Cruz's Risky Detour to Crush Rubio in Florida
It’s been a huge week in the presidential campaign. We’ve gone from Donald Trump having an unstoppable path to the Republican nomination to the possibility that he could be beaten.
That’s the good news for the majority of Americans who believe that an authoritarian, ill-informed, bellicose real estate mogul is unsuited to be president.
The bad news is that the vehicle of Trump’s defeat is turning out to be Senator Ted Cruz. With his faux-folksy recitations of Dr. Seuss and "The Princess Bride," his singular insistence that Obamacare could be repealed, and non-stop obstruction fueled by his self-regard as the only principled man in Washington, he helped grind governing to a halt in recent years. One of the few points of bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill is antipathy to Cruz. Vice President Joe Biden captured the feeling at the annual Gridiron Club dinner on March 5, joking that if President Barack Obama really wanted to put his mark on the Supreme Court, he should name Cruz to the open seat. "Before you know it, you'll have eight vacancies."
The emergence of Cruz as the savior of his party offers the painful choice between a fast death by gunfire (Trump romping to an unbeatable plurality of delegates within days) or a slow one by poison, as Cruz chips away at Trump's lead with his latest wins in Kansas and Maine. But there's no time to waste. The most super of Tuesdays is coming up on March 15 with the winner-take-all contests in Ohio and Florida. If Trump were to win both, the fat lady has sung.
That makes the strategy Cruz announced Friday perilous. Rather than stop Trump from pocketing 99 delegates in Florida by leaving Senator Marco Rubio to consolidate the anti-Trump vote on his own, Cruz has chosen to try to kill off Rubio in the Sunshine State. He announced Friday that he would be moving big time into Florida, opening 10 offices, buying ads, and spending much of his time there.
Rubio did Cruz’s dirty work -- descending to Trump’s level where the media lives and exposing his weak spots. And strategically, it might make more sense to let Rubio deprive Trump of delegates.
But Cruz also may have decided that taking the risk of having to catch up later is a worthwhile trade off for the opportunity to humiliate Rubio on his home turf.
Manny Roman, the chairman of Cruz’s campaign in Miami-Dade County, said last week that Rubio should be the one to stay out of Florida, not Cruz. . “Save yourself the embarrassment of losing your home state and let us consolidate the anti-Trump vote,” he said.
Cruz may be smart -- he certainly has a photographic memory -- but we know he’s lucky. The calendar favored him in many ultra-conservative early primary states and his home state of Texas. He got help from ads run by the Club for Growth and the benefit of evangelicals beginning to doubt the multi-married Trump’s values. He deflected some of Ben Carson’s votes in Iowa by spreading the incorrect rumor that the neurosurgeon was dropping out (for which he paid no price since he’s already considered a dark character). That got him bragging rights for winning Iowa when Trump was winning everywhere else.
Most of all, Cruz is benefitting from time taking its toll on Trump. He doesn’t wear well and the controversies over Trump University, his eviction of a widow in Atlantic City to make space for limos, his stiffing of small businesses and creditors and revelations about less-known failures from Trump Vodka to Trump Mortgages are widening the cracks in his façade.
Trump dented his telling-it-like-it-is persona when he admitted that he told the New York Times editorial board -- off the record -- that he was open to deal-making on immigration (Of course, he makes deals. Doesn’t everyone?). For the first time, Trump had to outright reverse himself on his pledge to take off the gloves to defeat terrorists. Even when it comes to his most borderline ideas, he said, the military are "not going to refuse me. Believe me."
On Friday, in response to criticism from top brass including Michael Hayden, a retired general and former Central Intelligence Agency director, Trump said: "I will not order a military officer to disobey the law. It is clear that, as president, I will be bound by laws just like all Americans and I will meet those responsibilities."
It wasn’t clear at all. In fact, he has built his campaign on warmongering, denying dignity to an entire religion, building a wall and the promise of mass deportations. That elicits big cheers at his rallies. He laces the Kool-Aid with Mussolini quotes and intermittently playing coy about white supremacists among his supporters.
In North Carolina on Monday, Trump opened his rally with his string of wins, a tribute to his own courage, throwing out a protester and a call for a raising of right hands by those promising to vote for him, which couldn’t help evoking a parade in North Korea.
In an interview after Cruz won Texas, Oklahoma and Alaska last week, Senator Lindsey Graham said that even though his Texas colleague is not his favorite, "we may be in a position where we have to rally around Ted Cruz as the only way to stop Donald Trump." This from the person who joked that if Cruz were to be murdered in the Senate it would be considered justifiable homicide.
For the moment, Cruz is a lucky man.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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