Politics & Policy

Ted Cruz’s Analytics-Driven Plan to Steal the Libertarian Vote from Rand

(Drew Angerer/Getty)

Ted Cruz needs to pick off enough libertarian votes to hobble Rand Paul, and his data-analytics team thinks it has identified a way to begin to do so.

The recent fight over the expiration of the Patriot Act provisions that provide the legal basis for the National Security Agency’s controversial phone data-collection program offered a window into each campaign’s strategy. Cruz supported reforming the provisions, while Paul staged a ten-hour filibuster calling for their repeal. Cruz’s camp believes that Paul is overlooking a growing fear of international terrorism among libertarian-leaning voters, and that he erred by pushing to gut the NSA’s program rather than supporting a Patriot Act–reform bill that had already passed the House. It’s one instance of a data-analysis effort that Cruz’s team will use to try to target libertarians and other critical voters in the primaries.

Cruz’s campaign has identified about 18,000 Iowans who will support the Texas Republican next year provided they participate in the caucuses, according to Chris Wilson, the director of research and analytics for the presidential hopeful. Wilson claims they have identified another 110,000 Hawkeye voters — over three times the number of people needed to win the state — who could be persuaded to back Cruz, and they have researched what issues most motivate those voters. “Not only do I know their issues, but we are also scoring them on personality type,” he tells National Review.

RELATED: Rand Paul and Ted Cruz Are Each Running Away from the ‘Mushy Middle’

Perhaps surprisingly, Cruz’s team discovered that national security is a prominent and growing concern among libertarian voters. “There is a plurality of libertarians whose top issue is national security today,” Wilson says, pegging the figure in the mid-30s. “Now, I doubt that was the case in 2008. It may not have been even in 2012. But today it is.” Consequently, he believes that Cruz’s support for the USA Freedom Act, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell backed begrudgingly after failing to pass a bill reauthorizing the Patriot Act, hit the sweet spot in terms of appealing to libertarians who dislike the NSA but fear ISIS.

Both candidates are doing a balancing act and taking risks to win over new supporters.

That analysis may rely too much on the expectation that those libertarian voters recognize the USA Freedom Act as a middle ground between their national-security fears and their opposition to the NSA program. “That’s a little bit of a false premise to say that because people are concerned about ISIS that somehow they’re more supportive of a robust domestic-surveillance program,” says a Republican operative who is backing Paul. “What I want to know is, does it actually impact the way that somebody votes? And, if so, what solution and what proposal or idea is moving them?”

Paul’s camp assumes that he has too much credibility among libertarians, especially the ones who supported his father, for Cruz to make inroads as an alternative defender of privacy. They believe Cruz’s failure to back Paul on the Patriot Act won’t help him eat into their core supporters. “I think his not supporting Rand [in the NSA fight] hurt him in that base,” Munisteri says.

#related#Nevertheless, the Paul campaign is clearly wary of the threat Cruz poses to their libertarian bedrock. In the aftermath of the NSA fight, they’ve taken the unusual step of claiming credit for the passage of the USA Freedom Act, even though Paul opposed the bill. Munisteri admits that the bill is an improvement over the Patriot Act, but says Cruz must “credit that improvement to Rand Paul, because there is no way that act would have been passed had Rand not caused the Patriot Act to expire.”

Both candidates are doing a balancing act and taking risks to win over new supporters. Paul’s Patriot Act fight invigorated his libertarian base, but “it cost him a little among more mainstream Republican voters, those so-called traditional Republican voters who were giving him a look,” the GOP operative says. At the same time, Cruz may find that his attempt to satisfy national-security hawks while poaching libertarians from Paul alienates too many voters in both camps.

“I think where Rand’s at is a good spot. I think Cruz is doing what he thinks he’s got to do. And, we’ll see who is right in February and March of next year,” says the Paul supporter.

— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.

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