Ted Cruz: Hillary will be president if we nominate another moderate

He didn’t say whether he had a particular moderate in mind. Any theories?

Cruz, a deeply conservative Texas Republican and likely 2016 candidate himself, called Bush a “good governor in Florida,” before warning against nominating a centrist Republican. He didn’t specifically place Bush in that category, but the implication was clear: Bush, the son of former President George H.W. Bush and the brother of former President George W. Bush, is far more moderate than the Republican base is on a host of issues including immigration and education.

“If we nominate another candidate in the mold of a Bob Dole or a John McCain or a Mitt Romney — and let me be clear, all three of those men, they’re good men, they’re honorable men, they’re decent men, they’re men of character, they’re war heroes — but what they did didn’t work,” Cruz said in an interview in his Senate office. “It did not succeed. And if we nominate another candidate in that same mold, the same voters who stayed home in 2008 and 2012 will stay home in 2016, and Hillary Clinton is the next president.”

Asked whether Jeb Bush is in that “mold,” Cruz replied, “that’s going to be a decision for the primary voters to make.”

Did conservative voters stay home en masse for Romney? Not if you use “white evangelicals” as a proxy for conservatives: They turned out at the same rate for Mitt as they did for the victorious George W. Bush in 2004. It’s true, as Sean Trende famously showed, that many millions of white voters who showed up for previous elections did stay home in 2012, but Trende didn’t think that was a function of ideology. He thought it was a function of class. Romney’s wealth and “47 percent” aloofness simply didn’t motivate middle-class whites. A conservative nominee in 2016 who addresses that problem might do better, one who doesn’t might not. Apart from all that, it’s … odd that Cruz seems to assume that conservatives are the only Republican voters who might boycott a nominee who’s not to their liking. Grassroots righties have argued for years — quite rightly — that for all the media blather about disloyal tea partiers challenging the GOP establishment, it’s actually establishmentarians who are quick to throw the party overboard when they don’t get their way. Charlie Crist lost the Florida Senate primary to Rubio and bolted to become an independent; Arlen Specter anticipated that he’d lose the primary to Pat Toomey and switched parties in advance. GOP strategists like Steve Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace made names for themselves in lefty media by dumping on the party after McCain lost and it shifted right. There’s no doubt — none — that plenty of hawkish centrist Republicans will cross over and back Hillary in 2016 on foreign policy grounds if Rand Paul is the GOP’s nominee. Given all that, why does Cruz think centrist GOPers will turn out en masse to vote for him as nominee? I don’t get it.

But let’s not get bogged down in details. I don’t fully agree with what Rich Lowry says here but conservatives can use a pick-me-up today. Is Ted Cruz the big winner from the Jeb Bush announcement?

If Jeb gets in, it obviously hurts other establishment candidates like Chris Christie and Mitt Romney (it may finally kill the Romney talk). It probably hurts those candidates who could potentially straddle the establishment–Tea Party divide, like Marco Rubio (who will also face the dilemma of running against another candidate from Florida and a former mentor) and Scott Walker. Whom does it help? Ted Cruz. The Texas senator wants a pure establishment–Tea Party fight and a Jeb candidacy does the most to tee that up by potentially squeezing out the candidates who have some appeal to both wings. So Jeb getting in would be the biggest windfall for Cruz since the shutdown fight, without which he wouldn’t be in such a strong position (it gave him an enormous boost among the grassroots and a huge e-mail list). You’ll also see Jeb, if he gets in, probably forming de facto alliances of convenience with other candidates on the activist right. Bush, for instance, would have every reason to root for a strong run by Ben Carson, since Carson’s support presumably comes out of Cruz’s hide and keeps the field to Jeb’s right divided.

He’s right that Jeb will start talking up fringier conservative candidates in hopes of diluting Cruz’s and Paul’s support. Remember how Romney seemed to go suspiciously easy on Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul in 2012? They were no threat to win the nomination but they were a threat to pull conservative votes that more serious righty candidates needed to stop Romney. Bush will do the same thing. I’m not sure Lowry’s right, though, that Jeb getting in sets up the best possible establishment/tea party fight for Cruz. For starters, Jeb has a chance to crush Christie early, leaving him as the sole champion of a fully united donor class. That would be tough for Cruz to counter, even though Bush makes for an easy villain as the face of the establishment. If I were Cruz, I’d rather have seen Jeb pass on the race and Christie anointed as establishment champion. He’s less likable than Bush and the donor class is less likely to back him enthusiastically. Having Christie as the RINO-in-chief also might have enticed Romney into the race later next year, which would splinter the center-right vote and give Cruz an easy target in attacking Romney as someone who already tried and failed in battle against the Democrats. Plus, Cruz will rely for his own campaign partly on Texas donors, many of whom are friendly with the Bushes. At best, that means he’ll have to play relatively nice with Jeb if he wants to keep cashing their checks. At worst, it means there won’t be many checks for him to cash in the first place. Of the center’s three potential heroes, I think Jeb is marginally the most difficult for Cruz to beat.

I’m not sure that having Jeb as establishment champion squeezes out the “hybrid” candidates either. It makes money harder to come by, but Scott Walker will have no trouble making the case that a guy in his 60s named “Bush” who hasn’t held office for eight years is pretty much the opposite of where a forward-thinking party wants to go. (Cruz will make the same case, of course.) More importantly, having centrists coalesce early around a formidable champion like Jeb could force voters from other segments of the party to prioritize electability more than they otherwise would have — which will help the “hybrid” candidates like Walker and potentially hurt the more ideological candidates like Cruz. For instance, if you’re a conservative trying to decide between Walker and Cruz and you have a weak establishment champion in Christie on the other side, you might be more inclined to roll the dice on Cruz. Centrists aren’t keen on Christie, you might surmise; they might stay home, which means Cruz has a real shot at the nomination. A better-funded, better-recognized establishmentarian like Jeb changes the calculus. If centrists are turning out in force, maybe you can’t beat them with Cruz. Maybe you need to get behind a guy who will pull some centrist votes away from Jeb while earning lots of conservative support too. Maybe you need Walker. There is guaranteed to be a large-ish segment of GOP primary voters who don’t like Cruz or Paul for whatever reason — substance, style, what have you — but who are also sick of the Bushes and grasping for an alternative. That’s where the hybrid candidates come in.

Long story short, if you’re a Cruz fan, you’re rooting hard now for Chris Christie to roar into this race and start throwing punches at Jeb. And Romney too, of course — as unlikely as it is that all three will get in, the more you can divide centrists, the better. In fact, I wonder if there’ll be an alliance of convenience between Christie and Cruz: Each man would rather have the other as their chief rival for the nomination than they would Scott Walker, and each man has an interest in seeing a guy with lots of money and name recognition like Bush taken down ASAP. Here’s to the Christie/Cruz partnership!