Published March 10, 2016
The views expressed by EPPC scholars in their work are their individual views and are not to be imputed to EPPC as an institution.
Be of good cheer. Ted Cruz can win the Republican presidential nomination and the presidency.
With the DC Presidential Preference and Delegate Selection Convention scheduled for this weekend, it’s time for me to make my selection and lay my cards on the table. I choose Ted Cruz.
For many conservatives and Republicans, this is a moment of distress and pessimism. The prospect of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for president raises the specter of an electoral disaster that allows Hillary Clinton to entrench permanently all of President Obama’s policies. Notwithstanding the enthusiasm of Trump’s followers, many of them new voters and new Republicans, Trump remains unacceptable to the larger part of the electorate. I doubt this problem can be overcome by November. On the contrary, I believe Trump’s negatives will grow.
Even should Trump be elected, I have no confidence that he will govern as a conservative. Trump’s supporters like to say that no other issue matters if we lose our country through the continuation of our de facto open-borders immigration policy. Unfortunately, it’s equally true to say that no other issue matters if we lose our Constitution through the consolidation of an activist liberal Supreme Court. I have no confidence that Donald Trump will appoint the sort of justices who would save the court from liberal judicial activism. For that matter, I have no confidence that Trump will pursue a genuinely conservative immigration policy.
I don’t deny that Trump could win the Republican nomination, but I believe that result is far from certain. Only one man can stop Trump now, and that is Ted Cruz. Perhaps more important, I do not believe that a Republican ticket led by Cruz is destined to lose in November, bringing the congressional ticket down with him. Cruz’s biggest handicap has been the idea that he appeals to only a narrow slice of the Republican electorate, and so can’t win in November. This is very much an “establishment” analysis, yet oddly, many grassroots voters have bought into it. They’ve turned to Trump instead of Cruz in the false belief that only Trump can win in November. Actually, Cruz has a vastly better chance of defeating Hillary Clinton than Trump.
Once Rubio drops out, Cruz will begin to pull ahead of Trump. As primary voters begin to compare Trump’s massive November negatives with Cruz’s general-election positives, Cruz’s lead will grow still stronger.
The knock on Cruz’s electability goes back to the same flawed theory that did in Marco Rubio. This theory claims that, demographically, Republicans represent an ever-shrinking portion of the electorate. In order to win, this theory goes, the GOP needs to compromise on immigration, get that issue out of the way, and get on to the business of persuading Hispanic, minority, and centrist voters to sign onto a modernized array of conservative policies.
It’s true that the country’s demographics are changing. The flaw in the establishment theory of the American electorate, however, was its refusal to recognize that going squishy on immigration and failing to take the fight to Obama on a wide range of issues would drive away the Republican base. Republican strategists denied that liberal immigration policies would lead to electoral disaster. They pointed to evidence that Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss was not the result of the Republican base staying home.
It may well be that conservative voters rallied to Romney against Obama despite their misgivings, but it was a terrible mistake to take the base’s continued support for granted. Romney’s failure to win, combined with the Gang of Eight bill, and the failure of the Republican Congress to force President Obama to veto a conservative legislative program, broke the confidence of the base. The result has been the base’s secession from the party leadership via the shift to Cruz and Trump.
The other flaw in the establishment’s theory of the electorate was the failure to consider alternative ways of expanding the party’s appeal. Foreign policy has been oddly absent from the drive for conservative reform, as has been a principled conservative stance against corporate welfare, and the need to fight the creeping federalization of our education system via Common Core. For various reasons, the relatively small but disproportionately influential party leadership—many donors included—was at odds with the conservative base on each of these issues. In contrast, Ted Cruz is in a unique position to broaden the party’s appeal by campaigning on a reformed conservative foreign policy, opposition to corporate welfare, and opposition to Common Core.
For all its importance, there has been relatively little debate in conservative media on America’s overall strategy for the Middle East. Yet the Republican base has long since abandoned democratization as a major instrument of policy in that region. I believe that Ted Cruz’s hawkishness, in combination with his reluctance to opt for cultural transformation as a strategy, is both substantively and politically right (and nothing like Rand Paul’s neo-isolationism). Not only is Cruz’s foreign policy closer to where the Republican electorate is right now, it’s closer to where the country is right now.
A general election campaign in which Cruz raked Hillary over the coals for her Libyan misadventure would smash stereotypes about Republican foreign-policy, and about Cruz himself. Cruz, in fact, is at the forefront of crafting a sensible conservative foreign policy. The best way to get Americans to support the strong stance we need against Iran’s nuclear program is to show them that Republicans have learned from experience the difference between our essential and our non-essential security interests in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, the Trump spectacle has so far diverted attention from Ted Cruz’s extraordinarily courageous stand against the ethanol mandate during the Iowa primary—even though Iowa was absolutely critical to Cruz’s electoral plan. Should Cruz become the nominee, his willingness to take a huge political risk to stand for the average taxpayer against corporate interests will become an object lesson in conservative principle—and in authentic populism. Once again, this sort of campaign could break silly stereotypes about conservatives and capture moderate voters in a year when the Democrats are buying into snake-oil socialism.
There is a huge movement against Common Core among the conservative grassroots in this country. Here again, the economic interests of the donor class have drawn the party establishment away from the base on an issue that drives voters to the polls. Despite the relative silence, don’t think that Common Core hasn’t been a factor in this campaign. Common Core has everything to do with why Jeb’s candidacy never took off. Governors like Mike Pence, Chris Christie, and John Kasich never got traction, in part, because they openly favored Common Core, or came to be regarded as hopelessly dishonest about their stand on it.
Hillary Clinton has spent decades supporting the nationalization of American education through the Common Core and its precursors. What’s more, Democrats are deeply divided on this issue, with teachers’ unions and many ordinary parents dead set against the Common Core. Hillary will equivocate, but Ted Cruz’s steadfast opposition to Common Core puts him in an ideal position to use this issue in a national campaign. What a perfect way to introduce a larger argument about Hillary’s life-long love of big government, from her early radical writings undermining parents’ rights, to her most recent tilt to the Elizabeth Warren left.
So on a wide range of issues, Cruz is well-placed to make the kind of case that GOP establishment candidates have never yet dared to make. And on each of these issues, the conservative stance is also the stance best calculated to appeal to the electoral center. Every time Cruz makes these points, he’ll be breaking through bogus stereotypes about his so-called extremism.
This is to say nothing of Hillary’s vulnerability after having been pulled to the left by Bernie Sanders. The public still doesn’t recognize the extent to which the Sanders campaign has been powered by Bill McKibben’s young army of climate activists and their crusade against fossil fuels. Cruz will now be able to put Clinton in a tremendously awkward position by forcing her to affirm or repudiate the anti-fossil fuel stance of all those Bernie voters she’ll be desperate to win back in the general election.
You may think the anti-fossil fuel crowd has no place to go but Clinton. But these are exactly the sort of folks who will look for an opportunity to punish Hillary for refusing to embrace their questionable crusade against America’s entire energy industry. These folks literally want to shut down America’s oil companies, not just coal. The Democratic Party has gone off the deep end, and a candidate with Cruz’s policy chops will be able to take advantage of this in debates with Hillary.
Cruz has run a superb campaign, even under the onslaught of Trump. He’s built the kind of ground game that neither Trump nor Rubio could, which leaves him particularly well placed for the general election. Cruz is a champion debater and policy wonk, yet totally comfortable with the rough-and-tumble of politics nonetheless.
Yes, Cruz sometimes comes off as too scripted, but his hilarious and brilliant campaign ads show off a side that surprises. Cruz has the advantage of having been underestimated and caricatured by all. The more he shows who he really is, the more the brittle stereotype breaks. It’s already working.
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Heidi Cruz speak on behalf of Ted. She humanizes him in a completely believable way. And Heidi Cruz herself is a force to be reckoned with—wonderfully poised, and completely comfortable in the world of politics as well.
The future eludes us, but this much I think I know: Ted Cruz can win it all. The claim by liberal and conservative opponents alike that Cruz is an unappealing extremist is a bum rap. Cruz is absolutely right that Republicans haven’t really run a genuinely conservative general election campaign since Ronald Reagan. And there are a great many ways in which a full-throated conservative stance would be every bit as appealing to America’s electoral center as the strategy preferred by today’s party establishment. It’s just that no-one’s tried it.
Trump is a false prophet, not simply because he’s a fake conservative, but because he’s destined to be a loser. He’ll lose the election, lose the party, and lose the country. But Ted Cruz can win. He can beat Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, too. I choose Cruz, because Ted can win it all.
Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.