When speaking of “electability,” I fear that most people skip over the practical for the theoretical. We’ve all heard the arguments — Rubio or Kasich are more electable than Cruz because they’ll pull more moderate voters to the GOP without alienating conservatives. Cruz supporters counter that appealing to moderates tends to mainly alienate conservatives, creating a net vote loss.
There’s another test of electability — winning actual elections. Yes, I know that the GOP primary electorate is different from the general election, and yes I know that the theoretical arguments are often grounded in some real data, like hypothetical matchup polls and general likability ratings. But primary elections teach us vital lessons that I’d argue are ultimately more important for ultimate success. Can the candidate adjust his or her strategy after a setback? Do they keep cool under pressure? Can they withstand negative ads and counter-punch effectively? Can they raise sufficient campaign cash? Can they handle media scrutiny or perhaps even earn positive media coverage?
And by these measures, Cruz is proving to be far more electable than Rubio or Kasich. He’s rebounded after setbacks, withstood negative ads, counter-punched, and competed and won even on unfavorable territory. Thus, it remains mystifying why champions of candidates who’ve failed on all these measures fall back on their favorite politician’s “electability” as a last line of defense. Will Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders and their assorted lavishly-funded leftist allies make life easier for the GOP nominee?
But here’s the sobering thought — while conservatives should be cheered by Cruz’s resilience, the country should prepare itself for the reality that the same analysis applies to Trump. If he’s able to weather the belated, concerted attacks from his opponents and from conservative activists and thinkers, then he’ll prove far more electable than anyone imagined. For months, the Republican leaders coasted, going about business as usual (I certainly underestimated him) – confident that Trump would fall on his own. I’ve heard much the same sentiment from Democrats, people who simply can’t imagine that Trump would be competitive in the general election.
Overconfidence can be deadly to electability. Expecting a pushover, Democrats may be confronting a future president.