Ted Cruz: I'm well positioned to be the Republican nominee for president, you know

Ted Cruz: I'm well positioned to be the Republican nominee for president, you know

I wonder if he believes this. Cruz is many things — cynical, calculating, opportunistic — but not delusional. Watch.

A poll last month of the 2024 race minus Trump found Ron DeSantis at 26 percent, Mike Pence at 15, and Cruz at 10.

Read that again. He’s trailing Mike Pence among members of the “Hang Mike Pence” party.

In fact, at nine percent, Donald Trump Jr polled just a point behind Cruz.

Cruz is technically right that in recent history the runner-up in one GOP primary has advanced to become the nominee in another, but he more than anyone should appreciate that Trump broke the old rules. McCain and Romney became party nominees not because they had a base of enthusiastic supporters but because no one captured the imagination of Republican voters in the cycles in which they ran, leading GOPers to opt for a safe, familiar, “electable” choice. Cruz sensed that 2016 would be different. The populist energy harnessed by the tea party coupled with Romney’s loss to a reviled Democrat would lead Republicans to ditch the same-old same-old establishmentarians and gamble on a firebreathing “outsider” who was more responsive to them.

He was right, and positioned himself accordingly to capitalize. It’s just that Republicans ultimately preferred a different firebreather.

By Cruz’s logic, Rick Santorum should have been the 2016 nominee. As it is, GOPers chose a louche former game-show host who’d never run for office before over a field of 16 well-credentialed Republican politicians. So how much stock should we place in the old rules? Why would Cruz think the base would suddenly revert to opting for uncharismatic careerists as nominees when there are destined to be Trumpier options in every field going forward?

Why would he believe he’d finish ahead of Don Jr in a head to head race? Why would he believe he’d finish ahead of Tucker Carlson, for that matter, or ahead of any of numerous right-wing celebrities hoping to parlay their fame into high office in the largely post-policy GOP?

If you’re a populist looking to own the libs or “burn it all down,” you’ll have better options in 2024 than Cruz. If you’re a conservative looking for someone to steer the party to the right, you’ll also have more appealing and electable choices. One reason DeSantis leads so many Trump-less primary polls is that he checks both boxes. Greg Abbott does too. The hard reality for Cruz is that a meaningful share of his support in the later stage of the 2016 primary was owed to him being the lone remaining conservative “Not Trump.” If you were a movement conservative who was adamantly anti-Trump for reasons of ideology or character, you pulled the lever for Cruz with a smile on your face. That dynamic won’t exist in the next primary without Trump. No one’s voting for Cruz because they’re leery of DeSantis or Abbott.

It’s not even clear at this point how much of a base there is for a “constitutionalist conservative” candidate, as Cruz fashioned himself in 2016. Thanks to Trump, populist conservatism has become 90 percent populism and 10 percent conservatism. DeSantis and Abbott have each jettisoned elements of conservatism that conflict with populism, in fact, laying down anti-mandate mandates for business owners to prevent them from requiring employees to get vaccinated. Cruz is a relic of an era that no longer exists but still sort of did in 2016, tea-party Republicanism. The tea partiers have morphed into nationalists now. Why would they want someone who represents what the party used to be rather than someone who represents what it’s becoming?

Cruz understands all of this to some extent. It’s why, after Josh Hawley announced in January that he’d object to certifying Biden’s victory in certain swing states, Cruz leaped into action to organize a group of objectors in the Senate. He needs to keep pace with other MAGA sycophants eyeing a national run and he realizes that you don’t do that by coming up with creative conservative policy ideas. But I don’t know if he can ever fully earn the trust of Trump voters after he refused to endorse Trump at the 2016 convention, or if he can earn their respect after he kowtowed to an opponent who insulted his wife and father. And there’s no way he’ll ever enjoy true “one of us” credibility among grassroots populists. DeSantis’s egghead credentials are the equal of Cruz’s, with both having attended Ivy League schools for undergrad and law, but DeSantis is able to communicate in a more natural way with his audiences than the polished debater Cruz is. Cruz always sounds like a Harvard guy, even when he’s trying not to sound quite as much like a Harvard guy. He can’t help it, as he’s sure he’s the smartest person in any room he happens to be in.

Bottom line: He’s not going to be the nominee. But this is his lifelong dream, it seems, and he may well have achieved it if Trump hadn’t come along five years ago to spoil it for him. So go figure that he’s having trouble letting go.

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Ben Shapiro 12:01 AM on June 01, 2023