Republican voters think the economy is the number one issue but can’t manage a public discussion on economic policy, as I observed Oct. 4 (“Who are you, and what have you done with the Republican Party?“). They flail at hot-button issues, defunding Planned Parenthood, for example, and look for scapegoats such as illegal Mexican immigrants (whose numbers are actually falling). It seems pointless to make predictions of any sort in the midst of the moral equivalent of a riot, but nonetheless will go out on a limb: the Republicans will nominate Sen. Ted Cruz as President and Sen. Marco Rubio as Vice-President, by process of elimination.
This conclusion seems inevitable by process of elimination. The voters are in a surly, rebellious mood and display their anger by telling pollsters they will vote for anti-Establishment candidates who never have held office (Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Paul).
CBS Poll Released October 11
The four anti-Establishment candidates together command 58% of Republican preferences, according to the CBS poll. But it is unlikely that the party ultimately will nominate any of them. They simply are too volatile, too inexperienced and too labile to carry a presidential campaign. If that assumption is correct (and it is a big assumption), then that 58% will have to go somewhere else.
We can array the Republican candidates in a Venn diagram, with two regions denoting “experience” (holders of high political office) vs. the rebels. There is one name and one name only in the intersection of the two Venn diagrams, namely Cruz: he is perceived as anti-Establishment, but he has held high office at the state and national level.
Cruz is the likeliest person to inherit the 58% anti-Establishment vote once the Trump-Carson-Fiorina euphoria fades. It’s noteworthy that Cruz polls strongest among elected officials in the Republican race, at 9% this morning vs. 5% in September. Most of his gain appears to have come at the expense of former Gov. Mike Huckabee, which suggests that conservative evangelicals are consolidating their efforts around Sen. Cruz. The Republicans need a candidate with anti-Establishment credentials. A Jeb Bush ticket would risk defections to third-party challengers.
Cruz, moreover, has the strongest organization on the ground among all the Republican candidates. CBS news reported last week that he raised $12.2 million in the third quarter, more than twice the $6 million raised by Sen. Marco Rubio. Ben Carson, to be sure, raised about $20 million, but Carson simply will not be the candidate. The average Cruz donation was just $66, and the Texas Senator has a strong grassroots organization, perhaps the strongest of any of the Republican candidates.
Jeb. Bush is weighed down by his family name, by his own diffident personality, and by his failure to persuade the big donors who supported his father and brother that he can win. He doesn’t suit the national mood. Sen. Rubio is a charming young man whose main disadvantage is to carry the baggage of the Bush administration’s failed foreign policy, tying his tongue in knots while apologizing for the Iraq War. The rest of the Republican field is hardly worth a comment. Rubio would make a terrific VP candidate. It’s a natural: with two Hispanics on the ticket, the Republicans have a better chance of capturing Latino votes.
Ted Cruz, in summary, is best positioned to capture the Republican protest vote, and best positioned on the ground in primary states. He is also without doubt the most intelligent, literate and cultured person running for president, a former national debating champion, and a star student of the conservative philospher Robert George at Princeton as well as the liberal law professor Alan Dershowitz at Harvard. If I read him correctly, he has paced himself, allowing Donald Trump to grab the headlines, tipping his hat to this wild man of the Republican primaries by way of acknowledging the sympathy he has won from voters. Meanwhile has has spent most of his time building an organization on the ground, in preparation for the moment when the anti-Establishment vote fades. He carries none of the toxic baggage of the Republican foreign-policy establishment; on the contrary, he drew their ire for ridiculing the idea that the US could turn Iraq into Switzerland.
There’s a case against Cruz, to be sure. Ronald Reagan is his political model, and he has watched so many Reagan speeches that he can do a persuasive Reagan impression. But in many ways he is still the tall, geeky bookworm who aced every exam and became every teacher’s pet and went through hell in junior high school. Ronald Reagan had a spontaneous wit and presence of mind. In February 2008, in a dispute with the moderator of a candidates’ debate, he stood up like a Hollywood sheriff at a Republican debate and declared, “I am paying for this microphone!” The voters saw the real Reagan all the time, and loved him. Cruz is studied, not spontaneous, and humor is not his strong suit. In some ways he evokes Richard Nixon more than Reagan.
Those are disadvantages, to be sure, but I do not think they will outweigh Sen. Cruz’ advantages. He is in the right part of the Republican Party at the right time. His debating skills and mastery of public policy will show well in a prolonged campaign, especially against a slapdash thinker like Vice President Biden. There simply isn’t anyone else whom the Republicans can run with the same skill set, organizational capacity and ability to unite the party.