Trump may be angry, but Cruz is plain nasty

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — When Ted Cruz last month mocked Donald Trump’s “New York values,” it wasn’t entirely clear what he was implying.

Last week, we got a clue: For Cruz, “New York” is another way of saying “Jewish.”

At an event in New Hampshire, Cruz, the Republican Iowa caucus winner, was asked about campaign money he and his wife borrowed from Goldman Sachs. Cruz, asserting that Trump had “upward of $480 million of loans from giant Wall Street banks,” said: “For him to make this attack, to use a New York term, it’s the height of chutzpah.” Cruz, pausing for laughter after the phrase “New York term,” exaggerated the guttural “ch” to more laughter and applause.

But chutzpah, of course, is not a “New York” term. It’s a Yiddish — a Jewish — one. And using “New York” as a euphemism for Jewish has long been an anti-Semitic dog-whistle.

I followed both Cruz and Trump this past week at multiple campaign events across New Hampshire. It was, in a sense, a pleasure to see them use their prodigious skills of character assassination against each other. It was demagogue against demagogue: lie vs. lie. Both men riled their supporters with fantasies and straw men.

But there were discernible differences. Trump owned anger. Cruz, by contrast, had a lock on nastiness. Trump is belligerent and hyperbolic, with an authoritarian style. But while Trump fires up the masses with his nonstop epithets, Cruz has Joe McCarthy’s knack for false insinuation and underhandedness. What sets Cruz apart is the malice he exudes.

Cruz jokes that “the whole point of the campaign” is that “the Washington elites despise” him. But Cruz’s problem is that going back to his college days at Princeton, those who know him best seem to despise him most. Not a single Senate colleague has endorsed his candidacy, and Iowa’s Republican governor urged Cruz’s defeat, then called his campaign “unethical.”

Ben Carson, who rarely has a bad word to say about anybody in the GOP race, accused Cruz of “deceit and dirty tricks and lies” last week after the Texan’s campaign spread the false rumor during the Iowa caucuses that Carson was quitting the race. Two former rivals who also appeal to religious conservatives, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum (who endorsed Marco Rubio), have questioned Cruz’s truthfulness, too.

Sarah Palin, whose support for Cruz in 2012 got him elected to the Senate, last week denounced him after a Cruz surrogate accused her of accepting payment from Trump to back him. She, too, accused Cruz’s campaign of “lies,” a “dirty trick” and “typical Washington tactics.”

Cruz, in Nashua, slashed back at his one-time benefactor: “It seems if you spend too much time with Donald Trump strange things happen to people.” Somebody in the crowd shouted “Fire Palin!” and the audience cheered.

Iowa’s secretary of state, a Republican, issued a statement before the caucuses accusing Cruz’s campaign of “false representation” because of a mailing to voters charging them with a “voting violation” and assigning them and their neighbors’ phony grades.

After Cruz’s caucus-night skullduggery — a campaign email to supporters and a tweet by a Cruz national co-chairman suggesting Carson was quitting the race — his response continued the deception. Though he apologized to Carson, he said that “our political team forwarded a news story from CNN” and “all the rest of it is just silly noise.” But CNN said nothing about Carson dropping out.

After Trump, in his overblown way, accused Cruz of stealing the election, Cruz replied, righteously, that “I have no intention of insulting him or throwing mud.”

No? He accused Trump of “a Trumpertantrum.” He said Trump as president “would have nuked Denmark.” He said Trump “doesn’t have any core beliefs.” He mischaracterized several of Trump’s positions, saying “he wants to expand Obamacare,” that “for his entire life, 60 years, he has been advocating for full-on socialized medicine” and that Trump favors “amnesty” for illegal immigrants and “wants to deport people that are here illegally but then let them back in immediately and become citizens.” He speculated that Trump may have “billions” in loans and said the concept of repaying loans is “novel and unfamiliar to Donald.”

The misrepresentation isn’t limited to Trump. In a single speech in Nashua, he mischaracterized things said by, among others, Jimmy Carter, Chris Wallace, guests on Sean Hannity’s show, Atlanta’s mayor, Rubio and, of course, President Obama.

I asked the Cruz campaign for substantiation of several of Cruz’s accusations but received nothing. Unsurprising: Cruz’s purpose is not to inform but to insinuate.

Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist.

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