You saw a bit of this in the Hannity interview I posted yesterday, but only as part of Cruz’s kitchen-sink effort against Trump — he’s afraid of Megyn Kelly, he’s not a conservative, and oh, by the way, he’s temperamentally a terrible fit for the job. You hear that from other Trump critics too but temperament is almost always an afterthought vis-a-vis the other two, which is foolish when you think about it. Calling Trump chicken for dodging Kelly is a fun way to needle the alpha male but you’re not going to get far trying to convince voters that the most anti-PC guy in the race is too timid to lead. It’s undeniably true that Trump isn’t a conservative, but no one who’s still open to Trump at this point cares about that. Either they’ve absorbed his heresies and concluded they’re not disqualifying or they’re not very conservative themselves and don’t hold it against Trump for being the same way.
What about temperament, though? That critique may be more potent than you think. New from ABC/WaPo:
At 51 percent, more voters say they’re “very anxious” about Trump than say they’re at all anxious about Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. A lot goes into “anxiety” about a candidate, of course. Some of it is simple partisanship, some of it is more issue-specific. Go figure that Latinos are especially anxious about a Trump presidency:
Some of it, though, is anxiety about giving the launch codes to a guy who’s famously unpredictable. Note that this poll was conducted between the 21st and the 24th; Trump didn’t announce that he was boycotting the Fox News debate until the evening of the 26th. These numbers, in other words, reflect public opinion of Trump before he pulled his biggest stunt of the campaign so far. How will undecideds in Iowa react when they turn on Fox tonight and, much to their surprise, don’t see Trump there? What do you think Cruz will say about what they should think? This is another reason why skipping the debate is so foolish for Trump: It’s not just a matter of “snubbing” Iowans, it’s a matter of signaling that electing him risks making the country less stable at a moment when voters are already anxious about instability.
Go figure that Team Cruz is starting to hammer that theme:
If Trump sees through his promise to hold a rival event Thursday, the Cruz camp will use it as fresh ammunition for an assault on the New Yorker’s character, casting their fiercest rival for the GOP nomination as too emotional and self-centered to be trusted with the White House.
“What people will understand is Donald Trump, if he’s not there, made an emotional decision,” Tyler said. “That fits his erratic behavior, based on grievances that are petty and small. That’s what people will see.”
Amanda Carpenter, who used to be Cruz’s communications director, is also alluding to it here:
Trump is no longer exciting; he's exhausting.
— Amanda Carpenter (@amandacarpenter) January 28, 2016
There are just too many cliffhangers in the Trump reality show to risk bringing it to the White House. Andy McCarthy, a Cruz supporter, echoes the point as well:
Mix in his signature instability: He would never stop treating Kelly nicely, until — turning on a dime — he did . . . just like Carly Fiorina was unattractive until she was “beautiful” . . . and Jeb Bush was a great guy until he was a loser . . . and Ted Cruz was a friend until he was a “nasty” guy that no one would have for a friend . . . and ISIS was Putin’s problem until we needed to obliterate them . . . and he was going to roll over all the “stupid” people on Capitol Hill who’ve screwed everything up until he was going to make deals with his old friends Pelosi, Reid, and Schumer . . . and he was going to round up and kick out 12 million illegal aliens but then bring most of them right back into the country.
How can Trump fans think, based on what he’s saying at the moment, that they know what a President Trump would do a year from now? The truth is: No one knows whether what he just said is what he’ll be saying five minutes from now.
And that is because Trump is a calculating showman. What he says in the moment is based on expedience, not rooted ideas. That’s why, if you stick around long enough, he will get around to saying everything: advocating abortion on demand and, eventually, the sanctity of life; professing admiration for Bill de Blasio and, eventually, Clarence Thomas; gushing praise for Megyn Kelly and, eventually, savaging Megyn Kelly.
Irrational, mercurial, draconian, solipsist — all wrapped up in a neat little persecution complex. I wouldn’t put him in the Oval Office, but he has the makings of a fine Saudi sheikh.
Byron York picked up on all of this on Wednesday night, when he asked various Cruz supporters in Iowa why they preferred him to Trump. The answer: Partly because Trump is too much of a “wild card.” Said one Cruz advisor about Trump skipping the debate, “People are a little nervous about electing someone who is so knee-jerk.” I didn’t pay attention to that when I read it yesterday morning, thinking that Trump has shrugged off far worse attacks, but the ABC/WaPo data has me reconsidering. And the odd thing is, before pulling out of the debate, Trump himself seemed to be working to reassure voters that he’d be more even-keeled as president than he’s been on the trail. That’s why he’s been less confrontational and relatively low-key at the debates, and that’s part of the reason why he’s been talking up how many members of the GOP establishment have been reaching out to him. If mainstream Republicans like Bob Dole and Terry Branstad prefer him to Cruz, how much of a loose cannon can he really be? Now, suddenly, he turns around and bugs out of the debate. Trump critics like to note that his favorable rating among the total electorate is terrible right now, but it was terrible among Republicans back in the spring and he turned it around. He can pull the same trick on the general electorate, especially when he starts shedding some of the immigration stances his fans love him for. I’m not sure if he can turn those anxiety numbers around, though. This is who Trump is. Don’t vote for him unless you want drama with the highest possible stakes.
There are two easy counters to Cruz emphasizing how erratic Trump is. One: Er, isn’t there already someone out there who’s spent the last few months calling Trump the “candidate of chaos”? How’s that been working out for Jeb Bush? Fair enough, but there’s little overlap between Bush’s and Cruz’s target audiences. Jeb is Mr. Establishment, who’s pitching to center-righties. Cruz is Mr. Conservative, who’s pitching not just to the right but to populists generally. Cruz can make inroads with a different crowd. And both Jeb and Cruz now have fresh evidence for their point thanks to Trump’s debate pullout. It’s one thing to attack Trump as chaotic when he’s been trying to put on a more serious face, it’s another to do it on a night when he’s not onstage because Fox’s PR department hurt his feelings.
Two: How is the guy whose critics blame him for almost singlehandedly engineering the 2013 shutdown going to accuse someone else of sowing chaos? Cruz has showed he’s willing to use tactics with no hope of success, even at the price of a shutdown, in order to give himself a higher soapbox to grandstand from. That’s unpredictable too, no? That’s a great counter and Trump will use it — although, very weirdly, he hasn’t come after Cruz over the shutdown yet. Rubio will use it too, although of course Cruz will hit back that the Gang of Eight’s amnesty and Rubio’s hyperinterventionist approach in Libya and beyond are both chaotic in their own right. Cruz can’t afford not to press the “erratic” attack against Trump, though, especially now that Trump’s handed him a perfect illustration of it. If that means he takes some hits over the shutdown, so be it. He’ll plead “I did it all to stop ObamaCare” and hope that’s enough. It usually is, at least on the right.