His no-nonsense attitude has catapulted his campaign to the top of polls and has shaken up the Republican establishment.
But billionaire Donald Trump’s latest efforts to prove Senator Ted Cruz is not eligible to be president have many political analysts scratching their heads.
They’re warning that Trump is creating a sideshow that may end up generating sympathy for Cruz — and that Trump could face embarrassment as Cruz’s eligibility status is confirmed.
Undaunted, Trump continued to taunt Cruz over his eligibility on Saturday in Iowa.
“You can’t have a person running for office, even though Ted is very glib and he goes out and he says, ‘Oh, well, I’m a natural born citizen.’ The point is, you’re not,” Trump said during a rally in Clear Lake.
“I mean, you’ve got to get a declaratory judgement, you have to have the courts come up with a ruling or you have a candidate who just cannot run because the other side will immediately bring suit and you’ve got that cloud on your head.”
While Trump has created interesting debate around Cruz’s status, the chances of Cruz being declared ineligible are essentially zero. While Cruz was born in Canada, his mother was a U.S. citizen and most legal scholars are in consensus that this makes him a natural-born citizen under U.S. law.
“The laws and facts are quite straightforward,” Cruz, said, brushing aside Trump’s criticism.
“I understand that a lot of candidates in the field are dismayed. They’re dismayed because they’re seeing conservatives uniting behind our campaign,” Cruz told reporters Saturday night before the 28th and final campaign stop of a six-day swing through Iowa. “As that happens you’re seeing candidates trying to throw whatever rocks they can. That’s fine, that’s their prerogative. I like Donald Trump, I respect Donald Trump, he’s welcome to toss whatever attacks he wants.”
The comments were the latest sign that the delicate detente between the Texas senator and the billionaire businessman on display last year has been shattered as Cruz has jumped ahead of Trump in some polls in Iowa, which holds its leadoff caucuses Feb. 1.
Trump late last year began efforts to undermine Cruz, questioning the senator’s religion and accusing him at recent events of stealing his idea to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The intensity escalated this past week when Trump questioned whether the Canadian-born Cruz was eligible to be president.
But conservative pundits are concerned that Trump is missing a larger opportunity to hit Cruz on issues like his opposition to ethanol subsidies, which is a hot-button in Iowa.
Up until now, Cruz has been careful not to take on Trump directly. But he appeared to offer a counterpunch on Friday, when he suggested that Trump wasn’t devoting the time and energy to wooing Iowa voters that history shows is needed to win.
“There is an Iowa way of campaigning and deciding caucuses,” Cruz told supporters packed into a basement of a pizza restaurant in Decorah. “I believe the only way to compete and win in the state of Iowa is to come and spend the time asking the voters for their support. Looking them in the eye.”
“You come here, you have the humility to stand before the men and women of this state and answer your questions,” he said in a Charles City coffee shop Friday when the question came up again.
With Trump in Iowa for the first time in the new year, Iowans were also seeing a sharp contrast between the grinding Iowa campaign of Cruz and the splashy mega-rallies that have become as much Trump’s brand as his gilded hotels. Both have attracted overflow crowds: Trump at large halls and stadiums; Cruz in countless coffee shops, convenience stores, churches and diners.
While Trump’s style marks a break from tradition, his campaign says he’s able to reach far more potential voters than candidates at smaller events can do.
The Associated Press contributed to this story