October 10, 2015
Ted Cruz has a plan. Several rightward-leaning pundits, most recently George Will, have mentioned how well positioned the rebellious freshman senator is to rack up GOP delegates in March.
It’s a tempting pitch. Cruz is second only to Jeb Bush in PAC money. Through the second quarter, he was first in direct contributions. Ben Carson surpassed his third quarter total ($20 million to $12 million), but Cruz raised double what Marco Rubio did. Jeb hasn’t announced his number, but silence is a sign it wasn’t great.
However you slice it, Cruz is doing comparatively well in the money primary. He’s also well organized. Some candidates may struggle to get on the ballot in a few of the 50 states and several participating territories. Not Ted. Some candidates don’t have a plan of attack for places like Georgia, North Carolina and Missouri. Not Ted.
It’s an outsider year, he’s the most outsider elected official. You can make a really good argument he’s more of an insurgent than Carly Fiorina. She’s the one who worked on State Department and CIA projects and interacted with plenty of insiders as HP CEO.
If he doesn’t break through in Iowa or New Hampshire or even South Carolina, Cruz figures he’ll catch and pass his competitors when things open up in March. Others may not have the resources to compete in several larger southern/border states at the same time. He even has home-field advantage in an earlier-than-usual Texas primary.
Can this work? Since the 1972 conversion to assigning the vast majority of delegates through contested primaries and caucuses, no Republican has won the nomination without winning Iowa or New Hampshire first. Bill Clinton is the only Democrat exception and Iowa was off the table that year (Favorite Son Tom Harkin was in the race and the others stayed away).
The historical roadside is littered with those who thought they could start winning later on.
1976: Scoop Jackson (D) thought South Carolina was a better fit (it was) than Iowa or New Hampshire. By the time Jimmy Carter got there to meet him he had way too much momentum.
1980: John Connally (R) followed in Jackson’s footsteps, thinking he’d have a better chance of defeating Ronald Reagan and others in South Carolina. He raised a record amount of money for the time.
While he was waiting, George H.W. Bush won a surprising Iowa victory and Reagsn rebounded in New Hampshire. Instead of being Connally’s moment, South Carolina was a face-off between the two winners.
1988: Al Gore (D) was once the Democrats’ great moderate hope. After Walter Mondale and old-school liberalism won 1 state plus DC in 1984, some thought the road back to the White House went through the South.
Carter won in 1976, Clinton in 1992, so you can’t say they were wrong. In between, Gore gave it a try, hoping to take advantage of a new invention by the name of Super Tuesday. Combining a number of primaries, many below the Mason-Dixon Line was supposed to help a candidate like Gore.
Michael Dukakis won Florida, Jesse Jackson won a few other key states and Gore didn’t do enough to become a legit contender instead of the latest casualty on the list.
2008: Rudy Giuliani (R) likely forgot how badly this strategy works. Twenty years had passed since Gore’s failure. Too socially liberal for Iowa, worried about John McCain and Mitt Romney in Iowa, Rudy decided to use the transplanted New Yorkers of the Sunshine State as a political moat.
No go. New Hampshire and South Carolina victories gave McCain too much momentum. Instead of a contender, Rudy was a Florida afterthought, finishing far behind McCain and Romney.
You wouldn’t think the first three states (especially the first two) should matter this much. They represent a minuscule percentage of the necessary delegates. They aren’t even winner-take-all. Someone can win Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and have a whopping 40 delegates with 1256 needed for nomination.
Cruz is betting on the math, but how can he survive several early losses?
If the same person wins most of the early contests, he can’t. If Marco Rubio wins two or three of the early contests, he’s very hard to beat. More than enough of the party will likely consolidate around him.
If Donald Trump or Ben Carson get on an early roll, they may fail to win the nomination, but it’s hard to see how Cruz is the one to deny it to them. The establishment would try to rally around someone, but they would prefer Rubio, maybe even Fiorina to Ted.
So Cruz needs to win, or come pretty close somewhere before the states start voting in bulk, or he’s forced to hope nobody else can put a streak together.
He has one large advantage over the failures mentioned above. Cruz is going all-out in the early voting states. According to Will, he has a county chair in each of the combined 172 counties in Iowa, New Hampshire. South Carolina, and Nevada.
In addition to preparing to vulture Trump voters and contesting Carson with evangelicals, Cruz is now chasing after the liberty movement, trying to take advantage of Ron Paul supporters who have not transferred their loyalty to his son.
Should a competitor stumble before voting begins, Cruz is in a position to act immediately, rather than hoping those supporters are still available down the road. Combined with a pretty strong national brand, he can follow and improve on what Newt Gingrich did in 2012.
Before Newt, it was supposedly impossible to win South Carolina if you hadn’t won Iowa or New Hampshire first. After two semi-disappointing mid-pack finishes, he won the Palmetto State anyway.
A shortage of funds, organization, ground game and discipline doomed Newt to ultimately finish behind Romney and Rick Santorum, but those things aren’t an issue for Cruz. If Ted should win South Carolina, he’ll contend until the end.
Like Newt, failing to place in the Top 3 in Iowa and/or New Hampshire isn’t a death blow. He doesn’t need Iowa as badly as Carson, New Hampshire as badly as Jeb, either as badly as Trump.
If South Carolina doesn’t happen, Nevada is another early possibility. Cruz has invested in plenty of organization, and a relatively tiny amount of people actually participate in the vote.
If Iowa was voting next week, Cruz would have a major problem. He would finish well behind Trump and Carson, very possibly after Fiorina too. He needs to make some progress between now and February. It’s hard to see any firewall holding if Ted can’t hit low double-digits when the caucus actually happens.
While Cruz is likely the best positioned candidate ever to survive going several states without a win, he does need to compete pretty well and hope like hell his outsider competitors have enough issues to get their supporters to at least consider him.
Remember, as of now, no candidate is a 50% chance or better shot for the nomination. Even if Cruz is 10-15% at best, that puts him ahead of most. Given the current chessboard, it’s hard to think of a better set of moves for him to play.
Given the intrusion of several high profile candidates into his space, Cruz is surviving remarkably well. Where Rubio lost a key competitor in Scott Walker and has a weaker than expected one in Jeb, Cruz has a full house.
The recent babble is correct. Don’t sleep on Ted.