Politics & Policy

Rubio and Cruz atop the GOP

And Republicans could do a lot worse.

‘Ted Cruz is only going to be popular,” a lefty correspondent sniffs, “in those places where the Osmonds are still popular.” If that is true, then the news for Senator Cruz could not possibly be better, inasmuch as this puts Nevada into play: Donny and Marie signed up for a six-week stint in Las Vegas back in 2008, and extended, and extended, and will be performing in the showroom now named for them until the end of 2016, at least. Good tickets for the reliably sold-out show are $260 each — no laughing matter when one considers that the Osmond demographic includes some pretty large families. It can be hard to see it from Williamsburg or Petworth, but the culture isn’t (only) what the hipsters think it is. If Senator Cruz proves as popular as Shania Twain and NASCAR, he won’t just be president — he’ll be president-for-life.

And that is of some interest, given that Wednesday’s debate very much left the impression that this is a Ted Cruz–Marco Rubio race.

About those other guys . . . 

Jeb Bush’s performance confirms an earlier judgment of him, that he was a pretty good governor a long time ago with no special oomph today, a decent man whose misadventures on the critical policy questions of immigration and education, along with his too-familiar surname, are like heavy boots on a drowning man. His strategy to push Senator Rubio to the side in order to be positioned in such a way that the bulk of the reasonable-to-just-short-of-howling vote should fall upon his head as fading reality-television grotesque Donald Trump enters the Norma Desmond stage of his campaign, leaving Senator Cruz to wage a pyrrhic campaign for the moonbats, was too calculated. It was so calculated, in fact, that Senator Rubio was able to deftly parry it simply by pointing out the calculation. Bush père screwed up by reading his stage directions aloud — “Message: I care” — whereas the (younger) younger Bush stood mutely by as Senator Rubio read aloud from his playbook. It was like watching the smartest kid in the fourth grade mangle his own name at a spelling bee.

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Ben Carson, whose occupation (neurosurgeon) and melanin level (high) assuage certain Republican insecurities, continues to be excellent and modest and in no way prepared to be president. As others have pointed out, he might have made an excellent mayor of Baltimore or governor of Maryland, if it weren’t for the fact that for certain men the presidency seems to be the only job in politics worth having.

Speaking of which . . . 

That there is almost nothing behind Trump’s showmanship is becoming apparent to some of his admirers, albeit slowly.

Trump’s performance was — what’s that phrase? — low-energy, remarkably so. It is always difficult to calculate which moment was Trump’s lowest — that’s one of the challenges of chronicling low men — but his scoffing at Ohio’s energy industry stands out as characteristic of the Trumpkin approach: Governor John Kasich, Trump argued, deserves no credit for Ohio’s economic performance because Ohio “got lucky” with fracking, because it “struck oil.” That’s true. Trump’s native New York might have done the same, except for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s ban on modern techniques of oil-and-gas extraction. If only New York had had the services of some prominent, extraordinarily famous, and media-savvy businessman to spearhead a campaign in favor of energy exploration when Governor Cuomo was playing Hamlet-on-the-Hudson on the question! As with immigration, Trump has had a lifetime in the public eye to take the lead — or even to take a halfway honorable stand — on New York’s energy industry, but he cannot be stirred to act in the service of anything other than his own celebrity. Like Carson, Trump might have made a good mayor or governor, but neither is grand enough for him. New York’s Southern Tier is dying an ugly slow death, and New York’s most famous businessman — who says he wants to be president of these United States — hasn’t lifted a finger on behalf of his own state. That there is almost nothing behind Trump’s showmanship is becoming apparent to some of his admirers, albeit slowly.

RELATED: It’s No Longer the Trump Show

The also-rans also ran. Senator Rand Paul’s testy libertarianism remains a hard sell in demographics more diverse than the dinner table when Matt Welch dines alone; Mike Huckabee is still a better candidate for Bill O’Reilly’s chair than Abraham Lincoln’s; Kasich leaves one wondering how he even got to be governor of Ohio, which, according to my almanac, is an actual state; Chris Christie’s “Hey, remember, I’m from New Jersey!” special-pleading shtick is sometimes charming but not the sort of thing that makes one want to hand him control of a nuclear arsenal; some of us true believers are still rooting for Bobby Jindal down in the junior-varsity division, but there’s not much sign of hope.

RELATED: It’s Time to Thin the Republican Herd

I envision Carly Fiorina joining Mitt Romney in the role I sometimes describe as the crypto-presidency: If there is a Republican president come January 2017, these two should be the Cleaning Crew, given powers that are very narrowly defined but Gaullist in their vigor and tasked with cleaning out problem agencies, with the president declaring the Veterans’ Administration, the Secret Service, etc., something like federal disaster areas and then sending this duo in with a stack of pink slips and orders to bayonet the wounded. The fact that Fiorina would be extraordinarily good at this — and that she’d probably do it with a smile — is the best reason to vote for her for president, and also the reason that most people won’t.

#share#​So, Cruz-Rubio/Rubio-Cruz.

Lifestyle liberals of the fair-trade-soy-latte variety recoil instinctively from Senator Cruz, and even many of his would-be friends and admirers lament what some unkind critics (including me) sometimes call his “Elmer Gantry” mode of persuasion, the televangelist mannerisms and the undertone of quiet desperation that makes it easy to imagine him saying to voters: “Tell me exactly what you want to hear, and I’ll say exactly that.” In an interview with Sean Hannity immediately after the debate, the senator was utterly abject, twice declaring his desire to see a debate moderated by Hannity, Mark Levin, and Rush Limbaugh. Which is to say, he practically begged Hannity et al. to lean his way once their infatuation with Trump and Trump-ism finally becomes too embarrassing to sustain.

The republic could use a period of reflective political sobriety lasting, oh, 60 years or so, and Senator Cruz would be an excellent man to initiate that.

It may be that Senator Cruz thinks that the Republican primary electorate is full of boobs and that he therefore must appeal to the yahooligan sense of style. It may be that Senator Cruz suffers from the affliction all too common among Texas politicians — notably Governor Rick Perry and former president George W. Bush — that causes them to do some sort of limp John Wayne impersonation when they are feeling beset by East Coast media types. In almost every corner of these United States — even Ohio — there is some sort of local pride; the two great exceptions to that are New York City, whose residents have instead of municipal pride a form of Stockholm Syndrome, and Texas, which has instead of a statewide identity a statewide case of psychotic grandiosity. (I’m from Lubbock; I’m allowed.) Senator Cruz, like Rick Perry and (in my very limited experience) George W. Bush seems like an entirely different man off-camera. Maybe that’s cynical calculation; maybe it’s just that he is, after all, still sort of new at this.

RELATED: Ted Cruz Calculates a Path to the Nomination

Senator Cruz is not unaware of his shortcomings as a politician. His confession that he is more of a designated driver than a guy you want to have a beer with — odious cliché — was well-considered. The republic could use a period of reflective political sobriety lasting, oh, 60 years or so, and Senator Cruz would be an excellent man to initiate that.

Nobody ever accuses Senator Rubio of Elmer Gantry-ism. Why? Because if he is a cynical, calculating performer, he’s a brilliant one. I like to think that I am immune to political oratory, but one does have to admire the way that Senator Rubio can turn on that American-dream stuff like flipping a switch. Shortly after the Gang of Eight immigration fiasco, I saw Senator Rubio face a very, very skeptical audience — with Senator Cruz also on the stage — of conservatives who were practically ready to bear him out of the venue on their shoulders when he was done. He is, as Jeb Bush put it icily, “a gifted politician.”

RELATED: When Cruz Makes His Move, Watch Out

He is also an apostate on immigration, the issue that has revealed the purported “libertarian moment” of 2017 to be anything but that. Conservatives would be foolish to simply declare anathema upon Rubio for his ill-considered immigration-reform misadventure — he did, after all, walk away from the mess he helped make once it became clear what a dog’s breakfast it was — but they are right in being suspicious of the fact that his first instinct was to make a deal and to be willing to make one that even in the best-case scenario wasn’t very good.

#related#Senator Rubio here has the opportunity to combine good politics with good policy and declare that, should he become president, in his first term action on immigration would be limited to border security and enforcement. If, at the end of four years, he can make a credible case that the border is secure, that we have developed a credible procedure for dealing with visa overstays, and — most critical — that we have a robust system of workplace enforcement of our immigration laws, then in 2021 we might have a reasonable conversation about what to do about the millions of illegals who are here already. If we’re actually doing real workplace enforcement, then there should be a lot fewer of them come 2021. He should also make it clear that even if we do settle upon some process for normalizing the status of at least some of the illegals already here — and you can go ahead and call that “amnesty,” because that is what it is — citizenship should be off the table. Indeed, it is a mystery why citizenship for illegals, as opposed to simple legal residency, has even entered the discussion.

If the final days of the GOP primary fight should in fact end up being a Rubio–Cruz contest, that would be an excellent thing: Republicans would be considering an all-Latino presidential field as a result of ideas, talent, and gumption rather than phony diversity rhetoric and affirmative action. Either man would provide a dramatic contrast to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who regards the presidency as a personal entitlement and who carries in her train more baggage than Louis Vuitton. Cruz-Rubio/Rubio-Cruz: One’s a little bit country, the other a little bit EDM — and the GOP could do a hell of a lot worse than either.

— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.



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