The Corner

Guy Who Can’t Possibly Win Looking Good

Every self-proclaimed political sophisticate two weeks ago: “Ted Cruz has no chance of winning the Republican primary! Harrumph! Harrumph!”

Same guys today: “He raised how much [expletive deleted] money in less than a week?”

[“I didn’t get a harrumph out of you.”]

Senator Cruz has in fact raised an extraordinary amount of money in only a few days. “There are no known cases in which an operation backing a White House hopeful has collected this much money in less than a week,” reports Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin.  

I know it hasn’t been long, but let’s revisit those exercises in existential certitude. Jamelle Bouie, in Slate, under a headline demanding “let’s not even pretend that the Texas senator has a chance,” argued that Cruz is too radical, that “strength in numbers hasn’t overcome the strength of influence possessed by the ‘moderates.’” How so? “Part of this is resources. Even when he stumbled, Mitt Romney had the cash and staff he needed to survive into the next contest.” Ah—cash, you say? Cash is indeed important, and thus so is Cruz’s—what was Bloomberg’s phrase?—“record haul.” Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight, under the headline “Let’s Be Serious About Ted Cruz From The Start: He’s Too Extreme And Too Disliked To Win,” proclaiming “Influential party actors dislike him.” In Bloomberg, under a headline proclaiming Cruz a “loudmouthed loser,” Jonathan Bernstein argued that “almost anybody can win a Senate nomination, in the right state and circumstances”—an evidence-free proposition—but insisted that in presidential primaries “flukes simply don’t happen.” (Reagan, Clinton, and Obama be damned.) He later doubled down: “Everything we know about presidential-nomination politics cuts against Cruz as a plausible candidate.” Everything? Why? “Nomination politics isn’t about the candidates much at all. It’s about the party.”

So, the guy who a fortnight ago could not possibly ever in a million billion gazillion years win is raising unprecedented amounts of money. What gives?

What a great many self-proclaimed political sophisticates do not get is that politics on the Right is not dominated by the Republican party; it is dominated by the never-ending contest between a Republican party that wants to make the conservative movement its instrument and a conservative movement that wants to make the GOP its instrument. Listen to the talk-radio callers, or read the comments at NRO, and you will find that conservatives believe—wrongly, I think, but deeply—that the Republican muckety-mucks have shoved candidates down their throats, and that the GOP powers-that-be would rather lose with John McCain and Mitt Romney (and Jeb Bush) than win with Cruz. (Again, I think this line of thinking is erroneous: Romney became the nominee not because Republican power-brokers conspired on his behalf, but because the guy I liked couldn’t beat him.) That feeling is not limited to the people who call into radio shows.

There are leaders of large and influential conservative organizations who feel that way, and there are conservatives sitting on enormous piles of money who feel that way, too. And they are determined that neither the self-proclaimed political sophisticates nor the party operatives are going to choose their nominee this time around.

The people at Slate and Bloomberg and such believe that Cruz cannot win because once the activist conservative discontents are smothered by the party establishment, it’s the establishment’s show. But that’s begging the question. The 2016 Republican primary is in no small part an internecine knife fight about who is to have the upper hand in rightworld. We have a tea-party movement, and a raucous and rivalrous gang of independent groups, precisely because GOP leaders cannot exercise the sort of control over their coalition that Democrats do over theirs. Left-leaning PACs and independent groups are a supplement to the Democrats’ machine; right-leaning groups are an alternative to the Republicans’ machine.

People who don’t understand that the name “Karl Rove” gets hissed every bit intensely as the name “Barack Obama” simply do not understand what is happening on the Right.


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