Tomorrow is the Indiana primary. On the Republican side, the conventional wisdom is that Ted Cruz has to win the primary if he has any chance of stopping Donald Trump from winning a majority of delegates before the convention. Cruz’s Hail Carly pass of naming Fiorina as his running mate is an indication of his desperation. But even if he loses, I do not expect him to concede the race. He will continue to run, hoping to chip away delegates here and there and that somehow a miracle happens and a contested convention turns to him as the savior
If we stipulate that the Republican nominee will be either Trump or Cruz and that either of them will lose to the Democratic candidate, which case would be better for those of us who dislike the Republican brand?
I tend to think that it would be better for Cruz to win the nomination and lose the general election. The reason is that the Cruz-Fiorina ticket is the extreme conservative’s dream ticket. They check off all the boxes on everything that is the worst about the party: climate change denialism, anti-choice, anti-Obamacare, anti-poor, anti-LGBT, pro-oligarchy, Bible thumping, flag waving, the whole list. And they do it in the most in-your-face and obnoxious way possible, and the rabid right-wingers will love it and that will make a defeat, especially a resounding one, hard for them to swallow.
My local newspaper the Plain Dealer has someone named Kevin O’Brien as the deputy editorial page editor and his opinion pieces read almost as a caricature of extreme right wing conservative views to the extent that I sometimes wonder if he is a real person or an elaborate prank pulled by the newspaper. He regards Trump with contempt and thinks he is “supremely ill suited” and describes his supporters as the “Blindly Angry Caucus” that “turned out to be bigger and less interested in facts or policy than anyone realized”.
O’Brien is quite giddy with delight at the prospect of a Cruz-Fiorina ticket. This is what he says about her, that “She is wise, quick-witted, great at a podium and, above all else, conservative” and “She is informed, fluent on seemingly every issue of importance, certain of where she stands and adept at articulating the principles that motivate her.” Of course what he and his fellow conservatives also like about her is that she is a woman because they think that if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, Fiorina will be able to viciously attack her without being seen as sexist and demeaning women, though of course being a women does not give you immunity from those charges. Here’s O’Brien:
She is the most fearsome weapon in the Republican arsenal against Hillary Clinton — the political equivalent of castor oil for Democrats, who haven’t shown much in the way of eagerness to take their medicine. Deny Clinton the opportunity to go into full feminist us-vs.-them mode and what does she have? A few decades spent defusing Bill’s ”bimbo eruptions” and a few years fouling up at the State Department and trying to cover her tracks.
Fiorina can go there unlike any male Republican, and she’s spoiling for that very fight. Expect red meat for Republicans and red faces all around for Democrats.
The problem with Trump as the nominee is that if he loses, the extreme right-wingers will put the blame, not on their message being rejected, but on Trump not being a ‘true conservative’ or ‘not conservative enough’, the same thing they said about John McCain and Mitt Romney. A Trump defeat may actually result in energizing them even more to see that it does not happen again and we could well see Cruz being the nominee in 2020. With Cruz-Fiorina, they have what they always dreamed of and a defeat, especially a massive one, would be an undisputed repudiation of everything they stand for and give them little room for excuses.
While I expect Cruz-Fiorina to lose, they will not lose big because their stances on the issues are well within the Republican mainstream and all those who voted for McCain and Romney in the past will have little trouble voting for them this time. While people like me find both their personalities grating, the party faithful will likely love the red meat rhetoric they will feed them. But I simply cannot see them winning over those who did not vote Republican in the previous elections and this is what they need to do to win.
The catch about Trump is that he is a wild card. He is truly sui generis, a once in a lifetime political phenomenon, a rare combination of wealth and flamboyant showmanship and populist instincts that appeared at just the time when people are deeply disaffected by the political system as a whole. He could lose big, really big. But there is also the chance that his candidacy will catch fire with enough people who are disaffected with the two political parties and that he could actually win by creating new alliances that span the traditional fissues.
Trump has got this far defying the predictions of mainstream pundits and it would be dangerous to keep underestimating him.