Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Rubio vs. Cruz (Oh Yeah, and Trump)
Barring something shocking, the race for the GOP nomination, having started with every known (and unknown) Republican, is really down to three people: Trump, Rubio, and Cruz. This is an interesting outcome, because none of these guys is AAA-Certified by the establishment. (Rubio may be closer than any, but I'm sorry, no.) The establishment, normally a king-maker in GOP primaries, has already lost, which is quite delicious. Heads are exploding.
Trump continues to lead in the polls, although real-money prediction markets have Rubio and Cruz ahead. Personally, I have no idea at all whether Trump can prevail. Anyone who tells you otherwise should be banned from punditry.
How to sum up Trump? His demeanor is highly unpresidential, which frankly appeals to a lot of people right now. We've had some pretty bad presidents with very presidential demeanors, but personally, I don't think that presidents should make faces and use the word schlong. Plus, the man is ideologically scattershot, and I'm just not willing to gamble on his policy preferences. Perhaps most importantly, I have more than one source that say he cheats at golf. Golf is the only sport where you call infractions on yourself, so cheating is held in the worst possible regard. Presidents should not be cheaters.
I will concede that I wish there was some parallel universe where Trump was president and I could go live there for a few months, just to see. But I'd have to be able to come back. Pretty sure I'd want to.
Trump, to me, represents a primal scream from the base. It feels good, let it out. Move on.
Which brings us to the two candidates most people I know are wrestling with, Rubio and Cruz. What an interesting coincidence that both are Cuban-American, not that this fact will count for much with the left. It counts about as much as it counts that Clarence Thomas is black. It does, at least, negate the diversity argument, and undercuts the history-making aspect of Hillary Clinton's candidacy.
Both men are quite conservative. You'd have to go back to Reagan to find a GOP candidate as conservative as either. There are differences, though, and Cruz is the more perfect fit for me, ideologically. His tax plan is better (awesome, to be precise), he vows to eliminate five entire federal departments (be still my heart), and his foreign policy views are a welcome departure from recent GOP history. Further, one senses he's less prone to Beltway Disease, that strange affliction to causes politicians to seek encomium from the New York Times (he's grown in the office...).
My hesitation over Cruz, until recently, was born of the fact that he seemed less electable than Rubio. In my liberal part of the country, even some of my moderate GOP friends get a viscerally negative reaction when Cruz comes up in conversation. I always challenge them as to why, and they never really have a specific reason, not anything to do with policy, anyway. They just don't like him.
I attribute this to two things. First, the media has done an excellent job of casting Cruz as some kind of right-wing lunatic. Mind you, all Republicans have to be either stupid or crazy, and since Cruz can't plausibly be called stupid, they're running with crazy. "He's the most hated man in Washington," a friend of mine, who's editor of a major political journal, told me.
The other reason is a bit more base, which is that Cruz has a nasal speaking voice and looks a bit hang dog, particularly on television. People think they're above judging candidates this way, but I think it's just human nature. (In person, he's much better, but that matters not.)
But back to the media. To borrow from Obama, let's be clear: the media is going to completely eviscerate the GOP candidate no matter who it is. Exhibit A is John McCain, the media's "favorite" Republican. Because McCain frequently bucked his own party - he's a maverick - the scribes all had nothing but nice things to say, right up until the moment he was the nominee. Then they turned on him like piranha on a drowning cow. Remember how they floated bogus stories about alleged affairs? It was ugly.
Few things drive me crazier than when Republicans say we can't nominate so-and-so because the "media will crush him." They're going to crush any of them, so we might as well nominate whom we want. They crushed Reagan (dumb actor, dangerous cowboy), they crushed H.W. Bush (out-of-touch, elitist, doesn't know what a checkout scanner is), and they crushed W (dumb, probably a drunk). The three of them won five elections anyway. Don't get me wrong, the media has a huge amount of influence, probably five points worth, but that shouldn't have any bearing on who we choose.
As far as Cruz being unpopular inside the Beltway, well, as I told my editor friend, in some precincts that's what you put at the top of your resume. Cruz himself points out that the DC establishment, including the GOP, hated Reagan "with the heat of a thousand suns." He dared primary a sitting president (Ford) in '76, and then he beat establishment darling Bush in '80. A then he beat a sitting Democrat, Carter. And he was an actor. The hatred was evenly spread on both sides of the aisle.
And yet, he got things done. Lots of things. He did it by selling his ideas directly to the public. I remember well his prime time address pitching his radical idea to cut marginal tax rates from 70 to 28. You think Tip O'Neill was on board with that? He hated the idea with every fiber of his being, but eventually had to go along because Reagan built up so much public support. In a nutshell, this is Cruz's plan.
But back to electability. I have always subscribed to the Buckley Rule, which is to vote for the most conservative candidate who can be elected. My completely unscientific assumption had been that Cruz's unpopularity with my RINO friends would cost him two points in the general versus Rubio, and that this would lead to defeat. The electoral map is too blue to concede two points. Hello Hillary.
I have changed my mind, and I actually think Cruz has a better chance than Rubio. I base this on three factors...
First, Cruz has staked out some interesting ground on foreign policy. He has come out very much against the Bush/neo-con idea of intervention-for-the-sake-of-democracy-building. Our recent history in the Middle East has taught us - including me - that this is a fool's errand. Cruz only wants to use the U.S. military when there's a vital U.S. interest at stake. After the exhaustion of Iran and Iraq, this is a view likely to be welcomed by the voting public. Rubio, on the other hand, has cast himself quite thoroughly as an enthusiastic interventionist in the mold of Bush/Cheney.
Interestingly, Cruz has the chance to position himself to the left of Hillary in this regard, unless Hillary wants to completely repudiate her entire political career, which she probably will.
Second, the voting public right now is pissed about immigration. It is an animating issue. Rubio, having joined the Gang of Eight, will have an impossible time differentiating himself from Hillary on this one. It takes the issue off the table, not unlike Romneycare taking away the healthcare issue from Romney in '12.
Third, there's the evangelical vote. The key to any GOP win has never been about winning independents - Romney crushed with independents and still lost to Obama - but rather turning out conservatives, who consistently make up 40% of the country. To get conservatives, you have to go to where the numbers are, and that's with evangelicals. Cruz himself points out there are 90 million evangelicals, a stunning number that I confirmed for myself, and they vote overwhelmingly Republican; that is, when they vote. They didn't show up for Romney, who had an uneasy relationship with them from the start. The plain fact is that no GOP candidate will win without enthusiastic evangelical support. (Sorry, northeastern supply-siders, but there just aren't enough of us to elect a president.)
Cruz has assiduously courted evangelicals, and it is paying off, particularly in Iowa, where he is poised for a win. Rubio is nowhere in Iowa. I will note that the necessity of winning this group causes Cruz to say some culturally conservative things that will disquiet my northeastern friends, but we're not going to win New York anyway. Bottom line, we won't win at all without evangelicals, so you're going to have to trust that what really animates Cruz are things like eliminating the IRS.
One more thought: Cruz has come out against ethanol subsidies (and all subsidies, for that matter). This is a courageous act, considering the Iowa caucus, and demonstrates he is a man of principle.
Cruz for president. That's where I come out.