America’s liberals finally have a candidate they can wholeheartedly root for in the Republican primaries — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
There’s been incredible temptation to root for Donald Trump, whose unfavorable ratings are sky-high and whose candidacy is tearing the conservative movement apart, but it’s tempered by growing fear of what a Trump administration might actually look like. On the other hand, someone like a Marco Rubio is pretty scary in his own right, and much more likely to win a general election. And the basic reality is that given Republican Party control over Congress, any Republican administration is alarming to liberals, so fear of an electable Republican is palpable.
Enter Ted Cruz. Compared with the more mainstream Republicans in the vanishing “establishment lane,” he’s a much weaker general election candidate, running on a nakedly extreme platform and with plenty of intraparty enemies who’ll guarantee a steady stream of bad press.
And compared with Donald Trump he doesn’t offer any outlier downsides. He’s not particularly tapping into the darkest impulses of the American people. His ideas, though extreme, are vetted through the same conservative policy apparatus as everyone else’s. People who know him best don’t like him, nobody thinks he’s likely to win in November, and he’s the Republican Party’s last best hope to stop Trump. He should also be the liberal choice for anyone tempted to cross over in an open primary, or just for liberals sitting at home wondering who to root for.
A few points:
- I don’t think there’s any question that a losing Trump campaign would be worse for the country than a losing Cruz one. Trump being a major party candidate likely means more violence and a further debasement of already fragile political norms. And the lesson that many Republican elites would take from a loss was that Trump lost because he wasn’t conservative enough. (They would try to say that about Cruz, but that’s obviously a tougher sell.)
- Like most political scientists, I think that head-to-head polls at this point have very little predictive value, and I agree with Yglesias that once Democrats went to work on him Cruz would probably be almost as bad a general election candidate as Trump. If you do believe they have value, they show Cruz as being a significantly better candidate than Trump, particularly against Clinton. I don’t buy it, but if you do that has to be a part of the consideration of whether to root for him.
- Not to be contrarian, but I think that whether a Trump presidency or a Cruz presidency would be worse is a tough call. The possibility of Trump transgressing constitutional norms and inciting racially motivated violence is terrifying, and probably makes it worse in the short term. But in the long term, the likelihood that Cruz would work more effectively with a Republican Congress and produce an agenda including a health care system worse than the status quo ante the ACA, voter disenfranchisement, massive upper-class tax cuts, gutting the regulatory state, etc. etc. all with the formal veneer of “normal” politics is also terrifying. A Trump administration would likely mean an enduring neoconfederate Supreme Court majority if Breyer and/or Ginsburg leaves the Court. A Cruz presidency unquestionably would.
- Obviously, my views on this aren’t a secret, but the consequences of either Trump or Cruz winning are so unconscionably bad that I will have even less patience than usual with people who take to major public fora to announce their HOT TAKE that since Hillary Clinton is an an inauthentic neoliberal and President Sanders would not unilaterally force Israel to dismantle the Palestinian settlements, Both Sides Do It and Tlinton/Crump and who cares really. You have sounder views on public policy than a major party presidential candidate in the United States. Congratulations! If you think expressing this is more important than harm minimization in this context, your self-flattery is deeply misplaced.