Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons
Ted Cruz isn’t insane.
Far from it — he’s a smart, calculating guy who genuinely wants to be President. He knows that were he elected in 2016, he’d have arguably more experience than President Obama did upon the latter’s swearing-in: Cruz will have had four years in the Senate, and five years in the statewide office of Texas Solicitor General, not to mention serving as an associate deputy attorney general under George W. Bush, which doesn’t not sound like a pretty damn big deal job.
So Cruz is a smart guy who knows his modern political history. He knows that the only way to win a nomination is to become a household name, which Barack Obama did starting in 2004 following his DNC speech, and which persisted pretty much from the second the speech was over thanks to relentless (and mostly positive) media coverage, Oprah’s support, his two bestselling books, and his immediate transformation from Illinois State Senator to beloved politician-celebrity. When Cruz won his senate seat in 2012, the Texan/Canadian/Lyndon-Johnson’s-face-mixed-with-Quentin-Tarantino’s knew that he would not have the same wall-to-wall media coverage accorded Barack Obama at the start of Obama’s national career. So Cruz created that kind of media for himself, alienating his fellow GOP senators whom Cruz gives less than a rat’s ass about and becoming the face of every Democratic fundraising mailer.
“Perfect,” Cruz thought. “No publicity is bad publicity.”
You see, two facts drive Ted Cruz’s entire 2016 strategy:
1. That 20% of the GOP voters are Tea Party everyone-who-holds-office-is-a-RINO nutcase whackjob looney tune synonyms. Cruz knows these people vote, and that they vote as purists. Cruz knows there’s a reason Christine O’Donnell, Sharon Angle, and Carl Paladino can all boast statewide GOP nominations. Cruz knows why people like Todd Aiken and Richard Mourdock, guys who did have institutional experience and real government backgrounds, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, which is why we heard little out of Cruz about abortion. And to be fair to staunchly pro-life Cruz, his record regarding women has been not indifferent to issues of military sexual assault which many would like to see swept under the rug.
This is why Cruz ran a Senate campaign where he railed against the GOP establishment, tattooed the words ‘Tea Party’ on his forehead Manson-style, and attacked Obama with the phony glee of a Republican campaigning for President.
You see, Cruz knows that if he can own this 20% early and hold on to them with progressively angry and outlandish stunts and statements, he can have a nice chunk of voters that can win him plurality victories in the primaries. The GOP primary vote has gotten progressively splintered from 2000 to 2008 to 2012. 20% of the electorate could be enough for an Iowa win that can build to a 38% win South Carolina. Christie or Jeb can win New Hampshire, which would immediately make Cruz their contrast. When Christie or Jeb wins Florida, then Cruz wins the more right-wing pre-Super Tuesday states that went for Santorum in 2012. If Cruz can soak up all the rabid Tea Partiers and let Christie, Rand, Jeb, Walker, and Ryan split the rest, then so be it.
Cruz understands that this group is his only viable constituency, that he has to court cheap, angry, easy votes, because …
2. Cruz knows that the cheap way of winning is the only way that he can win. The Princeton and Harvard-educated Senator won’t win on the issues. (Who does?) He can’t win courting calm, moderate voters. Cruz can’t win by having people vote for him. He wins by being the guy citizens press the button for when voting against someone else or something else (the RINO Establishment).
Cruz is the candidate who wins the votes of the angry, the frightened, the no-more-moderates-and-no-more-democrats crowd. He’s long understood that he couldn’t run as an inspirational conservative figure (Walker), as a successful Republican technocrat (Ryan), a trusted time-tested name (Bush), as a new paradigmatic shift in the party (Rand Paul), as a ‘lovable bipartisan’ uniter (Christie), or even as a new-era Latino staunch conservative (the ever-flailing Rubio). Cruz wins only by being the guy who embodies and embraces the worst tendencies of the hardcore base, sort of an inverse Dennis Kucinich, a candidate who every pure-hearted partisan really wants to vote for but knows is a little too out-there for a general election. But in Cruz’s case, they’ll believe that he can finally deliver the goods.
Cruz understands that the rubber band has been pulled so far and the electorate is so riled up, this could be his time. He could be the Goldwater, and in his mind, the Reagan. And you know what? He could win the presidency. Anything can happen, and it’s not outside the bounds of possibility that Ted Cruz will be sworn in as President of the United States. Everyone who wonders what Ted Cruz is thinking — “he must know he could never win” — needs to remember that lodged in Ted Cruz’s mind is this perfectly reasonable equation: the chances of being president are greater when you’re a major party nominee than just a senator. So why not run for President? When else will Ted Cruz get to be the Republican nominee? After two terms in the Senate? When has that ever worked for anyone? When the party cools down? No, this is the only moment for a firebrand to be a Republican nominee until the party turns either towards Libertarianism or Centrism.
Okay, but he’s only been in the Senate for a few minutes. Yeah, but Barack Obama had next to no time in the Senate before running for President, and he ran as a figure rather than a politician with a record of tangible accomplishment. Why not the same for Ted Cruz? Obama won by giving the Democratic masses the vague platitudes they were desperate to hear from a credible candidate. Why not the same for Ted Cruz and his masses? Obama won by stirring passions and toppling much more institutional candidates. Why not the same for Ted Cruz?
Ted Cruz’s first target is going to be Jeb Bush. That is certain. Christie will get some flack too, but Cruz is modeling his career after Barack Obama. The senator from Texas will go after George W. Bush’s deficit spending and compassionate conservative government interference. He’ll rail against having more of the same, and promote himself as an antidote to Washington elitist Obama-Bush-Clinton yada yada, promising a new era of whatever Cruz substitutes the words “Hope” and “Change” for. He’ll attack Jeb’s education achievements and go right for the jugular: the name Bush.
And this will be to Jeb’s extreme advantage.
At some point, Jeb will have to confront his Bushiness. And who better to bring it up than Ted Cruz, a guy who everyone in the Republican Party already despises, and everyone on the debate stage will treat like a foul little punk? Let it be Ted Cruz, not Chris Christie, or Rand Paul, or Paul Ryan, or Scott Walker. Let it be the unserious candidate, out of whose mouth everything is, well, unserious.
Each and every candidate better hope that Ted Cruz goes on the offensive against him or her, because no attack by Cruz will come off as credible. Rick Perry went after Mitt Romney for hiring illegal immigrants and the attack landed with a thud, because the person saying it was Rick fucking Perry. And when a candidate survives an attack, it can rarely be used again to attack him or her. Ted Cruz will attack, Jeb will survive, and then the attack will be revealed “ineffectual” or, even better, “old hat.”
When a desperate Christie starts up with, “Do we need another Bush?” after losing Florida, Jeb can say, “Come on, give me something real,” or, “I’d expect that from Ted Cruz, not the great Chris Christie.”
But more than just neutralizing Jeb’s “Bush” problem, Cruz’s only path to the nomination, just like Chris Christie’s and Marco Rubio’s, is part of Jeb’s 2016 highway. The better Ted Cruz does, the better it is for Bush. The party gets frightened if Cruz wins, and if Christie isn’t cutting the mustard fighting off Cruz, the more Jeb is turned to as the fixer, the savior of the Establishment, and the only electable guy who can still win the nomination. Ted Cruz winning Iowa and South Carolina means that Jeb’s victory in Florida becomes something the party clings to, much as it did to Romney when he won Florida. It destroys any showing by Christie in New Hampshire, who will have over-inflated expectations there for himself, and positions Bush as the most serious antidote to the threat of Cruz.
Frightened conservatives will choose the closest thing to what they know and feel safe with: a Bush, but this time a serious, no-nonsense, “smart” Bush. Not a brash blowhard like Christie. They can trust Bush, they know what they’re getting with Bush, and the more Cruz scares them, the more they’ll trust the guy they know. Following Super Tuesday, it suddenly becomes a two-and-a-half-man race with Jeb and Cruz (the half a man is Rand Paul, duh), which totally favors Jeb, who will start getting endorsements from Walker, Ryan, and after he loses on Super Tuesday, Christie. But Cruz will have positioned himself as ‘next in line’ — and maybe he can then lose to Hillary in 2020.
Read More: Marco Rubio 2016, Hillary Clinton 2016, Jeb Bush 2016, Chris Christie 2016, Ted Cruz 2016, Rand Paul 2016, Rick Santorum 2016, Hillary Clinton Jeb Bush, Jeb Bush Hillary Clinton, Clinton Bush 2016, Bush Clinton 2016, Ted Cruz crazy, Ted Cruz insane