Early on during Trump’s campaign, when the Trump phenomenon was still new and fresh, the media was already trying to tie Donald Trump to [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ], without much of a reason. I can still remember how, at the RedState Gathering, the media followed [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] around after his speech basically demanding a comment about Trump’s Megyn Kelly remarks, even though [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] said he wasn’t interested in discussing them repeatedly.
At the time, I defended [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] from the implication that he ought to have to answer for everything Donald Trump said. Just because people assumed that Cruz and Trump were fighting over the same pool of voters is no reason for Cruz to have to answer for every insane thing that falls out of Donald Trump’s mouth. After all, the best evidence seemed to suggest that Trump was pulling his primary base of support from folks who had previously been Bush and/or Walker voters.
Now, however, Cruz has changed the equation. Cruz is not just hoping The Donald’s voters fall in his lap when and if Trump implodes, he is actively following Trump around and making a conscious effort to be seen in public with Trump wherever he possibly can. Trump and Cruz are no longer just guys who are having a friendly competition over the same pool of voters – they are legitimate political allies which makes questions about Trump fair game when put to Cruz now.
I hope Cruz reconsiders this strategy, because there is no evidence that it is working, or that it has any chance to work. Virtually alone among all the candidates in the field, Cruz has experienced almost no meaningful fluctuation in his base of support from day one of his campaign. Whereas Bush and Walker have gone from high teens to middle single digits, and Trump and Carson have gone up, and Rubio has gone up and then back down, Cruz has stayed pretty consistently within the 5-7% range, and in fourth or fifth place, apart from some minor blips that probably represent statistical noise.
What this means is that, alone among the candidates, Cruz has been largely unaffected in the polls by the rise of Trump – either positively or negatively. Most of the other candidates have been negatively affected, and Carson is likely being pulled upwards by Trump’s presence. Cruz, on the other hand, stays where he is. This, after a period of two months, is pretty convincing evidence that Cruz and Trump are not in fact fighting over the same pool of voters, however much it might seem like they should be. And there is further no evidence that Cruz can siphon away support from Trump by standing in the same light as him and appearing more reasonable.
And while Cruz’s continued association with Trump carries little obvious reward, it does present obvious risk. Perhaps more than any candidate in recent memory, Trump’s bombastic and deliberately insulting style towards his opponents (at least, those not named Hillary Clinton) makes him an extremely unlikely landing spot ultimately for supporters of other candidates, especially as the campaign goes on. As the frustration with Trump’s style builds outside of Trump’s base of supporters, Cruz risks alienating his own supporters and/or supporters of other candidates, the more often he is seen standing next to Trump.
Speaking only for myself, I know that every time I see Cruz on stage next to Trump, I become a little less likely to pull the lever for him. I don’t view the Trump boomlet as harmless fun or as a well-meaning rebellion against the status quo, but rather as the unthinking embrace of an irresponsible and feckless liberal by people who ought to know better.
If people are looking for a conservative who is willing to lead a rebellion, they should be looking to Cruz, or someone like him, and I have been saying so for months. It’s frustrating that they are instead looking to Trump, who is an obvious charlatan. It’s doubly frustrating that so many alleged thought leaders in our movement are aiding them in believing (incorrectly) that Trump will be anything resembling a conservative if he is elected. One gets the distinct impression that they are doing it for the sake of the ratings that Trump boosterism unquestionably drives.
Eventually, if and when Trump comes crashing back to earth, there will hopefully be a day of reckoning for his enablers and reckless boosters. Maybe he’ll finally say something too offensive for even Ann Coulter (I suppose hypothetically it is possible) and the rest of his supporters who have stood by him through irresponsible remark after irresponsible remark. And on that day, [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] should ask himself whether he wants to be remembered for standing next to him for months even after it was known what kind of man Donald Trump is.