With New Hampshire in the dust and the 2016 presidential campaign moving southward to the Palmetto State, MSNBC's Chris Matthews tonight sought to paint conservative Republican Senator Ted Cruz as a latter-day Richard Nixon ginning up a bag full of "dirty tricks" for the February 20 South Carolina contest.
Dipping out of live coverage of a Donald Trump campaign rally in Pendelton, S.C., Matthews wondered if the GOP frontrunner was "sort of priming the pump now for some dirty action by the Cruz people?"
"I think he should be, if he's not already," Trump campaign correspondent Katy Tur answered. "The dirty tricks of South Carolina are well known, as we were just talking about," she added, before going over a litany of supposed Cruz "dirty tricks" in the Iowa contest. "Those are child's play when it comes to South Carolina politics," Tur noted, concluding that given how all the other campaigns have seasoned "smart South Carolina operatives" on staff, that if "Trump doesn't see these dirty politics, these dirty games coming his way, then he doesn't have a very good staff."
"Well, you know what, I don't like dirty tricks. I think Nixon thought everybody did it, and he may have been right, but when he was caught, he was finished, and humiliated in history," Matthews told USA Today's Paul Singer. "You've been talking about the Cruz campaign, and what they're capable of, just based on what Katy [Tur of NBC News] just reported."
"You know, we've seen again and again that, you know, these campaigns do this stuff because it works, and the Cruz campaign has some operatives with a long history of this kind of bare-knuckle politics," Singer answered, making clear that "bare-knuckle politics" is different than "dirty tricks."
All the same, it's rather striking that Matthews and Tur seem worried for Trump, no wilting flower he, being the target of dirty politics.
It's all part, arguably, of MSNBC's shift from the network's earlier vociferous denunciations of Trump for all his hard-edged rhetoric about illegal immigrants, Muslims, etc., to embracing him of late as a GOP frontrunner who could slowly stave off much more conservative opponents in a long primary slog.
Below is the relevant transcript:
February 10, 2016; 7:20 p.m. Eastern
graphic: Trump Holds First Rally Since Winning NH
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Let me go to Katy Tur about the way he brought up Cruz here tonight. Cruz he’s has blamed, his campaign, for spreading word that Dr. Carson was pulling out of the race, that would be argued, I'm sure from their point of view, and may well be a dirty trick.
Is he sort of priming the pump now for some dirty action by the Cruz people?
KATY TUR, NBC news correspondent: I think he should be if he’s not already. The dirty tricks of South Carolina are well-known, as we were just talking about. And I think those Cruz tricks, over in Iowa, that voter violation mailer, the Ben Carson dropping-out call, the email that Ted Cruz sent out to voters, those are child's play when it comes to South Carolina politics.
I was talking to the former chair down there, GOP chair down there. And he was saying that he just thinks that’s fair game, that’s just called strategy. And what they’re telling me is that there’s all these campaigns, Rubio’s campaign, Cruz’s campaign, even to some degree Trump’s campaign, they’ve got a lot of smart South Carolina operatives who know what they’re doing and know that electorate.
So if Donald Trump does not see these dirty politics, these dirty games coming his way, then he doesn’t have a very good staff.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know what, I don't like dirty tricks. I think Nixon thought everybody did it, and he may have been right, but when he was caught, he was finished, and humiliated in history. And, so, I don’t think it’s fun. I don’t like it. So, when you start spreading lies about people – spread truth a little, that’s OK – but you think, you’ve been talking about the Cruz campaign, what they're capable of, just based on what Katy just reported.
PAUL SINGER, USA Today: Well, and you know, we've seen again and again that these campaigns do this stuff because it works and the Cruz campaign has some operatives with a long history of being very good at this kind of bare-knuckle politics. And remember, there’s a difference between dirty tricks and bare-knuckle politics.
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