I begin by noting that when it comes to positions and policies among the Republicans, Ted Cruz is the closest to my beau ideal. I would want more than a dash of Rand Paul just to keep our domestic apparatchiks at bay, but for the most part, if Ted Cruz looked to become president, I would raise a celebratory glass after the results from Ohio came in.
In addition, I have thus far been impressed with how Cruz has been — as it appears to me — playing the long game. He got elected to the Senate promising to play hard ball, and that is exactly what he has consistently played. And I suspect that he has been playing the long game for a lot longer than it looks like he has been playing the long game. He is brilliant, and it appears to me that his brilliance is not simply of the policy wonk genre. Strategy appears to be part of the package.
I say this knowing that there are a number of the candidates that I would still be willing to vote for, and it might come to that. It depends on who is still standing in a few months, and there is a lot of terrain between now and then. Some candidates bow out after a slow bleed of money, like Perry, and some do it 48 hours after their fireball gaffe, like whoever draws that short straw.
Now I know there are some ideological purists who want to know what possible defense I could offer for voting for any establishment type, someone like Bush or Walker. I don’t know . . . self-defense, perhaps? We can talk about that later.
But my point here is not to be a member of any cheer-leading squad, but to analyze the game a bit. My role here is not to be Tiffany with the cute midriff but rather to be John Maddon with no cute midriff at all.
First, the Trump thing has everyone off balance, but I think it really is being misread. I think everyone has it right that Trump represents the mad-as-hell portion of the electorate. Then right after Trump is Carson, with the mad-as-heck contingent. But it is commonplace to say that this cohort occupies the hard right-wing of the party, by definition, but I don’t think this is true. The Trump thing has not really hurt the hard right candidate (Cruz) at all.
But the person most affected by Trump appears to be Bush, and probably Walker after that. Trump and his mad-as-hell shtick has actually drained support out of the moderate middle. I think more people are disgusted with the status quo than just the doctrinaire true believers on the edges. The same thing is going on over on the left, with the Bernie Sanders FeeNom. That reminds me. Think about a Trump v. Sanders race and try not to get the giggles and nausea simultaneously. Certainly, the entertainment values would be high — a Commie/Blowhard match-up would be a race for the ages. But, despite jangled nerve projections, I don’t think that is going to happen.
A quick word on the polls, a practice which is central to modern analyses of political races. I believe that polls are far more scientifically unreliable than they are generally made out to be, and think that wild inductions are not the safest way to go. Talking to 200 people and deciding what 200 million are thinking is . . . risky.
But because the candidates believe in and make decisions based on them, because participation in debates is based on them, because donors believe in them, and because the public assigns mojo accordingly, they are a factor to be taken into account. The same thing could be happening with haruspicy, and one need not be a entrails-believer to have to take it into account if observing political campaigns in a nation of entrails-believers.
That said, Cruz has not been hurt by Trump in the polls at all. He has been steadily moving up in the pack. Given that Trump has completely discombobulated the race, has he done so in a way that is intuitive or counter-intuitive? I think the latter.
Also keep in mind that money is political oxygen. The Republican field will be dramatically culled in the months to come — because a number of them simply will no longer have the money. That is what drove Perry from the race, not arguments, refutations, etc. The same thing is likely to happen to Gilmore, Jindal, Graham, et al. So who has the money in hand to still be in it months from now? Well, Trump does, and Bush sure does. Carson probably does. But in the second tier, I believe that Cruz does
All this said, here are few criticisms of Cruz. First, in television interviews he can come off (to me at least) as simultaneously unctuous and nasally. His television persona needs work, I think. But I would say the same kind of thing about the reedy voice of Ron Paul, a person I would tend to dismiss as a charisma hole. But he was a charisma hole who could fill up venues with wildly cheering college students, so there’s that problem for my theory. In other words, I respect Cruz but don’t “get” his charisma — but judging from the effects, I do believe he has it. That said, the more people see him in the way the poster above portrayed him, the better it will be for him. That poster leans against the unctuous vibe.
A second thing has been the way he has been deliberately courting Trump’s supporters. I believe that Cruz believes that Trump is going to go up like a rocket and come down like a stick. And I believe that he is correct in this. Trump is exploiting the fact that he knows how to fill a room with his personality, and he can do this easily over against “the mob.” He stands out and the mob doesn’t stand out. But when the mob is no longer a mob, and there are just a handful of individuals still standing, and Trump has to defend his wildly erratic statements — like his tweet just last year defending abortion-on-demand at 7, 8, or 9 months — against candidates with a far more consistent record than he has, it will not fare so well with him. An accurate motto for a Trump presidential campaign would have to be “Big Government, Big Hair, Big Mouth.”
So Cruz has been carefully cultivating his relationship with Trump supporters. I don’t fault him for that part, and think it is part of his shrewdness. The problem is when he defends not attacking Trump on the basis of his policy of “not attacking Republicans” — the reason so many of us like him is that he has been faithfully attacking Republicans from the first moment he got into politics. This particular answer doesn’t pass the laugh test, and I would encourage him to modify it. I think he ought to start saying that he believes the establishment Republicans who are burrowed into the Washington woodwork need a lot more criticism than they get, and that disenfranchised Republicans ought to be given space to articulate their grievances, however problematic we might find some expressions of those outsider grievances to be. That would work, and that is what I think is actually happening.
And yes, I noticed that I have identified members of the moderate middle, who have consistently succeeded in nominating one loser after another, as feeling like outsiders. That is part of what makes this a season of delicious ironies.