The Corner

Ted Cruz Gets No Respect…But That’s Why He’s Pulling Ahead

In response to Vrwc, Continued

Rich wrote an excellent piece on Ted Cruz this morning, on why the Texas senator, in the face of bombproof organization, policy chops, and top debate performances, can’t seem to generate media buzz. As Rich notes: “The Atlantic tracks candidate mentions on cable TV. In the past 100 days, Cruz ranks ninth among all presidential candidates from both parties, well behind Chris Christie and just above Kasich, both of whom are throwing Hail Marys for the nomination.”

I agree with Rich. Ted Cruz gets no respect. But here’s why that’s a good thing.

Right now, in terms of coverage, the media’s preferred GOP lineup  — Trump, Carson, Rubio, and Bush — are in the throes of internecine strife. Maybe not intentionally. But media outlets like to pit front-runners against one another, and they do it well. I remember a month or so ago when Jeb Bush, on Morning Joe, criticized Rubio for his youth and inexperience, comparing his campaign to Barack Obama’s back in 2008. Hope and change, and all that. 

Talk about sparking the wires! I can’t think of a single political reporter (including yours truly) who didn’t pounce on that moment. It’s the perfect drama: the mentor and his protege, a long-simmering feud at last breaking into the public square. The online ecosystem has followed the story obsessively since. 

And then, of course, there’s Trump and Carson. The media’s not orchestrating that one so much as it’s been handed to them on a platter. Take yesterday in Iowa: when Trump should have been touting his candidacy in forward-looking terms, he wasted all of his oxygen on Carson. “How stupid are the people of Iowa…to believe this crap?” he ranted. It was media gold. If you don’t believe me, just take a few moments to scroll through Twitter. 

Anyways, my point: you’re not seeing this obsessive coverage of Cruz, because his campaign isn’t tethered to that sort of narrative. (At least not yet.) And that’s not an accident: From day one, Cruz has been playing the long game, and it’s starting to pay off. He’s gone through the majority of this primary season unscathed, playing nice with others, hanging back until he finds his window. He’s letting others pick the fights, a strategy demonstrated pointedly during Tuesday’s debate. As Rubio and Rand Paul fought it out over defense spending, the camera suddenly panned to Cruz. Maybe we’d have more money for defense spending, he said with a feigned casualness, if we’d get rid of, oh, I don’t know, corporate welfare like sugar subsidies.

It was a direct jab at Rubio, albeit it unnamed. Cruz knows he’s catching on with voters, and he’s provoking his challengers accordingly. Subtly, but just enough to catch fire.

Rubio knows this, and he’s now centering his line of attack on Cruz’s immigration stance. For Rubio, who’s stayed mum on immigration for most of this primary — Gang of Eight, and all that — it’s a gutsy move. 

But Rubio is doing exactly what other candidates — and what the media — will soon realize is vital. Finding Cruz’s weak spots, taking real notice of the candidate who could upend every narrative we’ve become accustomed to this cycle. And that’s harder to do when caucuses loom nearer and nearer.

Is that disrespect? Maybe. But it’s exactly the kind that Cruz has preferred all along. 

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