A smart point by Ramesh Ponnuru. If it doesn’t happen in the primaries, I hope it happens in a rollicking action-adventure buddy cop movie after they’ve both quit politics. Cruz is the thin southern gentleman who’s mastered the rules, Christie’s the beefy pugnacious northeasterner who doesn’t take sh*t from anyone. Together they’re cleaning up the mean streets of D.C. and annoying the hell out of each other. Coming to theaters in 2024: “The Grandstanders.”
I’ve got a pretty good idea of who the villain will be, too.
The New Jersey governor and the Texas senator (an old friend of mine) are leading opposite ends of the party, and are likely to be rivals in the 2016 presidential primaries. That’s why I expect that at some point between now and the Republican convention, they’ll form a tacit alliance. They’ll both have an interest in knee-capping some other candidate who is positioned between them.
There’s plenty of recent precedent for this. The campaigns of Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan collaborated in 1996 to knock Phil Gramm out of the race. In 2008, John McCain and Mike Huckabee did what they could to squeeze Mitt Romney from both ends. And in 2011, it was Romney’s turn to work with Michele Bachmann against Tim Pawlenty–which contributed to his not making it to 2012. (The new book Double Down reportedly has info on this.)
Christie and Cruz are indeed perfectly positioned for this sort of pincer movement. I’ve said before I think there’ll be three niches in the 2016 field — the centrist champ (Christie), the tea-party champ (very likely Cruz if he runs), and then the middle-ground “hybrid’ candidate who’ll be looking to attract the “somewhat conservative” voters who are leery of the first two. Scott Walker could be that guy. So could Rubio. And maybe so could Rand Paul, who’d like to be the tea party’s guy but might find that route foreclosed if Cruz jumps in. Back-up plan: Try to fill the hybrid niche by playing up his libertarian views on social issues like the drug war to try to lure centrists while he’s pitching conservatives on his plans to drastically cut spending. That would put him somewhere between Christie and Cruz. And Cruz, per the NYT, is already anticipating it:
[W]hen Mr. Cruz went to New York City to meet with donors this summer, he privately offered a different view of Mr. Paul: The Kentucky senator can never be elected president, he told them, because he can never fully detach himself from the strident libertarianism of his father, former Representative Ron Paul of Texas.
Word of Mr. Cruz’s remarks reached Mr. Paul’s inner circle, touching off anger and resentment…
Mr. Cruz and his aides believe he is uniquely suited to galvanize conservatives, pointing to his leadership of the effort to cut off funding for the Affordable Care Act — confrontational, pugnacious, disdainful of President Obama. Mr. Cruz, 42 — a Texan, a born-again Baptist and son of an evangelical preacher — also connects naturally with Christian conservatives, many of whom have become foot soldiers in the Tea Party and view Mr. Paul as too unorthodox on social issues.
The particulars may differ but Christie and Cruz will push the same broad critique of Paul — that he’s a crank, if only by association with his dad, or at least will be viewed as a crank by enough voters once the Democrats are done with him that he can’t possibly win a general election. They might, might also team up to attack Paul on foreign policy and counterterrorism. That’s an easy play for Christie, who’s already taken swings at Paul for being too dovish on drones and will be rewarded for it by the hawkish GOP establishment, but it’s trickier for Cruz since tea-party views of stuff like NSA data-mining are ambivalent. If circumstances change and grassroots conservatives start to revert to hawkishness before 2015, Cruz (who earlier this year endorsed U.S. action against Assad’s chemical weapons) will go after Paul on it. If they’re still ambivalent, he’ll probably attack Paul on social issues instead, arguing that his libertarianism makes him an unreliable defender of traditional values once in office. Whether Christie, who’s been careful not to “evolve” on gay marriage, joins Cruz in that, I don’t know. His establishment base won’t like it but they’ll probably cut him lots of slack in trying to appeal to the base.
By the way, there’s already a “Ready for Christie” PAC up and running, replete with its own website. No joke. Can’t wait to find out which GOP moneybags is behind it. Exit question: What if Rubio somehow emerges as the “hybrid” candidate instead? How will Christie and Cruz team up to knock him? And don’t say “immigration.” Christie’s not going to complicate his outreach to Latinos by attacking Rubio on that.