SPARTANBURG, S.C.—You could see why Ted Cruz might be getting a little frustrated. So many of the voters that rightfully belonged to him were, lately, stubbornly choosing to back other candidates instead.
Donald Trump. Marco Rubio. Even—would you believe it?—Jeb Bush. Couldn’t they see they were getting it wrong? Sitting in a shiny leather armchair on the stage of a megachurch here on Wednesday, Cruz reflected on the previous Saturday’s vicious dogfight of a Republican debate, which had featured a level of personal invective between the candidates that was unusual even for a hotly contested primary.
“It was more than a little striking, on Saturday night, to see more than one of the candidates on the stage, when you brought up their record, they just turned and began yelling, ‘Liar, liar, liar!’” Cruz said, adding piously, “That is not the way political discourse should be engaged in.” This was the same Ted Cruz who had, a few hours before, held a press conference to theatrically dare Donald Trump to sue him for a commercial in which Cruz’s campaign asserted, “We cannot trust Donald Trump.” Trump’s lawyers had asked him to take it down.
Saturday’s South Carolina primary poses a crucial test for Cruz, who had hoped his win a couple weeks ago in the Iowa caucuses would give him momentum in the Southern states that are similarly loaded with conservative and religious voters. But rather than gaining ground, Cruz’s standing in recent South Carolina polls—which are hard to trust, as they are all over the place—has been static or even declining; all of them show Trump ahead by double digits, and some put Cruz in danger of losing his second-place standing. If he can’t do well here, his strategy going forward, which focuses on the other deep-South states that vote next month, will be thrown into doubt.