Posted by Curt on 29 April, 2016 at 9:00 am. 13 comments already!


Dan McLaughlin:

Ted Cruz is not a lot of people’s cup of tea. For moderate Republicans and Republican-leaning independents — not just ideological moderates but people of a moderate, gradualist temperament — voting for Ted Cruz is just about the last thing they came into this primary season thinking of doing. Cruz’s reputation for ideological purism and bomb-throwing, his efforts at government shutdowns and internecine warfare against GOP leadership, and his Evangelical-preacher style turn off a lot of people who ordinarily vote Republican but don’t consider themselves Goldwater-style conservatives. Cruz’s distant third-place finish in New York — probably to be followed by similar showings in some other Northeast states today — emphasized the trouble he has in persuading moderate voters to support him. Exit polls in New York, for example, showed Donald Trump winning moderates 46–42 over John Kasich, with Cruz garnering just 13 percent, a far cry from his double-digit wins in Wisconsin and Utah.

As the Republican primary campaign rolls into its final five-week sprint, the effort to stop Donald Trump and save the GOP from disaster will depend heavily on whether moderate voters are willing to pull the lever for Cruz. Especially given the importance of the winner-take-all delegate allocations in Indiana, California, and Washington, moderates will need to abandon John Kasich and unite behind Cruz in order to defeat Trump.

Politics is a team sport, and elections are often about a choice of lesser evils. If Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and Lindsey Graham can get behind Cruz, we have reached the point where people are well past demanding their first choice. Even as a conservative, I did not have Cruz as my first choice, nor even my second. But among the choices remaining, allow me to make the case here for why moderates in the remaining primary states should go out and vote for Cruz, both as a matter of electoral calculation and on the merits of who should be president.

One: This Election Is Too Important to Punt. The temptation to take your ball and go home — which all of us feel at least a little when our preferred choices don’t get the nomination — seems overwhelming this cycle, as Donald Trump degrades the discourse, lowers everyone around him into the mud, and generally leaves Republicans depressed about our chances in November and embittered toward other voters in our party. It’s easy and tempting to just let Trump take the nomination and the Mondale-sized defeat he’s cruising towards (see Point #3), and say “I told you so” later on.

But the 2016 election is far too important for any Republican of any stripe — moderate or conservative, party stalwart or occasional party voter — to just check out. The Supreme Court — the most powerful branch of the federal government, by far — hangs in the balance, and while some moderates may not love a five-justice conservative majority, they will hate the five-justice lockstep-liberal majority that would follow a Hillary Clinton victory this fall. Obamacare, too, will be truly impossible to dislodge if the Democrats win again in 2016. And even immigration moderates should blanch at letting Obama’s unilateral executive amnesty go into effect without the input of Congress. And that’s before we get to foreign policy, a president’s most important job. Twelve years of Democratic control of the White House, with its expansive powers and massive cultural footprint, is intolerable for everyone who is not already a Democrat.

Two: Only Ted Cruz Can Stop Donald Trump. So, GOP voters need to rally around their best candidate remaining, and not surrender to despair. That means first stopping Trump.

In order to win the nomination on the first ballot at the Republican convention, you need 1,237 pledged or committed delegates. Only Trump still has a chance to get that — and only Cruz can beat him in the places needed to stop Trump. Yes, it’s theoretically possible that Kasich or even Marco Rubio or a darker-horse candidate could be selected by a divided convention — but the only way we even enter that conversation is if Trump is denied a majority of delegates.

So, Cruz is the main game in town to stop Trump. Is he the only game? The Northeast would normally be considered more logical turf for a Kasich-style moderate than for a candidate like Cruz. But Kasich was unable to get the job done there. Outside of Ohio, Kasich has thus far finished ahead of both Trump and Cruz only in a single Manhattan congressional district and the District of Columbia. Overall, since this race narrowed to a three-man contest after March 15, Kasich has been able to take only five delegates away from Trump compared with Cruz’s over 100, 76 of those from Cruz’s lopsided statewide wins in Wisconsin and Utah.

Going forward outside the Northeast, the essential rules and dynamics of sequential primary voting make a vote for Kasich a vote for Trump. First, most of the remaining states operate on some version of winner-take-all delegate allocation. New Jersey, South Dakota, and Nebraska (107 delegates) are pure winner-take-all states. Indiana and California (219 delegates) award winner-take-all delegates statewide and also on a district-by-district basis, and the same goes for Washington’s 30 district delegates if anyone cracks 50 percent, and West Virginia’s 34 delegates, who are elected directly. Only New Mexico’s and Oregon’s delegates, and Washington’s 14 statewide delegates, are selected proportionally, and Washington and New Mexico have minimum thresholds, so that a trailing candidate can win votes that don’t count in the delegate allocation. Note that Cruz’s deal to stay out of campaigning in Oregon and New Mexico leaves Kasich fighting for proportional delegates, while Kasich’s staying out of Indiana means that his voters there are just throwing their votes away: Kasich can’t possibly finish first anywhere in a state where he’s third in the polls and not campaigning. The same will be overwhelmingly the case in California, where Kasich has run behind both Trump and Cruz in every statewide poll taken thus far.

All of that is before you discuss the fact that Kasich has almost no money left, plus the psychological dynamics of trying to rally around a third-place going-nowhere candidate — the same dynamics that led Kasich to finish behind Cruz even in Midwestern heartland states such as Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Simply stated, from now until the convention, the anti-Trump forces need to pick a horse, and Ted Cruz is the only game in town. If they do, Trump can and will still be stopped.

Three: Ted Cruz Might Beat Hillary Clinton; Donald Trump Won’t. But why prefer Cruz to Trump in a general election, regardless of their merits as a potential president? Because Trump is a sure loser — and Cruz, while he might not be the best general-election candidate the GOP field started with, is not.

How does Cruz poll against Hillary? Well, that depends when you asked the question: In the RealClearPolitics national average, Cruz trailed Hillary badly last summer, but persistently closed the gap with her over the fall, pulled even in January, and surged ahead of her (albeit never by a very wide margin) in polls taken throughout January and February. He sagged badly in late March, but has remained close in most recent national polls, which tend to put both Cruz and Hillary in the mid 40s with a lot of undecideds (the last five national polls included Cruz tied 47–47, and down 45–44, 46–44, and 45–42; only one poll had him down as far as 49–42. All of that suggests a candidate with a puncher’s chance — with both candidates stuck in the same general band in the mid 40s in April, the race could be a knife fight between two unpopular candidates who both turn off voters in the middle, and much will come down to turnout and making an impression on undecided voters. As to the turnout challenge, it plays to Cruz’s strength with the GOP’s ideological and religious base, which might make the difference; as to the undecideds, Cruz (unlike Hillary and Trump) is still not well-known with people who don’t vote in primaries, so he has a better chance to win over a few votes.

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