Let me begin by recapping the two narratives of the Republican campaign.
The first comes from Cruz supporters. Trump will fall short on the first. And Cruz will cruise on the second, because most of the delegates — however they might be bound on the first — will really be for him.
The second comes from the Trump supporters and most of the MSM media. Trump’s support has stabilized or even grown slightly. Cruz isn’t consolidating the Never Trumpites all that effectively, and there are fewer of them than many supposed. Trump has surged ahead in Indiana — Cruz’s firewall state. And he’s now way ahead in California. Cruz can’t win if he doesn’t have some quality primary victories down the road. Scarfing up delegates won’t be enough.
My own view: I’m still inclined to buying some version of the first narrative. For one thing, we can’t forget the vulnerability of Trump’s highly personal, idiosyncratic, and seemingly undisciplined campaign. It’s also difficult to believe that Cruz doesn’t have Indiana nailed down on the ground, no matter what the polls say. The California vote also looks fluid, and Cruz seems much stronger in the West than in the East.
Still, I’m not going to repeat my error of faking more knowledge than I really have by laying down odds. I also have to admit that all recent trends seem to favor Trump.
For one thing, it’s difficult not to admire Trump’s astuteness in seeming to out himself as in many ways a moderate Democrat. More than one Democrat reported to me how impressed he or she was by Trump’s reasonableness on the Today show (a soft form of the MSM liberal media). He said he’s pro-choice for all on bathrooms, chastened North Carolina for choosing to pay a high price over a trivial issue, wants to curb Republican obsession with abortion, and is even for a prudent tax increase.
One result was that the New York Times ran a rather fawning article on how Trump is the most pro-gay Republican candidate ever, and that means he’s fit, from an establishment view, to be a responsible CEO.
You would think that this change of emphasis, together with the Trump guy telling the RNC that his campaign is all an act, would hurt him with Republican voters. Not at all. Everyone Trump voter I’ve ever talked to has assured me that he’ll be able to get all presidential when the time comes. And he’s shown the guts to take on both Democratic and Republican — liberal and conservative — political correctness. He recently also said, after all, that he’s all for keeping Jackson on the paper money.
Trump supporters already knew he wasn’t a conservative, and nothing he’s said lately is news to them.
Cruz is also honing his image, of course, but maybe not as successfully. There was a puff piece on his views in the Wall Street Journal. Cruz’s opinion is that he’s the last candidate standing besides Trump because he’s been competing with him for the working-class, union, Reagan Democrat vote. Well, if that’s what he’s been doing, he’s sure been losing. His effective brands are Tea Party and Evangelical identity politics and being the civilized alternative to Trump. The latter brand, of course, is one we should believe in.
In a pretty deep part of the article, Cruz is quoted as explaining that his policies are based on the liberal theory of justice of John Rawls. Justice means a preferential option for the least fortunate. His pro-growth tax and deregulatory policies will help struggling ordinary Americans most of all. There is some truth to that, although much less, as our Pete Spiliakos explained, than there was in the time of Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan. In any case, Kempism doesn’t resonate with the working man anymore, and for some good reasons.
I (and Pete) don’t think that the buffoon Trump offers struggling ordinary Americans anything real either. Still, all Republicans need to pay more attention to the collateral damage that the progress of the division of labor in the 21st-century global competitive marketplace has had on the lives of Americans who live some distance away from our “cognitive elite.” They also need to get over the fantasy that the Reagan coalition can be put back together today.