What we may see is Trump try to counterpunch by undermining Cruz's image as an outsider and paining him as just another creature of the political and financial establishments. Now, Cruz is hardly a friend of most Republican insiders. Indeed, the willingness of people like Senator John McCain to join in the attack on Cruz's eligibility shows Cruz's go it alone style may be costing him now.
But Trump can say, accurately, that Cruz is very much a product of the Eastern Establishment in origin, if not quite in political style.And today's news he took out and supposedly didn't properly report loans from Citibank and Goldman Sachs (where his wife worked) doesn't help.
The story itself isn’t a Cruz death sentence, but it does offer rivals an on ramp into piercing Cruz’s image as some sort of outsider, hayseed, simple country lawyer taking on fancy, big city interests left and right. Cruz is a Princeton- and Harvard-trained corporate lawyer whose wife is on leave as a Goldman executive, and whose well-funded presidential campaign has drawn fantastic sums of lucre from members of the New York financial industry. As I wrote in December, Trump is the candidate best positioned to launch these criticisms against Cruz as another bought-and-paid-for stooge of special interests, since Trump’s strongest cross-ideological appeal is that he (theoretically) can’t be bought.Of course, this could backfire. We could see Cruz sadly shake his head, look mournfully into the camera, and intone how disappointed he is that his good friend Donald is repeating slurs from the "liberal media." If done correctly, it would be the equivalent of when Marco Rubio devastated Jeb Bush by portraying Bush's attack on Rubio's nonattendance as a pathetic gesture fed to him by political consultants. I'm almost certain Cruz will try this maneuver tonight.
[Trump Has Ted Cruz's Number, by Jim Newell, Slate, January 14, 2016]
Cruz might even try to paint Trump as a liberal himself. Naturally, Trump can counter that since he's spent the past few weeks feuding with Hillary Clinton and being denounced as the American Left's greatest enemy, he can hardly be a creature of progressives.
At some point, Cruz and Trump have to clash. But neither can afford to fully unload on each other. It will need to be handled with delicacy and skill. Each will be trying to appear as the wronged party. Besides, if either Cruz or Trump finds his way to the nomination, the winner will desperately need the support of his vanquished foe.
Who has more to lose tonight? Cruz. Trump can survive the loss of Iowa and continue as long as he comes in second. If Cruz loses Iowa, Trump will have momentum going into New Hampshire, where he already leads. If he wins there (as appears likely since Christie, Kaisch, Rubio, and Bush are all savaging each other) Trump can storm the South and run the table. It's hard to see Cruz winning if he blows it in Iowa.
Thus, if circumstances permit, Trump can avoid going after Cruz entirely. But Cruz has to at least jab at Trump. And this is dangerous, because if there is one person who can come up with a devastating reply, it's Donald J. Trump.