Trump has a devoted following that is 25-30% of the Republican primary electorate. Any winning republican candidate for the general election will absolutely require those votes (remember, turning out your own base is one winning strategy for an election). Is Trump a bigot? A racist? A misogynist? A buffoon? A clown? Possibly, it is also possible he just pretends to be one in order to get attention. Doesn’t really matter, people like him, people are following him. Calling him a buffoon, clown, racists or other things will only put our candidates in the same moral standing as [mc_name name=’Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C000567′ ]. Thad was able to win the general even though he attacked his own base because it was Mississippi, and winning by a smaller margin was still a win. If Cruz were to win the nomination by calling Trump a racist then Cruz is telling all of Trump’s supporters that they support a racist. If a third of Trump’s supporters stay home instead of voting for someone who called them racist then Clinton wins. Cruz cannot possibly win the general by attacking Trump, he has to organically win over Trump’s supporters.
What do we know about Trump’s supporters?
- They hate Washington. Cruz scores well on this.
- They want a winner. Cruz does not have a lot of wins behind his name at the national level (I will grant arguing cases before the Supreme Court, but the average Trump supporter probably does not), but “winner” for this group largely means somebody who wins a direct confrontation.
- They want somebody who “gets” them
I wrote that Cruz is prepping for a fight with Trump, and I believe it is being played out right now. There will be a continual game by Cruz at this point
- Goad Trump into saying something ridiculous
- Trump of course says something ridiculous
- Have a good laugh at what is said without attacking the person, or even what was said
- Allow the media to point out how ridiculous the comment made in step 2 was
You see, Trump cannot but “counterpunch.” He cannot help himself, he will respond. Even if he had the self control (which he does not) and he did not repond then he would be viewed as weak and abandoned by his supporters. However, each time he does respond Cruz will put out something like this. Each and every time everybody will have a good laugh but never feel like they are being attacked, because really, is linking to FlashDance an attack against Trump’s supporters? However over time Trump’s supporters will become uncomfortable in voting for somebody that they spent the last month laughing at.
Couple closing thoughts:
- Trump’s supporters are likely more familiar with Tommy Boy than Flashdance. When Cruz posted his response a lot of people would have thought of Trump dancing like Chris Farley while being doused in gasoline. Cruz does not even put out the image of Trump being a buffoon, it comes out on its own (as demonstrated earlier by Caleb)
- Jeb Bush attacked Trump and lost. Walker attacked Trump and lost. Perry attacked Trump and lost. Trump’s supporters are sick of politics as usual and the attacks on Trump have been typical political attacks. That approach will not work. Cruz is right to avoid it.
- This approach is “micro-targeting.” Cruz is not trying to appeal to general election voters, his own voters, Carson’s voters, or Rubio’s voters. He is quite specifically appealing to Trump’s voters. Or pose the following question: “Does this response make Trump’s supporters more or less likely to support Cruz than a typical political attack would?”
- Cruz’ biggest liability in the general election is whether he is likable and whether he can get along with others. Consider that liability and whether this approach enhances or moderates that liability.