There are few people I do not take seriously in politics. Or to put it more specifically, there are few people I fully discount in the context of national elections. Ted Cruz is one of those people. By contrast, I think it is highly unlikely that Rand Paul can make it in the GOP primaries, let alone a national election. There are so many intra-party disputes, so many iffy stories lurking in the background for him and his father and a lot more. But there are enough unexpected and cross cutting aspects to Paul that I can’t be sure. Always important, many people who don’t agree with anything Paul says find him somehow appealing. Cruz is entirely different. It is hard to think of someone who has been accorded such press attention as a presidential contender while being so certain to go down to defeat. It is extremely unlikely that Cruz could ever win the GOP nomination. And as certain as one can ever be in this fallen world that he cannot win a national election.
This is for three reasons.
Starting with most obvious, Cruz would not survive first contact with the range of blue states and swing states where a Republican must compete. Some say, they didn’t think he had a chance in Texas either. Well, Texas, as they say, is a whole ‘nother country. Both on the issues and temperamentally Cruz embodies the caricature of Republicans which nominees studiously work to dismantle in the general election phase of the campaign. Indeed, Cruz would run so poorly in many blue “reach” states that he would probably bring down a non-trivial congressional Republicans because he is so toxic to non-right wing ideologues. He won’t win a national election. Not at the top of the ticket.
Second, no one wins the presidency who does not come off as a good guy, someone you would like, to a majority of the population. The one possible exception is Richard Nixon, though a significant part of his 1968 success was combating this problem. Lots of people hated Clinton and Bush and now Obama too. But most people liked them. Likable guys, not, in a word, assholes. People who come off like assholes don’t get elected president. From college and law school to the Senate and seemingly everywhere in between, Cruz has found small groups of admirers while convincing the vast majority of people as a consummate asshole.
This isn’t just me sounding off; it’s not trash talk. This is a really basic dynamic of presidential elections. There were plenty of Democrats who thought W was an entitled jerk. Most of the population did not feel that way. Many republicans felt Clinton was a slippery charlatan. But even many of them found it difficult to resist his charm. Indeed, that was one of the reasons they hated him.
Most people, including most Republicans, find Ted Cruz grating, divisive and arrogant. That makes it extremely hard to make the kind of emotive connection with voters who come to elections without strong ideological moorings. Cruz’s great strength, albeit with a small but intensely devoted slice of the national conservative electorate, is that he has taken the unbridled self-assertion and norm-breaking which make him intolerable to many up close and cast them as the ultimate expression of the right-wing id. Also another thing, people don’t like assholes.
Third, establishment Republicans: Ted Cruz does not play ball. He is arrogant. He causes lots of damage for Republicans who either have moderate views or are in the business of politics. Ted is not good for business in either the good or bad senses of the term – whether that’s people who simply want to govern or those most focused on delivering goods for constituents (or getting people who are not named Ted Cruz elected). Ted will never be elected president. And I think it is very, very unlikely he will get the GOP nomination. The most likely outcome is that he will pull well with far right Republicans and pull the field to the right.
To summarize, pass the popcorn.