Back in March, this website urged readers to largely ignore Ted Cruz. The first-term Texas senator, we argued, is a political lightweight, more interested in drawing attention to himself than winning the Republican presidential nomination.
That was before Donald Trump.
The divisive property tycoon’s rise in the polls helps Cruz for the simple reason that party actors will prefer anyone over Trump.
The New Yorker is not going to win the nomination. We reported last month that he is already plotting his exit, complaining that the Republican Party has been treating him “unfairly”. In recent days, his supporters have suggested he may stage an independent presidential bid. The only thing that would accomplish is a win for the Democrats.
But Trump probably won’t be quick to admit defeat and the Iowa caucuses are less than two months away.
Evangelicals search for anti-Trump
The Washington Post reports that evangelical leaders, whose followers are disproportionately represented among potential caucusgoers in Iowa, are desperately looking for someone to stop Trump. They are debating whether to support Cruz or his fellow senator, Marco Rubio.
Cruz is the more obvious choice. Whereas Rubio at least claims to want to expand the Republican Party, Cruz’ whole campaign is geared toward convincing hard-right voters that they needn’t change a thing to win back the White House in 2016.
His argument, that Republicans lose when they nominate “Democrat-lite,” is wrong. But it’s one the party faithful like to hear.
Jonathan Bernstein cautions at Bloomberg View that Cruz still has to survive the eight weeks between now and Iowa. “The state’s conservatives have a record of jumping from one horse to another,” he writes. At this point in 2011, former House speaker Newt Gingrich was leading while the eventual winner, former senator Rick Santorum, was in sixth place. And the 2012 caucuses took place a month earlier than next year.
Santorum is running again. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former governor and pastor Mike Huckabee are two other candidates who appeal to evangelicals.
They each have problems of their own: Santorum is yesterday’s news; Carson is oddly ignorant about the world outside America; Huckabee competes for the same folk voters as Trump. Cruz seems the better bet.
That doesn’t mean he will be the nominee.
Iowa is not enough
The last time Iowa Republicans picked the right candidate was in 2004 when George W. Bush ran unopposed. Neither Huckabee, who won the caucuses in 2008, nor Santorum, who won four years later, were viable general-election candidates.
Cruz is even more of a factional candidate than the both of them, according to Bernstein. “And his unpopularity with those he works with means he hasn’t even been able to win endorsements from many House Freedom Caucus members.”
Only if it comes down to Cruz or Trump would the former stand a chance. But it’s more likely that another candidate — probably Rubio or former Florida governor Jeb Bush — will stay in the race long enough to emerge triumphant from a three-way contest.