Via the Blaze, someone on Twitter described this as Graham’s YOLO moment. This speech, to the Republican Jewish Coalition, was supposed to be about foreign policy but Cruz went on before him and I guess Grahamnesty had finally had his fill of the “bold colors, not pale pastels” pitch. He got into the race expecting to be hawkish artillery against the offensive from Rand Paul and libertarians. That offensive never happened and he’s been floating through the campaign ever since, sporadically attacking Trump, sometimes grumbling about Cruz, mostly complaining that no matter what we’re doing to damage our international enemies, we need to be doing much, much more.
Today that changed. Here’s nine full minutes of this guy tearing into Cruz, specifically about his hard line on — what else? — immigration and his preference for banning abortion without even an exception for rape. (Marco Rubio holds that position on abortion too although he’s said he’d accept a law with a rape exception if it meant limiting abortion for more conventional pregnancies.) You can’t win an election that way, says Graham, to which Cruz fans say: We’ll see. The beauty of nominating Cruz, even if you’re a Republican who prefers someone else, is that it’d be as pure a test of the “bold colors, not pale pastels” theory of winning elections since Ronald Reagan. In the 35 years since Reagan was nominated, no party nominee on either side has been as ideologically dogmatic as Cruz is. Remember, Obama offered himself in 2008 as a candidate who was essentially “post-partisan,” a pragmatist who cared more about doing what’s right than doing what’s “left.” A better analog to Cruz than Obama is Elizabeth Warren, an unapologetically hard-left ideological liberal. But even Warren doesn’t quite match Cruz’s role on the right since she seems to get along fine with her Senate colleagues and her caucus leadership. Cruz, by contrast, delivers speeches on the Senate floor about how his own Republican “allies,” most notably majority leader Mitch McConnell, have sold out conservatism and the country at large by putting liberal special interests above popular interests. It’s impossible to imagine him doing much to moderate that message or “tacking towards the center” as nominee. (Except, er, for his coming embrace of legalization for illegals.) He’s too invested in it. It’s his whole persona.
Which means nominating Cruz would be about as controlled an experiment as our system could muster in how the electorate would react to a committed full-spectrum ideologue on the ballot. If he lost, especially if he lost badly, it would destroy the theory that the GOP’s problem in presidential elections lately is nominating mushy centrists who don’t really stand for anything. (That’s not how the loss would be spun by Cruz fans, of course — it would be blamed on media sabotage or whatever — but that’s the lesson other Republicans would draw.) Grahamnesty’s placing his bet now that if given a choice between Cruz’s bold colors and Hillary’s pale pastels, the pastels win. Prophet of doom is really the only role still open to him in the primaries, so that’s the one he’s going to play.