that his rivals are all dependent on big money donors. Or as Trump tweeted in August:
Trump is now in a perfect position to argue that Cruz is the biggest puppet of all, with strings that are being pulled by Goldman Sachs.
Tonight’s debate will be a major test for Cruz: Does he have the agility to fend off the attacks that Trump and others are likely going to launch? If Cruz does manage to parry these assaults and win in Iowa, he will go a long way in showing he has the mettle to become the Republican nominee.