There’s a scene in the movie Gladiator in which Senator Felix advises Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix, on how to trap the Emperor’s enemies. Felix tells the Emperor, “I have been told of a certain sea snake which has a very unusual method of attracting its prey. It will lie at the bottom of the ocean as if wounded. Then its enemies will approach, and yet it will lie quite still. And then its enemies will take little bites of it, and yet it remains still.” I am reminded of that scene when I hear the frustration of many conservatives about Cruz and Rubio’s seeming reluctance to attack Donald Trump. Cruz has had a few good exchanges – including forcing Trump to admit he supports Planned Parenthood. Rubio’s just now starting to make noises against Trump. For the most part, though, they have kept their powder dry. The calls for attacking Trump began as early as late last summer, when Cruz first began to signal he wasn’t the aggressor. They have meanwhile been attacking each other relentlessly, which reminds me of a popular movie trope. Two men are imprisoned. They start to fight each other, which draws the guard’s attention. While the guard attempts to break them up, the two men surprise him, overpower him, and escape.
I want to propose a theory about this strategy that may fly in the face of a lot of conventional wisdom – if it works. If it backfires, we will, of course, have ourselves to blame. Consider, though, that Trump has received very little direct criticism – not from candidates, and not from the media. The little pressure he’s received has caused him to whine like a petulant child each time. At the last Republican debate, Trump received the most heat to date, and he did not handle it well. He attacked the audience. He attacked Jeb Bush. He attacked George W Bush. He attacked Cruz. All of the attacks were non-substantive ad hominem sputtering. In the days afterward, he whined about the RNC’s alleged mistreatment of him. Even at that debate, however, the treatment he has received has been relatively light. Following South Carolina and Nevada, I hope and pray we’re down to three or four candidates on the debate stage. That should, in theory, mean more heat for Donald Trump because there will be fewer candidates competing for debate time. If Trump’s constitution is too delicate to handle the mild blows he has received so far, he will be in for a surprise when Rubio and Cruz both do finally decide to stop attacking each other and to focus their fire on him.
Let’s hope it doesn’t prove to be too little, too late.