Ted Cruz Needs to Take Off the Gloves at Tonight’s Debate

I’m not an expert at optics, nor am I privy to the inner workings of the Cruz campaign. I am, however, a staunch supporter of [score]Ted Cruz[/score]. From the standpoint of someone on the outside, my advice is this: It’s time to take off the gloves, and throw a knockout punch.

Cruz is as clever as they come, and over the last two months, he’s managed to use a wide range of tactics against his opponents–most notably, Donald Trump. He’s deflected accusations with humor, and countered with pinpoint attack ads. The place where Cruz loses momentum is in the debates.

Cruz is a disciplined debater–and in many instances, that’s a great thing. However, there comes a time when that undiluted focus results in missed opportunities. For example, on the campaign trail, prior to the New Hampshire debate on ABC, Ted Cruz said several things about Donald Trump’s temperament and judgement, but when asked about those remarks on the debate stage, he spun.

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Trending: Fuel for Thought

DAVID MUIR: “Mr. Trump, Senator Cruz has said about you right here in New Hampshire this week ‘I don’t know anyone who would be comfortable with someone who behaves this way having his finger on the button. We’re liable to wake up one morning, and if he were president, he would nuke Denmark. That’s not the temperament of a leader to keep this country safe.'”

Trump responded with his typical spiel about winning, then Muir went to Cruz:

“Senator Cruz, you did say of Trump’s behavior this week, ‘That’s not the temperament of a leader, to keep this country safe.’ Why not?”

Cruz responded:

“Well, you know, David, the assessment the voters are making here in New Hampshire and across the country is they’re evaluating each and every one of us. They are looking to our experience, they’re looking to our knowledge, they’re looking to our temperament and judgement…”

Cruz went on to pivot to President Obama, and terrorism, adding that any of the Republicans would be better than Obama, Clinton, or Sanders. But Muir wasn’t having it.

“Senator Cruz, I did ask about Mr. Trump. You said he doesn’t have the temperament to be commander-in-chief. Do you stand by those words?”

Cruz backed off again, nearly repeating what he said just moments before:

“I think that is an assessment the voters are going to make, and they’re gonna make it of each and every one of us. They’re going to asses who is level-headed, who has clear vision, who has judgement, who can confront our enemies, who can confront the threats we face in this country, and who can have the judgement when to engage and when not to engage…”

Cruz then pivoted to foreign policy, Iran, and radical Islam.

As an avid supporter of [score]Ted Cruz[/score], and as someone who believes Donald Trump is a big-government populist who’s wildly unqualified to lead our nation, that moment was cringe-inducing. All I wanted was for Cruz to acknowledge what he said on the campaign trail, and use it.

The response I was hoping for would go something like this:

“Obviously, the comment about nuking Denmark was tongue-in-cheek, but I was making a larger point about Donald’s judgement. In that way, I absolutely stand by what I said. Personally, I do not believe he has the temperament to lead this nation. We’ve seen several prominent examples of his erratic behavior since he entered the race. That being said, it’s not up to me; its up to the voters of New Hampshire to make the call as to who has the right temperament to lead this nation, and who does not.”

That’s all I wanted.

I know there was a level of calculation and savvy in Cruz’s actual response, but now that we’ve gotten down to brass tacks, it was just too soft. At this point, I feel like Cruz is a Titan who’s wrapped himself in chains. He’s someone who’s not only capable of dispatching Trump’s attacks, but of absolutely obliterating Trump, the man, in the process.

Presumably, the game is to avoid hitting Trump in front of large audiences in order to take as many undecided anti-establishment voters as he can from the field. Because Trump has become the anti-establishment populist hero, Cruz likely believes that if he hits Trump too hard, the undecideds will gravitate toward the businessman rather than himself.

Trump is the jock everyone loves despite his awful behavior, and Cruz doesn’t want to upset the apple cart in front of an audience of millions. He can get away with it on the campaign trail because it’s small ball, but the debates are actually seen by the masses.

That was a fine strategy until recently. Now that Trump is taking daily swings at Cruz, it’s time to take off the gloves. I’m not asking for brass knuckles, just hard, precision punches.

As far as ammunition, it’s an embarrassment of riches: Trump’s attempt to use eminent domain on an elderly woman for personal gain, his effusive praise of socialized healthcare, his comment that you’ve got to be “a little establishment” to get things done, his recent interview with Greta Van Susteren in which he said “I’m capable of changing to anything I want to change to,” and his numerous, numerous flip-flops. I mean, close your eyes and toss a dart.

Friday, in response to Trump’s recent threat to sue him, Cruz told reporters:

“There’s more than a little irony in Donald accusing anybody of being nasty given the amazing torrent of insults and obscenities that come out of his mouth on any given day…Suddenly, every day he comes out with a new attack…There is a reason that Donald engages in attacks, because it’s all a smokescreen for his record.”

Tonight is another critical debate, and it’s likely Cruz’s comments regarding Trump’s threats will be brought up. If I were [score]Ted Cruz[/score]’s campaign staff, I’d be telling him to stand by what he said, and use every possible avenue to strike Trump where he’s vulnerable. I don’t want another retreat moment. It’s time to go big or go home.

According to polls, Trump has managed to carve out a significant percentage of evangelicals. I don’t know how, given…everything, but he’s done it. Perhaps it’s a kind of mass Stockholm Syndrome. Regardless, it’s time for Cruz to give up the amiable debater act that’s beginning to make me cringe, and start throwing haymakers.

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