As Al Pacino’s Satanic character said in The Devil’s Advocate, “Never let them see you coming.” Well, I don’t know if he has sold his soul or not, but I’ll say this much for Ted Cruz: he has followed Pacino’s advice to a T.
President Cruz? People here in Washington DC still don’t take that prospect seriously. And that’s just the way Ted Cruz would have it. Surely, he didn’t mind when John McCain called him a “wacko bird” early in 2013. That helped to forge Cruz’s reputation with his base as someone who is willing to take on the Establishment. It was a reputation he’d solidify later that year, when he successfully led the push to shut down the federal government. Ted Cruz became the darling of right-wing radio, though once again, nobody in the political center took him seriously. After all, the Government Shutdown was widely viewed as a PR disaster. In 2015, Cruz further shocked the mainstream by going to the floor of the United States Senate and calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar. Cruz’s tongue lashing of McConnell was part of a broader accusation against “career politicians” of “looting the tax payer to benefit wealthy, powerful corporations” – a criticism that surely could resonate among voters of both parties. But the media mavens could care less about Cruz’s motivations or about the truth of his accusations; their message was simply that it is unprofessional of one Senator to speak in such a bluntly uncharitable manner of another. Ted Cruz, in short, was simply too gauche to be taken seriously as a political leader on a national scale.
And then came Donald Trump. Suddenly, Ted went from wacko bird to wing-man.
Once it became clear that Trump was as entertaining a politician as he was an entertainer, the entire political landscape shifted. Cable news became all-Trump-all-the-time. Pundits rushed to castigate Trump at the same time that their producers decided to air Trump from every stump. As for Donald’s fellow candidates, most of them fell over themselves reaching for the knife that would wield the fatal wound. Unfortunately, the only knife-wielding candidate who seemed skilled at hitting the target was Trump himself.
Throughout the fall of 2015, America would watch as Trump poured water on one Republican leader after another and each would gracefully melt away. The only two left unscathed were everyone’s favorite uncle, John Kasich, and Ted Cruz. Why Ted? Because he realized that there is a time to lead, a time to follow, and a time to get the hell out of the way, and when it comes to the era of the rising Donald Trump, the last two options were definitely the two best. Cruz, in short, bided his time, latched on to the Donald as if Trump was his big brother, and ignored the limelight. Cruz was using the old NASCAR strategy of “drafting” – allowing the fastest car on the track to use all of its energy while you follow right behind it and conserve yours. Cruz knew that at some point, he’d have to make his move, but it wouldn’t be in the fall of 2015.
America should have taken Cruz seriously when, on February 1, 2016, he won the Iowa caucus. At that point, the tally was Cruz 1, everyone else (including Trump), nothing. Cruz demonstrated tremendous skill in putting together an organization that would trump anything Donald was capable of doing from the standpoint of retail politics. But would the pundits take Cruz seriously? Not even close. His victory was written off as just another demonstration of the tendency of Iowa Republicans to flock to the wacko birds – Huckabee won it in 2008 and Santorum won it in 2012, so why should we take seriously the nut job who won it in 2016? That, at least, was conventional thinking.
So America may not have paid much attention to Cruz’s victory in Iowa, but Trump sure did. Now that he was defeated by Cruz, Trump would have to end the Bromance. And soon, Trump would join the chorus of Cruz’s critics. Famously, Trump would begin calling his old buddy “Lying Ted,” and he would point out that Cruz has no friends, but only enemies. Surely, you might ask, that would be the end of Cruz’s drafting strategy, right?
Wrong. The strategy merely entered its second phase. You see, after Cruz’s victory in Iowa, Trump went on to gain a few big victories of his own, and the national obsession with the Donald went into hyper drive. Independents flocked to the polls to join in the fray, and the Democrats became the forgotten party. Everyone, it seemed, had to express their opinion about the Donald, and in two out of three cases, that opinion was resoundingly negative. Once again, Cruz found himself ignored – and this is just the way he liked it. Every day, America would talk about the latest and greatest Trump gaffes, and as a result, Trump’s closest rival, Ted Cruz, would appear more and more Presidential by contrast. Cruz’s natural political enemies, the liberals, were so busy lampooning and lashing out against Trump that Cruz found the middle of the field wide open – he didn’t even have to run toward the end zone, he could just walk down the field and pick up first downs. Perhaps the apex of this trend occurred when uber-progressive comedian Bill Maher went out of his way to announce his preference of Cruz over Trump with the motto “Better Ted Then Dead.”
What’s more, while it is certainly true that Trump has been building a lead in delegates as a result of his wall-to-wall media attention, he is only gaining a solid plurality of delegates, not a majority. Gradually, it has become more and more likely that the Republican nomination will go to the floor of an open convention in which the Trumpets will be fighting the “Anyone but Trump” coalition led by, who else? The “TrusTed” one.
One by one, the leaders of the Republican Party have rallied behind Ted Cruz. Mitt publicly announced that he was voting for Ted in Utah. Lindsey Graham, who previously denounced Ted in the strongest possible terms, did an about face and announced that he, too, would TrusTed with his support. Governor Scott Walker, another mainstream GOP leader, publicly backed Cruz. The former Prodigal Son of the Republican Party has now become its Establishment darling. And he is also becoming the World Champion of the GOP’s newest game: Delegate Pilfering.
Cruz and his minions are now going to state conventions where the delegates are being selected in an effort to pry away delegates in states that have voted for Trump but whose delegates are only pledged to Trump in the first round of voting. If Trump doesn’t get a majority of delegates in Round One, look out Trumpets – as soon as Round Two begins, Ted Cruz may no longer be in your rear view mirror. In fact, last week NBC’s Chuck Todd, whose job it is to watch politics like a hawk, declared on TV that if the Republican Party does go to an open convention, he would rather be Cruz than Trump.
So, America, do you take him seriously yet? I know, I know. I’ve heard the narrative. He might win the support of a broken political party, but he can’t possibly win the general election. That’s the conventional narrative, right? If Cruz wins the nomination, he will soon endure one Hell of a fall in the fall. He won’t just have to beat “the most highly qualified Presidential candidate in American history” (Hillary Clinton) but he’d surely have to deal with a split conservative vote, because Trump would probably run as a third-party candidate. Sooner or later, this crazy Texan is going down.
I’ve heard the narrative. I’m just not sure I’m buying it. Open your eyes to the fact that a septuagenarian self-proclaimed Socialist who refuses to go negative is now giving Hillary all she can handle. If you take away the huge majorities that the African-Americans have given to Hillary in Red Southern States that will never go Democratic in November, Hillary and Bernie are running neck and neck. And if Hillary can’t beat Bernie, how can anyone be so sure she’ll beat Ted Cruz? Cruz is Hispanic, he is young, he is focused, he is ruthless, and he is off the charts both in intelligence and ambition. Does this sound like someone who can’t be taken seriously?
So my liberal and moderate friends, continue to obsess about Trump at your own peril. But mark my words – if you don’t start taking Ted Cruz seriously soon, you may find yourself taking him very seriously after the first Tuesday of November.