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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Almost immediately after Senator Ted Cruz arrived in Washington in 2012, it became clear that he intended to run for president in 2016. Now, with primary season rapidly approaching, the details of how a Cruz campaign might look are coming into sharper focus.

In a Monday feature on National Review Online, Eliana Johnson reports that Cruz would run as far to the right as possible, while trying to win over some unlikely constituencies to put him over the top:

To hell with the independents. That’s not usually the animating principle of a presidential campaign, but for Ted Cruz’s, it just might be.

His strategists aren’t planning to make a big play for so-called independent voters in the general election if Cruz wins the Republican nomination. According to several of the senator’s top advisors, Cruz sees a path to victory that relies instead on increasing conservative turnout; attracting votes from groups — including Jews, Hispanics, and millennials — that have tended to favor Democrats; and, in the words of one Cruz strategist, “not getting killed with independents.”

Johnson goes on to explain that Cruz and his advisors see chasing moderate voters as a waste of time, and consider driving up turnout among the GOP’s conservative base as the party’s best path to victory. Along the way, they hope that Cruz’s “populist and pugnacious conservatism will persuade some millennials and traditionally Democratic voters, including Jews, Hispanics, blue-collar voters, and women.”

This is a tremendous miscalculation. If Cruz does follow this path on his White House bid, he is doomed to fail.

Despite what Cruz and his advisors appear to believe, the conservative base just isn’t big enough to carry a presidential election. It’s no coincidence that the most conservative candidates poll the worst in early surveys of the 2016 campaign; the “true conservatives” that Cruz is counting on are a minority in the U.S. Furthermore, they are clustered in states that Mitt Romney — whom Cruz believes to be so moderate that he “actually French-kissed Barack Obama” — won easily in the 2012 presidential election.

Republican presidential candidates have no path to 270 electoral votes without winning swing states like Florida, Ohio, Colorado, or Wisconsin. Those states just don’t have enough Tea Partiers for Cruz to win them with base voters alone. And there’s no better way to push those states’ persuadable moderates into the Democratic column — and drive out the Democratic base — than by catering to the fringe.

That, of course, is why Cruz is going to pursue the other constituencies mentioned by National Review. But his odds of persuading those Democrats are long.

Although Republicans made some inroads with Jewish voters in the 2014 midterms, they still backed Democratic candidates 66 to 33 percent. And there are few signs that Cruz’s plan to run to the right would entice them to turn red. According to a post-election survey from the liberal nonprofit J Street, just 19 percent of Jewish voters identify as “conservative.” Furthermore, when asked what issues are most important to them, the economy, health care, and Social Security and Medicare took the top three spots. Israel — the issue on which Cruz has centered his outreach to the Jewish community — placed 10th. And while the poll didn’t ask Jewish voters for their opinion of Cruz, it did ask them about likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. With a 61 to 31 percent favorability rating, she is the most popular politician in the country among the constituency.

Like Jewish voters, Hispanic voters broadly support Democratic candidates and policies. And Cruz’s plan to win their support is ludicrously unrealistic for one specific reason: immigration.

Hispanic voters strongly support comprehensive immigration reform. Cruz vehemently opposes it. They also overwhelmingly back President Obama’s executive action shielding millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. And they decisively oppose Cruz-championed plans to fight the move with a lawsuit or a government funding fight.

Mitt Romney managed to win just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2012 election. After Cruz rallies the base by taking a position far to the right of Romney’s “self-deportation” disaster, he would struggle to match even that meager figure.

Female voters also seem unlikely to respond well to Cruz’s quest to win their support while driving up conservative turnout. The GOP did narrow the gender gap in 2014, cutting it to just 4 points (down from 11 percent in 2012). But the Republicans who rebutted Democratic “war on women” attacks best did so by changing or obfuscating their controversial opinions on women’s health issues. Does that really sound like Ted Cruz, the unapologetic conservative who shares a platform with Todd Akin, and fought the Violence Against Women Act to the bitter end?

Cruz’s run-to-the-right strategy has a very legitimate chance of carrying him through what appears to be a wide-open GOP primary. But Republicans who actually want to reclaim the White House should hope that he fails. Because Ted Cruz playing the role of a modern-day Barry Goldwater is Hillary Clinton’s dream matchup in the general election, and would almost guarantee four more years of a Democratic president.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr