Friday, December 04, 2015

Politix Update: Republicans Turn To Cruz As Savior As Concerns Turn To Panic

The Anybody But Trump Express has been gaining steam as panic -- and I mean abject, white-knuckled panic -- over the possibility that a foul-mouthed billionaire upstart could back into the presidential nomination spreads through the Republican Party leadership, and the Mister Anyone of the moment is Ted Cruz. 
Put yourself in the position of a Republican factotum
You've paid your dues and worked mighty hard to erase the nightmarish memory of Election Night 2012 when Karl Rove melted down before millions of viewers on Fox News over his disbelief that Barack Obama had carried Ohio despite that call by his own network. And as the long night wore on, it became obvious that you and your pals had deluded themselves into believing that Mitt Romney was going to kick the president's Kenyan ass. 
Here it is nearly a year before Election Night 2016 and you have that same sinking feeling
Four years of hard work, as well as heartburn from eating too many pigs in a blanket at fundraising dinners, is going down the electoral toilet because Donald Trump, who has not paid his dues, dammit, has descended deus ex machina from his Fifth Avenue penthouse to out-jive a field of promising presidential prospects with an astonishing succession of inflammatory statements that not only threaten to hand the election to That Woman, but deal a grievous blow to down-ticket Republican candidates, as well, squandering the party's Senate advantage, or worse. 
"If he carries this message into the general election in Ohio, we'll hand this election to Hillary Clinton — and then try to salvage the rest of the ticket," said Matt Borges, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, where Senator Rob Portman, who has paid his dues, is facing a tough re-election fight. 
The factotums well understand that Cruz is the Mister Anybody of the moment by default. 
While the senator from Texas has paid his dues, he's an arrogant jerk of the Eddie Haskell School, is loathed by his Senate colleagues, is fond of using Nazi analogies in his solipsistic rants, and has a habit of being caught flat-out lying, like his Democrats-as-violent-criminals screed, although if Donald Trump has done anything positive for the GOP it has been to show that candidates can say just about anything and get away with it.  (How else to explain Chris Christie's modest resurgence?) 
But while Cruz is playing the long game, as the pundits put it, is perhaps the smartest (which is to say craftiest) candidate in the field, has plenty of dough to make it through the primary season and is working to build a broader coalition of supporters, he has a very big problem. 
Although Cruz is . . . uh, cruising in Iowa, where he is now nipping at Trump's fashionable heels, the corn-fed, flannel-shirted folks with high cholesterol levels who reliably turn out for that state's first-in-the-nation caucus every four years are unrepresentative of the electorate as a whole, and every other primary state has a smaller share of conservative voters who are drawn to him than Iowa
So while Cruz's message resonates with the Republican Party's base, more mainstream voters are less likely to be in the thrall of a candidate whose vision of America should a Democrat be elected president is of coat hanger-wielding abortionists lurking on every street corner, a separation between church and state so absolute that Christians are persecuted, gun possession of any kind is outlawed, homosexuality runs rampant, recreational drug use is condoned, Spanish joins English as an official language, and flag burning is seen as an act of patriotism.  Trump almost seems moderate by comparison, and in some respects he is.
How then does Cruz broaden his appeal and break out?   The short answer is that he's probably out of luck. 
For one thing, the GOP base is a lot smaller than you might think.  Nate Silver, the preeminent political tea-leaf reader who correctly picked the winner in all 50 states in 2012, cheered Trump haters in pointing out the other day that there are not enough Republicans for Trump to merely avoid fading:
"Right now, [Trump] has 25 to 30 percent of the vote in polls among the roughly 25 percent of Americans who identify as Republican. (That's something like 6 to 8 percent of the electorate overall, or about the same share of people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked.)"
As the rest of the field consolidates, Trump will need to gain additional support to win the nomination. Silver says that might not be easy, since some of the things Trump says and does that appeal to a faction of the Republican electorate may alienate the rest of it. Trump’s favorability ratings are middling among Republicans and godawful among the broader electorate.
"But there’s another, more fundamental problem. That 25 or 30 percent of the vote isn’t really Donald Trump’s for the keeping. In fact, it doesn’t belong to any candidate. If past nomination races are any guide, the vast majority of eventual Republican voters haven’t made up their minds yet."
Substitute Cruz for Trump in Silver's analysis and it's obvious that Cruz has a numbers problem.  To which I will add that the folks who believe the moon landings were faked have sealed themselves in the Fox News bubble that helped doom Romney and don't believe a damned word that the mainstream media spouts.  (Which come to think of it, might not be so dumb after all.).
For another thing, the distance Cruz would have to travel from hugging the party's base to espousing views only slightly to the right of Clinton that might appeal to more voters is far, far greater -- think parsecs compared to light years -- than when John McCain and Mitt Romney attempted the same feat against Barack Obama, and Cruz presumably won't have the ball and chain of a running mate like Sarah Palin or a proclivity to accidentally speak his mind like Mister 47 Percent.
Cruz's coalition-building efforts don't seem to be panning out, at least not yet. 
The latest Huffington Post polling average has Trump solidifying his lead at 34.4 percent with Marco Rubio at 14.6 percent, Dr. Ben Carson at 13.9 percent and Cruz at 13.4 percent. Same for the latest Quinnipiac University national poll with Trump still comfortably in the lead with 27 percent.  Rubio is second at 17 percent, while Carson has dropped from second into a third-place tie with Cruz at 16 percent, who is up from 13 percent in a previous poll.  
(The Quinnipiac poll shows Clinton increasing her lead over Bernie Sanders by a 60-30 percent margin, and both beat Trump easily in head-to-head matchups.)
When it has seemed opportune, insider Cruz has sought to align himself with outsider Trump, who has attracted support from some moderates in traditionally Democratic states, but evangelicals make up most of Cruz's support because they like his religious right message and the people he hangs with, including Kevin Swanson, a pastor who advocates executing gays and lesbians. 
To paraphrase Colin Powell, the leaders of the Republican Party bought it, they broke it, now they own it -- and they're scared to death of Trump. 
The New York Times describes the state of play this way:
"Many leading Republican officials, strategists and donors now say they fear that Mr. Trump’s nomination would lead to an electoral wipeout, a sweeping defeat that could undo some of the gains Republicans have made in recent congressional, state and local elections  . . . Some of the highest-ranking Republicans in Congress and some of the party's wealthiest and most generous donors have balked at trying to take down Mr. Trump because they fear a public feud with the insult-spewing media figure."
The fear of challenging Trump won't go away unless there is a credible alternative to him who can be a sop for the angry constituency party leaders have nurtured through their thinly veiled nativism and anti-Obama miasma, but more candidates would have to quit the race for a viable Anybody But Trump to emerge and that is not happening with the top tier candidates not just hunkering down, but increasing the intensity of their attacks on each other. 
While Rubio is widely considered by the punditocracy to be the most electable candidate in the field because of his overall moderation, he may not even win a primary.  Then there's Jeb Bush, the odds-on favorite to win the nomination going into the fray, who is polling in the low single digits and in 8th place in one national poll.
Meanwhile, Ward Baker, the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, all but concedes Trump is capable of winning the nomination in a confidential memo urging candidates to mimic Trump by adopting many of his tactics, issues and approaches, including the way they dress and how they use Twitter. 
"Trump has risen because voters see him as authentic, independent, direct, firm, — and believe he can’t be bought," Baker writes. "These are the same character traits our candidates should be advancing in 2016." 
Panic?  Did I say panic?
It still seems early in the game until you look at the election calendar.  The Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary are barely 60 days away, a month later some 16 states will have voted, and nearly two thirds of Republican delegates will have been awarded by the end of March.
This means that the longer Republican leaders take to call out Trump, the more their passivity becomes an endorsement of their worst nightmare.

Politix Update is written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click HERE for an index of previous Politix Updates.


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