November 18, 2015
Supposedly mainstream/establishment/insider Republicans are in a tizzy. Donald Trump or Ben Carson might win the nomination, sure to lead to disaster against Hillary Clinton, and failing at that a governing nightmare. There isn’t a whole lot of evidence they’re any more likely to win than a couple/few weeks ago, but nonetheless, somebody lit the bat signal for Mitt Romney the other day, a sure sign of panic.
This is likely an overreaction. A candidate who can’t get past Trump wasn’t going to beat Hillary either. Carson will either not get nominated because he’s semi incoherent on many foreign policy/national security issues and some domestic policy areas, or will make it through after cleaning up his delivery.
Can’t tell you which way things go, but this version of Dr. Carson isn’t debating Hillary in the fall. However, there’s another, more plausible reason for those long faces inside some state and local RNC headquarters. Ted Cruz.
Even if Trump and Carson falter, their current support is a clear indicator of a market for a difference-making outsider. Mr. Cruz is more than ready to deliver on this pent-up demand and is beginning to make significant polling progress even with Trump and Carson regularly taking up 45-50% of respondents.
Imagine you’re Mitch McConnell. After 8 years in the minority, Republicans just took back the Senate in the 2014 election, installing you as majority leader. You’re currently frustrated, unable to accomplish much with a Democratic president and the fillibuster rule, but a year from now, GOP control on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue would allow you to lead as you’ve always imagined, Tea Party and House Freedom Caucus be damned.
At first, you assumed somebody like Jeb Bush would win the nomination, worst case, maybe Marco Rubio. Sure, he didn’t accomplish that much as a senator and isn’t even running for re-election as a backup, but unlike that malcontent Cruz, he doesn’t regularly throw the leadership under the bus and back over it a few times for effect.
Senator Cruz called you a liar on the floor of the senate. President Cruz would make sure someone else was majority leader. But you doubt Cruz would actually win. You served with Hillary, got along ok with her, think she’s tough.
Unlike 2014 when Democrats had to defend seats won in a high-turnout presidential year (2008) in a lower-turnout midterm year, this time, Republicans need to protect a bunch of seats won in the 2010 midterm in a presidential year. Many of these seats are in states won by President Obama in 2008 and 2012.
If Cruz somehow wins, you deal with a president who might make you nostalgic for Obama. If he loses, if Hillary and friends succeed in portraying him as a latter-day Goldwater, someone who puts ideology before governance and who would send women back to the 1950s, vulnerable GOP freshmen could be one (term) and done, leaving you back in the minority with conservative activists out for your scalp.
Think McConnell wants to see Cruz nominated? He’d probably prefer Trump or Carson. His personal concerns aside, are down-ballot Republicans right to fear Nominee Cruz? Is he potentially electoral poison?
First the argument against him. Marco Rubio is very likely a stronger general election candidate. He has higher favorability ratings, does better in virtual matchups, is from a state Republicans need to win instead of one they will definitely win, and is generally nicer and cheerier sounding.
They’re the same age, both sons of Cuban immigrants and have similar levels of experience. Cruz more on the judicial side, Rubio extra legislative and neither a ton of executive.
Yes, Marco is probably safer and should he get nominated, I would suspect most of the GOP will rally around him. At the moment though, if you look at the relative support for the various candidates, Cruz is at the center of the primary electorate, not Rubio. This could change, but today, the compromise candidate is Ted.
Being less electable than Rubio doesn’t make Cruz a bad idea by itself. Many Republicans will feel Hillary should lose to any qualified candidate. Why not choose the one they are most ideologically comfortable with?
If we move past the caricature and look at what Cruz is actually saying, particularly in debates where voters hear his entire answer, you can make an argument that Cruz is plenty electable, perhaps not much less so than Rubio.
We can safely assume Cruz would do a good job getting evangelicals and Tea Party partisans to the polls. No, he won’t win based on turning out white voters alone, but had Mitt Romney inspired the base in 2012 the way George W. Bush did in 2004 (yes, Bush was aided by several gay marriage-related initiatives), he would have either win or made things incredibly close.
Remember, when estimating what may happen in 2016, you need to consider quantity of a given group, not just the percentage of their vote won by a candidate.
Back to 2012. Democrats successfully portrayed Romney as an out-of-touch rich guy who wasn’t interested in the middle class. Cruz is running as a populist. He makes a very effective case against the pro-Wall Street Democratic policies of both the Clinton and Obama administrations.
It’s not a perfect case when your wife works at Goldman Sachs, but Cruz is way more willing to talk about the 1% and getting single moms out of poverty than you would expect. The big money Republicans are (mostly) the guys trying to keep him from being nominated.
Cruz has no ties to Bush-era foreign policy. He spent the 2000s worrying about judicial stuff. While Clinton would certainly claim back-alley abortions would return within seconds of a Cruz inauguration, that Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia are too liberal for him, not all swing voters get wrapped up in those things.
For those who do, partial birth abortions aren’t very popular with the electorate either, something he won’t hesitate to focus on. It’s very reasonable to expect he could hold his own with Hillary in a debate, an option not available to Goldwater against LBJ.
In order to avoid getting Berned, Hillary has tacked way left over the past several months. When LBJ made Goldwater out to be an extremist, he was a popular incumbent president who had passed a landmark Civil Rights Act with plenty of Republican votes. Goldwater voted against the bill, putting himself out of the mainstream.
Eight years later, Richard Nixon held the center and pushed Democrat George McGovern to the fringe. Hillary is not an incumbent and President Obama is extremely unlikely to pass major bipartisan legislation in 2016 over the no vote of Cruz.
Rather, Clinton is the one who risks being on the outside. If she holds to much of the Sanders agenda, Cruz is potentially closer to the center of the electorate than she is. By agreeing there’s a problem but differing on how to solve it, he’s taken away the out of touch, tool of the rich argument and can concentrate on how the various approaches have worked or failed.
If Hillary, as many would expect, begins to move back to the center, she runs the risk of both being unable to get all of the Bernie supporters to the polls and reminding Independents she’s a moving target. While Cruz isn’t exactly warm and cuddly, neither is Hillary and at least he’s consistent.
Cruz has a limited executive record to fall back on, but it’s not like Hillary was ever a governor. Her stewardship of the State Department isn’t exactly a plus at the moment.
It appears Cruz is more than capable when it comes to campaign strategy. He appears on the same page as his team and leaks are minimal. He is at least as organized on the ground as any other GOP candidate, something important in preparing for a fall campaign. Of all Republican candidates, he has the best balance of large and small donors.
Cruz is leading Hillary by double-digits in a hypothetical Colorado matchup polled by Qunnipiac over the past couple days. He’s ahead of her in the most recent Florida poll. While neither of these, nor his small deficit in a new Fox News New Hampshire poll should be taken that seriously, it’s not the picture of somebody destined to lose in a landslide.
It’s actually what a narrow Cruz victory would look like. Given that most voters have their minds pretty made up as far as she’s concerned and Cruz has a whole year to try to separate himself from how moderate and Independent voters view selected sound bites and impressions of him, it sure seems like he has a more than even chance.
I’m not ready to proclaim Cruz the next President of the United States. For one thing, Rubio is still a more likely nominee, but equating him with electoral cyanide is going way too far. I have no idea how or how effectively Ted Cruz would govern, but he’d be a more than adequate general election candidate, at least if paired with Hillary Clinton.