Donald Trump, the billionaire loud-talker whose head resembles a half-rotted cantaloupe, phoned in to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” earlier today to discuss his bigly classy presidential campaign. The “Morning Joe” panelists did a fine job of pretending to treat Trump like a serious human politician, asking for his reaction to the Iran deal (“I could have made so much better a deal”) and once again asking him to defend his bigoted nonsense about Mexican immigrants (“I have hundreds and hundreds of Mexicans working for me. I love the Mexican people”). It was, in most ways, your standard Trump interview: irredeemably stupid.
There was, however, one interesting bit of news that Trump dropped: he confirmed that he is meeting with fellow Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz today, and he’s doing so at Cruz’s request.
TRUMP: Ted Cruz called me, and – I don’t know why I’m meeting him, to be honest. But I do have respect for him. I respect the fact that, along with a couple of others, he came out and he came out very strongly and agreed with what I said on illegal immigration. And he came out very strongly and he came out early. And I respect that. I like him. He called me, he wanted to meet, and we are going to meet. What it’s about, I have absolutely no idea.
Say what you will about Trump, he doesn’t shy away from the fact that the best way to earn his respect is to say nice things about Donald Trump. And, of course, he’s correct: Ted Cruz has been one of the few 2016 candidates to actually defend Trump for disparaging undocumented immigrants as criminals, drug dealers, and rapists. The Texas senator went on Meet the Press a couple of weeks ago and said, “I salute Donald Trump for focusing on the need to address illegal immigration.” That isn’t actually what Trump intended to do, but Cruz made it a point to recast Trump’s poisonous words in as flattering a light as possible.
Now that we know these two are going to meet – my brain isn’t quite capable of imagining what a private conversation between these two would sound like – it seems clear that Cruz is looking forward to Trump’s inevitable exit from the race and positioning himself to pick up whatever supporters Trump will still have at that point.
Trump’s recent rise in the polls has come at the expense of pretty much everyone except Jeb Bush. While Trump’s numbers have skyrocketed nationally, support for Cruz, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and others has either softened or remained static. Jeb, the relative moderate and establishment favorite, is the only major candidate whose numbers are improving alongside Trump’s. Cruz probably figures that Trump has scrambled the candidate preferences of a good number of conservative voters who favor a hardline stance on immigration, and that at least some of those voters will be up for grabs once Trump 2016 implodes.
And so he’s making nice with The Donald, endorsing his racist argle-bargle about immigrants while carefully reframing Trump’s words to make them a bit more palatable. Just this morning, as reported by MSNBC, Cruz offered yet more effusive praise for Trump while sanitizing what Trump actually said:
“One of the reasons you’re seeing so many 2016 candidates go out of their way to smack Donald Trump is they don’t like a politician that speaks directly about the challenges of illegal immigration. They don’t like a politician who speaks directly about sanctuary cities about the law enforcement and safety and security issues that are raised,” Cruz said. “Indeed, many of the politicians who are running out of their way to smack Donald Trump have for years or even decades been advocates of vocal amnesty. I for one am grateful that Donald Trump is highlighting these issues.”
I obviously can’t know what Trump and Cruz will talk about at their little confab today, but Cruz’s political interests are clear. Most candidates rightly regard Trump as a toxic liability, and they likely recall how much grief Mitt Romney took in 2012 for gladly accepting the endorsement of the nation’s chief birther conspiracist. Cruz doesn’t care about any of that. He takes pride in drawing scorn from the “elites” and will use the thoroughly justified contempt directed at him for forging an alliance with Trump to make the case that he’s being vilified for standing up to “amnesty.”