Have you looked inside the latest CNN poll? You’ll find a very interesting number — namely, that Jeb Bush’s approval-disapproval numbers sit at a devastating 35-57.
That doesn’t look like the inevitability we’ve been sold by his surrogates, does it?
What seems quite apparent so far is the GOP establishment, and the Chamber of Commerce crowd who forced Mitt Romney down the throats of an unenthusiastic Republican electorate four years ago, cannot produce a nominee in this cycle. Each poll which gives a majority of the vote to candidates of some stripe of insurgency — Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul — makes that clear.
And while the establishment is in poor enough odor, its problems are magnified by the awful performance of candidates acceptable to it. Bush has made one inexplicable gaffe after another amid a campaign seemingly designed to alienate Republican voters in hopes of attracting Democrats and independents. Scott Walker has managed to couple a stellar record of governance with a stunningly vacant message; his campaign advisors are guilty of pronounced malpractice. John Kasich coupled religious sanctimony on Medicaid expansion with #BlackLivesMatter pandering on the way to five percent in the polls, and this has been characterized as success. Chris Christie appears destined to be out of the race by Labor Day. And Marco Rubio, despite a terrific performance at the debate in Cleveland, simply has not been able to generate any traction.
In a 17-person field, what’s most important is survival. One must demonstrate the ability to stay relevant from one news cycle to the next regardless of what the latest poll says, and one must be able to do so without running out of money. In a field so diffuse, generating lasting momentum is nearly impossible — particularly amid the phenomenon of Trump’s stealing the oxygen from the room.
Who has the funds for real staying power? Obviously Trump does — he’s able to self-finance a campaign and as the front-runner, his fundraising will come easy. And certainly Bush has ample resources for a war of attrition, though his donor base so far is relatively small and mostly limited to the same people who bankrolled his father and brother. But beyond Trump and Bush, the most well-heeled candidate in the race is Ted Cruz — with a wide donor base and a sizable war chest for the long haul.
Here’s a theory to ponder: after the first round of dropouts, in which Rick Perry’s impending demise is joined by several others — Christie, George Pataki, Lindsey Graham, Jim Gilmore, perhaps Bobby Jindal — the likely beneficiary will be the candidate best suited to pull their voters.
And for many, that could be Cruz. Cruz has regional strength in Texas and Louisiana, which could translate into his picking up Perry and Jindal supporters. Despite his clashes with Graham in the Senate, Cruz’ calls for a muscular foreign policy could appeal to the several dozen supporters the South Carolinian has amassed. Those of Christie’s supporters who came to him for his combative style might look to Cruz rather than Trump.
And then after the second round of dropouts, Cruz could gain even more support. Particularly should Paul leave the race; if he isn’t gaining ground, at some point he’s going to have to consider whether his smartest play won’t be to return to Kentucky to defend his Senate seat, and Cruz is a friend and partner in many cases (though for Paul so is Mitch McConnell, which makes for an interesting conflict). Should Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum drop out, none of the others has put in more work to attract the social conservatives they represent than Cruz.
By this point, we might be close to the March 1 “Super Tuesday” primaries, most of which will take place in Deep South states where Cruz has trained his focus toward developing strength. He’s been outshone by Trump in most of them to date, but Cruz is building more organization in those states than any other candidate.
We could see a situation where Trump is ahead on the strength of his performance in the early states and still leads in the polls, though he might have commenced fading in the face of the various challenges befalling a presidential candidate and the terror gripping the party of having to nominate a bull-in-a-China-shop like the real estate magnate has not subsided. But while the establishment might believe Trump is beatable, they could be without candidates to beat him.
And at that juncture, the unthinkable might become inevitable; namely, that the RINO/Chamber of Commerce GOP establishment might well see Ted Cruz as their only hope to stop Donald Trump from getting the Republican nomination.
Rubio and Walker were supposed to be the “fusion” candidates in the race. They were supposed to be the campaigns capable of bridging the gap between the establishment and the Tea Party. Cruz was supposed to be an impossibility because he’s too conservative. But as the race has developed, the GOP electorate is even more anti-establishment and hard-core conservative than anyone expected, and that’s why non-politicians who are unafraid to use what the mainstream media calls “divisive” rhetoric have prospered. It turns out that a little “divisive” rhetoric is actually interesting to the voters. Cruz has been happy to let fly with pointed discussions of serious issues all along, and he’s putting himself in position to be more than acceptable to Trump’s and Carson’s voters should they fail to secure the nomination.
The continued self-destruction of Hillary Clinton, and the inability of the Democrats to find a plausible alternative amid a devastated bench, only makes the moderate/establishment narrative less compelling. The weaker Clinton and the Democrats look, the more tempting it will be to nominate the most conservative candidate possible. The opportunity could be that good to undo the damage of the Obama years.
I’m not making the case that Cruz is the man to unite the Republican Party’s warring clans…yet. What I am saying is, as Al Hunt noticed earlier this week, Cruz is positioning himself very strategically. And if the anti-establishment sentiment among the voters on the GOP side continues alongside sluggish performances by Bush and the other moderates, it’s not impossible that he could have the RINO crowd begging him to save them from Trump.