Donald Trump managed to capture headlines after his Pearl Harbor anniversary speech, during which he proposed rescinding the part of the First Amendment that prohibits restrictions on the free exercise of religion in favor of creating a religious test for entry into the United States. But as the GOP frontrunner continues to bloviate about how great he could make an America that didn’t have a Constitution, his competition has been rising in the polls. That means Florida Senator Marco Rubio (who, as the Jeb Bush campaign fades, appears to be emerging as the establishment choice) is gaining ground, and, perhaps more threateningly to Trump’s campaign, so is Texas’s Senator Ted Cruz.
Trump is still in first place in the Republican polls, but his status as frontrunner is more tenuous now than it has ever been since he assumed the lead. A new Monmouth University poll of Iowa voters revealed Trump finally taking second place to our junior senator. According to the poll, Cruz would win the Iowa caucuses with 24 percent of the support, with Trump at second place with 19 percent.
That’s significant for a few reasons—Cruz is a much more viable longterm candidate than Ben Carson, whom Iowa Republicans had previously flirted with, and he and Trump draw support from a similar segment of the GOP voter base. And since Cruz’s strategy has long involved courting Trump’s supporters, taking a lead in Iowa with less than two months to go until the first caucuses suggests that he’s exactly where he wants to be.
It’s not just the polling that supports that, either: offshore gambling sites like Sportsbook.ag and Bovada have seen Cruz ascend dramatically in the betting odds they’re laying out for the GOP nominee. A few months ago, Cruz was considered a 33:1 longshot to get the nomination, which looks like the gambling value of the year now: at Sportsbook, those odds have shrunk by a factor of ten (+350), while Bovada has him at a slightly more conservative +450 (which means a bet of $100 will net you $450). Over at the Irish bookie PaddyPower, Cruz and Trump are in a dead heat at +162.5 to win the caucus—a number that could well continue to move over the next eight weeks.
In other words, the momentum is swinging Cruz’s way at a time when Trump’s campaign has resorted to talk of suspending the Constitution to remain relevant. Cruz, meanwhile, has been picking up headlines for rather more mundane things—like the fact that his old college roommate, screenwriter Craig Mazin (best known for the Hangover sequels), friggin’ hates the guy.
Mazin’s beef with Cruz isn’t new—he dropped this gem of a diss during an episode of his Scriptnotes podcast:
And, you know, I want to be clear, because Ted Cruz is a nightmare of a human being. I have plenty of problems with his politics, but truthfully his personality is so awful that 99 percent of why I hate him is just his personality. If he agreed with me on every issue, I would hate him only one percent less.
Of course, being unpopular among snooty Hollywood screenwriters is part of Cruz’s personal brand as much as his oversized suits are, and the anecdotes that Mazin relayed in a 2013 interview with The Daily Beast are likely to affirm for Cruz supporters (and those he’s siphoning away from Trump) that he’s a true believer:
“I remember very specifically that he had a book in Spanish and the title was Was Karl Marx a Satanist? And I thought, who is this person?” Mazin says of Ted Cruz. “Even in 1988, he was politically extreme in a way that was surprising to me.”
Jezebel revived the Beast story by buttressing it with a collection of Mazin’s Cruz-themed tweets, all of which continue to display how poorly liked the candidate was by some who knew him in college.
When Ted Cruz was my roommate, he'd endlessly hit the snooze button. I asked him to stop. He wouldn't. So I Krazy-glued it. #learnfromthis
— Craig Mazin (@clmazin) October 11, 2013
One thing Ted Cruz is really good at: uniting people who otherwise disagree about everything else in a total hatred of Ted Cruz.
— Craig Mazin (@clmazin) October 16, 2013
Of course, we all have people in our past who probably don’t think too highly of us. And since Cruz and Mazin went to Princeton, it’s not a shock that both of them would turn out to be successful, so his former roommate’s relatively substantial platform isn’t particularly significant. Still, he’s not the only Hollywood type who’s bummed about Cruz. Billy Crystal, who played Miracle Max in The Princess Bride—a character that Cruz, with his curious propensity for Michael Scott-like pop-culture impersonations, has been known to recreate—told late-night host James Corden that he finds Cruz’s impression of his character “creepy.”
None of this matters much, obviously—Billy Crystal’s endorsement hasn’t been vital to a presidential candidacy since at least the mid-eighties, and tales of Cruz’s snoozing habits during college aren’t particularly relevant to his campaign. But as Cruz ascends in the polls, all of this suggests that we’ll be hearing some increasingly silly talk about the rising star in the GOP.