February 23, 2016
Yesterday, Ted Cruz cut Communications Director Rick Tyler loose. This was a mistake. The official reason had something to do with Tyler posting video that falsely showed Marco Rubio disparaging the bible.
This was about the 50th worst thing the Cruz campaign has done in the past 50 days. At most. Tyler didn’t create the video, he merely distributed it. Donald Trump retweets comments from white supremacists. This is nothing.
The error began in Iowa. When word of Ted’s team’s attempt to push voters away from Ben Carson by saying he was exiting the race, Cruz had two choices. One, to fire someone. Two, to hope it went away. He opted for door number two.
By itself, that was defensible. Trump wins support in part because of who he’s willing to offend. His voters are tired of politicians saying they’ll do something and then losing courage when actually in office. Each time he goes after a sacred cow, it proves his willingness to do what it takes.
Plenty of Republicans are tired of losing. Cruz is just one of several candidates who decided to credit President Obama for doing what it took to push through legislation or signing executive orders, while castigating the GOP for not doing enough to stop him. There is a market for a “by any means necessary” candidate.
Voters aren’t naïve. They realize Hillary Clinton is both likely to survive Bernie’s challenge and willing to do absolutely anything to win in November. Ted’s campaign could have disavowed any evil while winking at voters.
He’s not exactly the most likeable candidate anyway. A dedicated, consistent conservative who is willing to do what it takes would have appealed to voters willing to consider Trump far better than holier than thou Cruz.
If he was going to go after Trump on values, he needed to fire someone immediately when things blew up in Iowa. If he wasn’t going to locate a sacrificial lamb, he needed to ease off the values focus and do the full spectrum fighting conservative thing.
Instead, he screwed himself. Determined to pry more evangelicals/social conservatives away from Trump, he stuck to the values lane. With Trump and Rubio both attacking him as a hypocritical liar, a narrative built.
Trump kept talking about the Voter Violation mailer Cruz sent in Iowa. Trump yelled about robocalls. Rubio continued to claim Cruz was lying about his record. Then the campaign photoshopped an image to show Marco shaking President Obama’s hand.
By itself, who cares. As part of a greater narrative, another example of Ted playing games. He lost evangelicals to Trump in South Carolina. Rubio pulled dangerously close with the voter group Cruz counted on as his core.
When another incident cropped up, Ted panicked and let Tyler go. It’s quite possible Tyler outkicked his coverage, going far further than his candidate was comfortable with. He wasn’t a Cruz guy from the beginning, having spent much of his career working for Newt Gingrich.
He could have cut him after Iowa, the glow of a win covering over the staff shakeup. Cruz talks incessantly about the 1980 Reagan campaign. The Gipper jettisoned Campaign Manager John Sears the day of his New Hampshire comeback.
He could have looked like a hero. Ben Carson wouldn’t have felt disrespected. It’s possible Carson would have exited the race by now. By failing to act then and being too timid to go rogue, Cruz wound up with the worst of both worlds.
The Tyler thing is a story heading in to Nevada. He’s not likely to win and could use a unified communications team spinning away for him this evening. Choosing to do this now makes him look more weak than honorable, unable to control his own guys.
If it was about being squeaky clean he should have done it sooner. Cruz has no governing experience. We know his fellow senators detest him. You can get away with this if your own team is behind you every step of the way. Instead, he’s failing a leadership test at the worst possible time.
This is just as potentially lethal to him as the Christie smackdown was to Rubio. The next debate is Thursday, Ted’s last chance to build momentum for Super Tuesday. He’s targeted this next week for multiple years.
For multiple weeks, I’ve tried to understand why Cruz isn’t trying harder to broaden his audience. His current approach doesn’t appeal to enough voters to win a three-way race. It’s all well and good polls show him winning a head-to-head matchup with Trump, but he needs to get past Rubio before he can worry about that.
Barring a much stronger than expected result in Nevada, Ted is going to have plenty of pressure on him by Thursday. Hopefully he keeps it together better than yesterday’s decision indicates.
If there was ever a time he needed to look like a credible winner, it’s now.