By Daniel Strauss
January 6, 2016
In recent days, Donald Trump has been airing a new complaint: Ted Cruz is getting in on his wall game.
"People are picking up all of my ideas, including Ted, who started talking about building a wall two days ago," Trump told POLITICO on Tuesday. "The fact is, they won't get it built, they don't know how to do the job and they won't get Mexico to pay for it."
"I was watching the other day. And I was watching Ted talk. And he said, 'We will build a wall.' The first time I've ever heard him say it," Trump said in a TV interview on Sunday. "And my wife, who was sitting next to me, said, 'Oh, look. He's copying what you've been saying for a long period of time.'"
"Every time somebody say we want a wall, remember who said it first," Trump groused at an event in New Hampshire on Tuesday evening. "Politicians do not give credit."
As Cruz has talked more often about building a barrier along the United States' southern border with Mexico, so too has Trump stepped up his complaints, mentioning the Texas senator's alleged intellectual theft every day this week.
But Cruz aides counter that it's their candidate, not Trump, who broached the idea of a border fence long before Trump seized the agenda on immigration by vowing to deport 11 million undocumented migrants and promising to build a "big, beautiful wall" to keep them out forever.
"He's been working on these things a long time and long before Donald Trump announced his candidacy," Cruz campaign spokesman Rick Tyler told POLITICO, pointing out that the Texas senator was a "chief opponent" of the bipartisan effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013. "We are glad that Donald Trump announced his candidacy and we are glad that Donald Trump brought a lot of attention to these issues, but it is not true to suggest that he's not been thinking about these issues and working on them for a long time."
Indeed, Cruz has backed some form of a border barrier for years — since well before Trump announced his presidential bid.
In April 2012, during a Republican primary debate for the Senate seat Cruz now holds, he was asked if he would support building a fence along the southern border. "Yes," Cruz said. "We have an illegal immigration crisis and we have to do everything humanly possible to secure the border. That means fences, that means walls."
"I think we need to use every tool humanly possible," Cruz said in a follow-up interview with Texas ABC affiliate WFAA. "I don't know the specific cost, but I guarantee you it is far less with the cost of illegal immigration in this country."
In 2013, Cruz voted in favor of an amendment by Sen. John Thune that would "require the completion of the 350 miles of reinforced, double layered fencing" along the southern border before "registered provisional immigrant status may be granted" and also the completion of "700 miles of such fencing before the status of registered provisional immigrants may be adjusted to permanent resident status." (The amendment failed.)
Back then, Trump was a Cruz fan. In January 2014, he even donated $5,000 to the senator's leadership political action committee, according to campaign finance records. "One of the reasons I like Ted Cruz so much is that he’s not controversial," he joked in February 2014 at a Republican Party dinner.
Cruz unveiled his immigration plan in November, the first plank of which is to "build a wall that works" — a suggestion that his call for more border agents, surveillance, and biometric entry-exit tracking is simply a more sophisticated version of Trump's blunt-force proposals. "The unsecured border with Mexico invites illegal immigrants, criminals, and terrorists to tread on American soil. I will complete the wall," the plan says in yet another nod to Trump.
Cruz and Trump have engaged in a delicate dance in the 2016 Republican primary. Each man has courted conservative voters outraged by illegal immigration, outlining hard-line stances that worry a GOP establishment seeking to repair the party's relations with Hispanic Americans. But they've circled each other warily, with Cruz pointedly declining to condemn Trump's provocations, and Trump in turn praising Cruz as a potential vice president.
At times, Cruz has hailed Trump as a kindred spirit, even as he's criticized him privately. In early December, he said that if he were president he would "absolutely" appoint the real estate mogul to build a border wall.
That dynamic has begun to change, however, with Cruz now leading statewide polls in Iowa, bumping Trump out of first place and provoking him to attack Cruz as "a little bit of a maniac."
Beyond its gripes about the wall, the Trump campaign has also begun questioning Cruz's record on immigration. "I find it very difficult to believe that Sen. Cruz is not going to allow individuals to come back into the country legally," Trump's campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told CNN's Jake Tapper on Tuesday.
Lewandowski also repeated his boss's suggestion that Cruz had only lately signed on to his immigration agenda: "He [Trump] brought this up the day he announced and what he has said from day one is: If we don't have a wall, we won't have a border, we don't have a country anymore."
The Cruz campaign has fought right back.
At a campaign stop in Boone, Iowa, this week, Cruz said he would "absolutely" deport all immigrants in the country illegally and knocked Trump for saying he would let back in the "really good people."
“In fact, look, there’s a difference," Cruz said of Trump. "He’s advocated allowing folks to come back in and become citizens. I oppose that."
Trump's escalating attacks, meanwhile, have prompted eye rolls in Houston. "You shouldn't be surprised when Donald Trump exaggerates anything," one Cruz adviser told POLITICO. "They're exaggerations."
On Monday, at a massive campaign rally in Lowell, Massachusetts, Cruz's wall talk was on Trump's mind.
"We will build a wall,” Trump told the crowd. “And it’s gonna be paid for by Mexico. Believe me. One hundred percent.”
But then, after again complaining that Cruz had co-opted his signature policy proposal, he tried a different tack: Touting his superior engineering expertise.
"He says, 'We're gonna build a wall,'" Trump said of Cruz. "Now, here's a good thing: He's a politician, so he wouldn't know where to start. You know, I know how to build a wall."
"I know exactly how to build a wall," he repeated. "I know the footings. I know exactly how deep they have to go. I know everything."
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