“Reagan can’t win, Ford says.” That’s the 1976 version. The 1980 New York Times version, with the nearly identical headline: “Ford Declares Reagan Can’t Win.” Ford was really quite sure of himself: “Every place I go, and everything I hear, there is a growing, growing sentiment that Governor Reagan cannot win the election.” New York magazine: “The reason Reagan can’t win. . . . ” “Preposterous,” sociologist Robert Coles wrote about the idea of a Reagan victory.
The founder of this magazine worried that Reagan simply could not win in 1980, and several National Review luminaries quietly hoped that George H. W. Bush would be the nominee…
In football, any team can win on any given Sunday; in politics, any candidate can win on any given Tuesday. Ted Cruz did not cut a swath through Democrats to take his seat in the Senate — the Democrat, whose name I defy you to call up, was pro forma — but rather by defeating the Republican political machine in Texas and by making fools of its top dogs. If you think that he managed that by being stupid, then there is an adjective in this sentence for you…
The great irony of the moment is that the people writing Cruz off this week are sneering at his lack of political sophistication and congratulating themselves on their own. Ask Senator David Dewhurst how well that worked out for him.
[T]he Cuban-American Cruz is firmly in the mainstream of Republican voters and elites on nearly every issue, unlike some of his fellow candidates. (Jeb Bush supports legalization for undocumented immigrants, unlike many GOP activists. Rand Paul, unlike most Republicans in Congress, supported Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba). Cruz, a Southern Baptist, is also deeply religious, as his father Rafael is a pastor.
Cruz’s path to victory would likely require him successfully courting evangelical Christians in Iowa and winning there. That is not an easy task, with Walker, Perry and Ben Carson all trying to woo that same bloc, as well as Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, who many conservative Christians in Iowa voted for in 2008 and 2012. Cruz is likely too conservative to win in New Hampshire.
So Cruz would then hope to win Tea Party conservatives and evangelicals throughout the South. A group of five southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee) are trying to organize a so-called SEC primary for March 1, which could be a big advantage for a candidate from the region. A one-on-one matchup with Bush in the later stages of the race would be ideal for Cruz, who could campaign as the true conservative.
Cruz is the fourth-most-conservative member of the Senate. But how does his ideological position compare to those of Republican primary voters, especially in early states such as Iowa and New Hampshire? Very favorably, as we will see…
Immediately clear is that Cruz is quite ideologically in-line with Republican voters in these four states. In fact, his estimated ideological score is to the left of (i.e., more liberal than) the median Republican in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida.
Instead, Bush is the candidate who appears to be the most ideologically out of step with Republican primary electorates in these four states. His score places him to the left of at least 70 percent of Republican voters in every state.
Cruz’s pitch on immigration can be genuinely substantive, not just stylistic. It’s an issue where his claim to speak for the base against the establishment is largely vindicated by the actual records of his rivals, and where his chances of getting traction as the voice of True Conservatism seem by far the strongest.
Unfortunately for him I don’t think a single-issue strategy is going to carry Cruz to the nomination. (And not even Mickey Kaus can persuade me otherwise.) So then, having gotten traction on one issue, he would need to find a way to do it again, and again, and again: Picking as many fights, dragging his rivals into as many fights, and flat-out inventing as many fights as time and media attention permit, and turning any kind of tepidity and trimming by his opponents — whether it’s over Common Core, Obamacare repeal, the tax code, the Supreme Court’s likely same-sex marriage ruling, or whatever unexpected issues the campaign throws up — into a sign of their ideological untrustworthiness, their secret RINO spirit. He needs to be like Romney in his debate with Perry over tuition for illegal immigrants, crossed with, well, himself during the government shutdown debate … and he needs to always be like that, on multiple fronts against multiple rivals, until everyone he’s running against seems much, much more moderate and crypto-liberal than their records would suggest, and he rises, Howard Dean-like, as the only possible candidate for the Republican wing of the G.O.P.
So that’s basically the path: Crowd out Jindal and Carson and Perry, redefine Walker and Rubio and maybe even Huckabee as squishes and cast Paul as a libertarian kook, have a bunch of great debate moments, and fight your way to a showdown with Jeb … but not too fast, because Cruz would want the center-right portion of the field to stay divided and for various candidates stay in long enough to divide the moderate-conservative vote, enabling him to win a number of primaries the way John McCain won South Carolina 2008, on 33 percent and a prayer. He would need Rubio and Jeb (or, less, plausibly, Christie and Jeb or Kasich and Jeb) to fight scorched-earth and ruinously-expensive battles over New Hampshire and Florida, and he would probably need two center-right candidates still in the race when it moved to the Midwest, so that he could hope to win some states by just putting together the votes that Santorum and Gingrich won against Romney in Michigan and Ohio. Then he would hope to dominate the South and the high plains, win big in Texas, and thanks to winner-take-all rules make the numbers all add up … and then boom, Ted Cruz is your 2016 nominee.
This coming election will be tough for Republicans. As all the experts have shown, the electoral college math does not favor the GOP. Some experts have predicted that Democrats have over an 80% chance of winning the Electoral College. According to the Washington Post, if one looks at the states where the margin was narrow in the 2012 election, five currently favor Democrats (Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania) while in others, like Colorado, Democrats have a very good chance of winning as a result of demographic trends, namely growing minority populations that favor their party’s nominee. Barring any dramatic changes in the coming months, Democrats will also have a very strong and seasoned nominee in Hillary Clinton.
Cruz is also not just someone who defends extremism but a politician who can easily be tied to the congressional obstructionism that has turned off so much of the electorate. The Republican Party has been dragged down by the kind of politics that voters have observed in Washington. In 2014, congressional approval ratings plummeted to 14%. As the new year began, the approval ratings were only slightly better: just 16%.
This is the congressional Republicanism where Cruz comes from. Many voters who like conservatism and the GOP don’t love what their representatives are doing on Capitol Hill. The kind of scorched earth, always say no to anything politics has not done well in terms of the favorability ratings. There have been few practitioners of this style of legislative politics as prominent as Cruz. During his campaign for the presidency, he might pay the price for the kind of politics that brought him great attention in Congress.
“We knew very early on that if we make the election about Obama’s experience versus Hillary’s, she was gonna kick our ass,” says Favreau. “Our argument was that she had the wrong kind of experience, that we’d tried it before, that her experience led to making the wrong judgment in Iraq. The problem for Cruz is the rest of the field. If this was Cruz versus a bunch of Republicans who’d been in Washington forever it would be one thing. But he’s going to have a whole bunch of governors on the stage with him.”
With the exception of South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, whose surprise campaign is still a mystery to Republican strategists, none of the GOP’s 2016 hopefuls have long experience in Washington. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, like Cruz, are first-term senators. Rick Santorum, whose support Cruz is trying to absorb as quickly as possible, has been out of office since 2006. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal spent a brief, resume-building stint in Congress, but he rarely mentions it. Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and Mike Huckabee have spent no time in Washington; insurgent candidates John Bolton and Carly Fiorina have never won any elected office.
That means Cruz will have to fight for the mantle of “change” in a way that Obama never had to. And unlike Obama, he has few supporters in the Senate making his case over the other possible change-Washington contenders. Cornyn has declined to endorse his junior partner, and the presence of Rick Perry in the race gives him an out.
From top to bottom: Congress is an irresponsible steward of the public trust. Almost all of our problems trace back to the dysfunction of the Congress. Even Obama’s executive overreach: Congress has been handing legislative authority to the president and bureaucracy for 80 years; is it any wonder a president finally took something that wasn’t given him?
What conservatives need is a president who can induce Congress to make reforms that it would not otherwise make. This is no mean feat. After all, public policy emanating from Congress works quite well for … members of Congress! They like the status quo, thank you very much. Ideally, a good president helps members see their self-interest rightly understood, as Tocqueville would say. He gets them to do what they should be doing, anyway…
Presidential skill does not matter nearly as much as we assume, but it still matters. So, it makes sense to pick a skillful leader.
Is Ted Cruz such a leader? Perhaps. He is extremely skillful at the outside game, but he will have to make the case that he can work with the Congress. This is something he’s not yet proved during his short tenure in the Senate.
Let’s dispose of this myth once and for all. Every presidential election cycle we hear it: “Well, they said Ronald Reagan could never be elected.”…
According to data from “The Party Decides,” Reagan had 51 endorsements from party actors through March 1979. This included five senators, 23 House members, two state party chairs and one governor. Weighting for the position of the endorser (i.e., senators count for more than representatives), Reagan had an astounding 90 percent of endorsements by party officials at that point.
Cruz has nowhere near that level of support. He couldn’t even earn the endorsement of his fellow Texas senator, John Cornyn, or fellow tea partyer Sen. Mike Lee. Reagan, who had honed his “common touch” as an actor and TV pitchman, was also a respected two-term governor of California, which at that time was a swing state. He gracefully bowed out of the 1976 Republican convention. In other words, Reagan gave Republican officials a number of reasons to like him. Cruz … hasn’t.
“Part of his problem is not being likable to voters, but another part of it is not being likable enough to the people [within the party establishment] whose help you need to get a campaign off the ground,” said GOP consultant Dan Judy. “He is not well-liked by those people. A lot of those people like some Democratic senators more than they like him.”
Judy also pointed out, however, that the absence of natural charm is not necessarily fatal for a politician, and it’s not just a GOP issue.
Clinton, after all, has long struggled in this area, famously being dismissed with a “You’re likable enough, Hillary” comment by then-Sen. Barack Obama during their tumultuous 2008 primary campaign.
Despite that, Clinton is a clearer favorite to become her party’s standard-bearer this time around.
Like Cruz, Goldwater was extreme, and as he said, in one of his best-known speeches, he didn’t consider this a vice. His extremism was not simply of the small-government variety, although that is what those who venerate him tend to invoke. He mused about letting NATO commanders use atomic weapons on the battlefield according to their own judgement. In May, 1964, when the American presence in Vietnam was a fraction of what it would become, he was asked how he’d handle the problem of Vietnamese supply lines in the jungle, which were hard to see. There had been several suggestions, he said, that probably wouldn’t be pursued, “but defoliation of the forests by low-grade atomic weapons could well be done.” That was a few months before his party handed him the nomination.
Goldwater was not seen as entirely serious; one defense of his extremism was that it was simple clumsiness. He was not a disciplined speaker. (Cruz certainly is; read Jeffrey Toobin’s Profile.) In 1963, Jacob Javits, a Republican Senator from New York, told the A.P. that Goldwater’s backers included “some pretty sad elements on the ultra-right.” Javits said that he was a supporter of Rockefeller, who represented “more mainstream” positions. That same year, the Times doubted that Goldwater could get his party’s support. J.F.K. amused reporters with jokes about him.
Goldwater is sometimes invoked as a cautionary tale, a lesson that both parties learned: nominate the extremist, and your party will lose. (Other than his native Arizona, he only won five states, all in the South.) The other lesson, though, is that in losing you might transform your party. Ronald Reagan made the full transition to politics by way of Goldwater’s campaign. There is no Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party. (And, thus, less of a firewall against extreme candidates.) It’s not even clear that there’s an “establishment.” And 1964 was a strange election year, in the wake of Kennedy’s assassination. What if Goldwater really was running against Kennedy, whose attraction to crises and vulnerability to scandal are clearer now than they were at the height of his Presidency? Once each party in our system puts forward a candidate, it is a mistake to discount the possibility that anything can happen.
This is actually an incredibly momentous fact: In 2012, for the first time in the history of GOP primaries, the anti-establishment camp got more votes than the establishment camp.
This cannot simply be overlooked and written off: The votes are there for… well, for someone like Ted Cruz to pull off the upset of a lifetime…
Jeb Bush is, personally, a great candidate, both on the stump and on paper. But his four-letter last name will necessarily make many voters think twice about voting for him. The rationale for pulling the lever for the establishment candidate is that he or she substantially increases the likelihood of victory. But here that rationale is severely hobbled. And look how it worked out last time…
But the fact remains that the pool of anti-establishment votes has been proven, at least once, to be bigger than the pool of establishment votes. And that fact alone should get us to at least question the conventional wisdom on GOP primaries.
Kelly paraphrased Paul’s remarks: “I’m kind of like the Ted Cruz who can win, who can appeal to a broader group, and we’re hearing that more and more.”
“Can you appeal beyond the conservative base?” she asked, noting a March 4 Wall Street Journal op-ed by Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who posited that if Cruz gets the same share of white and minority votes as George W. Bush received in 2004, he would lose by a wide margin.