WAUKON, IA— Businessman Donald Trump taunted fellow Republican candidate, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, over his eligibility to be president and professed bafflement that he’s not beating him in Iowa polls, as a delicate detente between the two became ever more frayed.
The race is intensifying with just over three weeks remaining before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses lead off the state-by-state nominating contests. Trump leads Cruz by double digits in national polls, but the Texas senator leads in some Iowa polls, which could give him a boost heading into the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary.
With Trump in Iowa for the first time in the new year, Iowans were seeing a sharp contrast between the grinding Iowa campaign of Cruz — whose five stops Saturday completed a six-day, 28-event bus tour — and the splashy mega-rallies that have become as much Trump’s brand as his gilded hotels. Both have attracted overflow crowds: Trump at large halls and stadiums; Cruz in countless coffee shops, convenience stores, churches and diners.
Cruz, who has long maintained there is no issue with his Canadian birth since his mother was a U.S. citizen, repeated Saturday that “the laws and facts are quite straightforward.” The Constitution says only a “natural born citizen” may be president. Legal scholars generally agree the description covers foreign-born children of U.S. parents. Cruz renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2014.
“You can’t have a person running for office, even though Ted is very glib and he goes out and he says, ‘Oh, well, I’m a natural born citizen.’ The point is, you’re not,” Trump said during a rally Saturday in Clear Lake, Iowa.
“I mean, you’ve got to get a declaratory judgment, you have to have the courts come up with a ruling or you have a candidate who just cannot run because the other side will immediately bring suit and you’ve got that cloud on your head.”
The comments were the latest sign that the delicate detente between the Texas senator and reality TV star on display last year has been shattered as Cruz appears to have jumped ahead of Trump in Iowa, where he has gained some key endorsements from social conservatives and solidified his support among the key evangelical voting bloc. Cruz has also built a strong ground game to get his supporters to show up at the caucus meetings.
“I understand that a lot of candidates in the field are dismayed. They’re dismayed because they’re seeing conservatives uniting behind our campaign,” Cruz told reporters Saturday night before the final campaign stop of his six-day swing through Iowa. “As that happens you’re seeing candidates trying to throw whatever rocks they can. That’s fine, that’s their prerogative. I like Donald Trump, I respect Donald Trump, he’s welcome to toss whatever attacks he wants.”
Trump late last year began efforts to undermine Cruz, questioning the senator’s religion and accusing him at recent events of stealing his idea to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The intensity escalated this past week when Trump questioned whether the Canadian-born Cruz was eligible to be president.
On Saturday, Trump lashed out at Cruz on multiple fronts at a rally in Ottumwa, expressing bafflement that he’s not beating Cruz in Iowa polls to a packed, 665-person capacity auditorium, with many more voters crowded into an overflow room.
“The polls are essentially tied. I don’t get it,” Trump said in the first of several references to Cruz.
Up until now, Cruz has been careful not to take on Trump directly, hoping to attract Trump supporters should the political newcomer’s campaign implode. But he appeared to offer a counterpunch on Friday, when he suggested that Trump wasn’t devoting the time and energy to wooing Iowa voters that history shows is needed to win.
“I believe the only way to compete and win in the state of Iowa is to come and spend the time asking the voters for their support. Looking them in the eye,” Cruz told supporters.
While Trump’s style marks a break from tradition, his campaign says he’s able to reach far more potential voters than candidates at smaller events can do.
Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said earlier in the week that Trump has a series of stops planned for the next three weeks leading to the caucuses, including multiple overnight stays.
“Next couple of weeks, I’m going to be seeing you so much that you’re going to be so sick of me,” Trump said in Clear Lake.
SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press
JILL COLVIN, Associated Press