Columnists and their headline writers have a habit of offering hostages to Fate — e.g., “Let’s not even pretend Ted Cruz has a chance of becoming president,” “Let’s be serious about Ted Cruz from the start: He’s too extreme and too disliked to win,” “Opposition from Republicans who care about winning in 2016 will doom the chances of a senator whose tactics . . . have established him as a loudmouth loser.”
We have heard this sort of thing before.
“Reagan can’t win, Ford says.” That’s the 1976 version. The 1980 New York Times version, with the nearly identical headline: “Ford Declares Reagan Can’t Win.” Ford was really quite sure of himself: “Every place I go, and everything I hear, there is a growing, growing sentiment that Governor Reagan cannot win the election.” New York magazine: “The reason Reagan can’t win. . . . ” “Preposterous,” sociologist Robert Coles wrote about the idea of a Reagan victory.
The founder of this magazine worried that Reagan simply could not win in 1980, and several National Review luminaries quietly hoped that George H. W. Bush would be the nominee. There were serious, thoughtful conservatives who thought in 1980 that their best hope was to have Daniel Patrick Moynihan run as a Democrat that year, while many others were looking to ex-Democrat John Connally to carry the conservative banner on the GOP side.
Things have a funny way of working out differently than expected. (And then much, much differently.)
It is March of 2015. It is foolish to be offering statements that are not merely confident but purportedly definitive regarding who is not going to win the 2016 presidential election. This is especially true given that — and this cannot be emphasized strongly enough — we have no flippin’ idea who is going to be running in that election. Yes, there are Democrats who would vote for a dead mackerel over Ted Cruz (though that candidate is currently on the ballot in Chicago) just as there are conservatives such as myself who would prefer to see an ounce of petrified navel lint elected president with the ghost of my late dachshund, Schmitty, as his veep than endure another president from the party of this guy. But Lint-Schmitty voters do not settle elections on our own. Cruz vs. Clinton? Who knows? Cruz vs. Warren? Brings a smile to the face. Cruz vs. O’Malley? If you’ve never seen Republicans skipping en masse, that might be your chance.
About Senator Cruz: As NR’s editors note, there is much to admire about him — the raw brainpower, the oratorical gifts. When it comes to the serious conservative thinkers and their sometimes dyspeptic tomes, Cruz has, as the Hebrew sages put it, “eaten the book.” (John the Revelator, like Ezekiel before him, learned how that goes when he was instructed to do it: “It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.”) There is a great deal to like about him, and grounds for charitable criticism as well, as my friend Charles C. W. Cooke has observed.Conservatives of a Burkean bent, having attended the school of example, might pause to consider that the last senator who effectively launched a presidential campaign 11 minutes and 37 seconds after he was sworn in did, in fact, go on to become president, and that it will take the republic a generation to recover from the damage done.
Cruz is great. Rand Paul is great. Scott Walker is great. Bobby Jindal is great. Rick by-God Perry is great. Jeb Bush . . . was a really, really fine governor. We have primary elections for a reason, and these are some big boys (and girls? What says Governor Martinez? Governor Fallin? Governor Haley? Governor . . . ?) who are more than capable of inflicting upon themselves whatever savage and perverse ritual combat Republican-primary voters demand, with the last man standing demanding of the conclave in Cleveland: “Are you not entertained?”
Should be a hoot.
Is Ted Cruz “too extreme”? Longtime Cruz-watchers note that he starts his stump speech with reference to the moral philosopher John Rawls (free advice for Team Cruz: that did not go down well at Hillsdale!) a favorite of progressives and chief antagonist to Robert Nozick, a favorite among libertarian-ish types. That citation is too high-minded to be pandering, and it is too Harvardian to be intended to stir up primary voters of the sort who are always going on contemptuously about “the elites” as they rah-rah for the gentleman from Texas . . . and Princeton, and Cambridge, Mass. It is not just an unthinking stump crutch, either. Senator Cruz is a man with a theory of justice of his own, a man with a politics of his own, and a man with ideas of his own. He is a man who has something that he wants to say and who sometimes seems less sure how to get it across to his audience.
No doubt Senator Cruz would say that he is “extreme” in the sense that he is guided by a conviction that the president and the government over which he presides must be bound by the Constitution, and that this is something close to absolute, and radical compared with the status quo. Senator Paul says similar things, and so does Governor Perry. It may very well be that 50 percent + 1 of the people who choose electors will nonetheless agree with him in November 2016. Or maybe they go full pinko instead — these are American voters we’re talking about, and they are an unpredictable bunch.
In football, any team can win on any given Sunday; in politics, any candidate can win on any given Tuesday. Ted Cruz did not cut a swath through Democrats to take his seat in the Senate — the Democrat, whose name I defy you to call up, was pro forma — but rather by defeating the Republican political machine in Texas and by making fools of its top dogs. If you think that he managed that by being stupid, then there is an adjective in this sentence for you.
Will he be the nominee? Good Lord, who knows or cares at this point? It’s a question mainly of interest to Ted Cruz and his rivals, and maybe to their sainted mothers. That we are so fascinated by the possibility is further evidence of the corrosive cult of the presidency — we conservatives should know better than to wait for the anointing of a savior.
Besides, the mighty Cthulhu (“Why Settle for the Lesser Evil?”) or the Sweet Meteor O’ Death may very well have changed the equation by then. It’s a long ways away.
The great irony of the moment is that the people writing Cruz off this week are sneering at his lack of political sophistication and congratulating themselves on their own. Ask Senator David Dewhurst how well that worked out for him.
— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent for National Review.