WHITEFIELD, N.H. — Ted Cruz stepped up his feud with Donald Trump on the campaign trail on Monday, giving the kind of criticisms of Trump that he's lately been giving to the press, but this time before an audience of voters.
During a town hall meeting on Monday night, Cruz characterized Trump as insincere on immigration, saying Trump "was nowhere to be found" during the battle over the Gang of 8 immigration reform bill, and brought up his support for the financial bailouts and for eminent domain.
"We were on the verge of losing this fight and 12 million people here illegally being granted amnesty," Cruz said. "Yet when that fight was being fought, Donald was nowhere to be found. If you didn’t stand up and fight amnesty when the stakes were live or die, when the stakes were do we lose this permanently or do we win, then I would suggest as voters you have reason to doubt the credibility of the promises of a political candidate who discovers the issue after he announces for president." Cruz also slipped in a jab at Marco Rubio, who was one of the Gang of 8, calling him one of the establishment Republicans "side by side proposing amnesty" with the Democrats.
Cruz said he had opposed the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and "Obama's massive stimulus plan," but "on both of those Mr. Trump supported it."
(Cruz was not in the Senate at the time TARP was passed and when the Huffington Post reported on the issue last year, there wasn't an apparent record he had publicly opposed TARP. Trump expressed support for TARP at the time.)
"Donald Trump has said he thinks eminent domain is fantastic," Cruz went on. "He supports using government power to seize private people’s homes to give them to giant corporations to, say, hypothetically build a casino."
Cruz brought up Trump all on his own; he had been asked by an audience member about the national debt. After talking about the debt, he segued to Trump and to his other rivals whom he accused of having been absent during fights over Obamacare, gun control, and immigration.
"There are many people who are observing [that] this race nationally is coming more and more down to a two-man race between me and Donald Trump," Cruz said.
The two candidates maintained a mutually beneficial detente for months, but that erupted when Trump started launching birther attacks against Cruz, hinting and then outright stating that Cruz is not eligible for the presidency because of his birth in Canada. Cruz at first tried to laugh off the attacks and blamed the media for creating an artificial conflict between him and Trump, but eventually his campaign started punching back.
The fight spilled into public view in the debate last Thursday, in the form of confrontations over the birther attacks and Cruz's "New York values" attack on Trump. Trump declared their "bromance" over and since then he has continued repeatedly attacking Cruz — his most recent jab over the weekend was that Cruz is "nasty." Cruz has largely stuck to referring to Trump in oblique terms in front of voters — for example, in New Hampshire he has called on voters to be skeptical of candidates who think they can win the state "from a TV studio in New York" — while critiquing him by name when talking to the press. That changed during Monday night's event.
Cruz is in the midst of a bus tour across New Hampshire, where according to the most recent RCP polling averages he is in fourth place and Trump is far and away in the lead. Cruz has picked up momentum in Iowa, where he is leading or even with Trump in the polls.
Despite the criticisms, Cruz insisted on Monday night he likes and respects Trump still and said he will not reciprocate Trump's "insults," but "policy differences are fair game."
Previously on Monday in a media availability in Washington, New Hampshire, Cruz had contrasted Trump with Ronald Reagan and highlighted Trump's record of donating to Democratic politicians.
"Ronald Reagan did not spend the first 60 years of his life supporting Democratic politicians advocating for big government policies," Cruz had said. "I’m pretty sure that Ronald Reagan didn’t write checks and support Democratic politicians like Andrew Cuomo, Anthony Weiner, and Hillary Clinton. I’m pretty sure Ronald Reagan didn’t write a huge check to Rahm Emanuel in December 2010."