How Ted Cruz's new immigration ad trumps Donald Trump's ad

The ad’s careful construction may be yet more proof that Sen. Ted Cruz is attempting to slipstream behind Donald Trump while snatching some of his voters.

Nati Harnik/AP
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas talks to a reporter while standing with supporter Court Oviatt of Logan, Iowa, after a campaign speech at the public library in Onawa, Iowa, on Tuesday.

Ted Cruz has released a new immigration-themed ad that’s as hard-hitting, in its own way, as Donald Trump’s recent sledgehammer of a spot. But Senator Cruz’s effort is perhaps cleverer – making it seem more restrained than his bombastic rival’s.

The Cruz ad starts with what one critic labels a thought experiment: What if illegal immigrants were predominantly white collar instead of laborers and other lower-skilled workers?

And that’s what it depicts. With tension-raising drumbeats sounding in the background, a bunch of well-dressed executive types wade through water and race across a stubby field in slow motion. The acting and cinematography are excellent. A woman pausing to pour water out of her high heel is a particularly nice touch.

Meanwhile, you hear Cruz speaking. The mainstream media don’t cover immigration as an economic issue, he says, but it is an economic issue, and a "very personal" one at that.

“And I can tell you that the politics of it would be very, very different if a bunch of lawyers or bankers were crossing the Rio Grande,” Cruz says. “Or if a bunch of people with journalism degrees were coming over and driving down the wages in the press.”

At this point in the narration, a desperate fleeing refugee drops her laptop, but a colleague in a bespoke suit urges her on. He seems to be saying, never mind the MacBook Air! Keep running! MSNBC will give you a new one!

“Then we would see stories about the economic calamity befalling our nation,” says the unseen Cruz.

The rest of the spot is Cruz saying that as president, he will secure the border, accompanied by a shot of Marco Rubio – who trails Cruz in Iowa but is edging him out for No. 2 in New Hampshire – looking nervous. Then “Trust” and “Ted” morph to create “TrusTed” on-screen.

The ad’s construction may be yet more proof that Cruz is attempting to slipstream behind Mr. Trump while snatching some of his voters. It combines two issues that are of great importance to the predominantly less-educated, lower-income core of Trump’s vote: economic insecurity, and immigration.

Plus, it slams the media, lawyers, and bankers – unpopular professions all. No mention of doctors or tech entrepreneurs racing across the Rio Grande, we notice.

Critics say Cruz’s assumptions here are bogus, however. Writing in Vox, Matthew Yglesias says it is “simply false to say that the current rate of immigration to the United States is an economic calamity.” Research shows that incomes of native-born Americans are higher, not lower, due to the economic activity generated by immigration, according to Mr. Yglesias.

But focusing on the economics of illegal immigration is less inflammatory than simply calling many Mexican immigrants rapists, as Trump has done. In that sense, Cruz’s approach is softer.

Plus, the ad just looks good. At least, that’s what the right-leaning Erick Erickson argues at his new website, The Resurgent.

Mr. Erickson says he’s heard people say Cruz’s spot offends them and that it misstates the issue. But those folks are missing the point: The Texas senator has produced “the most professionally polished, sharp ad of the season,” in Erickson’s view.

That means it could make a difference at a critical moment in the campaign.

“Whether you like it or not, I assure you it is going to stand out from a crowded field of ads in Iowa and southern states with both the image and message,” according to Erickson.

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