Archive for December, 2015

With Cruz, they’d lose

via The Economist (November 27, 2015)

Ted Cruz, a firebrand Republican, peddles a self-serving myth about presidential contests.

THE presidential candidate who has most harmed American politics this year is Donald Trump, a bully who has prospered by inciting rage. Yet from the narrower perspective of the Republican Party, the most dangerous candidate of the 2016 pack may just be Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who is rising in the polls by telling conservative activists a seductive but misleading story about how their party wins elections.

Since launching his presidential run, the 44-year-old Texan has built his campaign around a simple pitch: assuring the most conservative third of the Republican electorate, from born-again Christian voters to hardline members of the Tea Party, that they form a cruz controlnatural majority of the conservative movement, and indeed would decide general elections if they would only turn out and vote. In his telling, this stirring truth frightens a cowardly Republican establishment in Washington, which urges conservatives to run to the middle as “Democrats-lite”—whereupon, Mr Cruz argues, “We get whipped.” By way of proof, the first-term senator informs Republican crowds that in 2012, when the party nominated Mitt Romney, roughly half of all born-again Christian voters and millions of blue-collar conservatives stayed home.

New polls show Mr Cruz rising to second place behind Mr Trump in Iowa, which will hold the first contest of the presidential primary season on February 1st. Much of his surge is at the expense of Mr Trump’s fellow-outsider, the retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Dr Carson, a devout Christian whose memoirs are a staple for church book-clubs and home-school curriculums, led some Iowa surveys in October. But the doctor has been hurt by amateurish responses to the Paris terror attacks, including a breezy suggestion that a “great nation” like America should not be “afraid” to shoot down Russian planes over Syria, if need be.

Prayerful Republicans have won Iowa in the past and faded soon afterwards, it is true. But Mr Cruz sees openings. The 2016 presidential primary calendar is front-loaded with conservative, pious states, many in the South, allowing Cruz strategists to dream of swiftly dominating the “very conservative” lane of the race, while establishment rivals squabble among themselves. And as Mr Trump’s campaign has taken a more thuggish turn, Mr Cruz has gingerly distanced himself, saying that Republican candidates should remember that “tone matters”. What Mr Cruz will never do is criticise Mr Trump’s angriest supporters, for he hopes to inherit them one day. Instead he presents himself as angry America’s champion in Washington. He calls Barack Obama “an apologist for radical Islamic terrorism”, and has challenged the president to debate the wisdom of admitting Syrian Muslim refugees to America, a plan that Mr Cruz calls “lunacy”.

On November 20th Mr Cruz and six Republican rivals attended a presidential forum in Des Moines hosted by the Family Leader, a social-conservative outfit. A blizzard did not stop 1,200 locals from attending the hustings, which saw the politicians ranged around a mock Thanksgiving dinner table. The Family Leader’s boss, Bob Vander Plaats, set the tone by telling the gathering that “Satan was trying to disrupt our plans tonight” with the snowstorm and other wiles, but that this merely proved that the meeting would be “something special”. The crowd responded warmly to Mr Cruz, who offered stories about religion’s importance in his life, scorn for Mr Obama and exhortations for Christian conservatives to defy “Washington” and unite around a single candidate, or as he put it: “If the body of Christ rises up as one and votes our values, we can turn this country around.”

On paper, Mr Cruz makes an unlikely warrior against elitism. Before entering Texas politics, he was a debating champion at Princeton and a star student at Harvard Law School, later securing a high-flying post as a clerk at the Supreme Court. His wife, Heidi, worked at the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, then for Goldman Sachs, a bank. Supporters are unfussed. They praise Mr Cruz as a “fighter” who battled Democrats and also his own party leaders in Congress, notably when he forced a government shutdown in 2013 in what he called a bid to derail Obamacare. Fans do not care that other Republican senators angrily call the shutdown a doomed scheme whose purpose was to cast Mr Cruz as a grassroots hero. To the grassroots, being disliked in Washington is a character reference.

John Wacker, a manufacturing engineer, recalled being reluctant to put out campaign signs for Mr Romney in 2012 and for the Republican nominee in 2008, Senator John McCain. “They didn’t inspire me,” Mr Wacker explained, before praising Mr Cruz’s “charisma”. Several at the forum relished the prospect of the senator in a presidential debate with Hillary Clinton. “He’d eat her for lunch,” growled David, a campaign volunteer who declined to give his last name, citing his distrust of the press. As for Mr Vander Plaats, his organisation will endorse a candidate before Christmas. But he predicts in a telephone interview that Mrs Clinton is beatable “if we can choose someone who can inspire our base”, adding: “When we choose the mushy middle, we lose.”

Remember Barry Goldwater? He lost 44 states.

Alas for Cruz fans, the senator’s story about a Republican voter strike in 2012 does not add up. Turnout fell among lots of groups in 2012, some of them Obama-friendly. Moreover, turnout actually rose in some of the most closely-fought states. Voting rates also remained pretty healthy among white Protestant evangelicals, who made up one in four of all voters according to exit polls, though they account for only 19% of the population. Conservative Cruz fans may not care, for now. His fable about how elections are won flatters them, after all. As Mr Cruz beamed in Des Moines: “The men and women in this room scare the living daylights out of Washington.” But it is a fable: no Republican has won the White House without hefty moderate support. Mr Cruz is a clever and eloquent man. All the more reason to beware him.

Can Evangelicals Swing 2016 for GOP, as Cruz Says?

From the Wall Street Journal, by Gerald Seib

For months, Sen.  Ted Cruz has been hovering in the middle of the GOP presidential campaign pack, waiting for his moment—and honing his argument for why he has the strategy and appeal that can win for Republicans in 2016.

In a nutshell, the Cruz case is this: There is an army of silent evangelical voters out there, and I can mobilize them. The country has 90 million evangelical Christians, 54 million of whom stayed home on Election Day in 2012, he says. If I can get just 10 million of the no-shows to vote for me in 2016, we win.

Now that Mr. Cruz appears to be making his move—two recent polls show him rising to second place in Iowa, where evangelicals are strong—the question is: Does the math behind his argument hold up?

There is little doubt that a lack of enthusiasm among core voters hurt Republicans in 2012. Still, some in the party are dubious. Implicit in the Cruz case, they believe, is an assertion that mobilizing white evangelical voters is more important than the mission other Republicans put atop their agenda: doing better among the swelling ranks of minority voters, particularly Hispanics.

In a sense, then, the Cruz argument frames a strategic question for Republicans in 2016: Does victory lie in better mobilizing the existing GOP base, or in expanding that base to reflect changing demographics?

Mr. Cruz contends that Republicans lose when they nominate candidates—such as former Massachusetts Gov.  Mitt Romney—who fail to excite evangelicals at the core of today’s GOP. Some 30% of Americans are evangelical Christians, he argues, and the majority of them simply didn’t vote in 2012.

Certainly, low energy overall was a problem for Republicans when they failed to defeat a weakened President Barack  Obama in 2012. The under-enthusiasm was particularly noticeable among white voters, which seemed critical in at least one key state, Ohio. There, the white share of the vote declined to 79% from 83% in 2008, and Mr. Romney got fewer votes overall than  John McCain did four years earlier.

Mr. Cruz argues, in essence, that an energized based of evangelical voters, 76% of whom are white, would make up for such deficiencies, and he is hitting that math hard to mobilize evangelicals to his side. “Christians are staying home,” he told an audience at religiously conservative Bob Jones University in mid-November. “ Well mark my words, we will stay home no more.”

One shortcoming in the argument, though, is that almost half of those in the evangelical population that Mr. Cruz cites aren’t Republicans. An extensive survey of religion in America by the Pew Research Center showed that 28% of self-identified evangelical Christians are Democratic or lean Democratic, and 16% say they have no party leaning. Many evangelicals are African-Americans, a core Democratic audience unlikely to defect.

Meanwhile, many white evangelicals live in reliably red states that Republicans already are sure to win; a higher turnout there would simply run up a larger GOP margin. The broader question, then, is whether there are enough white evangelical conservatives to make a difference in the key states.

In a book titled “2016 and Beyond: How Republicans Can Elect a President in the New America,” GOP pollster  Whit Ayres—who works with Sen.  Marco Rubio’s campaign—writes that relying on finding “missing white voters” is “an excuse to avoid confronting the very real problems facing the Republican Party in a 21st century electorate.”

The number of white votes did drop by 4.2 million between the 2008 and 2012 elections, Mr. Ayres notes, and some of those were blue-collar Americans who didn’t warm to Mr. Romney.

But he also notes that if all those missing white voters had shown up and voted Republican, they still wouldn’t have saved Mr. Romney, who lost by 5 million votes.

The more important trend, he argues, is the steady decline of whites as a share of the electorate, and the steady rise of Hispanic voters. Whites as a share of the electorate fell to 72% in 2012 from 81% in 2000—and will fall further to 69% in 2016. Meanwhile, the share of minority voters will rise to 31% next year from 19% in 2000.

If the next Republican nominee doesn’t win more of the minority vote than the 17% Mr. Romney took, Mr. Ayres writes, he will have to win a hefty 65% of the white vote to prevail. That level hasn’t been hit since the  Ronald Reagan landslide of 1984.

Of course, the two arguments aren’t mutually exclusive: It’s possible to do better among white evangelicals and minorities. That’s a tall strategic order. Still, it may be that performing better among evangelicals is a necessary but not sufficient part of a GOP victory formula.