During the period when Marco Rubio and Donald Trump and Ted Cruz were slinging crude insults at each other, observers hoped that the Republican primary race had finally hit bottom and could not descend any further into the muck. We now know that that is not true. The campaign has got sleazier by the day.
First we had an anti-Trump SuperPAC send out a photograph of Trump’s wife posing nude and asking Utah voters if this was what they wanted in a First Lady. Then we had Trump lashing out saying that he would ‘spill the beans’ about Cruz’s wife and also releasing a photo of her snarling like a film gangster. Then we had Cruz calling out Trump as a coward for insulting his wife and saying that real men did not attack women. He did not exactly challenge him to pistols at dawn but the sentiment was clear.
Now comes an explosive story today in the National Enquirer about Cruz having had five mistresses, featuring lightly obscured photos of all of them, three of whom have since been identified: one as a Trump spokesperson whom I have seen many times before, another being a contributor to CNN and conservative media outlets, and a third who was the campaign manager for Carly Fiorina. (Back in October, a superPAC supporting Cruz made an unusual donation of $500,000 to a superPAC supporting Carly Fiorina’s campaign, triggering questions by the Federal Elections Commission.)
The fact that the Enquirer made such little effort to mask the identities of the women means that they would be wide open to massive defamation lawsuits if they cannot make a truth defense. So either they have the facts on their side or they have been lured into a huge trap.
What is notable is that this fighting is taking place within the Republican party and has caused vicious and open warfare between pro-and anti-Trump factions, with the former running with this new story. Some are alleging that the Cruz affairs story has been around for a long time but was suppressed and that it was initially being pushed by the Rubio campaign (remember him?) when he was still in the running and seeking to eliminate Cruz as his rival for the anti-Trump position. The story was being obscurely referenced among the cognoscenti using the Twitter hashtag #TheThing. Now that Rubio is out of the race and his supporters see Trump as the main enemy, they are trying desperately to put the brakes on the locomotive that they themselves unleashed.
The Enquirer is hardly a reliable source but when it comes to sex scandals it has claimed some notable victims in the past like Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, Tiger Woods, and John Edwards. In those cases, the mainstream media ignored the rumors until the tabloid put the story out into the open and we will see if that pattern holds here too.
So has the Republican race finally hit bottom? I wouldn’t bet on it.