14 December 2015

Why Ted Cruz is not the answer to the GOP’s problems


We have a new definition of “chutzpah”. Donald Trump has told Fox News that the first term Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, lacks the temperament and judgment to be a good President of the United States. Coming from the man who wants to ban Muslims from entering the United States that’s quite a charge.

Mr Trump does not lack nerve, however, and yesterday launched a full onslaught on the man who has overtaken him in the race to win the pace-setting Iowa caucus. A poll on Saturday suggested Ted Cruz has surged to a 10% lead in the first US state to vote in the race to pick the Republican nominee. Cruz is on 31%, The Donald is on 21%, the fading Ben Carson (the brain surgeon) is on 13% and Florida Senator Marco Rubio (still the guy I expect to eventually prevail) is on 10%.

Recognising the potency of his new foe Mr Trump told a few home truths about Senator Cruz – and they really were truths (honesty not being a trademark characteristic of Mr T’s campaign to date). “I don’t think he’s got the right temperament; I don’t think he’s got the right judgment,” said Trump : “You look at the way that he’s dealt with the Senate, where he goes in there, frankly like a little bit of a maniac. You’re never going to get things done that way… “You can’t walk into the Senate and scream and call people liars and not be able to cajole and get along with people.” Mr Trump is correct about Senator Cruz’s bull-in-a-china-shop style of politics. Perhaps it takes one to know one?

We are about to enter a period when Ted Cruz will be examined by the whole media pack. Influential observers of the political scene are beginning to tip him as the halfway house between a conventional Republican and the Trump insurgency – and that’s how Cruz wants to be seen. He hopes to style himself as the acceptable champion of the anti-Washington insurgency. But is Cruz acceptable? I nailed my colours to the mast in last Thursday’s Times – describing Senator Cruz as potentially more dangerous than Trump.

Here are ten things you need to know about him – and why, on balance, I’ve reached the judgment that I have:

Cruz is more further beyond the mainstream than Barry Goldwater: A chart published at FiveThirtyEight.com  put Cruz right on the fringe of the GOP family – not just more “conservative” than Ronald Reagan (quite a pragmatic president by today’s standards) but even more conservative than Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Herman Cain and other people that level-headed folk have (correctly) derided as unelectable in recent years.

Whether it’s Cruz’s views on returning to the gold standard, imposing VAT on pensioners in order to cut corporate taxes, bombing Isis until the sand glows in the dark, banning all abortion, opposing gay marriage, maintaining current laissez-faire gun laws or repealing ObamaCare – Cruz is “Mr No Compromise”. And while America is conservative – it’s not that conservative (particularly in high turnout presidential election years rather than low turnout midterms).

He is no Ronald Reagan: Although he quotes the Republican Party’s favourite president (incessantly) he lacks Ronald Reagan’s defining quality – “morning in America” positivity. Reagan brought most Americans together by painting a positive vision of the United States as a shining city on a hill. Cruz can’t even unite his own party, as Donald Trump pinpointed. He has been attacked by two recent Republican presidential candidates. John McCain (2008) has called him a “wacko bird”. Bob Dole (1996) has called him “so extreme”. Former US Speaker John Boehner has called Cruz a “jackass”. George W. Bush reportedly said: “I just don’t like the guy”.

If the Republican Party supporters are ideological enough to choose him as their nominee the Democrats’ attack ads are already written – and written by the Republican criticisms of Cruz.

Cruz is clever and organised: For all of his weaknesses – on policy and demeanour – there is no doubt that Cruz is super clever. A formidable, prize-winning debater at Princeton, he argued nine cases before the US Supreme Court – winning five times and losing four times. A record that – even his detractors – regard as impressive. He’s not just legally smart, however. He can impress the person on Main Street with streetwise language as well as high court judges with legalese. His remarks on immigration in November’s Fox News debate hit home. Journalists who do not see illegal immigration as a problem would take a different position, Cruz argued, if the Mexican migrants crossing the Rio Grande had media degrees and threatened to take their jobs. That hit home with viewers. His professionalism is also evident in how he’s organised his campaign. His lead in Iowa polls reflects how he has reached out to the leading evangelicals and other opinion-formers in the state who can deliver him victory. He’s not just taking policy positions, he’s making influential friends. If Bush is “low energy” – to use Trump’s devastating putdown of Florida’s former Governor – Cruz is the Duracell bunny of this campaign – never tiring.

Texas is not America: Ted Cruz hasn’t ever fought a really competitive election. He has advanced in Texan politics by playing as the hardcore, Tea Party conservative –as described above. And, remember, Texas looks hardass to the rest of America in the same way that the rest of America looks to Europe. Cruz is not even roaraway popular in Texas. He won 56% of the vote when he stood successfully for the US Senate in Texas in 2012 but Mitt Romney, standing as the presidential candidate, won 57% on the very same day. Even in the Lone Star State they like a little bit of subtlety in their elected representatives.

A true leader tells truths to his party: I don’t agree with every Paul Krugman column. In fact I don’t agree with many of them! But in Friday’s New York Times he made the argument that the extremes are rising in Europe because the EU elites have been indifferent to public opinion – but have risen in America because US Republican politicians have pandered to public opinion. Few have pandered more than the junior Senator from Texas. I haven’t noticed a single occasion when he’s told a conservative audience something that they didn’t want to hear. That’s followership, not leadership.

The end of democracy promotion: Perhaps conscious of George W Bush’s low opinion of him, Cruz attacked Bush’s foreign policy in a speech to the Heritage Foundation last week. He also disowned the intervention in Libya and supported Assad over Isis. Both are popular positions and it’s hard to defend the western intervention in Libya (there was no follow through) or the red-line-crossing, non-intervention in Syria.

But is Cruz’s position fundamentally superficial? Assad helped create ISIS. How many ISIS cells are being created in Egypt today because of the repression under al-Sisi? I don’t know the answer but an America that simply bombs terrorists and sides with despots may not be a country that enjoys much goodwill from the new governments of tomorrow. Siding with “our sonofabitches” may have been a reasonable Cold War policy but in the age of social media and smartphones it gets noticed and could be a recipe for deep unpopularity.

He is one of a growing number of Republicans who favour Britain leaving the European Union: So far, I’ve only broken one story since I’ve been in the US. And that was Marco Rubio’s green light for Britain to leave the EU. Cruz takes the same position. Like many US Republicans he sees the EU as a lot like the UN – a supranational organisation that smothers national democracy and self-determination. For all of Cruz’s faults, therefore, he’s not all wrong!

Donald Trump’s apologist: Nearly every leading Republican condemned Trump after he made his “no more Muslims” intervention last Monday. [Dick Cheney’s this is “against everything we stand for” intervention was particularly notable – and welcome.] The big exception to the otherwise unanimous GOP chorus was Ted Cruz. Although the Texan Senator said he disagreed with the billionaire hotelier’s specific policy idea he simultaneously failed to offer any warm words about Islam and praised Donald Trump.

On Friday he Tweeted “@realDonaldTrump is terrific” – insisting that he wasn’t about to get in a “cage fight” with him. Mr Trump, judging by his Fox News intervention, didn’t get that memo. Trump – who has attacked every other Republican candidate – is about to unload on Cruz.

A strong early showing by Cruz might not mean so much: Cruz might look very strong after the first few primary states have voted – especially Iowa and New Hampshire but a new analysis by Henry Olsen suggests that the states that vote later – and where the winner takes all of the delegates – will be less receptive to a very pro-evangelical candidate. Nonetheless, Cruz is in a strong position because of his hardline position on immigration. By way of proof: he has offered to recruit Trump to build a wall across the US-Mexico border if ends up as the nominee. If – God forbid – America is rocked by terrorist outrages, the tough approach to terror that Cruz has advanced might boost his candidacy.

He thinks of himself as Thatcherite, quoting the ex-British PM’s “first you win the argument, then you win the vote” maxim: There is an important role for absolutists in politics. When so many politicians are too ready to follow the latest opinion poll, or the fashionable view amongst the commentariat, or worse, the latest donor instruction, it’s good to have politicians who have deep beliefs.

Whether you like them or not, most of Cruz’s beliefs are sincere and strong. The conservative movement needs people like him to keep politicians honest – who focus on the intellectual arguments rather than the political expedient. But is the political wing of the conservative movement served by such a nominee when America is so divided – when Washington is gridlocked because Republicans and Democrats have forgotten how to make deals? In his remarks to Fox News, Trump diagnosed the key reason why Cruz should not be the Republican nominee.

Tim Montgomerie is a columnist for the The Times, a Senior Fellow at Legatum Institute and co-founder of the new website The Good Right. His “reform of capitalism” report for the Legatum Institute was published on 4th November.