Uh-oh: the fate of the TPP now hangs on whether Ted Cruz kept his mouse in the house
The latest twist in the US presidential race is that the National Enquirer has accused Ted Cruz of a string of affairs — publishing blurred out photographs of a five alleged paramours, a couple of whom were quickly named by many on social media.
One of the Texan senator's alleged lover's is close to the Trump campaign.
Mr Cruz calls the story "garbage, complete and utter lies, adding "It's tabloid smear, and it is a smear that has come from Donald Trump and his henchmen."
Or possibly henchwoman, in this case.
Why do we care that Cruz vs Trump has hit a fresh low?
Because the Trans-Pacific Partnership hangs in the balance. TPP boosters, and TPP haters, will want to keep a close eye on how this one plays out.
It goes like this: The US will vote on TPP ratification in December or later. The trade deal needs ratification from countries representing 85% of the GDP of original signatories to come into force. Mr Trump is anti-TPP and would veto any Congressional vote in favour if he comes to power (I know John Key keeps saying don't worry, President Obama will get it through before he leaves office, but the legislative mechanics don't favour that, let alone the politics).
It's now a near-certainty that the Mr Trump will win more delegates than Senator Cruz or the only other candidate left in the Republican presidential field Governor John Kasich.
But it's also no certainty he'll win the magic number of 1237 delegates, the outright majority needed to avoid a brokered convention in July (where, after the first round, most state delegates would be free to vote for any candidate, including a newcomer).
Senator Cruz also opposes the TPP, but if he continues to do reasonably well, and picks up another few states, it's hard to see how Mr Trump can top 1237, and the road will be clear for a white knight candidate to emerge from the convention.
But if the affair stories damage Senator Cruz, then the path to 1237 becomes potentially a lot easier for Mr Trump (though still not a walk-in, given third-placed Governor Kasich — who is already causing the New Yorker trouble in the key state of Wisconsin — could potentially pick up some of the anyone-but-Trump vote. Although one of the many bizarre features of this race is that Mr Trump has inherited many voters from candidates who've dropped out, defying pundits' predictions).
The Enquirer is a tabloid, but it's also run stories on the same theme that have turned out to be true and destroyed presidential campaigns by Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson and John Edwards, as well as causing Bill Clinton's 1992 bid a near-death experience as it exposed his tryst with Gennifer Flowers.
Mr Clinton famously talked his way out of his Enquirer moment, and others that emerged along the way involving various racoon-haired women. But the president-to-be already had a bit of a reputation for mischief, and charming his way out of it.
But Senator Cruz has based his political career on his appeal to evangelical conservatives, who may not be so forgiving.
One conservative blogger's theory is that dirt was dug up on Cruz's affairs in an attempt to force the Texan out of the race, thereby boosting the campaign of Tea Party poster boy Marco Rubio. Rumours were spread on social media using the hashtag #TheThing. But after Senator Rubio dropped out of the race, the dirt-diggers switched tack, and tried to stop the story becoming public, since it could now only benefit Trump. If so, they've made a royal mess of it.
As ever in politics, the end doesn't justify the means; the means become the end.
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POSTSCRIPT: Some might think Trump would stay above the fray as Cruz slugs it out with the tabloids. No chance. Instead, the brash New Yorker retweeted a dubious post about Cruz's wife's appearance. All class.