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Ted Cruz spotted the Trump-National Enquirer alliance in 2016

Eight years ago this month, Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) was in the waning days of his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, watching Donald Trump scoop up increasing shares of delegates on his way to becoming the presumptive nominee. At the convention that summer, Cruz earned boos for his non-endorsement of Trump — but by October was dutifully phone-banking on behalf of his erstwhile opponent. Then Trump became president and the party collapsed into line behind him, Cruz included.

This outcome would have been hard to predict in April 2016. Not only had Trump dubbed Cruz “Lyin’ Ted” — a nickname downstream from Trump’s effort to undercut his loss in the Iowa elections — but the fight between the two had been particularly nasty as the field narrowed and Cruz stuck around.

In mid-April 2016, the National Enquirer published a story alleging that Cruz’s father, Rafael, had been working with Lee Harvey Oswald in the days before Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy. This was a ridiculous claim, one Cruz brushed off. (“Yes,” he said at an event in Indiana, “my dad killed JFK, he is secretly Elvis, and Jimmy Hoffa is buried in his backyard.”) But Trump seized on it the following month after Rafael Cruz attacked him.

Cruz’s “father, you know, was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald’s, you know, being shot,” he said in an interview on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends,” mixing up the details a bit. “What was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald, shortly before the death?” he added. “Before the shooting? It’s horrible.”

That story, it turns out, ran with the blessing of Michael Cohen, Trump’s attorney-slash-fixer. That detail emerged as former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker testified in Trump’s criminal trial in Manhattan. Pecker met with Cohen and Trump in August 2015, he testified, agreeing to aid Trump’s campaign by running useful stories and killing problematic ones (like the one at the heart of the criminal indictment against Trump). The Cruz-JFK story was one product of that agreement.

Cohen would at times pitch stories, Pecker testified, and the magazine would share stories before they ran to get Cohen’s thoughts. Pecker insisted that he didn’t work with Trump on the stories; whether Trump was apprised of the stories by Cohen can be evaluated based on other evidence.

That story was the most memorable targeting Cruz. But another story, published in March 2016, was far dirtier.

“TED CRUZ SEX SCANDAL — 5 SECRET MISTRESSES” the front page of the Enquirer trumpeted. Inside, a story alleging that Cruz had been unfaithful to his wife, with alleged paramours described in broad strokes. On a CNN panel, a Trump ally accused another participant of being one of the five. She denied it categorically — since it was invented from whole cloth.

That was Cruz’s response.

“The CEO of the National Enquirer is an individual named David Pecker,” Cruz said at a campaign event. “Well, David is good friends with Donald Trump. In fact, the National Enquirer has endorsed Donald Trump, has said he must be president.” The senator lamented that his young daughters would someday “read these lies, these attacks that Donald and his henchmen, that his buddies at the National Enquirer spread” about their father.

Cruz was slightly off the mark, identifying Trump aide Roger Stone and not Cohen as the source of the story. Stone, he said, “had for months been foreshadowing that this attack was coming.” Perhaps that was a function of the story being open knowledge among Trump’s inner circle.

But otherwise, Cruz was right. Trump’s denial at the time aged less well.

“I did not know about it, and have not, as yet, read it,” Trump claimed. “Likewise, I have nothing to do with the National Enquirer and unlike Lyin’ Ted Cruz I do not surround myself with political hacks and henchman and then pretend total innocence.” He noted that the Enquirer had, in years past, occasionally broken real stories — unsubtly suggesting that this might be another such occurrence.

From the witness stand, Pecker identified other stories targeting Trump’s primary opponents in that cycle: one about neurosurgeon Ben Carson — that the doctor essentially admitted — and one making a similar claim about an alleged extramarital dalliance by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

It’s telling that the stories identified by Pecker as having been coordinated with Cohen to undermine Trump’s opponents centered on extramarital affairs. Trump’s defenders have argued that the story that is the centerpiece of the Manhattan indictment — involving Trump’s alleged interaction with adult-film actress Stormy Daniels — was buried by Cohen (after being tipped off by Pecker) as a matter of course, and not because of the campaign. Pecker, though, testified that his agreement with Cohen and Trump in August 2015 was specifically centered on the campaign. That stories about extramarital affairs were seen as ways to damage Trump’s opponents politically indicates an understanding that the Daniels story was similarly damaging.

Pecker’s testimony also theoretically provided Ted Cruz an opportunity to take an eight-year-delayed victory lap: His assessment of the involvement of Trump’s allies with the “mistresses” story was on the mark.

Unfortunately for the senator, he’s now too closely allied with Trump to actually take that victory lap. Politics, like love, is a complicated thing.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post
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