April 21, 2016
Ted Cruz has come a long way as a flawed candidate. He’s the second most likely GOP nominee, not a bad feat for someone who began in a pack of 17, and was not considered a likely front runner.
In a year that prizes outsiders, he’s spent almost all of his career in government. At the same time, his co-workers detest him. Even now, with limited options for anyone trying to stop Trump, only a handful of senators have endorsed him.
The Donald has impacted every candidate. Impacted is putting it mildly. Trump is to the rest of the field what a dam is to a river. Ted’s plan was to combine evangelicals, strong conservatives and libertarians to grab a majority of GOP primary support.
If someone told you a year ago that Cruz would rapidly surpass Rand Paul, by far his biggest obstacle with libertarians. Turn Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson into footnotes by grabbing more than two-thirds of the combined support in Iowa.
Have Scott Walker exit quickly and Marco Rubio vacate eventually, leaving Ted as the only choice for the National Review/Weekly Standard/Heritage Institute crowd, you would think he’d win the nomination relatively easily. Except Trump.
Evangelicals aren’t a category this year. Neither are social conservatives. They haven’t gone anywhere. The GOP is still chock full of them. But it’s not a leading indicator of how someone will vote. If a social conservative is very troubled by trade deals, they’re more likely to pick Trump.
Some prefer his approach to dealing with ISIS, or foreign policy in general. No serious GOP candidate was anything other than solidly pro-life. The Supreme Court took gay marriage mostly off the table. Trump did a great job of telling evangelicals he will fight for them even if he clearly isn’t one of them.
Trump got to his right on immigration. Cruz was planning on dealing with someone like Jeb or Rubio. One had a relatively liberal record, the other was part of the Gang of 8. Instead he’s up against “I’ll build a wall, and Mexico will pay for it.”
Compared to Rubio and Jeb, Cruz was the skeptic on getting involved in extended foreign military entanglements. He planned on breaking from GOP orthodoxy, being more palatable to Republicans and GOP-leaning independents who thought the Iraq War was a mistake.
Once again, Trump overshadowed him by moving completely beyond the post-World War II consensus, questioning the value of NATO and cozying up to Vladimir Putin. That leaves Cruz with his flat tax on a postcard and not much else. He’s not going to win the nomination campaigning on a flat tax.
So he’s decided he’s for jobs, freedom, and security. Safe enough. Also banal. Who isn’t in favor of those things? Rubio talked about new jobs for a new economy. Rubio got bounced. So now Cruz is going to bring jobs back from overseas too.
I don’t understand how he thinks being an imitation of Trump is going to win over Trump voters. Perhaps he could run as Diet Trump. How does “The same plan, but less baggage” sound? Maybe “I’m just like him, but less charismatic”?
If you aren’t going to actually challenge Trump’s platform, why bother? Does he really think he can win over a few Trumpists while also pulling in the #NeverTrump crowd? No chance. The part I’m leaving out is his logic that he can beat Hillary while Trump can’t.
If a Trump voter wants what he’s offering but is worried he won’t win in November, he or she can choose Cruz.
Question: How many Trump supporters think he’s going to lose against Hillary?
Question #2: Do you think it’s important for Cruz to lead Hillary in the polls before claiming he’s the sure shot to win?
Question #3: Should a candidate who failed to clear 15% in New York and is likely to have a rough April 26 focus on electability?
Kasich has to talk about the November matchup. It’s the ONLY justification for his existence other than as a receptacle for voters who can’t bear to pick Ted or Trump. Unlike Cruz, he’s actually consistently ahead of Hillary. They even tied in a recent New Jersey poll (43/43.)
Sure we don’t know if he’d hold up under actual scrutiny. Perhaps his whole matchup advantage is based on voters knowing they don’t like her and not having any clue what they think about him. Could be, but again, what else can he talk about?
If Cruz wants to compete, he needs to give voters a reason why his approach is actually better. For at least the past three months, I’ve whined and complained about this. He’s never attempted to replace the evangelical voters he lost. Instead he’s tried to win by default, while positioning himself for a second or third convention ballot.
He’s the conservative candidate. Trump is Trump. Kasich is running as a moderate. Cruz must pretend he’s the nominee, in a fall campaign against Hillary Clinton. Whatever that guy would sound like needs to show up tomorrow and stick around until he actually gets nominated.
Cruz has three projects:
1. Keep Trump below 1237 with the help of Kasich.
2. Remove Kasich as an alternative on a third or fourth convention ballot.
3. Give voters a reason to accept delegates picking Cruz even if Trump wound up with 300 more earned delegates, and won two thirds of the states.
Cruz continues to complain about Kasich’s presence. He says he’s lingering so that Trump will pick him as his running mate. He should immediately shut up. First, if Kasich accepts the job, I’ll eat my laptop. He’s not going to do The Donald’s bidding.
Trump can get away with making stuff up. Cruz can’t. It’s another strategy/process thing. This reinforces Trump’s argument that Ted can’t beat him in the primaries so he’s playing the angles instead of winning over voters.
Most importantly a Kasich exit doesn’t actually help him. It increases the odds Trump gets to or very near 1237. You think Cruz could have won that Manhattan congressional district that Kasich kept from Trump yesterday?
Kasich’s core voters are opposed to Cruz and Trump. If he was gone, they’d split between the two or stay home. Wisconsin and Utah proved the #NeverTrump voters will flock to Cruz when he seems viable. If he’s strong, Kasich isn’t a problem. If he’s weak, removing him won’t help.
Trump is in the low-mid 40s in Pennsylvania with Kasich in. You think if he was out, there’s any chance Trump doesn’t clear 50%? Same thing in Maryland, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The Donald is already polling over 50% in Delaware.
If the whole argument against uncommitted delegates putting Trump over the top is that he only has a plurality, not a majority, having him break 50% in 6 straight contests isn’t a big help.
So he needs Kasich. Rather badly actually. But he needs to finish ahead of him just about everywhere from Indiana forward. Otherwise, as long as the delegates are going to pick a primary season loser, they might as well pick the one who polls better against Hillary.
Finishing ahead and giving voters a reason to want the delegates to overthrow the primary results go together. A capable General Election Ted is required for both. He can’t just say he’d beat Hillary. Trump says the same thing. Neither have much evidence.
Cruz must actually get under Clinton’s skin. Back in early January, Trump engaged her in verbal combat and got her to back down after harming her poll numbers and putting Bernie on the fringes of contention. It’s time for Ted to show he can land a punch.
And he needs to effectively advocate conservatism. Again, necessary for the fall. He’s focused on Trump lacking conservative credentials, but failed to spend much time fighting for conservatism itself. Time to change this.
Cruz is asking delegates to take an unprecedented step. Sure Trump may only win a plurality of delegates, but he’s going to have a solid majority of states won. It’s completely acceptable under party rules for delegates to pass on the candidate who earned the most delegates in open competition.
As Reince Priebus has pointed out, the rules are the rules, and they were out there for everyone many months ago. As Kasich says, historically, the person who enters a contested convention with the most delegates often fails to secure the nomination.
But those instances were before almost every state had a primary or caucus. When Estes Kefauver won several Democratic primaries in 1952 and was thrown overboard for Adlai Stevenson, that was one thing. Trump will have at least 30 victories. Thirty.
You can bounce him. It’s legal. It’s 1237 delegates. Not 1236. Not 1235. But in doing so, some (though not most) Trump voters will stay home. The Donald will throw an epic shit fit. If delegates are going to take the step, it’s gotta be worth it. Cruz has to show he can win enough moderates to make up for losing a few Trump voters.
Right now, many pros think Trump is better suited to destroy Hillary’s remaining popularity. They think he might be able to make both of them equally rancid rather than needing to pull himself up that much. They worry she’ll successfully brand Cruz as an extremist.
If he’s going to allay those fears, the time to start is now. As counterintuitive as it sounds, he needs to fight Hillary more than Trump and pretend Kasich doesn’t exist as anything other than a Trump delegate siphon in places Cruz isn’t welcome.
Indiana votes May 3. Now Ted. Now.