Ted Cruz is surg­ing by de­sign

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Ge­orge Will

”It’s not the will to win that mat­ters. ... It’s the will to pre­pare to win that mat­ters.” — Paul “Bear”


HOUS­TON — Peo­ple here at Ted Cruz’s cam­paign head­quar­ters are metic­u­lously pre­par­ing to win a con­tested con­ven­tion, if there is one. Be­cause Don­ald Trump is a low-energy fel­low, Cruz will be po­si­tioned to trounce him in Cleve­land, where Trump’s slide to­ward earned obliv­ion would ac­cel­er­ate dur­ing a sec­ond bal­lot.

Wis­con­sin has pro­pelled Trump, a vir­tu­oso of con­tempt, to­ward join­ing those he most de­spises: “losers.” In the 1992 gen­eral elec­tion, Ross Perot, a Trump pre­cur­sor, won 21.5 per­cent of Wis­con­sin’s vote, above the 18.9 per­cent he won na­tion­ally. Wis­con­sin’s pop­ulist tra­di­tion is per­sis­tent and in­dis­crim­i­nate enough to en­com­pass Robert La Fol­lette and Joseph McCarthy. And evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians are less im­por­tant in Wis­con­sin than in con­tigu­ous Iowa. Nev­er­the­less, tem­per­ate Wis­con­sin re­jected Trump, partly for the rea­son that one of his weak­est per­for­mances so far was in the red­dest state, Utah, where con­ser­va­tive Mor­mons flinched from his lurid­ness. His act — ig­no­rance slathered with a con­gealed gravy of ar­ro­gance — has be­come stale.

If, as seemed prob­a­ble a month ago, Trump had won Wis­con­sin, he would have been well-po­si­tioned to win a first-bal­lot con­ven­tion vic­tory. Now he is up against things to which he is averse: facts. For months Cruz’s na­tional op­er­a­tion has been court­ing all con­ven­tion del­e­gates, in­clud­ing Trump’s. Cruz aims to make a third bal­lot de­ci­sive, or un­nec­es­sary.

On the eve of Wis­con­sin’s pri­mary, the an­a­lyt­ics peo­ple here knew how many un­de­cided vot­ers were choos­ing be­tween Cruz and Trump (32,000) and how many be­tween Cruz and John Ka­sich (72,000), and where they lived. Walls here are cov­ered with notes out­lin­ing ev­ery step of each state’s mul­ti­stage del­e­gate se­lec­tion process. (Cruz’s cam­paign was ac­tive in Michi­gan when the process of se­lect­ing per­sons el­i­gi­ble to be del­e­gates be­gan in Au­gust 2014.) Cruz’s cam­paign is nur­tur­ing re­la­tion­ships with del­e­gates now com­mit­ted to Trump and oth­ers. In Louisiana’s pri­mary, 58.6 per­cent of vot­ers fa­vored some­one other than Trump; Cruz’s cam­paign knows which is­sues are par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant to which Trump del­e­gates, and Cruz peo­ple with sim­i­lar val­ues are talk­ing to them.

Trump, whose scant re­gard for (other peo­ple’s) prop­erty rights is writ large in his ado­ra­tion of emi- nent do­main abuses, mut­ters darkly about peo­ple “steal­ing” del­e­gates that are his prop­erty. But most are only con­tin­gently his, un­til one or more bal­lots are com­pleted. Usu­ally, more than 40 per­cent of del­e­gates to Repub­li­can con­ven­tions are sea­soned ac­tivists who have at­tended prior con­ven­tions. A large ma­jor­ity of all del­e­gates are of­fice­hold­ers — county com­mis­sion­ers, city coun­cil mem­bers, sheriffs, etc. — and state party of­fi­cials. They tend to fa­vor pres­i­den­tial as­pi­rants who have been Repub­li­cans for longer than since last Fri­day.

Trump is a world-class com­plainer (he is never be­ing treated “fairly”) but a bush league pre­parer. A nom­i­na­tion con­test poses pol­icy and process tests, and he is flunk­ing both.

Re­gard­ing pol­icy, he is flum­moxed by pre­dictable abor­tion ques­tions be­cause he has been pro-life for only 15 min­utes, and be­cause he has lived al­most seven decades with­out giv­ing a scin­tilla of thought to any se­ri­ous pol­icy ques­tion. Re­gard­ing process, Trump, who re­cently took a week­long va­ca­tion from cam­paign­ing, has surfed a wave of free me­dia to the mis­taken con­clu­sion that win­ning a nom­i­na­tion in­volves no more fore­thought than he gives to pol­icy. He thinks he can fly in, stroke a crowd’s ide­o­log­i­cal eroge­nous zones, then fly away. He knows noth­ing about the art of the po­lit­i­cal deal.

The nom­i­na­tion process, says Jeff Roe, Cruz’s cam­paign man­ager, “is a mul­ti­level Ru­bik’s Cube. Trump thought it was a golf ball — you just had to whack it.” Roe says the Cruz cam­paign’s en­gage­ment with the gran­u­lar de­tails of del­e­gate main­te­nance is pro­duc­ing a sit­u­a­tion where “the guy who is try­ing to hi­jack the party runs into a guy with a ma­chine gun.”

Trump, the per­pet­u­ally whin­ing “win­ner,” last won some­thing on March 22, in Ari­zona. Trump, says Roe, is now “bound by his brand rather than pro­pelled by his brand.” If Trump comes to Cleve­land, say, 38 del­e­gates short of 1,237, he will lose. Cruz prob­a­bly will be pro­por­tion­ally closer to Trump than Lin­coln (102 del­e­gates) was to Wil­liam Se­ward (173.5) who was 60 del­e­gates short of vic­tory on the first of three bal­lots at the 1860 con­ven­tion.

Cruz’s de­trac­tors say he has been lucky in this cam­paign’s un­pre­dictable po­lit­i­cal car­oms that thinned the com­pe­ti­tion. But as Branch Rickey — like Coach Bryant, a sports­man­apho­rist — said: “Luck is the residue of de­sign.”

Ge­orge Will is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at georgewill@wash­post.com.

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