How Ted Cruz Wins
CONCORD, N.H. — Sen. Ted Cruz stood outside the New Hampshire state capitol Thursday morning, moments after filing papers to qualify for next year’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary. Coatless against a cold drizzle, he delivered a fiery call to arms to the enthusiastic supporters gathered around him and beyond.
“We’re seeing conservatives in New Hampshire and nationally unite,” he said. “We’re seeing the liberty movement coming together. . . . Let me tell you, what is happening on these steps in New Hampshire scares the living daylights out of Washington.”
It was an exhortation by a politician on the rise in the competition for the Republican nomination. Two outsiders with no political experience, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, continue to lead the GOP field. But in the year of the outsider, the freshman senator from Texas who has made his mark defying the political elites believes that, ultimately, he can be the beneficiary of the virulent anti-Washington mood that has shaped this pre-election year.
And as unlikely as his path might have seemed a few months ago, Cruz’s rise in the polls and his formidable war chest represent an additional threat to the establishment that is not going unnoticed.
During a lengthy interview as he returned to his hotel after a long day of campaigning, Cruz offered a detailed explanation of what he views as his path forward — and why he thinks he’ll win. But it is a path strewn with obstacles, opponents and question marks.
Cruz is not a believer in conventional politics or conventional wisdom. Should be prevail in defeating his party’s establishment and winning the nomination contest, his formula for winning a general election also runs counter to the view of many political analysts, including GOP strategists.
He doesn’t dismiss the need to improve the party’s standing among minorities, particularly Hispanics. But he sees a different route, arguing that possible vote gains among those minority groups are “dwarfed” by the millions of conservatives, Reagan Democrats and otherwise disaffected Americans who stayed home in 2008 and 2012 because they found the Republican presidential nominees, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, uninspiring or insufficiently conservative.
Cruz doesn’t believe demographic shifts have put the Republicans at as much of a disadvantage as many analysts have said. What’s needed, he argues at almost every stop, is a true conservative nominee rather than someone who runs “to the mushy middle.” That strategy has been tried and failed, he said. His mission is to persuade enough Republicans to turn to him to pursue a different path.
“The single biggest reason we decided to run was when I looked at the other candidates, all of whom I like and respect, I didn’t see a whole lot of candidates who I thought were likely to energize and mobilize and inspire the millions of conservatives who were staying home,” Cruz said.
To do that, he must first overcome hurdles within his own party, starting with Trump and Carson, both of whom must fall for him to flourish. Beyond that, he is seen among establishment Republicans as too conservative to win a general election, a candidate who they fear could lead the party to a historic defeat.
In the interview, Cruz offered another view, describing in some detail how he envisions the campaign unfolding and why he believes the race sets up well for him.
In past nomination contests, there was often an early consensus choice from the mainstream conservative wing of the party. (Cruz calls it the moderate establishment wing.) This year, he argues, is different.
“The moderate lane is unbelievably crowded,” he said. “There are four, five or six candidates who are fighting like cats and dogs. They’re going to spend millions ripping each other apart. This cycle, moderates are acting like conservatives typically do.”
In contrast, he argued, the conservative lane has become less crowded than some had predicted. Two candidates competing for the conservative base, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Texas governor Rick Perry, have already dropped out. Some others have not yet shown the ability to build substantial support, he said.
Cruz didn’t name them, but that list could include the two past winners of the Iowa caucuses, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, as well as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
That still leaves Trump and Carson, who continue to attract close to half of the GOP primary vote. Cruz and his advisers believe that, as the campaign enters a more serious phase, when the records and experience of all the candidates will be more closely examined, the two non-politicians will fade.
How long he is prepared to wait to see if they fall is a strategic question he’s not yet ready to answer publicly.
In the interview, Cruz simply asserted that neither Trump nor Carson would end up as the Republican nominee, adding: “I believe that we are going to win the conservative bracket.”
If support for Trump and Carson does begin to weaken, many Republicans believe the nomination contest could narrow to a competition between Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. If that were to happen, the two young Cuban Americans represent the competing theories of what Republicans must do to win the White House.
Both have been buoyed by strong performances in the past two GOP debates. In the days after last week’s debate in Milwaukee, the two clashed sharply over immigration, which Cruz sees as a critical fault line that he hopes to exploit by highlighting Rubio’s support for a Senate bill that included a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants now in the country. Rubio’s advisers are confident they can neutralize Cruz’s attacks.
Cruz said he sees a battle with Rubio for the nomination as plausible and has said the Floridian would be a strong opponent. But, noting the intensity of the competition among Rubio, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and businesswoman Carly Fiorina, he said it’s not yet obvious who will prevail…