Now the campaign aims to paint the Texan as a craven insider who lacks authenticity.
The three men leading Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign were huddled in a Las Vegas war room when Ted Cruz walked into their trap.
Their candidate had been sparring with his rival on the GOP debate stage for two hours already. But when Rubio ad-libbed an interrogation of Cruz’s past position on legalizing undocumented immigrants, they knew the Texas senator wouldn’t be able to contain himself.
“I have never supported legalization, and I do not intend to support legalization,” Cruz declared.
In that moment, Rubio campaign manager Terry Sullivan, top adviser Todd Harris and communications director Alex Conant recognized what they’d accomplished because they’d been planning this exchange all along. Not only had Cruz just contradicted his own statements from 2013, he’d used words that gave them the opening they had been wanting to turn their rival’s anti-establishment narrative on its head.
Joe Pounder, the GOP opposition research guru who recently joined Rubio’s campaign, was sitting back in Washington on a stockpile of quotes and video clips of Cruz’s 2013 statements. And they didn’t even have to talk about it.
The decision was made: It’s time to launch.
Immediately, the campaign readied a response that was months in the making. Donors’ inboxes rang with emails recapping the exchange with Cruz, while reporters received opposition research backing up Rubio’s claim that Cruz had shifted his position. And the next morning, Rubio appeared on Fox News and seized on the ambiguity Cruz had left him.
Cruz went hours before responding during a news conference in California. Then he appeared Wednesday evening on Fox News and stammered as he struggled to square his support for his own 2013 amendment, which scrapped the bill’s full pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants but left open a path to legal status, with his current statement that he’s never supported legalization.
By Eli Stokols for Politico.com.
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