At some point during the past week I entered a Twilight Zone episode where constitutional conservative Sarah Palin thinks Donald Trump is the future of America and elder statesmen Bob Dole thinks Ted Cruz, more so than the third-party-flirting former Democrat Trump, is the one with the loyalty problem to the GOP.
Incidentally, didn’t this guy endorse Jeb Bush? Why is he talking up Trump here?
“I question his allegiance to the party,” Mr. Dole said of Mr. Cruz. “I don’t know how often you’ve heard him say the word ‘Republican’ — not very often.” Instead, Mr. Cruz uses the word “conservative,” Mr. Dole said, before offering up a different word for Mr. Cruz: “extremist.”…
But Mr. Dole said he thought Mr. Trump could “probably work with Congress, because he’s, you know, he’s got the right personality and he’s kind of a deal-maker.”…
“If he’s the nominee, we’re going to have wholesale losses in Congress and state offices and governors and legislatures,” said Mr. Dole, who served in the House and Senate for 35 years and won the Iowa caucuses twice. He described Mr. Cruz as having falsely “convinced the Iowa voters that he’s kind of a mainstream conservative.”
The only person who could stop Mr. Cruz from capturing the nomination? “I think it’s Trump,” Mr. Dole said, adding that Mr. Trump was “gaining a little.”…
Mr. Dole repeatedly said he was strongly supporting Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, although he acknowledged that Mr. Bush has had trouble gaining traction.
Cruz fans are going to spin this with a combination of the spins they used yesterday against Palin and Terry Branstad. Palin? A has-been! Branstad? An establishment RINO! Bob Dole: A has-been and an establishment RINO! Okay, but Bob Dole’s also a midwesterner, a war hero, and a man who won Iowa twice. It’s not so much that he’s going to swing a bunch of votes, I think, as that this is one more blow after Cruz has just absorbed a flurry. He’s getting hit from both sides right now — on the right from Palin and Trump, who’s pushing the idea that Cruz is a cronyist, and on the left from Branstad and Dole, who are pushing the idea that Cruz would be bad for business in Iowa and for the party as a whole. (Weirdly, the one-two punch of Palin and Dole is also absolution for Trump’s nasty POW crack about McCain last summer, in case that’s still on the mind of any hawkish voters.) He’s also getting hit by Rubio on national security and by Huckabee and Santorum on his social-con bona fides. That’s a lot of firepower to withstand at a moment when Cruz is not only basically alone in attacking Trump but establishmentarians like Branstad and Dole are signaling as strongly as they can that Trump is a respectable choice for Iowans to make. Lot of bad mojo here. It’ll be extra gratifying for Cruz if he out-maneuvers and out-organizes them all to win Iowa anyway, but he’s up against many diverse forces in the GOP suddenly coalescing against him. You know what he’s going to say tomorrow — “I admire Senator Dole but this is further evidence that the establishment prefers a Donald Trump victory in Iowa” — and that’s the right move (and increasingly plausible), but is it enough?
Cruz tells reporters establishment has abandoned Rubio for Trump.
— Eliana Johnson (@elianayjohnson) January 20, 2016
As for Dole’s pique at Cruz, I think it’s an amalgam of annoyances. One annoyance is the establishment/tea party divide. Another is personal butthurt at Cruz for having used him as an example in the past of Republican nominees who lost because they didn’t stand for conservative principles. And another, I’d guess, is irritation at how Cruz has behaved in the Senate. Dole is the gentlemanly deal-making Republican who served in an age of greater comity; Cruz is the insurrectionist. Said Dole of Cruz last month, “Achievements are shutting down the government twice, and calling the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, a liar on the Senate floor. It violates the rules of the Senate. And he doesn’t have a single Senate supporter.” Cruz has offended Dole’s sense of institutional honor so he’d rather roll the dice on Trump. And in fairness to Dole, what he says about Trump being more willing to play ball with the Republican Congress is almost certainly true. That’s the real reason to fear Trump as president if you’re a conservative — not that he’s going to do something nutty but that, in order to fill his ideological void, he’s going to get rolled by Beltway Republicans. Trump will be a softer touch for centrist GOPers like Dole as president, especially given his centrist inclinations, and Dole not only knows it, he prefers him because of it.
Is it true that the GOP would suffer “cataclysmic” losses with Cruz at the top of the ticket but not with Trump, though? Trump can bring in more centrist Democrats than Cruz can, but Trump will have a problem in some disgruntled conservatives staying home that Cruz won’t have. There’s a strange asymmetry in perceptions of Trump’s and Cruz’s relative electability: The early read that Trump is a buffoon who could never win the general election has now been discarded by many, including apparently by Bob Dole, but the idea that Cruz is too extreme to win anything despite the fact that he’s run the best campaign of any Republican and would have a weak Democratic opponent soldiers on. Somehow Trump’s surprising campaign strength has shocked everyone into taking him seriously but Cruz’s surprising campaign strength is ignored as irrelevant in the general. Lefty Jonathan Chait looks at the two of them, assessing their relative liabilities, and says Republicans like Dole would be nuts to prefer Trump to Cruz as nominee:
But throwing in with Donald Trump is an extremely bad idea for Republicans. He is wildly unpopular among the public at large, and his mix of racism, misogyny, and flamboyant ignorance is perfectly calibrated to motivate and hold together the Obama coalition of minorities, single women, and college-educated whites. And even if he could somehow win a general election, a Trump presidency would be a white-knuckle ride for his party. Trump’s attitudes — a reverence for wealth and strength, contempt for losers of all kinds, and cultural nostalgia — may fit broadly within the GOP. But he has displayed little understanding of conservative theory, and no record of loyalty to the party. Republicans have little reason to believe Trump would expend political capital on their priorities, and less to believe he would stick to them in the face of adversity. (One analogue here might be Arnold Schwarzenegger, a cult-of-personality celebrity politician who won the governorship of California, grew deeply unpopular, and rescued his reputation by moving sharply to the center while infuriating the right.) Allowing Trump to have its nomination would saddle Republicans with the worst nominee any party has had in decades…
Cruz would stand a somewhat weaker chance of winning than Rubio, but the difference is really marginal. Cruz would not be the Establishment’s first or second choice to run atop its ticket, but he’s far from the disaster Trump would pose. He’s substantively a garden-variety right-winger. Cruz is the candidate who can harness cultural alienation, populist distrust of elites, and anti-immigration sentiment into safe channels — safe meaning something that could result in something less than the meltdown that would be a Trump nomination. If Republicans despise Cruz so much that they allow Trump to prevail, they are making a historic mistake and choosing the devil they don’t know over the one they do.
I think he’s underestimating Trump a bit but he’s dead on about Cruz. That figures like Dole would rather roll the dice on Trump makes me think they’re either continuing to sell Cruz short, which calls their political acumen into question, or they’d actually rather absorb a greater risk of losing with Trump than give Cruz a shot to win. Bad either way.
I’ll leave you with this, from 2013, since it’s circulating on conservative Twitter this afternoon:
Congress must protect our borders first. Amnesty should be done only if the border is secure and illegal immigration has stopped.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2013
Amnesty? I thought the position of Trump fans was no amnesty, period, whether there’s security first or not. Here’s Dole from last month laying into Cruz.