Locked into a dogfight for support ahead of the Feb. 1 Iowa caucus, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are bashing each other in speeches and on the airwaves with newfound fervor.
After initial calls by Republican leaders to moderate on immigration in 2013, the 2016 primary’s last stretch has come down to two top Republican presidential front-runners accusing each other of insufficient dedication to deporting the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in America.
Trump, who has spent little on advertising so far, debuted a new TV spot entitled “Clear Difference” on Friday highlighting Cruz’s effort in 2013 to pass an amendment that would strip a path to citizenship from the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” reform bill while leaving more limited legal status intact.
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The commercial features Cruz calling for reform that “allows those who are here illegally to come in out of the shadows” during a Senate hearing on the bill. Cruz has argued that his amendment was only intended to highlight Democratic “hypocrisy” on a path to citizenship and was not an explicit endorsement of legalization, which Cruz recently ruled out as a policy option.
The Cruz camp has responded by highlighting Trump’s evolution on immigration. Strange as it might seem now, Trump actually criticized 2012 nominee Mitt Romney for alienating Latino voters with a “self-deportation” immigration plan.
In a radio interview on Thursday, Cruz pointed to a tweet Trump sent in 2013 in which the billionaire said: “Amnesty should be done only if the border is secure and illegal immigration has stopped."
“Trump SUPPORTS amnesty,” Cruz said in one tweet that linked to Trump’s old comments.
At the same time, Cruz is on the air trying to open up a new attack over eminent domain, the legal procedure used to take over private property in order to build public works or private developments. Or, as Cruz’s new commercial puts it, a “fancy term for politicians seizing private property to enrich the fat cats who bankroll them.” The ad recounts how Trump unsuccessfully invoked eminent domain to try and condemn an elderly widow’s property to build a parking garage for a casino.
Opposition to eminent domain, especially for private development, runs strong within conservative and libertarian circles, and the issue gained more prominence after the Supreme Court expanded the legal doctrine in 2005’s Kelo v. New London.
Trump, for his part, reaffirmed his enthusiastic support for eminent domain on Friday.
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"Ted Cruz complains about my views on eminent domain, but without it we wouldn't have roads, highways, airports, schools or even pipelines,” he tweeted.
Both Trump and Cruz have run anti-establishment campaigns casting themselves as insurgents out to overthrow the existing party leadership. With the two inching closer to the nomination, each of them is attracting new attacks from the outside as well.
In Trump’s case, the prominent conservative publication National Review dedicated its entire latest issue to a collection of essays deriding Trump as an affront to the movement and urging Republicans to vote for someone else.
In Cruz’s case, fellow senators, many of whom have accused him of needlessly vilifying them to raise his profile with unwinnable policy fights, are speaking out against his candidacy. Some have even suggested Trump would be preferable as a nominee, despite their reservations about his own campaign.
What these critics haven’t managed to do is unite around a candidate to oppose Cruz or Trump. Possible options like Sen. Marco Rubio, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, are all locked in a tight race primarily in New Hampshire to assume that role. In the meantime, Trump and Cruz are dominating the conversation and their current sparring could be the start of a debate that determines the eventual nominee.