Niall Ferguson is trying to wrap his mind around the idea of a Ted Cruz presidency. It is not easy, but Ferguson, arguably our most prominent economic historian, professor at Harvard and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, is up for the job.
He notes, with some accuracy, that Cruz is “a politics machine.” This means that Cruz has out-organized the other candidates politically. He has a stronger political machine across the country. Among other things, his local political operatives have chosen delegates who, no matter who they must vote for on the first round, are sympathetic to him.
Why does it matter? Because the first test of a presidential candidate is whether or not he is capable of running a campaign. Ferguson is correct to note that Cruz, whose most significant executive experience was running the office of the solicitor general in Texas, is seriously out-organizing a candidate who supposedly brings gobs of executive experience to the race.
One notes that Trump still has Roger Stone—threatening delegates who vote against Trump with physical violence. And now Trump has a seasoned political operative, Paul Manafort, running his delegate operation. Manafort yesterday denounced Cruz for using “Gestapo tactics.” It’s called an argumentum ad Hitlerum… it is the kind of argument that the left indulges regularly. Coming from the Republican front runner, it smacks of sore loser.
If the Trump campaign is going to have any chance it will have to overcome the impression that it is based on bullying, threats and intimidation. Stone and Manafort do not seem to have gotten the memo. And yes, I know that Roger Stone is not officially working for Trump. That does not mean that he is not working for Trump.
Ferguson notes that before Trump entered the scene, Cruz was the burr in the side of establishment Republicans. He was the one man who stood up to both Obama and to members of his own party. As I have noted, the great John McCain stood up to defend the daughter of the Muslim Brotherhood, Huma Abedin.
So Ferguson writes:
Like Trump, Cruz saw the extent to which Republican voters were sick of their party establishment. The difference was that, unlike Trump, Cruz didn’t make it up as he went along. Trump was engaged in what is known on the New York comedy scene as “improv.” Nothing Cruz does is improv. He is always the master of his brief.
Nearly everyone has underestimated this man. Back in October, prediction markets said he had a 4 percent chance of winning the Republican nomination. Today that figure is 33 percent. Before accepting bets on Cruz, Betfair should have checked with his opponents when he ran for the Senate in 2012. The man is a politics machine.
Ferguson is clear that the Republican candidate will either be Trump or Cruz:
There is a lot of wild talk in Washington these days about “white knights” riding to the rescue at the convention. The names of Mitt Romney and his running mate — now House Speaker Paul Ryan — are bandied about. But I doubt very much either would want to accept a nomination so flagrantly at odds with the wishes of the primary and caucus voters. By contrast, if Cruz arrives in Cleveland running a close second behind Trump, then he is the most likely nominee.
As though to irritate the easily irritated Trump supporters, Ferguson introduces an analogy:
No analogy is exact, but consider this. In May 1860 the Republican National Convention in Chicago was expected to nominate New York Senator William H. Seward. Few people reckoned with an unprepossessing but gifted lawyer and debater named Abraham Lincoln. He won on the third ballot.
Now, I am not saying Cruz is Lincoln. I am just saying that, on reflection, maybe I can imagine him as president of the United States.
In the interest of being fair and balanced, I bring you a few remarks from today’s lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal. The Journal editorial board is seriously upset that Cruz is the alternative to Trump. It argues that Cruz is nearly unelectable. Having alienated most members of the Republican Party, they argue, Cruz will surely not garner their votes. One might say the same of Donald Trump, so the Journal seems to holding out hope for a white knight, like John Kasich to ride to the rescue. On this point, I am with Ferguson. It’s going to be either Trump or Cruz.
The Journal editorialized this morning:
In other words, Mr. Cruz’s chance to become President hinges on the so-called Republican establishment that he calls “the Washington cartel.” He wants the same people whose enmity he otherwise welcomes to ordain him as the only non-Trump alternative. Then he’ll roll into Cleveland with a smaller plurality of delegates than the businessman but depend on the power brokers of a brokered convention to pry away the nomination.
Of course, the local power brokers have chosen the delegates. And the local power brokers are either working for Cruz or terrified by Trump. The process resembles the Democratic Party’s reliance on Superdelegates… the better not to leave the decision entirely in the hands of the voters.
One naturally finds this idea horrifying, but the founders of the American Republic did not write a constitution that guaranteed anything resembling universal suffrage. Even today the president is not elected by a majority vote of the electorate. The founders certainly did not allow the presidency to be decided by popular vote.
You might consider this to be nefarious, but the current rules allow delegates to vote as they please after the first or the second ballot. Apparently, Trump is just coming to this realization. Cruz has known it all along.
As for the Cruz strategy of assailing Republicans, one must say that Cruz assailed Congressional Republicans, about whom most Republicans have a rather negative opinion. Remind us again of the favorability ratings of Congress—are they still in single digits?
The Journal writes:
One reason Mr. Cruz hasn’t rallied more Republicans, despite the fear of Mr. Trump, is that the Texan built his presidential strategy on assailing Republicans. He’s the political leader of the conservative subculture that has emerged during the Obama Presidency that attributes the country’s problems—from slow growth to stagnant wages to abusive government—to a GOP “surrender caucus” that supposedly sold out or didn’t fight hard enough.
It is true that Cruz is running slightly behind Hillary Clinton, but Trump is running a lot behind. As for the argument, made on other occasions by the Journal, that John Kasich is the most electable candidate in a presidential election, the truth seems to be that he is unelectable as a nominee.
True, Kasich has an excellent record, but his positions on various issues are not likely to appeal to Republicans in the general election. Many people like him because they do not like one or the other of the two leading candidates. They also like him because he is more an idea than a candidate. People like the idea of Kasich, but that does not mean that they will turn out to vote for him, any more than they turned out to vote for Bob Dole or Mitt Romney or John McCain.
Moreover, no one has launched any serious attacks against John Kasich. Perhaps this means that he is so wonderful that no mud would ever stick to him, but, rest assured, by the time the Clinton attack machine is finished with him, you will think that John Kasich is the bastard spawn of Darth Cheney.
In addition, Kasich is not a great debater. He recently refused to debate Ted Cruz one-on-one. If you trust his kind and gentle soul to make the case against Hillary Clinton you have been drinking far too much happy juice. Didn't we already see Mitt Romney shrink from a confrontation with Barack Obama? Do you think that Kasich, based on his debate performance, will do any better?
We already saw what happened when the Republicans sent a young and inexperienced Paul Ryan to debate Joe Biden. He was easily overpowered. For reasons that escape me, this has persuaded people that Ryan is the future of the Republican Party.
The Journal concludes:
The point is that Mr. Cruz has to show he’s more than a faction leader if he wants to be the nominee, much less win in November.
The Texan recently appeared on Jimmy Kimmel’s TV program, and the host told him, “What you did is, you kind of held out until they found someone that they liked less than you.” Mr. Cruz replied, “Listen, it is a powerful strategy.” The audience laughed, but the problem is that it isn’t a joke.
One might dismiss the Cruz strategy in the presidential campaign. One would not have to strain too much to do so. And yet, up to now, it seems to be working. One recalls that William James once said: the truth is what works.
One final point. The Wall Street Journal editorial page is one of the beacons of conservative political thought in America. It is not an innocent bystander or a blogger with a limited readership. It does not just observe and analyze; it shapes opinion, and certainly conservative opinion. By now, it is clear that the Journal’s views on Donald Trump are being ignored by the Republican electorate. One can say that same of the views of that other clarion of conservative opinion journalism: the National Review.
But, if the Journal declares that Cruz is unelectable that will make him more unelectable. For now, unless something extraordinary happens, that lends support to the Trump campaign.