The big sur­prise of Ted Cruz

Lesotho Times - - Opin­ion - Ti­mothy Stan­ley Stan­ley is a con­ser­va­tive his­to­rian and colum­nist for Bri­tain’s Daily Tele­graph.

IN “Through the Look­ing Glass,” the Queen tells Alice: “some­times I’ve be­lieved as many as six im­pos­si­ble things be­fore break­fast.” She might have choked on her grits, how­ever, at the thought of Ted Cruz be­com­ing the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee.

Un­til a few weeks ago he was low in the polls and loathed by the GOP es­tab­lish­ment. Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham joked about mur­der­ing him. But now, the im­pos­si­ble has hap­pened: Cruz’s un­likely emer­gence as the favourite to beat Don­ald Trump. His trans­for­ma­tive win in Wis­con­sin. And even his un­think­able en­dorse­ment by Gra­ham.

Can Ted be­lieve this is hap­pen­ing? And does he — or his party — re­ally un­der­stand what it all means?

The im­pos­si­bil­ity of this story be­gins with the very char­ac­ter of Ted Cruz. He has Cuban her­itage but some­how wound up an evan­gel­i­cal. He is un­ques­tion­ably a cul­tural con­ser­va­tive, yet that rhetor­i­cal flourish was honed at Ivy League schools.

He later be­came de­fined as a tea party out­sider, but he be­gan his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer by work­ing for Ge­orge W Bush’s 2000 cam­paign — an ef­fort that back­fired be­cause, as he ad­mit­ted later, he made far more en­e­mies than friends. The ques­tion of like­abil­ity dogs him to this day.

A lot of crit­ics have writ­ten un­pleas­ant ar­ti­cles about his face. In fact, it’s hard to think of a can­di­date who has at­tracted such mean and spite­ful com­men­tary.

For proof that he’s both nor­mal and soft-cen­tred, one only has to view footage of him killing time dur­ing a de­bate break by play­ing with his daugh­ter. All the same, the man is no Marco Ru­bio. While Ru­bio looked like he ought to win and lost in spite of it, Cruz is win­ning in spite of even Ge­orge W. Bush — a fa­mously laid back man — re­port- edly say­ing “I just don’t like that guy.”

But, then again, Cruz likely never imag­ined that he was go­ing to be the front-run­ner. He thought he’d be run­ning the clas­sic con­ser­va­tive out­sider can­di­dacy: win Iowa, win the South, mo­nop­o­lize the re­li­gious vote. He nar­rowly pulled off the first part, the rest went wrong. Trump per­formed bet­ter among South­ern­ers and evan­gel­i­cals, which led many commentators to as­sume that Cruz was on the way out.

But in this year of sur­real turns, Cruz’s as­sump­tion that he’d be the sec­ond-ranked can­di­date ac­tu­ally helped him sur­vive the Trump tsunami.

While the other can­di­dates were fo­cus­ing on big pri­maries, his staff was qui­etly pre­par­ing vic­to­ries in cau­cuses and work­ing hard be­hind the scenes to turn pop­u­lar vote losses into more del­e­gates than ex­pected -as hap­pened in Louisiana.

This ap­proach paid off big time in Colorado, where Cruz cam­paign­ers achieved a clean sweep of all 34 del­e­gates se­lected at byzan­tine con­ven­tions.

Re­mem­ber, this strat­egy was orig­i­nally in­tended just to keep Cruz in con­tention against a main­stream can­di­date like Jeb Bush.

But de­ployed against Don­ald Trump, in a year where the race is as­ton­ish­ingly close, it’s ac­tu­ally turned him into the only cred­i­ble choice for the es­tab­lish­ment.

For in­stance, I’m told that Cruz’s peo­ple had ev­ery in­ten­tion from the very be­gin­ning of ex­ploit­ing Rule 40(b) to his ad­van­tage. This rule stip­u­lates that only a can­di­date who has won del­e­gate ma­jori­ties in at least eight states can be nom­i­nated.

It could be used to dis­qual­ify John Ka­sich — per­haps leav­ing Cruz as the only law­ful al­ter­na­tive to The Don­ald at the con­ven­tion, pre­sum­ing he him­self is judged to have met the cri­te­ria.

But there is yet an­other un­ex­pected twist: In their rush to beat Trump, the party elite may find it­self el­e­vat­ing a man who is even more rad­i­cal than the per­son they’re try­ing to beat.

Trump is rhetor­i­cally ex­treme but on pa­per quite mod­er­ate. His shift­ing views on abor­tion are, I’m sure, the prod­uct of never hav­ing thought very hard about the sub­ject — and the oc­ca­sional foray into anti-mus­lim prej­u­dice or the war over Christ­mas are cover for an in­stinc­tual lib­er­al­ism.

Trump is for uni­ver­sal health care, pro­tect­ing U.S. in­dus­try and with­draw­ing from world af­fairs. Cruz, by con­trast, would be one of the most con­ser­va­tive men ever to head the GOP ticket.

He favours the gold stan­dard, re­jects or­tho­doxy on cli­mate change, and likes the flat tax. His for­eign pol­icy could be summed up as “what­ever is best for Amer­ica.” He would car­pet bomb ISIS, but only be­cause it is an im­mi­nent threat. Libya, he would have avoided.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween Trump and Cruz is that Trump is just a pop­ulist. Cruz is mo­ti­vated by phi­los­o­phy — a con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism that has a lib­er­tar­ian streak. For ex­am­ple, Cruz does not per­son­ally ap­prove of mar­i­juana use but would al­low the states to leg­is­late on it.

And his op­po­si­tion to Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency data gath­er­ing, the use of tor­ture and ethanol sub­si­dies all at­test to his will­ing­ness to take on big gov­ern­ment.

They re­flect the rugged in­di­vid­u­al­ism of a very in­di­vid­u­al­ist can­di­date, and point to the fun­da­men­tal para­dox of the Cruz can­di­dacy.

What has made it re­silient and a bold con­trast to Trump is also what could make it fright­en­ing to many vot­ers: its cool, cal­cu­lat­ing stub­born­ness.

I’m not of the view that Trump has lost the nom­i­na­tion. On the con­trary, he re­mains the front-run­ner. But pre­sum­ing that Cruz does win the nom­i­na­tion, there will have to be a reck­on­ing. The party will prob­a­bly discover that it can’t force a run­ning-mate or pol­icy choices on a man who only ever does things his way.

Cruz may discover that while the party is happy to dump Trump, it’s not so happy to be dic­tated to by an­other mav­er­ick. Both party and can­di­date will find them­selves on the re­ceiv­ing end of at­tacks by a Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee over­joyed to run against an ide­o­logue.

Cruz’s nom­i­na­tion would be a legacy of Trump’s can­di­dacy, and the way that it messed up the pri­mary fight. It would change the GOP’S prob­lems but not end them. That, I fear, re­ally is an im­pos­si­ble task.

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