You might want to sit down for this: GOP ‘insiders’ don’t think Cruz can win

This might surprise you, but it appears that key GOP activists and influential party members do not see Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) as having much of a shot at becoming the party’s 2016 nominee. Now, anyone looking at the early state polls at this stage of the race might say the same thing. Cruz is not polling competitively in Iowa as of today, and he’s certainly not over-performing in New Hampshire. But these “insiders” who responded to a Politico Caucus survey don’t think Cruz can win either primary state. What’s more, they do not believe he can prevail against Hillary Clinton if he were to miraculously win the nomination.

The quotes provided to Politico via unnamed but reportedly influential figures within the party are illuminating, and they reflect a conventional wisdom about Cruz that appears accurate: He is a deeply polarizing figure, even among Republicans.

“The shutdown made him infamous to most and loved by a vocal few,” said a New Hampshire Republican.

“His supporters see his fight as a badge of honor,” said an Iowa Republican. “Undecided caucus-goers will likely see his shutdown strategy as a major blunder.”

“His fighter mentality will play well with conservative activists and those who listen to talk radio,” said an Iowa Republican, “but it’s not like he has scored any real accomplishment on rolling back the Affordable Care Act.”

“Ted Cruz has a legislative record that has no positive accomplishments,” said another. “He will be in a field with many people that can point to positive accomplishments, either as governors or senators.”

“He is the reason Democrats can call Republicans ‘the Party of No,’” said a third Republican.

Sometimes, the conventional wisdom isn’t wrong, and Cruz’s approach to legislating since he took a seat in the Senate 26 months ago has been confrontational, self-aggrandizing, and alienating to adversaries and allies alike. Just because Cruz is a polarizing figure who fails to appeal to Republicans outside the most deeply conservative elements of the GOP coalition, however, does not mean that this talented orator and capable operator cannot outperform expectations.

In the commentary community, the race for the GOP nomination in 2016 has increasingly come to be characterized by lanes; a moderate lane, a tea party lane, an evangelical lane, a libertarian lane, et cetera. Rarely do these lanes merge. At least, not until the early state primaries are out of the way. For The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake, Cruz is better positioned than anyone in the field of Republican candidates to dominate multiple lanes.

So, Cruz is, without question, the dominant figure in the Tea Party lane. What that means — particularly in the early stages of the primary process in places like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — is that he will likely be able to win, place or show repeatedly, wracking up enough strong-ish performances to keep going even as the Establishment lane and the Social Conservative lane begin to thin out. (Cruz’s ability to raise money, which remains a question, is less important for him than it is for other candidates — especially those in the Establishment lane. His people are going to be for him no matter how much — or little — communicating he does with them.)

And, according to The New York Times, Cruz’s strategy is to stay in his tea party lane, so to speak, while building inroads with the social conservative community. He reckons that this will be the cycle when the Republican Party’s moderate wing, crowded as it is with capable 2016 prospects, will fail to unite behind one candidate in time to muscle the more conservative Republican out of the race.

Mr. Cruz’s early entry into the race, according to people briefed on his strategy, is a deliberate effort to recapture the attention of his party’s right wing as he seeks to build a coalition of Tea Party conservatives and evangelical Christians to try to cut through a crowded field of Republican contenders.

Does Cruz have the ability to prove all those voices who doubt his staying power wrong? That remains to be seen. The junior Texas senator has his own crowded field of conservative and evangelical candidates to best before he can make the case to the GOP electorate to take a chance on a firebrand in 2016. If the commentary class is right and the GOP insiders are wrong, however, Cruz could be in this race well into the spring of next year, if not longer.