(Bloomberg) — The death of conservative icon and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have united Republicans in the goal of preventing President Barack Obama from picking his successor.
But within hours, the party’s presidential candidates began using the battle to tear each other apart ahead of the Feb. 20 South Carolina primary.
On Monday, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz released a TV ad called “Supreme Trust” attacking Republican front-runner Donald Trump as untrustworthy when it comes to picking justices.
“Life. Marriage. Religious liberty. The Second Amendment. We’re just one Supreme Court justice away from losing them all,” a narrator says to ominous music and shots of the Supreme Court building.
It then flips to a now-infamous Trump interview from 1999 in which he says he’s “very pro-choice” and wouldn’t outlaw late-term abortion.
“We cannot trust Donald Trump with these serious decisions,” the narrator says.
Trump, for his part, is using the issue to attack Cruz for supporting the 2005 nomination of John Roberts in his capacity as an official in President George W. Bush’s administration. After becoming U.S. chief justice, Roberts disappointed conservatives by voting to uphold Obamacare in 2012 and 2015 against lawsuits designed to cripple the law.
“Ted Cruz told your brother that he wanted John Roberts to be on the United States Supreme Court,” Trump said in a Saturday debate exchange with Jeb Bush, the brother of the former president. “They both pushed him, he twice approved Obamacare.”
Cruz responded, “I did not nominate John Roberts. I would not have nominated John Roberts.” (The Texan has criticized Roberts for his 2015 vote on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).)
Trump went after his rivals again Sunday, writing on Twitter: “Ted Cruz, along with Jeb Bush, pushed Justice John Roberts onto the Supreme Court. Roberts could have killed ObamaCare twice, but didn’t!”
Trump is also under renewed fire from conservatives for telling Bloomberg Politics last year that his sister would be a “phenomenal” justice. Maryanne Trump Barry, a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has drawn heavy criticism on the right for a past decision that protected legal late-term abortion.