DES MOINES, IA – I went to events for both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz yesterday. Rubio’s event was a very good size for a crowd in Cedar Rapids, IA, a little off the beaten path. Moreover, Rubio’s crowd was much more filled with undecided voters, and I talked to more than one voter who told me that they walked away convinced by what they heard from Rubio to caucus for him. Overall, I thought his speech was much, much more effective than Ted Cruz’s speech at his rally last night.
But even though Cruz’s speech was not as good on the merits, it showed with total clarity why he will likely beat Marco Rubio today, and likely throughout the primaries in general. It had nothing to do with the size of the crowds, although Cruz’s was definitely larger (I discount for that because it was in Des Moines and was his final big rally). It had to do with the way Cruz and Rubio worked their crowds, respectively.
Rubio’s crowd came in and politely sat down and waited to hear a good speech. They definitely heard it from Rubio, who delivered some hard lines, and got some enthusiastic applause including several standing ovations. But they were, you know, orderly standing ovations. Where Rubio hits you is not in the place that makes you stand up and jump up and down and yell enthusiastically. He hits you in the heart strings, where you feel the tug of love for your country from where you sit quietly. And he is the best at doing that in a long time.
Cruz, by contrast, has got the revival preacher routine down (and I have been watching Cruz long enough to know that it is an adapted style). Every line is delivered in a shout. About every 15 seconds there is a pause for people to get up and wave their signs about and chant.
Cruz’s style might not play as well in the general election, and it might be a turnoff to people who turn up their nose at this sort of rhetorical style. But while Rubio is without a doubt the better orator (something I don’t think Ted Cruz himself would dispute), Cruz’s style is much more matching the mood of the electorate right now. Cruz’s event last night, which went on more or less interminably, more resembled a rock concert than a political speech. And it shows that Cruz has much more got the mood of the electorate down.
Rubio, for all his talents, cannot and will not ever be able to speak to voter anger. It’s not where he excels. He tried it a little bit in the debate on Thursday night and from what I can tell has wisely decided to go back to trying to inspire people. For what it’s worth, I like that approach as a much more healthy one for the country. But I just don’t think that people are prepared to hear it, from what I have seen in Iowa today.
I will tell you that the Rubio people I have talked to over the last 24 hours in Iowa are very confident in how they will do today. Although they won’t play the expectations game, they seem very confident that they will pull off a surprising result. That may be, but based on what I have seen on the ground, a “surprising result” won’t include beating Ted Cruz today.