The Slatest

Ted Cruz Can’t Wait for Donald Trump to Sue Him

Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at a campaign event on Jan. 30 in Ames, Iowa.

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

SENECA, South Carolina—In a hastily arranged press conference Wednesday morning, Ted Cruz, lawyer, brought with him a letter he’d gotten in the mail on Tuesday to share with the assembled national media. It was, in Cruz’s words, “one of the most remarkable letters I have ever read.”

It was a cease-and-desist letter from Donald Trump’s counsel demanding that the Cruz campaign take down its latest campaign ad. For those people who were “hoping for a boring campaign,” Cruz began, “this cycle has not complied in that regard.”

Which brought Cruz to describe the latest “adventure,” in which Trump is “apparently very unhappy with a television ad we’ve run.” Cruz’s team played the ad, “Supreme Trust,” on a projector screen. The ad notes that after the death of Antonin Scalia, control of the Supreme Court “hangs in the balance,” and then cuts to a now oft-shown clip of Trump on Meet the Press in 1999 saying “I am pro-choice in every respect” and adding that he would not ban partial-birth abortion.

“So, in response to that ad, yesterday, Donald’s lawyer sent our campaign and cease-and-desist letter,” Cruz went on. The letter, according to Cruz, argued that the ad “is an attempt to materially mislead the public” and “not only completely disingenuous, but replete with lies, false, defamatory and destructive statements, and downright fabrications.” It “blatantly misrepresents to the public that Mr. Trump is pro-choice, and nothing could be further from the truth.” The letter closes with a threat of “immediate legal action to prevent the continued broadcast of this ad, and to hold [Cruz] jointly and severally liable to the fullest extent of the law for any damages resulting therefrom.”

It doesn’t take much of a lawyer to recognize that there’s not much of a case here. The ad just replays a clip of Trump saying something on national television in the 1990s, before he decided that it was more politically useful to be pro-life. But Cruz happens to be one of the best lawyers in the country, and so he delighted in taking the threat apart.

“I have to say, Mr. Trump, you have been threatening frivolous lawsuits your entire adult life,” Cruz said. “Even in the annals of frivolous lawsuits, this takes the cake. So Donald, I would encourage you, if you want to file a lawsuit—challenging this ad, claiming it is defamation—file the lawsuit.” Cruz added that if Trump files the suit, it will “result in both Donald Trump and any lawyer that signs his name to the pleadings being sanctioned in court for filing frivolous litigation.”

Cruz admitted that he looked forward to the lawsuit because of the opportunities it would afford him. “One of the things I look forward to most of all is deposing Donald Trump. For that particular endeavor, I may well not use outside counsel, I may take the deposition myself.”

Trump later responded that “time will tell, Teddy,” whether he files suit over the ad or Cruz’s Canadian birth.

Cruz used the rest of the press conference to equate Trump’s strategy of calling him a “liar” every time some uncomfortable information is leveled his way to Sen. Marco Rubio’s similar strategy.

Cruz and Rubio have been tangling for some months now. But Cruz didn’t start attacking Trump until a month or so ago, and it’s not because he didn’t have any material. At just this press conference, Cruz cited Trump’s support for Planned Parenthood; his previous “pro-choice” position; the pro-choice record of his sister, federal appeals court Judge Maryanne Trump Barry; and the long list of Trump’s donations to both Democratic candidates and Democratic fundraising committees over the past decade. Cruz is only now trying to define Trump as a loose-gasket, extremely liberal, lifelong Democratic fraud. Had Cruz started this earlier instead of “bear-hugging” Trump for six months, perhaps the situation for Trump opponents in the Republican Party wouldn’t be quite as dire.

Read more Slate coverage of the GOP primary.