Ted Cruz, the master strategist, was no match for Trump’s cult of personality


Cruz achieved many ambitious goals before dropping out of the race after his loss in Indiana but he had no way to cope with the strange allure of Trump

Ted Cruz did everything right in his campaign for the White House. He built a happy campaign operation that achieved all of its ambitious goals. Cruz elbowed out candidate after candidate to consolidate support among social conservatives, Tea Partiers and libertarians in the Republican field. He raised considerable amounts of money to build a political apparatus unrivalled in the GOP field.

There was only one problem. Every successful move, every stratagem that took Cruz who dropped out of the presidential race on Tuesday night after a disastrous loss in Indiana from an ambitious Ivy Leaguer to one of the final three Republican candidates for the presidency prevented him from attaining the ultimate goal.

The Texas Republican was elected to the Senate in 2012 after winning a bitter primary as a Tea Party candidate. He was positioning himself for a White House bid almost from the get-go, travelling to Iowa for presidential cattle calls less than six months into taking office. In a legislative body that values tradition, Cruzs undisguised ambition didnt help him make friends. But what really alienated colleagues was his push to shut down the government in October 2013 in an attempt to defund Obamacare, the presidents signature healthcare reforms. The quixotic effort alienated almost all of his colleagues who were left calling him a wacko bird and viewed him as an amoral opportunist who would do anything for his own political gain.

Cruz did nothing to alter his image when he became the first candidate for the White House in 2016 to announce his campaign, in an event at Liberty University in Virginia in March last year. He was then racing to beat competitors with stronger roots in Iowa such as Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee to be the first out of the starting gate.

Cruzs message that day was consistent with what the Texas senator would say every day on the campaign trail until the moment he withdrew from the race in Indianapolis on Tuesday. He told a crowd of college students: I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America and pledged to reclaim the constitution.

In fact, Cruzs campaign was remarkable for its consistency. There was only one key issue on which Cruz changed his message significantly in the course of the campaign Donald J Trump.

For months after Trumps entry into the race, Cruz engaged in a virtual bear hug with the New York billionaire. Immediately after Trump said that Cruzs Senate colleague John McCain, a former POW who was tortured in Vietnam, was not a hero, Cruz called him a friend.

Cruz speaks to supporters during a campaign rally in Greenville, South Carolina, on 19 February 2016. Photograph: Rainier Ehrhardt/Reuters

He told reporters in Iowa in July 2015: I recognize that folks in the press love to see Republican on Republican violence. So you want me to say something bad about Donald Trump or bad about John McCain or bad about anybody else. I am not going to do it. John McCain is a friend of mine. I respect and admire him. He is an American hero. Donald Trump is a friend of mine.

In contrast, the then candidate Rick Perry immediately condemned Trump and called on him to drop out of the race.

This pattern continued throughout 2015. As late as December, Cruz even tweeted that he thought Trump was terrificlong after other candidates had begun to condemn the frontrunners rhetoric.

But eventually, after Cruzs win in the Iowa caucuses, the two turned to focus on each other. Cruz targeted Trump as a New York liberal who was no more a conservative than Hillary Clinton. After Trump had endured months of attacks for failing to adhere to conservative orthodoxy, this had little impact.

But Trumps labelling of Cruz as Lyin Ted based on the campaign rushing to inform Iowans that Ben Carson might drop out of the race after misconstruing a report on CNN just minutes before the caucuses were scheduled to begin did have some effect.

The result was that exit poll after exit poll showed that voters thought Cruz ran a dirtier campaign than Trump and the Texas senators favorability numbers dropped with Republicans.

CNN projects Cruz will win the Iowa caucus as supporters cheer in Des Moines on 1 February 2016. Photograph: Jim Young/Reuters

This happened even though the most personal attacks came from Trump, not Cruz. Trump tweeted an unflattering image of Cruzs wife and threatened to spill the beans on her and, on the day of the Indiana primary, implied Cruzs father was involved in the assassination of John F Kennedy. A campaign surrogate even repeatedly referenced a totally unproven tabloid story about Cruzs personal life at multiple Trump rallies

In contrast, Cruz insisted that he was merely going after Trumps record when he slammed the frontrunners past support for abortion rights and gun control and current support for allowing grown men alone in bathrooms with little girls, ie his contention that transgender people should use whichever bathroom they felt appropriate.

Like other candidates in the race, Cruz had no way to cope with Trumps strange political jujitsu. Even as Cruz out-organized Trump on the ground, it was to little avail. The Texas senators campaign concentrated on Illinois in the final days before the 15 March primary after poll numbers showed him solidly ahead in North Carolina and Missouri.

However, the backlash among Republican voters after unrest at a canceled Trump rally in Chicago led to the frontrunner surging in the polls there, and Cruz was shut out in those crucial primaries as a result.

Cruzs only hope was to somehow unite the GOP behind him. As the last remaining opponent to Trump, he should have been the standard bearer for the Stop Trump forces, and indeed some longtime detractors like Lindsey Graham who had joked about him being murdered on the Senate floor just a week earlier begrudgingly endorsed him.

As Jimmy Kimmel joked to Cruz in late March: Yeah, what you did is you kind of held out until they found someone that they liked less than you.

Cruz responded by saying: There you go. It is a powerful strategy. The problem was the strategy didnt work.

The antagonism Cruz inspired among many mainstream Republicans made this a near impossible task. They sat on their hands and viewed Cruz as just as bad as Trump. The same factors that got him to the brink of the Republican nomination, his disdain for the Washington cartel and impatience with politics as usual, kept him from grasping the ring.

After a campaign in which he appealed to conservatives who were tired of voting for the lesser of two evils, Cruz could never win over those establishment Republicans he had spent the past year calling the lesser evil. That became undeniable this Tuesday.

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Read more: www.theguardian.com


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