Donald J. Trump, the bullying billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-show mogul who is somehow the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, has long had a habit of frequently threatening and oftentimes even filing frivolous lawsuits against anyone who gets in his way. This time he’s making the threats against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is suddenly challenging Trump’s front-runner status, but Cruz seems an unpromising target for such slip-and-fall-lawyer legal tactics.
There’s a reason, after all, that Cruz’s many Democratic detractors prefer to portray him as evil rather than stupid. Cruz is a graduate of almighty Harvard’s oh-so prestigious law school, where even such leftist professors as Alan Dershowitz and Laurence Tribe acknowledged his brilliance. Only the most brilliant law students find work as Supreme Court clerks, and Cruz stood out among them as a trusted clerk of the great Chief Justice William Rehnquist. During a brief exile from politics Cruz earned millions as an associate at one of the country’s most prestigious firms, which by Trump’s bottom-line standards suggest some legal acumen. Upon his voluntary pay-cut return to public service as the state of Texas’ Solicitor General, he was mostly victorious in his nine arguments before the Supreme Court, and even in defeat earned a reputation as a formidable lawyer that is now begrudgingly acknowledged by the likes of Politico and The New York Times.
Cruz also relishes the same politically-incorrect and anti-establishment tough guy reputation that has somehow propelled a bullying billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-show mogul such as Trump to front-runner status, so he would seem especially unlikely to cower in the face of some frivolous threat. Sure enough, Cruz’s Wednesday press conference could be aptly summed up by Clint Eastwood’s pithier “Go ahead, punk, make my day.“
In response to one of those cease-and-desist letters that well-lawyered people are always sending out to easily-bullied types these days, Cruz defiantly insisted he would not cease nor desist from airing a campaign commercial that showed some old footage of Trump telling one of his constant interviewers that he had “New York values” about a wide range of social issues, up to and including late-term and even partial-birth abortion, which is to say values that are in many cases in conflict values of the electorate in the upcoming South Carolina primary. Trump’s claim is that the commercial is slanderous, and try as we might we can’t quite surmise his argument why. The closest we ever got to an argument before the highest court in the land was running briefs between offices during a delightful teenaged summer as Supreme Court messengers, but even we know that the truth is always an absolute defense against a slander charge, and we spent enough time in the newspaper business to know that the thank-God-for-it Sullivan decision sets an extraordinarily high standard of proof for slander against any public figure, which allows us even from our humble internet porch to poke unremitting fun at the likes of the thin-and-orange-skinned and ridiculously coiffed Donald J. Trump, so we expect that the more knowledgeable-about-these-things Cruz will quickly prevail in the courts.
Cruz also seem undaunted by Trump’s threat to challenge his eligibility to serve as President of the United States unless some groveling apology for all disagreements was forthcoming. Although Cruz was admittedly born in Canada, as well as he can recall, and although his father was a naturalized citizen who had fled a dictatorship in Cuba, his mother was a natural born citizen who had lived the requisite number of years in the country, and that’s good enough for the Illinois election board, and we expect that most Americans will also be satisfied. We note that Trump hasn’t yet filed suit, whatever standing he might have, or whatever lawyers he might hire to find some, and further note that he’s willing to let this matter of constitutional law drop if he gets an honor-satisfying apology.
There’s also the problem that Trump would be deposed on video after filing suit, and that Cruz has indicated interest in doing the honors himself, and that it wouldn’t go according to World Wrestling Entertainment rules.
Perhaps this will be prove another one of those brilliant maneuvers that Trump has made on his way to front-runner status. Trump does have considerable legal experience of his own, after all, after two divorces and one post-divorce lawsuit regarding a decree that the party of the second part never say anything bad about him, as well as at least 169 federal lawsuits that he brought against others or were brought against him, including one suit against two fellows named Trump for doing business in their family name, which alleged that Trump’s Trump trumped all other Trumps’ Trump, even though the defendants’ family had been using the name longer than Trump’s family, and there was the successful lawsuit brought by the Justice Department for anti-trust violations, and the ongoing lawsuits by the New York State Attorney General and a lot of disgruntled students over the scam Trump University, as well as all the nuisance suits that billionaires attract, so maybe he knows what he’s doing. If so, we’ll be intrigued how it plays out. Trump can make good on his threat to have an opponent’s political advertisement banned by the government, and it will cost Cruz some campaign funds to deal with it and fringe media that openly support Trump will be gleeful about, but the case will be quickly laughed out of court and pilloried in the press and laughed at on all the late night comedy shows, and for one brief news-and-joke cycle Cruz won’t be the butt of the jokes. Trump’s “birther” bit has about as much chance of knocking Cruz out of the race as it did of knocking Barack Obama out of the presidency, and we notice that he hasn’t filed that suit yet.
Trump could back off his threats, with some blustery explanation about how he won again, because he always wins, and so he couldn’t have lost, and perhaps that will satisfy his fans. We’ve witnessed these sorts of confrontations between tough guys before, though, and we’ve never seen anyone pick a fight and back off a winner.
— Bud Norman