COLUMBIA — Feuding in the Republican presidential primary kicked up a notch Wednesday when Sen. Ted Cruz responded to a cease-and-desist request from Donald Trump’s camp asking him to stop airing a TV ad with a blunt call of “file the lawsuit.”
Cruz told reporters the letter accused his campaign of misleading the public in a commercial that includes older footage of Trump saying he is “very pro-choice.”
“The letter said this attack ad, as they called it, is not only completely disingenuous but replete with lies, false defamatory and destructive statements and downright fabrications,” Cruz said during a press conference in Seneca, according to a CNN video.
Cruz said the letter threatened to sue him if the campaign doesn’t remove the ad.
“I have to say, that, Mr. Trump, you have been threatening frivolous lawsuits for 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 as defamation, file the lawsuit.”
The spat is a continuation of the bad blood between the two front-runners in the South Carolina race. While campaigning Tuesday, Trump repeatedly questioned Cruz’s truthfulness.
“I’ve never seen a human being lie so much,” Trump said.
Trump said during a press conference earlier this week that he would sue to challenge Cruz’s citizenship if the senator did not pull his “false” television ads. Cruz was born in Canada to an American mother and Cuban father. Cruz has maintained that Trump’s only response to challenges of his record is to accuse his opponents of lying.
Political scientist Karen Kedrowski said it is highly unusual for a candidate to respond to an attack ad by threatening to sue, especially since there are higher standards for proving libel or slander against a celebrity or public figure.
“I would say that suing doesn’t even enter the conversation,” she said. “The typical strategy is to answer the attack and make a counterattack. In prior campaigns you end up with mudslinging and it just spirals from there.”
But Kedrowski, dean of the college of arts and sciences at Winthrop University and co-director of the school’s John C. West Forum on Politics and Policy, said nothing about Trump’s campaign has followed political norms.
“Trump’s campaign seems to defy the rules that we would expect in political campaigns,” she said. “For him to call (the ad) libel or slander, that would be a really hard sell. And frankly I don’t think Trump is thinking about a lawsuit to win. He’s thinking about it as a distraction — a campaign tactic.”
The Cruz campaign issued a statement Wednesday saying the ad is “accurate and factual, whether Mr. Trump and his army of lawyers agree or not.”
Cruz plans “to air the ad with greater frequency,” according to the release.
Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.