The New York Times got its hands on some mythical private-fundraiser tape of Republican candidate Ted Cruz speaking to a room of 70 or so people on Wednesday. In the smartphone era, private, big-money fundraisers have turned into the holy grail of campaign reporting, offering up what candidates actually think about issues, other candidates, the American people. In 2012, Mitt Romney’s campaign was stung by a surreptitiously recorded fundraiser video where Romney, in essence, called 47 percent of Americans freeloaders.* “My job is not to worry about those people,” Romney said to the $50,000 a plate crowd. “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Ted Cruz’s remarks, which the Times published a five-minute clip of on Thursday, were nowhere near as campaign-shattering as Romney’s. The clip did, however, provide some insight into Cruz’s thinking about the race and, notably, Donald Trump. The Texas senator has been noticeably reluctant to criticize his flame-throwing rival in the hopes of picking up his supporters when the flames ultimately engulf Trump’s campaign. If that was his implied campaign strategy, Cruz says it explicitly to the crowd gathered at a Madison Avenue office.
Here’s some of what Cruz had to say about Trump and Carson (via the Times):
I like and respect both Donald and Ben. I do not believe either one is going to be our nominee. I don’t believe either one is going to be our president. I think both of them, their campaigns have a natural arc. And with both of them I think gravity is pulling them down … Carson is further in that descent. You look at Paris, you look at San Bernardino, it’s given a seriousness to this race, that people are looking for: Who is prepared to be a commander in chief? Who understands the threats we face? Who am I comfortable having their finger on the button? Now that’s a question of strength, but it’s also a question of judgment. And I think that is a question that is a challenging question for both of them. So my approach, much to the frustration of the media has been to bear hug both of them, and smother them with love. People run as who they are. I believe gravity will bring both of those campaigns down, I think the lion’s share of their supporters come to us.
The Times doesn’t say who provided the recording, but the totally on-message remarks seem almost too good to be true, if you are the Cruz campaign. Cruz nudges the idea that both men lack the judgment to be commander-in-chief into the conversation, while not actually saying it. There’s certainly nothing there that would outrage a Trump or Carson supporter. It’s innocuous-enough stuff that, if it was sent out as a press release, it might slip through unnoticed. But as a hidden recording exposé? Irresistible. It makes you wonder how hidden the mic actually was.
*Correction, Dec. 10, 2015: This post originally misstated that the fundraiser recording of Mitt Romney calling 47 percent of Americans freeloaders was during the 2008 election cycle; it was during the 2012 campaign.