Over on Facebook, David Frisk wrote that Ted Cruz’s communications strategy has failed, as more Republican-leaning poll respondents see him as the “establishment” choice. I would put it a little differently. Cruz is doing a decent job of talking to political junkies, and a terrible job of talking to everyone else. Some of that is the media’s fault, and much of it is Ted Cruz’s fault.
Let’s do an experiment: Find a friend of yours who doesn’t pay much attention to politics. Maybe they hear the news reports on the radio when they are driving, or maybe they watch the national or local news every couple of days. If they are younger, maybe they click on one of the news links on their homepage.
Ask those people what Trump wants to do. Don’t ask them about their opinion of Trump. Ask them what actual government actions the Trump wants. They will give you answers.
They will definitely tell you that he wants to build a wall, ban Muslim immigration, and deport illegal aliens. There is a good chance they will tell you that he will negotiate better trade deals and either get our allies to contribute more to their defenses or else abandon our alliances. These people might love Trump or they might hate him. They might even believe that he belongs in prison for spewing unconstitutional hate that inspires racist violence. But they all know what he wants to do.
Now ask those same friends what Cruz wants. They might know that he was born in Canada, and they may have some opinions about the various memes making fun of his appearance, but ask them what Cruz wants the government to do. You might get repeal Obamacare. You will more likely get absolutely nothing.
I watch politics pretty closely and, from Cruz’s Wisconsin win to the middle of last week, I haven’t heard a single news report where Cruz has said one thing that would impact the life of a voter. Cruz is always sampled talking about the nomination rules and the delegate-selection process. He broke through a little bit at the end of the week by talking about transgender people using bathrooms.
Much of that is the selection bias of the people putting together the news clips. It must be frustrating for Cruz that the only soundbites news producers use are when he discusses the incomprehensible (for most people) rules for picking delegates to the national convention, but he shares some of the blame. Imagine if your nonpolitical friend had watched the first five minutes of Cruz’s victory speeches in Iowa and Wisconsin. How much better would your friend had been at answering the question of what Cruz wants to do? My guess is that your friend would end up just as confused as when he started.
Cruz talks in the coded language of political junkies. He talks about religious liberty and partial-birth abortion, but large swaths of his hearers have no idea what he is talking about. This leads to a bifurcation of public opinion about Cruz. Political obsessives like the people reading this post could tell you Cruz’s opinion on just about anything. The regular person couldn’t tell you anything, because Cruz might as well be speaking a foreign language in his prepared speeches and in his paid media. I also suspect that this is why Cruz does better in low-turnout contests. It isn’t just better organization. Highly ideological conservative activists (not to be confused with Republican-party hacks) are the people who speak his language. There are not enough of those people.
This is putting aside the question of whether Cruz has an agenda that would interest many of these uncomprehending voters. Do they want to replace the current tax system with a flat tax and a VAT? I doubt it.