Ted Cruz uses the establishment's own trick against them

Pandering: It’s an age-old political trick that is a staple of politics in America. Going back to before the present political alignment, the parties would say whatever it took, to whoever they had to, in order to forge a winning political coalition.

[mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] is taking a lot of heat for his debate performance last night, but I believe he’s playing the game intelligently: He’s looking to build a coalition of the willing to make DC listen and defeat the entrenched establishments of both parties.


Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr
Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

I like Ted Cruz, and he’s been a friend of this site for a long time. He spoke at our first Gathering when he was still Solicitor General of Texas, with no clear path to higher office. He’s an impressive defender of conservative ideas and policies.

So many of us have been shocked by what he’s been doing over the last year. And no matter how much my friends and colleagues seem to doubt it, and think Ted Cruz is going off the rails, I think his plan makes sense. Let’s walk through what he’s doing and why.

In the past, Ted Cruz supported a muscular foreign policy. He even went after Chuck Hagel on this stuff. Ted Cruz was a mainstream Republican on the war.

But once it came time to run for President, Ted Cruz has suddenly started sounding like a Paulite, when it comes to national security and the Global War on Terror. He now says “of course” Iraq was a mistake, and joins with Rand Paul to fight defense funding. Is this a dramatic change of heart? I doubt it. What I see here is an man who knows Rand Paul has no chance to be the nominee, and so wants to be able to bring Paul’s vocal supporters into the fold to back Ted Cruz for President.

I think that was the Cruz plan all along: to unite the original TEA party coalition of angry conservatives and libertarians, creating a credible counter to Jeb Bush’s coalition of cronyists and consultants. Then Donald Trump happened, and Cruz’s initial plan had to be revised.

Based on my reading of the poll history, Trump’s rise hurt two people most: Jeb Bush lost his near-monopoly on name recognition, and so has never recovered from Trump’s rise. Further, the ‘alt-right’ saw a winning leader in Donald Trump, that they weren’t getting in Rand Paul, so Paul’s support bled over. Now with Bush and Paul both running on fumes, both Cruz’s main adversary and his secondary source of votes were both gone. He had to adjust to a new foe: [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ], and a new source of votes: Trump.

Ted Cruz knows RedState. He sees Dan McLaughlin saying “Keep calm. It won’t be Trump.” He sees Erick Erickson saying the race will come down to Cruz v Rubio. So if these men are right, Cruz’s strategy now must prepare for the fight with Rubio, not a fight with Trump. Everything Ted Cruz has done over the last month comports with this reasoning.

Ted Cruz is doing everything he can to avoid a fight with Trump because he knows that will only sour Trump’s supporters on him. Leon Wolf think Cruz sounds weak, but to Trump’s masses of supporters, Cruz sounds like the only guy in the room who ‘gets it.’ Cruz sounds like someone who wants to Make DC Listen, rather than paper over the GOP’s and the country’s problems.

I admit, it’s frustrating seeing Cruz treat Trump like an irrelevant nothing to be petted on the head, his supporters ripe to be lured away, while he turns his sharpest political rhetoric against Marco Rubio. Like Cruz, Rubio is a long time friend of RedState, a speaker at the first Gathering. I would be thrilled to see either man be President. Seeing them in a rhetorical war with each other pains me.

But if it is to be Ted Cruz versus Marco Rubio, then each man must do what it takes to win. Ted Cruz is already so hated by the establishment, that he knows they will back Marco Rubio by default in order to defeat Cruz. He knows Rubio is a great public speaker, and will have the ability to win supporters with his charming appeals to the problems ordinary Americans face, and the solutions that conservative ideas provide. So Cruz has to get the votes any way he can, and that means find the people who are angry.

Cruz must find the people who are ready to light torches and march on Washington. There aren’t enough votes left among the other mainstream candidates in the race for Cruz to appeal only to them, and to win. So Cruz must break the Cordon Sanitaire that the Acela set wants to apply to Donald Trump and his supporters, and he must do the same to the wall the hawkish/PNAC wing of the party wants to build around [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] and his supporters*.

Ted Cruz wants to win. As American Majority trains conservatives across the country, if you want to run for office, count the votes it will take to win, then find a way to win those votes. Ted Cruz knows his best and perhaps only path to victory is to unite RedState-style conservatives, with the backers of Rand Paul and Donald Trump. It’s uncomfortable for some of us to watch, but we know Cruz and can deal with that. He needs to make people comfortable with him who otherwise might not be. That’s how you build a coalition and win an election.

The establishment routinely tells conservatives what we want to hear, in order to win our votes so they can achieve their ends. Ted Cruz is playing the same game, in order to fight back against them. It’s messy, but war is hell.


* I am one of those folks who has no tolerance for Rand Paul, and who is left far outside his comfort zone when Cruz appeals to them.