Politics & Policy

Democrats Underestimate Cruz at Their Own Risk

Cruz celebrates his Wisconsin victory. (Scott Olson/Getty)

For the first time in weeks, I’m indulging in the faintest smidgen of optimism. Ted Cruz’s come-from-behind beat-down of Donald Trump in Wisconsin indicates that Trump Fever may be breaking. He likely won’t secure the nomination before the convention, meaning Cruz now has a real chance to become the Republican nominee.

And there are some Democrats who couldn’t be happier. Last night, former senior Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer tweeted that, “There is not a Democrat in America who sees a Cruz nomination as anything other than a great gift.” This is the conventional wisdom, which attempts to pretend that Trump’s rise never happened, and Cruz is still merely the most disliked conservative ideologue in Washington, a man whose lack of human warmth is matched only by his inflexibility. He’d have problems with Latinos, women, and of course African-Americans. Establishment Republicans would stay home. He’d lose in a rout.

Democrats can keep telling themselves that, but they ignore a powerful new reality: Ted Cruz is the underdog who is at long last uniting every strand of conservatism to face down an existential threat. He defends his wife against Trump’s vulgar sexism, he’s the young Hispanic counter to Trump’s loathsome alt-right fans, and he’s attacking Trump not with the language of the gutter but with principle and conviction.

Moreover, if Cruz were to emerge victorious from a contested convention, it would be a moment of high drama in which tens of millions of Americans witnessed Cruz in his finest hour, defeating an ugly, crass, and vicious movement — a movement comprising large numbers of men and women who are more Democrat than Republican. And as he did so, the pressure to unify would be overwhelming. There is a large #NeverTrump movement on the right. There is no meaningful #NeverCruz movement.

RELATED: Ted Cruz Is Surging by Design

We can already see conservative talk-radio starting to shift Cruz’s way. Last night even Sean Hannity was suddenly less concerned with promoting Trump than he was with ensuring that Trump or Cruz was the nominee. The speed with which the months of Trump-love seem poised to vanish down the memory hole is shocking, and doesn’t speak well of conservative talkers as a class. But if Cruz does gain the upper hand, the base will hear a message that is all-Cruz, all the time, nonetheless.

#share#Moreover, there is at least the beginning of a thaw between Cruz and the establishment. While a disturbing number of Republican leaders are still on the sidelines, I’m getting private messages celebrating Cruz victories from establishment figures who loathed him a mere two months ago. A true crisis tends to clarify the mind, and as Trump continues to wallow in a muck of his own creation, more Republicans will endorse Cruz.

Thus, if Cruz can prevail, Hillary Clinton will in all likelihood face a unified party led by a man who was just fully introduced to millions of Americans as the hero who saved his party from Donald Trump. The vast majority of Americans want to see Trump lose. It stands to reason that the man who finally slays the dragon will enjoy at least some good will for his efforts.

EDITORIAL: Cruz’s Big Win in Wisconsin

Moreover, Democrats underestimate Cruz in part because they stubbornly overestimate Clinton. Republicans shouldn’t sugarcoat Cruz’s chances. He will face immense challenges winning over a majority of Americans, and he does have a daunting 53 percent unfavorability rating. But Clinton’s rating is actually two points worse. Mitt Romney had the misfortune of running against a man Americans largely liked. Cruz will have the good fortune to face a woman most Americans dislike.

And — at least in the short term — they stand to dislike her even more as she turns hard against Sanders supporters and the FBI’s e-mail investigation comes to a head. Barring indictment, she’ll be the nominee. But even without it, she’ll also still be Hillary Clinton.

#related#Yes, there are many who claim Cruz lacks charisma. Yet Clinton sucks the charisma right out of the room. Her dismal performance against Sanders reminds Americans that she lost in 2008 not simply because she faced a once-in-a-generation political talent — though Obama is certainly that — but because she thoroughly squandered immense political advantages. She started with an even more commanding lead in 2016 and is barely holding on against a grumpy socialist. It’s astonishing to watch.

None of this means Cruz will win. The Democrats enjoy a considerable demographic edge in presidential elections, Cruz is a flawed general-election candidate, Democrats have had nearly a year to plan an offensive against him, and they’ll have all the money they could want to make that offensive stick. There is plenty to the notion that demography trumps narrative, and demography favors Democrats. But Clinton will struggle to rebuild the Obama coalition, and if Cruz can win the nomination, she’ll face a party relieved and perhaps even energized after escaping its brush with death. Though it will be an uphill climb, the Democrats discount Cruz at their own peril.

— David French is an attorney, and a staff writer at National Review.


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