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by Jack Beatty
John Kasich presents a laundry list of accomplishments.
Chris Christie strikes plausible leader-like poses.
Jeb Bush all but begs for your vote.
Ted Cruz argues the case for his client, Ted Cruz.
On first hearing, it’s a strong case.
“How will you beat Clinton?” asked a young man wearing a sweatshirt blazoned with the letters A.B.C.—ANYBODY BUT CLINTON.
Cruz’s answer held the crowded pub on a wintry Thursday evening in South Weare, N.H. spellbound.
Cruz had won the audience earlier with one liners: “Back in Texas, gun control means hitting what you aim at,” he said. And this about a group that has taken the Obama administration to court over the Obamacare requirement to buy health insurance that covers contraception: “You’ve probably done something wrong if you’re being sued by the Little Sisters of the Poor.” And this: “I like to call illegal immigrants undocumented Democrats.”
He’d told us that we were right not to trust what politicians say.
“By their fruits, ye shall know them,” Cruz said. When a young man asked if he’d stop corporate welfare, Cruz displayed his ripest fruit. His courageous attack on the ethanol subsidy in Iowa.
Iowa’s six-term Republican governor, Terry Branstad, branded Cruz a menace to Iowa’s economy; Branstad's son led “a multi-million” ad campaign against him; an ethanol lobby “truth squad” followed his campaign bus from stop to stop. Because he took the heat to do the right thing as a candidate in Iowa, Cruz said, you can trust him to take the heat dismantling “the Washington cartel” as president.
And that brought him to his strategy for beating Hillary Clinton.
How had he won Iowa? he asked. By mobilizing evangelical voters and Reagan Democrats. What worked there would work nationally. There were 90 million evangelicals in the U. S., but 54 million didn’t vote in the 2012 election. Cruz, the son of an evangelical preacher, said his message of defending “religious liberty” and affirming America’s “Judeo-Christian heritage” would rouse dormant evangelicals while his stand against amnesty for ”illegal immigrants” would win blue-collar Reagan Democrats, 75% of whom want such immigrants deported.
Cruz is caricatured as a demagogue. But in that crossroad’s pub Cruz appealed to intellect not emotion. He offered a cogent theory of the case for beating Clinton. The gifted lawyer used logic and cited experience.
Cruz is also depicted as an ideologue. You expect him to project the conservative wish world onto reality and then master the projection. But, again, that’s not what he displayed in the pub. Experience — history — was his touchstone, not ideology.
That was clear in his framing of deportation. How many “illegal immigrants” were deported during the Clinton administration, he asked?
From his perch on a stairway landing, Cruz’s dark eyes swept the room.
“Twelve million,” the Senator said.
It was lost on no one that 12 million is the same number in the country today.
Over its eight years the Bush administration deported another 10 million. But, because the border was porous, the tide of illegal immigration rolled on. Cruz promised to plug the border, building a wall and tripling the border patrol. Then, not by a Trumpian statist nightmare of raids on sleeping families, but by the normal operation of the law, the 12 million “illegals” would be returned whence they came. And this time, they wouldn’t come back.
I said that Cruz’s case was strong on first hearing. On reflection, not so much.
Grant Cruz his premise — that he’d bring out millions of non-voting evangelicals and Reagan Democrats. Then test the Cruz coalition against the map. It will show that evangelicals are concentrated in states that are already Red. Cruz would carry Arkansas by 30 points, but that victory would still yield the same 6 electoral votes that Mitt Romney gained winning by 22. Reagan Democrats? Every four years the Republicans pursue the Deer Hunter vote. And every four years, the Democrats win Pennsylvania.
It was left to another young man in New Hampshire to finger the biggest flaw in Cruz’s logic. He feared that changing demographics rendered Cruz’s all-white strategy unsustainable. He wanted his party not just to win this election but future “elections.” How could the GOP get right with the new America?
Cruz, a first generation Cuban-American, pointed to his own 2012 campaign in Texas when he garnered 40% of the Hispanic vote. He said he’d campaign in minority communities, appealing to brown and black parents with “school choice," an untested talking point drawn from the conservative wish world. The empirical advocate had yielded the stage to the true-believer.
On Point news analyst Jack Beatty is sending us dispatches from his home state of New Hampshire, as the 2016 candidates for President make their final pitch to voters in the Granite State. Sign up for Jack’s Notes from New Hampshire Newsletter here!
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