Even as we gear up for the midterms, potential Republican candidates for president are already positioning themselves for a run at the White House. Particularly outspoken has been Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who took aim at the prospect of a Jeb Bush candidacy in a recent CNBC interview.
“I like Jeb,” said Cruz. “I’m a fan of Jeb Bush’s. I’m going to let him decide if he’s running first and let the primary voters make a decision. But I will say this: We need to learn from history, we need to look to history and what works and what doesn’t.”
Cruz went on to say that Republicans would be in trouble if they ran another moderate candidate. Calling back on the failed presidential bids of Dole, McCain, and Romney, Cruz said that another moderate Republican would meet with the same fate. “If we run another candidate like that, Hillary Clinton will be the next president.”
The Ongoing Debate
It’s not shocking to see Cruz adopt that kind of position, given that he is one of the most conservative candidates in the mix. With Tea Party blood running through his veins, he wants to drum up an atmosphere that will allow him to ride through the primaries on his conservative bona fides. His likely challengers would be brother-in-arms Rand Paul and establishment conservative Mike Huckabee.
Still, does Cruz’s outlook hold water? Though no Republicans have officially announced their candidacy, it hasn’t stopped pollsters from running them against each other. In these polls, Bush has been consistently at the top of the field, only seriously challenged by Huckabee and Paul. He’s also one of the only candidates that has fared well when pitted against Clinton. Of course, there’s a long time between now and the primaries, to say nothing of the general election.
While Cruz makes a point about failing moderate Republicans, it’s unclear whether that was the weak point of their candidacies. While I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of running a true conservative, it’s a stretch to claim that it’s a surefire strategy for winning the White House. I don’t think Romney lost in 2012 for being too moderate. I think he lost because Obama ran a tech-focused campaign that used every new trick in the book to bring out young voters. Even then it was a nail-biter. That election could have easily gone the other way, and I’m not convinced that a more conservative candidate would have fared any better.
Contrary to what Cruz seems to believe, elections are not won and lost by energizing the base. They are won by drawing in independents. They are won by targeting the low-information crowd. McCain didn’t lose because he was a moderate. He lost because Obama outclassed him when it came to mass appeal. Sarah Palin – a conservative darling and personal favorite of mine – was an anchor around his neck when it came to drawing in all those votes in the middle. One Katie Couric interview and one Tina Fey impression was all it took to convince unaffiliated voters that she was a joke.
Unfortunately, I really believe the country has drifted too far left to support a conservative in the mold of Ronald Reagan. Might the day come again when a pureblood conservative can demolish the Democrats? Absolutely. But we might need a solid, moderate, good Republican president to set the stage. I would be happy to be proven wrong, though.