OFF TO THE RACES

It’ll Be Cruz or Trump, Like It or Not

Neither may sew up the nomination before the convention, but don’t expect a white knight to ride to the rescue.

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz debate in Detroit.
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
April 7, 2016, 8 p.m.

Whenev­er I hear Re­pub­lic­ans wax on about the pos­sib­il­ity of nom­in­at­ing someone oth­er than Don­ald Trump or Ted Cruz—talk­ing up John Kasich, Paul Ry­an, Scott Walk­er, Mitt Rom­ney, or some oth­er less po­lar­iz­ing fig­ure—it makes me won­der: Ex­actly how would that hap­pen?  

We all have mem­or­ized two num­bers. The first is 1,237, the num­ber of del­eg­ates needed to win a ma­jor­ity at the GOP con­ven­tion. The second is 40, as in Rule 40, re­quir­ing that a can­did­ate win primar­ies or caucuses in eight states to have his name placed in nom­in­a­tion. (It was ad­ded to the party rules in 2012, pushed by al­lies of Mitt Rom­ney to stifle Ron Paul.)  

Yes, the con­ven­tion rules com­mit­tee could the­or­et­ic­ally amend Rule 40, but then the change would have to be ap­proved by a ma­jor­ity vote of the del­eg­ates. Ask your­self, ex­actly which del­eg­ates would vote to res­cind the rule? Trump and Cruz are likely to have more than 80 per­cent of the del­eg­ates locked up, so which one will en­cour­age his del­eg­ates to sup­port this change? Short an­swer: neither. It would be against their in­terests, and it ain’t gonna hap­pen. Like it or not, this thing is com­ing down to either Trump or Cruz, and people ought to stop fan­tas­iz­ing about oth­er op­tions.

Right now, the ques­tion is wheth­er there is enough time and suf­fi­cient del­eg­ates left to stop Trump from get­ting to 1,237. There are two pos­sible an­swers: either that it’s too late, or that it’s al­most too late but not quite. Cruz’s im­press­ive win in Wis­con­sin is just what the “stop Trump” forces were hop­ing for, but is it enough, giv­en the states com­ing up? It surely feels as if the ground has shif­ted, that the dy­nam­ics have changed from help­ing to hurt­ing Trump, but even so the pre­vi­ous ques­tion re­mains de­term­in­at­ive. Is it too late to stop him?

The gnash­ing of teeth among es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­ans is now al­most deaf­en­ing. They look at Trump and see a can­did­ate who will al­most surely lose the gen­er­al elec­tion. The Real­clear­polit­ics.com av­er­age of ma­jor na­tion­al polls has Trump trail­ing likely Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee Hil­lary Clin­ton by 11 points. Cruz runs much closer, three points be­hind the former sec­ret­ary of State, and Kasich ac­tu­ally leads her by six points. Trump is known and defined—and widely con­sidered tox­ic, not only to Demo­crats and large num­bers of in­de­pend­ents, but also to many Re­pub­lic­ans.

If Trump some­how won, he wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to gov­ern. Bey­ond hav­ing no dis­cern­ible ideo­logy, re­ly­ing in­stead on a philo­sophy centered around “I think I am the smartest guy around and I can solve any prob­lem, trust me,” his ig­nor­ance on is­sues ap­pears to be even worse than his worst crit­ics feared. After his howl­ers in re­cent New York Times and Wash­ing­ton Post in­ter­views and ed­it­or­i­al-board meet­ings, Trump would do well to steer clear of de­tailed dis­cus­sions with journ­al­ists, with the pos­sible ex­cep­tion of the staff of Weekly Read­er. Trump seems dis­in­clined to re­cruit`ex­perts or do any home­work on policy. I asked a re­cently re­tired four-star gen­er­al if he had ever heard of any of the for­eign policy ad­visers that Trump named a couple of weeks ago. He hadn’t. Wow, that was re­as­sur­ing.

Then there is Cruz. When elec­ted to the Sen­ate, he im­me­di­ately set out to ali­en­ate as many of his Re­pub­lic­an col­leagues as pos­sible. He was won­der­fully suc­cess­ful in this en­deavor. Many Re­pub­lic­ans saw his de­term­in­a­tion to shut down the gov­ern­ment as a con­spicu­ously fu­tile ges­ture that would po­ten­tially jeop­ard­ize their reelec­tions. They think Cruz is will­ing to do any­thing to burn­ish his repu­ta­tion as an out­sider will­ing to take on Wash­ing­ton in­siders. Oddly enough, in this anti­es­tab­lish­ment year, his self-re­gard­ing am­bi­tion may ac­tu­ally come in handy.

There is no doubt­ing Cruz’s bril­liance, and it isn’t hard to un­der­stand how he was a cham­pi­on­ship de­bater at Prin­ceton. The Tex­an has put to­geth­er the most im­press­ive and soph­ist­ic­ated Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial cam­paign in his­tory, and aside from not an­ti­cip­at­ing the rise of Trump and Ben Car­son (but who did?), he privately out­lined to people last year a strategy to win the nom­in­a­tion that was right on tar­get. Like him or not, it was clear early on that Cruz would be a very for­mid­able can­did­ate.

Long­time politi­cians are used to sup­port­ing people they don’t like, but rarely do they find them­selves lin­ing up be­hind someone they des­pise. The Re­pub­lic­an man­dar­ins now face a di­lemma. They fear that Trump can’t win, and that Cruz might. Many con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans won­der wheth­er Cruz is a right-wing nut or a ruth­less op­por­tun­ist, and then ask them­selves, “Which is worse?”  

Per­son­ally, I think Cruz is more of an op­por­tun­ist, and a pretty ruth­less one at that. He ran against the es­tab­lish­ment to win his Sen­ate seat. Then, en­sconced in the Wash­ing­ton es­tab­lish­ment, he ran against it again in his bid for the pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion. Along the way, he ali­en­ated people he now needs to rally be­hind him.

Es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­ans can avert their eyes and keep dream­ing that a white knight is go­ing to ride in to save them. But in truth, the time has come for them to pick their pois­on: Don­ald Trump or Ted Cruz.

What We're Following See More »
CONTINUING OBSTRUCTION INVESTIGATION
House Democrats Subpoena Don McGahn
11 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Don McGahn as part of a House-led obstruction investigation into President Donald Trump. The subpoena comes just days after special counsel Robert Mueller’s report revealed that McGahn witnessed and testified about potential obstruction of justice by Trump."

Source:
WANTS IT BY MAY 1
Nadler Subpoenas Unredacted Report
3 days ago
THE LATEST
ONLY TWO ARE KNOWN
Mueller Made 14 Criminal Referrals
4 days ago
THE LATEST
POSTED ONLINE
The Report Is Here
4 days ago
THE LATEST
BARR IS OK WITH MUELLER TESTIFYING
Nadler Asks Mueller to Testify By May 23
4 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login