Monday, March 23, 2015

Teddy Makes Me Sweaty

Teddy Makes Me Sweaty

He’s in.  I know, it’s one of the more profoundly surprising moments of the 2016 Presidential campaign.  Ted Cruz wants to be our Fearless Leader.  And that unhinges me a little. 

Does he have a chance?  That is for Republicans to decide.  If they want Ted Cruz, then Ted Cruz they will have.  Right now, he’s not exactly a real contender.  Polling shows him 8th.  Larry Sabato puts him in his Second Tier, behind Jeb, Walker, and Rubio, and with a passel of “outsiders” that include Huckabee, Rand Paul, Santorum, and Ben Carson.  But Sabato’s Third Tier includes Governors such as Christie, Perry, Jindal, Mike Pence of Indiana, and John Kasich of Ohio, some of whom have more of a chance then the Second Tier.  Still, a WSJ poll indicates by a 42%-40% plurality that Republican primary voters would consider voting for him.

Cruz is another side of the Scott Walker phenomenon.  Both Ross Douthat and David Brooks have spoken favorably of Walker’s chances, particularly as someone they see as a fresh face, battle tested, and saying all the right things to the base.  Walker is an egg-breaker.  He walks over to the refrigerator, takes out the box, picks out the 6 that say “Democrats” and smashes them on the ground.  Cruz, good lawyer that he is, has first done a background check on the chickens, so he snatches the box, stalks over to the cook, and one by one, crushes the eggs in his hands—then wipes them on her apron and stalks out. 

Read the transcript of Cruz’s “I’m ready for love” speech at Liberty University and you have a checklist of GOP passions. There’s the Good—Established religion, guns, morality (his), Bibi, Ronald Reagan, drilling.  And the Bad—well, you know, Obama, Obamacare, ISIS, IRS, gays.

I don’t want to dismiss his ideas just because they aren’t mine.  They are certainly within the spectrum of conservative thought.  And he’s unquestionably intelligent—he shares one thing with Barack Obama—they were both on Harvard Law Review.   Two things make Cruz different from any of the other “name” candidates:  First, his record is devoid of any significant accomplishments, unless you count obstruction as an accomplishment.  Second, and clearly related, his insistence on purity, and his intensely confrontational approach isolate him from virtually everyone but his acolytes.  Cruz has virtually no friends on either side of the aisle—there’s a touch of John Brown at Harpers Ferry in him.  He seeks not only freedom of the enslaved, but Biblical vengeance on the “oppressors.”

Cruz presents a challenge for the GOP, and the GOP commentariat. Ed Rogers is out today in the Washington Post with a “better not” piece, as is Jennifer Rubin.  Both have their own agendas, but Cruz brings a different emotional challenge to the GOP, something that no other candidate can match.  He’s the political equivalent of a new-drug trial, where efficacy is matched against toxicity.

Think about the higher visibility “non-Rand Paul” Republican candidates and you can see how they sort themselves out into three types.  All are conservative (it’s not possible to be otherwise) and most are conservative across the spectrum.  Other than in minor variations in degree, and a touch of populism from Huck, the only real differences are on the flashpoints of immigration and Common Cause.  Jeb is the only one who supports Common Core, Jeb, Huck, and maybe Rubio are softer on immigration.  You could take Cruz’s speech, omit the personal narrative, and it could serve for any of them.

Voting Republican in 2016 means choosing a very distinct conservative ideology/theology.   The real differences between candidates are in temperament, roughly the temperaments of Jeb, Walker, and Cruz.  Jeb is Establishment.  He’s reassuring.  His demeanor, to the middle of the country, is something akin to “don’t worry, things are going to be different around here, but you won't really notice it, and I’m not arresting anyone.” In Jeb’s group we can add people like Rubio, Kasich, Huckabee, Pence, and even Rand Paul.  Walker is the new broom.  “Things are going to be different around here, and I’m going to make an example of a few of you who don’t go along with the program.”  In Walker’s group are Christie (and his “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” side) and Perry.  Cross them, and they will make you pay.  Cruz is on his own island.  He is just flat out confrontational on everything. 

When it comes to quotable, Cruz is, well, radio-shock-jock quotable.  He’s neck and neck with Rudy Giuliani with over-the-line comments about Mr. Obama. He accused Chuck Hagel of taking money from the North Koreans.  Said there were a dozen Marists on the Harvard Law faculty who advocated the overthrow of the United States government.  He’s suggested that George Soros and the United Nations are on a crusade to close suburban golf courses in America. And he’s an equal opportunity insulter—he compared people who wouldn’t support his shutdown strategy to defund Obamacare to Neville Chamberlain.

Yet, do we really know who Ted Cruz is, beyond supremely ambitious?  And, can he actually pull this off?  First, I would say it’s a mistake to underestimate him. The choice of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University was an important tactical stroke (and it didn’t hurt that Liberty made attendance mandatory for all students.)  Cruz identifies four legs of the GOP—Tea Party, Libertarians, Establishment, and Evangelicals.  The Teas are definitely gettable—they love his scorched-earth demeanor.  The Evangelicals he’s working on-the preamble to his speech focused on the importance of faith in his life.  The Libertarians are Rand Paul’s to lose, but Cruz made a nod to them at Liberty when he talked about privacy. The Establishment?  He’s probably 21st out of 20, but Cruz understands something that some of his opponents haven’t quite grasped.  The Establishment wants to win, period.  They would rather win with one of their own, but any Republican—even Cruz, is better than any Democrat.  If he’s the presumptive nominee, they will hold their noses and open their wallets.

And yet, as I write that last sentence, I am not sure it’s really true.  A Presidential candidate is a brand for a party.  The Republicans have 24 Senators up for reelection in 2016, the Democrats just 10.  What is the impact of a Cruz nomination, down-ballot?  How would he balance his ticket, and who would even want to be his running mate?  How will Ted play in swing-states?

I think the Establishment (big “E”, not just Republicans) would worry that a Cruz missile could go off course and hit all sorts of things, even them. So here is my slightly conspiratorial, almost certainly crazy hunch: If the Democrats nominate Hillary, or Jim Webb, or even Kirsten Gillibrand or Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota (both of whom would only run if Hillary dropped) a whole lot of big money, secret money, Wall Street money, might be making a surprising left turn.

Crazy? Well, if Ted Cruz is ready to rally seniors in three-cornered hats and muskets to protect golf-courses from United Nations peacekeeping (or is it grounds-keeping?) forces, then I can suggest the completely outlandish idea that wealthy folk might place a small bet on the Hill and Bill show. 

OK, I admit to being unhinged.  While I might not yet be Ready for Hillary, Teddy makes me Sweaty.

March 23, 2015

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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