Yesterday I wrote a piece about some qualms that I had with some of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)‘s current campaign tactics. Judging by the reaction I got from some people who are open supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), I was not the only one who shared those concerns. After the debate in the spin room, I ran into a very prominent conservative media figure (who shall remain nameless here) who has been a backer of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) since the early days of his campaign, and he said to me, “Watching Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in this debate is the first time I haven’t really liked him.”
I guess I should have predicted this, but my post was tweeted out by people who have despised Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) from day one, and used as ammunition against him. “See,” said people like Jen Rubin and Brian James Walsh. “Even RedState is turning on Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).”
Let me just set the record straight here. I don’t really have a very serious doubt in my mind that as between Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Cruz would be the better President. He’s shown time and time again that he has the temperament that the country needs right now, which is much more YOLO than go along to get along. The country does not need a President who will basically concede the budgetary process to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and there is a legitimate, well-grounded fear that Rubio would do so. There is, I think, also a case that Rubio’s foreign policy is a little too close to George W. Bush’s for comfort.
That is not to say that Rubio would not be a good President; on the contrary, I think he would be a great one. I think, in fact, that he would be the best President since at least Reagan. It’s just that I think the evidence is clear that if you actually favor smaller government, more liberty, and conservative values, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has proven himself to be a better fighter for those causes.
The exchange, of course, is that Rubio likely presents a much better chance of winning against Hillary, without being a sellout a la McCain or Romney. That is not something that should be discarded lightly, as too many in the conservative movement are willing to do.
The concern I have with Cruz is not substantive, it’s strategic. I get where Cruz is coming from and why. Cruz realizes that in a head to head matchup between himself and Trump, he is the obvious choice of nearly everyone. In a head to head matchup with Rubio, it’s a much, much closer call. The scenario Cruz is trying to set up, therefore, is a scenario in which even his own particular brand of inflexibility (which we love) is considered the reasonable option.
It isn’t a bad play, if the viability of the Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) campaign is the only thing you are concerned about. The problem is this: what if Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is wrong about winning a head to head matchup with Trump? In that scenario, not only does the Cruz campaign lose, but the conservative movement loses, the Republican party loses, and the country loses.
Setting up the right final matchup is important. There is a reason that Limbaugh and Levin were finally roused to warn Trump when he started going after Cruz – they feared that in a matchup between Trump and anyone other than Cruz, the non-Cruz option might win and they would be left out in the cold.
People who see Trump as the existential threat to the conservative movement that he is, meanwhile, view a scenario in which Trump is one of the last two men standing as a possible catastrophe. And we are bothered that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) appears ready to risk it for the sake of his own fortunes.
The particulars of the dispute between Cruz and Rubio are actually pretty trivial. My colleague Dan McLaughlin has storified a very fair and thorough roundup of the dustup here. The truth is that both candidates are not being completely honest about Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)‘s position on immigration. Contrary to what Rubio is saying (or at least implying), Cruz’s plan is/was not identical to his own. However, contrary to what Cruz is saying (or at least implying), he did in fact support a path to legalization, if not citizenship, a position that many people consider to be “amnesty.”
I have no problem with aggressive jockeying for position on this contentious issue between Cruz and Rubio. Rubio, at least, when he has been attacked by Trump, has returned fire in kind, even if he doesn’t go out of his way to pick fights with Trump. Cruz, on the other hand, responds to criticism from Trump by outright praising him.
It is, quite frankly, a problem for the movement as a whole even if it is the right play for Cruz, for selfish reasons.
I think Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) would be a (slightly) better President than Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). I have no concerns on that score. My concern is whether he can get there, and whether the path he’s currently taking will end up with Trump taking the Republican nomination and raining destruction down on all our heads.