It has become trite, in a way, to note that South Carolina has a reputation for dirty politics. Nasty things happen when presidential candidates compete in the Palmetto State. We know.
What's stood out about this cycle is not that the attacks have been particularly vicious -- certainly, by South Carolina's standards -- they haven't. It's that one campaign seems to be originating much of them.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and his allied super PACs are responsible for a solid chunk of the mud being slung. And in the process of doing so, they are relying on standard cultural flashpoints that have moved conservative voters in the past.
To wit, a super PAC supporting Cruz has gone after Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump for supporting the removal of the Confederate battle flag on state grounds. His campaign has also put out a robocall attacking Trump for being overly supportive of LGBT rights and equality. Cruz's team has pushed out mailers that seemingly darken Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) skin while tying him to President Barack Obama (they're literally pictured split faced) on trade legislation. Cruz has also attacked Rubio for employing campaign aides who are supportive of gay marriage.
And this is just the reported and confirmable stuff. Trump has, additionally, accused Cruz of launching a robocall campaign against him, which Cruz has denied. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), said that Cruz's team put up a fake Facebook page making it appear as if the Congressman had retracted his endorsement of Rubio. The Texan senator, again, denied responsibility. And on Saturday -- election day -- Rubio's campaign claimed that Cruz's camp was robocalling South Carolinians to tell them that the Florida senator was leaving the race.
"The calls claim that based on this, Marco was cutting his campaign short and dropping out," a Rubio aide told The Huffington Post. There is no evidence, as of now, that this is true.
Certainly, Cruz is not the only candidate in the race using nefarious tactics to help his cause. And, in fact, there is a chatter among operatives that other campaigns (mainly, Rubio's) are deliberately overstating if not outright distorting Cruz's avarice, since, after all, who wants to vote for such an unquestionably dirty trickster? Cruz's press secretary made, essentially, this case.
"Rubio’s tactics continue to stoop lower and lower," his spokeswoman Catherine Frazier told HuffPost. "He’s making false accusations against Ted Cruz to distract voters and press from asking him about his own liberal record because he’s unable to defend it on the substance."
Frazier also noted that the campaign can't coordinate with the super PAC, which, she argued, made it unfair to tar the former for the actions of the latter.
But there is something to still glean from Cruz's role in these squabbles. The man has a few less scruples than the competition and a touch more chutzpah. Just take the attacks he's launched on the competition over their support for LGBT rights.
Cruz himself employs people supportive of gay marriage, despite frowning on Rubio for doing the same. And when he appeared at a New York fundraiser in December, he privately assured a Republican gay rights supporter that he wouldn't fight hard to outlaw same-sex marriage.
The Texan's reputation for talking out of both sides of his mouth had, prior to this presidential run, earned Cruz the indignation of this Senate colleagues. Now that it's been filtered through a presidential campaign, it's driven the competition mad.
On Friday, it was reported that Cruz and Ben Carson held a meeting to mend hurt feelings over a robocall that Cruz's team had spearheaded on the day of the Iowa Caucus telling voters that the neurosurgeon was dropping out. Carson is the most soft-spoken and mellow of the Republican candidates in the field, the one who has built his appeal on tampering down the rancor in D.C. But even he wasn't in the forgiving mood.
It “did not go well," a Carson campaign official told The Daily Beast.
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