Cruz Stays Above the Fray as Rivals Attack

Cruz Stays Above the Fray as Rivals Attack
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BOONE, Iowa — With less than a month until Iowa kicks off presidential primary voting, direct attacks among Republican candidates have swelled into a messy food fight — but one leading candidate has remained conspicuously on the sidelines.

“I’m going to keep my focus on a positive, optimistic message for this country,” Ted Cruz told reporters here on Monday before kicking off a six-day bus tour that will take him to 28 counties in the Hawkeye State.

Cruz emerged last month as the new frontrunner in Iowa, overtaking Donald Trump, and he has recently polled well across other key primary states. But just as the surge has put him in a strong position for the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1, it has also made him a prime target: Rick Santorum released an ad this week suggesting the Texas senator is unserious, while Carly Fiorina said Sunday that Cruz “says whatever he needs to say to get elected.”

Amid this political crunch time, the fresh jabs have hardly been limited to Cruz. In New Hampshire, Chris Christie has recently sharpened his attacks on Marco Rubio, including his attendance record in the Senate. Jeb Bush has continued to target Trump, who continues to take aim at everyone.

Cruz, however, appears determined on his bus tour to only challenge his adversaries in the abstract — whether dismissing them generally as creatures of Washington or, as in an interview Monday with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, saying that they “have suddenly discovered illegal immigration as an issue.”

Cruz has been able to stay above the fray in part because his allies have taken a more aggressive and personal tone on his behalf. An ad released this week by the pro-Cruz Keep the Promise super PAC cast Rubio as a fantasy football devotee in the face of threats from ISIS. The Florida senator, like Cruz, has also favored leaving negative hits to outside groups, as with an ad released this week hitting Christie in New Hampshire.

This distancing from negative attacks, however small, has freed up Cruz to trumpet a theme of unity on the campaign trail, where he warned Monday against conservatives becoming “splintered and fighting amongst ourselves.”

“The month of January, you all are going to see millions of dollars of attack ads. Millions of dollars of money from Washington trying to separate and divide us,” Cruz warned an audience in Guthrie Center.

But even as Cruz refrains from swinging directly at others, he has eagerly fashioned incoming attacks into a momentum narrative.

“Just a few weeks ago, almost every candidate in the Republican field was attacking Donald Trump,” he observed during the Hannity interview. “Today almost every candidate in the Republican field is attacking me. I guess that suggests something has changed in this race.”

Cruz assured Hannity he would “not focus on the mudslinging” as the attacks multiply.

“Just focus on telling the truth with the smile,” Cruz said.

Rebecca Berg is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at rberg@realclearpolitics.com.

 

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