This is a long one, so here are some bulleted highlights for my busier readers:
- Texas Senator Ted Cruz seems to have a stalled campaign. few people consider him a contender.
- But they don’t see what Presidential Politics for America sees.
- Cruz is polling well in key states and has a stronger foundation for a long run than almost the entire field.
- He’s counting on inheriting support from the eventual collapses of Trump and Carson.
- His insider enemies and extreme conservatism, considered hurdles to his campaign, might ultimately be his greatest assets.
This is where you called me crazy.
This is where you say, “But PPFA, no one agrees with you! I mean, have you seen his odds? Have you seen the polls? Does any senator even like him anymore? And will the Republicans really nominate someone this conservative if they want to win a general election?”
I confess his odds aren’t looking good. Oddscheckers shows us the odds of most major betting sites. Here’s what they say (click to zoom in):
The most common odds for Cruz is 25/1, making him the seventh most likely nominee. Even Mike Huckabee — who, trust me, has almost NO shot — sometimes has odds equal to Cruz.
I also admit his national polls aren’t anything special, either. His Real Clear Politics average is a sixth-place 6.2, 17 points back of leader Donald Trump. He’s been stuck between 5 and 8 for the last fifteen straight polls. It’s also true that Republican leadership ignored his efforts to once again shut down the government, this time over Planned Parenthood funding and Iran; the Senate wouldn’t even allow him a procedural roll call vote that’s almost always granted. Not one Senator seconded his motion. Rand Paul and others have buried Cruz and his campaign after such a failure.
As for his conservatism, he’s certainly about as right wing as it gets for a prominent politician. On the Issues says only Rick Santorum is more conservative. FiveThirtyEight analyzed voting records, official statements, and campaign donors to determine that Cruz is the most conservative big-time Republican since Barry Goldwater, the nominee in 1964.
Coming off the heels of Maverick McCain and Moderate Mitt, it’s clear the GOP hasn’t nominated far right politicians lately, nor have they nominated anyone nearly this conservative in over 50 years.
Odds, polls, his colleagues, and history are firmly against him, so you’re probably wondering, “How could he possibly be your third most likely nominee?”
I’m glad you asked.
As of today, Ted Cruz might have the best position in the entire field. He doesn’t have the polling of the non-politician frontrunners (Trump, Carson, Fiorina), nor does he have the political support of the two politicians who are most likely to improve their position by the primaries (Rubio, Bush), but his unique position to become a hybrid of those two camps, among other factors, puts him in a great spot for this election cycle.
Let’s take a look at those polls. Here are the RCP national averages of the top contenders:
- Trump: 22.8
- Carson: 17.3
- Fiorina: 11.0
- Rubio: 9.5
- Bush: 8.3
- Cruz: 6.1
- Kasich: 3.1
- Huckabee: 2.8
- Christie: 2.6
- Paul: 2.4
- All others: 0.5 or below
You know who I’d want to be on that list? Ted Cruz. Trump’s surge is petering, Carson is peaking now, and Fiorina is gearing up for hers. Bush, once considered the favorite, has had a target on his back this entire primary, and we’ve seen the effects. Rubio, considered by many, including myself, to be the favorite now, will soon inherit that target. Cruz, meanwhile, has neither surged nor will anyone need to target him any time soon. And yet, polling at 6 is a solid position. He’s in the top half of the remaining field, his debate podium is as close to the center as it is to the edge, and his donors don’t have to fear about donating to an afterthought.
Speaking of donations, Cruz has been among the best fundraisers of either party. At the last FEC filing report, he was third overall (including unaffiliated SuperPACS), only behind dynastic standard-bearers Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. His campaign was first in the Republican field in hard donations to the campaign — more than Bush, more than Carson, more than everybody. When it comes to those last weeks before the primaries — the period where the final positional battles take place — Ted Cruz will be as well-armed as any candidate.
The consistency is remarkable. Our top six candidates from the national average are confirmed by the first three primary states. Only Kasich and Scott Walker’s political corpse join them on these state lists.
Now, the Trump surge is nearly over. In fact, much of his RCP averages in those stated are buoyed by polls from the peak of his surge, rather than his recent decline. For example, the South Carolina numbers include two polls where he hit 37 and 36 percent, but those were before the second debate. Similarly, Iowa includes a 29 that took place before the debate. The Carson surge is now peaking, but I expect it to end in similar fashion. If you disagree with either assumption, than we have nothing more to discuss. Trump is the nominee if his surge never ends, while it’s Carson if Trump’s surge does and Carson’s does not.
But where it gets interesting is in the overwhelming likelihood that those surges do end. The question we must ask ourselves is: what happens next? Who is in the best position in those states if Trump and Carson collapse?
It’d be Ted Cruz. Third in Iowa, third in South Carolina. The New York Times tells us how he has amassed an organized campaign in every county of the first four voting states. He’s basically been driving between those two states and Texas for the last year, laying grassroots that he can reap in the coming months. There has been no Cruz surge because it’s been a slow and steady effort. A Trump and Carson collapse means Cruz would probably win Iowa, which would give him a bump in New Hampshire — into the top five — and also translate into a win in South Carolina. Winning two of the first three states would be a huge boon to his already strong fundraising, and then he’s off to the races as the favorite.
Aside from Trump and Carson sustaining, there are two counterarguments to this scenario.
- When Trump and Carson lose support, it’s Fiorina, as the third non-politician (or NonPol) in the race, who will inherit it.
- The New Hampshire winner will be the establishment’s choice, and Cruz will have a difficult fight on his hands against the true favorite.
As for the first scenario, I agree to an extent. She’s probably the next surge after Carson. If it happens, though, it won’t happen in February. It will happen by year’s end. Then, the same skeptical gravity that brings Trump and Carson back to Earth will pull her down as well. Republicans flirt with the inexperienced outsider, but then they’ll sober up, just as they would have done with Trump and Carson.
The second scenario is much more viable, and it’s why I have Bush and Rubio as the more likely nominees. The establishment’s support is currently split. Bush has obviously struggled, Kasich and Christie have yet to gain traction, and only recently has Rubio stood out. Will things be clearer by February? Perry and Walker’s exits have only barely narrowed the field. If the anti-establishment vote continues to be strong in January, we can expect the powers that be in the party to pick their guy. My money was on Bush; now it’s on Rubio.
Nevertheless, Cruz’s chances are still strong. The party only indirectly decides the nominee; the power is still in the hands of the people. Ted Cruz might well turn out to be the people’s choice. The reason I feel the NonPols will fall apart is that Republicans won’t ultimately feel comfortable pulling the lever next to their inexperienced name. Cruz, however, is every bit the anti-establishment voice that Trump, Carson, and Fiorina are, except he’s also a U.S. Senator who sits on the Armed Services and Judiciary committees. It’s an almost impossible marriage to pull off, but Cruz has done it.
That incident in the Senate when no one supported his aggressive move to block Planned Parenthood wasn’t the catastrophe many people thought it was. What it truly reflected was another notch in his anti-establishment belt. Every senator — the establishment — ended up funding the government, including Planned Parenthood; only Cruz stood up for the everyday American who couldn’t vote in the Senate that day. It’s just the latest examples of Ted Cruz trying to change Washington, while Washington cannot change Ted Cruz.
In the 2016 Republican Primary, nothing could look better. His poll numbers will surge some day, and unlike the NonPols, the people from whom he will inherit those numbers, his experience in politics will let him sustain that surge into the primaries.
Cruz knows it, too. Have you noticed how he never attacks Trump or Carson? In the second debate, he even praised them. Unlike Bush, Rubio, Fiorina, and Paul, who have gone after Trump and have likely ruled themselves out of inheriting much of his support when he fades, Cruz has gone out of his way to say nice things about him. He’s playing the long game here, counting on Trump’s fall off the cliff as inevitable, not an event that needs his push.
His long game, in fact, might ultimately seal this primary for him. Politico wrote how he’s taking the unusual step in firming up later primary states: “In the past week or so alone, the Texas senator has taken his presidential campaign to Michigan and Massachusetts, staffed up in New Jersey and Tennessee, and skipped an Iowa cattle call to stump in North Carolina — all states expected to vote in March, with the exception of New Jersey, which has a primary slated for June 2016.” It’s unusual for a candidate to divert attention from early states, but Cruz thinks it will be a long fight.
Plus, we mustn’t forget his huge home state of Texas, the March 1 Super Tuesday state with a massive 155-delegate haul, worth more than the first four states combined. If things are close heading into Super Tuesday, a big win in his home state might be enough to give him a win on the day, especially considering other southern states on his Texas-Iowa-South Carolina route — Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Oklahoma — also vote on March 1. If the press declares him the Super Tuesday winner, it gives him yet more financial fuel for the stretch run.
I’m telling you, polling-wise, he’s in a great spot.
As for that extreme conservatism that many think act as an albatross, it seems some people have not been monitoring the Republican Party. Luckily, FiveThirtyEight has:
The Republican Party has never been more conservative. There’s a reason it hasn’t rallied around Jeb Bush’s more moderate platform (which is the subject of that 538 article, if you want to dive more deeply into it). It has gradually shed its moderate wing. John Boehner’s resignation is just the latest sign of a center-right politician getting frustrated with the growing power of the far right.
In other words, the party is evolving from George HW Bush and Bob Dole’s Republicanism to Ted Cruz’s. Indeed, he is the far right’s preferred candidate, a title which was again validated at September’s end with the Values Voter’s Summit Straw Poll. He won it for the third straight time, unprecedented in the Summit’s history.
And again, the party’s increasing conservatism is not this primary’s only trend. It’s been paired with the obvious anti-establishment movement. In Ted Cruz, we have a candidate who represents both of those fervent groups. Meanwhile, as a hawkish U.S. Senator, he should also ease the fears of Republicans who might hesitate sending the inexperienced candidates into the Oval Office.
The thing about recent Republican nominations — the aforementioned “Maverick McCain and Moderate Mitt” — is that each of them lost. Why try again with Jeb Bush? Ultimately, it’s not that Ted Cruz is too conservative and anti-establishment for this year’s Republican nomination. It’s that the other candidates aren’t either conservative or anti-establishment enough.
For these reasons, Ted Cruz is one of the GOP’s three most likely nominees.