Jamelle Bouie says that the GOP establishment has a good reason to fear Ted Cruz:
... there’s a reason Republican elites have kept him at arm’s length ... he is an avatar for a conservative faction of the Republican Party that wants to ascend to prominence. Attached to the Tea Party, rooted in institutions like the Heritage Foundation, and based in the deep-red South and the most conservative parts of the Midwest, this counterestablishment seeks to supplant the traditional power brokers of the Republican Party. And in Cruz, it has a candidate with the strategic mind and organizational prowess to make it happen.
But Bouie thinks the establishment should actually want Cruz at the top of this year's ticket -- he'd lose, you see, and then the fever would break (which wouldn't happen if Trump loses):
... if the long-term problem of American politics is a dysfunctional Republican Party that’s averse to compromise and the basic give-and-take of governance, then Trump is a less-than-ideal opponent. To the most conservative Republicans -- the counterestablishment that claims Cruz as its champion -- the real estate mogul is a black swan. If he loses, he loses, and they can get back to the business of claiming the party for themselves. And Cruz, if he runs again, will stick to his core message: that the Republican Party can win again if it nominates a “true conservative.”
The GOP establishment is right to fear and dislike Cruz, but, ironically, its best option for retaining influence is to choose him for its nominee. That would clip Cruz’s wings, and in the process marginalize a faction that has steered the GOP to an almost untenable position. We have reached a through-the-looking-glass phase of the election in which the smartest play is for Republicans to be good Leninists and heighten the contradictions within their own party.
I have my doubts about this.
First of all, the polls say that Cruz would lose to Hillary Clinton, but not by much (by 3 points, according to Real Clear Politics, whereas Trump would lose by 11). I think Cruz would run a no-compromise campaign (ban abortion without exceptions for rape or incest, crack down mercilessly on immigrants and Muslims, etc.), and that would drive a lot of people to the polls to vote Democratic -- but it's conceivable that he'll try softening his image and presenting himself primarily as a dorky dad and pop-culture nerd. If he can fool enough moderates into seeing him that way, while couching his nastiest policies in euphemisms, I think he has a not-trivial chance of winning. (I doubt he'll do this, but it could happen.)
But let's assume he loses, and loses as an unbending wingnut. Do you really think that will teach his most fervent backers a lesson?
They'll just say he could have won as a True Conservative, but the party hacks sabotaged him because they secretly preferred Hillary Clinton. I think they'll be more determined to vote for no-compromise candidates in the future. What's more, they'll try to scour the Republican ranks, looking for the traitors who sold Cruz out. They'll say "the people" were sold out twice, first by the #NeverTrump movement, then by the Cruz haters.
Yeah, I know: I just got through saying in my last post that Republican voters always do what the party hacks tell them to do. True -- but they always feel deeply betrayed afterward. And remember, in 2008 and 2012 they fell in line only after the hacks' choices had moved significantly to the right (John McCain reversed his support for immigration and campaign finance restrictions; Mitt Romney repudiated pretty much his entire term as governor). McCain and Romney may not have been wingnuts at heart, but they ran as wingnuts. The voters settled because they thought they could leverage the party's power for wingnutty ends. And this year the voters forced the party hacks to settle on Cruz rather than Bush or Rubio or Christie (or even Walker or Jindal).
Republican voters will always want a party that's averse to compromise. If Cruz loses in November, they're not going to learn the lesson that reasonableness would have worked better. They'll just conclude that they were sold out. Next time they'll demand a hardcore nominee and a hardcore party apparatus.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog