The Republican political class is wholly unaware that its brand is tarnished because it has at best pandered to, and more often scoffed at and vilified, its most critical and energized supporters — the grassroots conservative base.
This should have been evident from the conclusions it drew from the post-mortem it conducted after Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012: namely, that the party’s key weakness is its inability to appeal to political blocs that typically vote Democratic, and more importantly that the antidote is to advocate policies antithetical to conservatism. Rather than heeding the call of its conservative base to make a compelling case for why conservatism benefits all Americans — especially those Democratic voters who have been stuck in progressive purgatory for 50 years in our nation’s cities — Republicans sought instead to out-Democrat the Democrats.
Did Republicans think that they would win by presenting themselves as the more “efficient” and “economical” welfare state party? Moreover, what difference would there be between Democrats and Republicans if Republicans were just the slightly less progressive party? If the assumption underlying the GOP’s post-mortem was that it is a fait accompli that America would submit to leftism, then why did the party not advocate abolishing itself? Last but not least, the Republican Party ignored as part of its plan any strategy for increasing turnout among its perturbed but crucial conservative base.
To the grassroots denizens that are the most energized, likely Republican voters, this was all a slap in the face. They had voted in a Republican House in 2010 hoping that it would bring with it a real loyal opposition imbued with Tea Party values and principles. When they later voted in a Republican Senate in 2014 — in spite of Ted Cruz’s supposedly calamitous efforts to end Obamacare, where apparently he, not President Obama, single-handedly shut down the government — the voters further expressed their frustration with GOP business as usual. Republican colleagues did not oust House Speaker John Boehner in a vacuum.
But the Republican establishment continues in its intransigence, believing that putting lipstick on the status quo progressive Republican pig is going to work.
In its myopia, the party now views its greatest threat beyond Donald Trump as the surging Senator Cruz. Just as Jeb Bush believes that repeatedly calling Donald Trump “unserious” will somehow lead his supporters to reconsider their position, so too does the party believe that labeling Ted Cruz slick, narcissistic and highly ambitious — i.e., the Republican Obama — will somehow make primary voters reconsider him.
As Erick Erickson points out in an incisive post, attacks by Republican political consultants — let alone fellow senators — on Cruz for going it alone against his party’s leadership and ruffling feathers in Washington, D.C., are precisely the words that Cruz supporters and conservatives more broadly are craving. These are endorsements, conservative dog whistles, and likely one of the reasons why Marco Rubio’s attacks on Cruz over his purported support of “legalization” of illegal immigrants seem to have fallen on deaf ears to date.
Conservatives are upset with the Republican Party precisely because they feel there is not a dime’s worth of difference between a Paul Ryan House and a Nancy Pelosi House, and because Republicans run on conservative principles and govern according to Democratic priorities.
We have heard over and over the last eight years from Republicans that “if you just give us control of the House, we will stop the Obama agenda.” Then, “If you just give us control of both Houses of Congress, we will stop the Obama agenda.” Then, “We just need a Republican president in order to undo the Obama agenda that we aided, abetted and enabled after you gave us your vote.” Next up will be, “We just have to wait until we can nominate conservative Supreme Court justices.” How has that worked out in the past, by the way?
Conservatives aren’t as stark raving mad as the media loves to claim — painting them as enraged yahoos clinging to guns and religion as a means of marginalizing them — but rather, conservatives are supremely disappointed by a party that rewards its support with betrayal time and time again. It would be the definition of insanity for grassroots voters to continue doing the same thing over and over again at the ballot box, pulling the lever for the generic Republican candidate and expecting a different outcome.
Which again brings us to Ted Cruz and the slights of his Republican adversaries. Every person running for president need be somewhat ”slick,” if slick means an ability to garner wide enough political support to be considered a serious competitor for the presidency.
Every person running for president need be somewhat egotistical, if not narcissistic, to have the confidence and belief that he should be commander-in-chief of the greatest nation in the world’s history.
Certainly, every person running for president need be ambitious enough to do what is necessary to rise through the ranks of power, and surely it must have been his or her aim to rise to the Oval Office for a number of years. Or did Bill Clinton just store away a picture with John F. Kennedy so he would have a fun souvenir for his grandkids?
Given that this is the reality of politics, does the D.C. Republican political class honestly believe that Marco Rubio does not share these traits? How about Jeb Bush? Or Chris Christie?
While it may be that Cruz personally grates on the GOP establishment because he challenges them and won’t play ball, perhaps its key concern is that it feels that his conservatism is out of the mainstream, thus making him unelectable in a general election. If so, the establishment should make that case to the GOP primary voters — at this writing it should be noted, Cruz falls within the margin of error or better against presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in a general election.
Cruz has not specifically laid out his general election strategy, but from what we do know, it appears he is in fact echoing that of President Obama. Cruz intends to activate the most ideological part of the party base via micro-targeting, drastically increasing conservative voter turnout, rather than catering to the “middle.” This challenges the conventional wisdom, and it may prove unsuccessful.
But in light of the past, the burden of proof rests on the GOP establishment to show that its strategy is any better. For it has nominated Mitt Romney and John McCain in the last two presidential elections, and seen many of its candidates successfully primaried. Resorting to ad hominem attacks against Cruz is neither a necessary nor sufficient argument for why the GOP establishment’s heretofore losing formula will work in this election.
If not truly an issue of character or “electability,” perhaps Republican opposition to Cruz is attributable to something else. Could it be that Republicans think that as a consequence of his being a cunning political animal Senator Cruz is a RINO in conservative sheep’s clothing, seeking to dupe voters into falling for the same old milquetoast presidential candidate? Or does it come down to fear that Cruz might actually win the presidency and govern as a conservative? Perhaps it is not really about his “slickness,” narcissism or ambition, but rather that all of these traits combined with his intellect might enable the most conservative candidate to triumph, even in a center-left country. If this is the case, why should a Republican Party that rests on a conservative base be afraid? Does the party not share the values and principles of its voters? Does the party feel that a conservative president threatens its political power? Does the party fear retribution?
These are questions that our party elders and their consultants ought to answer. Inquiring conservative minds would like to know.