And yet Cruz clearly believes Rubio is best positioned to consolidate the other lane of the race. Wearing a mustard-colored flannel shirt and sipping from a paper cup of coffee, Cruz, riding in the middle row of a rented Ford Expedition, repeatedly notes the party leadership’s affection for his colleague from Florida. “The establishment is enthusiastically unifying behind Marco Rubio,” he says. The only thing standing in the way of their matchup, Cruz adds, is Rubio’s performance in New Hampshire.
“Marco is perceived by many to be the most formidable candidate in the moderate lane. But he has serious competition in the moderate lane,” Cruz says. “Look, the winner of the moderate lane has to win New Hampshire. And right now there are a number of moderates who are competing vigorously for New Hampshire, and at this point it is not clear to me who will win.”
The truth is, Cruz’s team has come to view several of the so-called moderates whose campaigns depend on New Hampshire — Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich — as critical allies in the fight against Rubio. Cruz is desperate for one of them, or some combination of them, to prevent Rubio from winning the establishment-friendly state and solidifying his status as the center-right favorite early in the primary season.
Without a win in New Hampshire, Cruz and his team say, it’s impossible to see Rubio clearing the moderate lane of his rivals as the race moves to South Carolina, Nevada, and the Super Tuesday states. A fragmented center-right vote helps Cruz not only by lowering his vote share necessary to win, they argue, but also by delaying the emergence of an establishment favorite around whom the GOP’s power brokers can rally.