Friday, November 13, 2015

The Base Is Coming Around To The Inevitable: Ted Cruz


Almost a year ago I told my political friends that Ted Cruz would be the GOP presidential nominee. They all thought I was joking-- or insane. Oh, look, even Rich Lowry agrees now. Clearly 2016 was not going to be a year the Fox/Hate Talk Radio Republican base was going to accept another establishment candidate-- not after Romney, McCain, the Bushes and Dole-- and it would be a good year for the establishment to let them have their way and get it out of their system since conventional wisdom seemed to be saying Hillary would win anyway, regardless of who they ran. (That's changed a bit since the GOP propaganda project to smear and discredit her-- first with Benghazi and the fake e-mail "scandal" and then by poring millions of dollars in SuperPAC money into manipulating her favorable/unfavorables-- has worked pretty well.) The reason the GOP Elders can't just let a complete psychopath like Dr. Ben or Trumpy get the nomination is because of the immense damage it would do down-ticket as hordes of relatively mainstream Republicans in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Colorado, Nevada stay away from the polls and destroy GOP prospects in the Senate and even damage them in the House, although Republicans are savvy enough to know that DCCC incompetence will protect them in the House. (And the libertarian threat never materialized and no one takes Rand Paul even remotely seriously.)

But with Walker and Perry out so fast and with Jeb, Christie, and Kasich already in the realm of the walking dead, it started looking like a battle to the death between the two Cubano teabaggers, the Texas neo-fascist and the well-groomed hollow little twerp from Miami-Dade. And speaking of Dole, that fossil didn't help Bush by endorsing him Wednesday-- another failed relic of the hated establishment-- and didn't hurt Cruz by railing against him. There probably aren't many voters who know who he is and of the ones who do, none who care what he says. Except desperate reporters. He told them, speaking of the Jebster, "I think he’s the most qualified, and we need somebody with experience and there are a lot of good candidates-- I like nearly all of them. Except Cruz."

Cruz, representing the Hatred and Bigotry wing of the party, and Rubio, representing the Greed and Selfishness wing-- although both could easily represent either wing-- are already starting to ignore the other candidates to take on each other. Well, Rubio's just keeping his head down and hoping his billionaires put in more money than Cruz's billionaires, which is likely, although Cruz leads the money chase so far. (Cruz Dark Money is $38,634,164, most of it from 4 mentally unbalanced far right billionaires, and Rubio's Dark Money amounts to less than half that, $17,315,782, but with a lot supposedly in the pipeline. Greg Sargent sees the Cruz-Rubio battle as the former trying to solidify far right, anti-establishment backing and the latter as promising to unite establishment and the lunatic fringe.

Cruz is attacking Rubio as being a squish on immigration. Cruz to Jeremy Peters of the NY Times on Wednesday in New Hampshire: "[O]n the seminal fight over amnesty in Congress, the Gang of Eight bill that was the brainchild of Chuck Schumer and Barack Obama, that would have granted amnesty to 12 million people here illegally, that I stood with the American people and led the fight to defeat it in the United States Congress. In my view, if Republicans nominate for president a candidate who supports amnesty, we will have given up one of the major distinctions with Hillary Clinton and we will lose the general election. That is a path to losing. And part of the reason the debate last night was so productive is you started to see clear, meaningful policy distinctions, not just between what people say on the campaign trail. Talk’s cheap. But between their records. When the fight was being fought, where did you stand? That speaks volumes about who you are and where you will stand in the future. And we’re entering the phase now in the presidential race where primary voters are starting to examine the records of the candidates."
Cruz’s broadside contains two key ingredients. The first is the suggestion that Rubio’s support for Obama/Schumer comprehensive reform shows that his current posture on immigration is not to be trusted. Rubio has retreated to the position that the border must be fully secured before we can even discuss legalization. And Rubio has also sought to reassure conservatives with a careful straddle: he doesn’t support Donald Trump’s call for deportation of the 11 million, but neither does he align himself fully with Jeb Bush’s and John Kasich’s forceful moral and practical criticism of Trump’s vow of mass removal. However, conservatives are not convinced: they want him to fully rule out any future “amnesty,” which (by their lights) he has not done yet. Cruz may also press Rubio to say whether he’d immediately end Obama’s executive action protecting the DREAMers from deportation. It’s a point on which Rubio has fudged, and it’s a legitimate question.

The second key ingredient in Cruz’s monologue goes to the heart of competing theories of the 2016 presidential race. Cruz is claiming that only a GOP nominee who is unequivocally opposed to “amnesty” can draw the sharp contrast with the Democratic nominee that is necessary for a Republican to win the White House. (This is of a piece with a broader belief that Republicans must break their addiction to nominating squishy moderates rather than Real Conservatives.)

This theory is diametrically opposed to the prevailing theory among many GOP strategists (including, at one point, the RNC) which holds that to win in future national elections, the GOP must embrace meaningful immigration reform that reorients the party as more culturally welcoming and inclusive, broadening its demographic appeal. It’s hard to say where Rubio now stands on this spectrum-- the hedging in his immigration pronouncements seems designed to keep that vague. But Rubio strategists are reportedly convinced that his ability to maintain mainstream appeal will be key to his success, which suggests he hopes to reserve room to pivot back to a more pro-reform posture later, if he wins the nomination. Cruz may challenge Rubio in ways designed to foreclose that possibility.
I linked to Lowry in the first paragraph; safely ensconced in the right-wing cacoon, he's obviously drooling at the prospect of a Cruz candidacy. Like Bernie, he feels that "Cruz gets no respect" and "tends to be an afterthought in the Sunday show chatter, and on TV generally." He writes that "indications of the strength of Cruz’s operation and the shrewdness of his positioning are mounting" inasmuch as he "had more cash on hand at the end of the third quarter than any other Republican" and big money rolling in from those 4 nuts funding his SuperPAC. What gives Lowry a woody is that Cruz "assessed the anti-establishment mood in the party more accurately than any of the other traditional Republican candidates" and "reacted to the rise of Trump very deftly for his purposes." He's also excited that Cruz has a "discernible ideological and geographic base"-- admirers of fascism and the former slave-holding states-- and that "he lights up pretty much every conservative audience he addresses." So why the disrespect from the media?
The political press corps made up its mind about him-- too divisive-- as soon as he showed up in Washington, and has never entirely gotten over its dismissive treatment of his campaign.

Cruz has never mounted a John McCain-style charm offensive with reporters, most of whom, it is safe to say, find him personally off-putting. And he is hated with a burning passion by his party’s own elite.

The appeal of Cruz’s conservative populism is lost on most reporters and political insiders, who have a natural reflex to roll their eyes at the message and the messenger.

Cruz is not as interesting as Trump and Carson, and he doesn’t feature in any intrapersonal drama like the Bush-Rubio mentor-mentee showdown. (The rise of Trump also happened to roughly coincide with Cruz’s second-quarter fundraising report, dampening the impact of what was a herald of the robust state of his campaign.)
Thursday morning, the entirely irrelevant Rick Santorum, got in a smack at Cruz on Twitter, posting a link to this video and pointing out that "It is clear what candidate is not a real conservative on immigration." Is it? What's the "conservative position" on legal immigration? Trump's against increasing it-- and particularly H-1B visas (which flipped out the US Chamber of Commerce)-- and Cruz is for doing just that:

Trump's insane racism and xenophobia are making Cruz look quasi-mainstream, at least in GOPville. But no matter what Rubio says now, it is Cruz who wants to preclude a path to citizenship in an absolute way and it is Cruz who would round up the Dreamers and deport them. Rubio is a tiny bit less bloodthirsty and fascist in his approach. And, at the heart of all this, is how conservatism is defined in 2015.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Mr. Trump are positioning themselves as the unapologetic champions of a brand of conservatism that is tailored to appeal to party activists: striking a hard line on immigration and trade, promoting sharply lower tax rates and enhancing military might while adding notes of caution about overextending American forces in foreign crises.

Jeb Bush and Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio, by contrast, are appealing to more pragmatic if hawkish Republicans: dismissing as unrealistic-- and even un-American-- the prospect of deporting illegal immigrants, promoting tax policies that do not add as much to the deficit and insisting on a central place for the United States in global affairs.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who was able to avoid discussing immigration at the debate, lines up on policy more with Mr. Bush and Mr. Kasich. But he is sensitive to being pegged in the campaign’s “moderate lane”-- as Mr. Cruz likes to call it-- and is more careful with his language.

...Mr. Trump used the immigration issue like rocket fuel in launching his candidacy, and Tuesday’s debate highlighted the subject’s lasting power-- and the deep divides among the candidates and within the party as Republicans struggle to broaden their appeal to Hispanics and other minority voters.

Mr. Rubio must walk a tightrope in explaining his role in forging a 2013 bipartisan bill that included a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally.

The bill ultimately died in the Republican-controlled House, but the party’s grass-roots base remains inflamed over the issue and Mr. Rubio has distanced himself from the legislation, saying he now prefers a step-by-step approach that starts with securing the border.

“The lesson I learned from that is the people of the United States do not trust the federal government on immigration,” he said Wednesday on Fox News.

“If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported,” Mr. Rubio said in explaining his current position. “If you’re not a criminal, and have been here longer than 10 years, you have to learn English. You have to start paying taxes. You’re going to have to pay a fine. And then you’ll get a work permit.” He did not mention the question that enrages so many conservative voters: whether to eventually grant citizenship to illegal immigrants.

...It was not long ago that Republican foreign policy amounted to variations on a theme: Trade agreements bolster big businesses and international alliances. Military budgets should grow even in times of austerity. No matter what, do not let the Russians or the Chinese challenge American pre-eminence.

No longer. Tuesday’s debate underscored the schism among candidates whose rallying cry is “Let someone else fight the wars” and the American exceptionalists.

Mr. Trump and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky were clearly in the first camp. “If Putin wants to go and knock the hell out of ISIS, I am all for it, 100 percent, and I can’t understand how anybody would be against it,” Mr. Trump said of Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president.

...The exchange captured the box that Republicans find themselves in when it comes to national security. Nothing fires up the base more than a description of President Obama as “weak,” and by extension Mrs. Clinton, his former secretary of state. But for the more traditional, hawkish candidates, that has usually meant issuing declarations of how they would use military force, with little discussion of other expressions of American power, like building alliances, tailoring economic sanctions or taking covert action.

But at a moment when polls show Americans are exhausted by 14 years of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the candidates seem unsure how to describe alliance-building in a way that could fire up Iowans.

...The Republican candidates nearly all expressed opposition to Wall Street greed and to the Dodd-Frank financial overhauls that were aimed at cleaning up the financial industry after the 2008 crisis.

But there was surprising disagreement about whom to blame for the crisis and how to deal with financial meltdowns in the future, highlighting how the topic will continue to be a thorny one for the Republican Party, which is generally allied with Wall Street at a time when popular sentiment against the industry remains high.

Asked whether they would bail out the banks in another crisis, Mr. Bush and Mr. Kasich, who both worked with Lehman Brothers before the crisis, did not line up with the popular sentiment against bailouts.

...Mr. Kasich said there was “too much greed” on Wall Street, but he alone, drawing boos, argued that bank bailouts were necessary in certain instances to protect depositors. Policy experts noted that depositors are generally protected by federal deposit insurance when banks go under.

Mr. Cruz, whose wife built her career at Goldman Sachs, said he would never support bailing out a bank, no matter how large the institution. Like several other candidates, he put the blame for the financial industry’s problems on Washington, which he said has coddled banks.

Mr. Rubio followed Mr. Cruz in arguing that the Dodd-Frank law has cemented the advantages of the largest banks.
Worth keeping in mind these figures that show how much money each campaign (not counting SuperPAC money) has been given by the Securites and Investment Industry + commercial banks:
Jeb- $2,049,553
Cruz- $694,372
Rubio- $489,691
Kasich- $100,413
Trump- $8,565

UPDATE: Cruz Ups The Ante

Late yesterday the fight between our two right-wing Cubanos escalated. While Trump kept sending out tweets calling Rubio "weak, like a baby" on immigration, Cruz was on with the contemptible Hate Talk Radio host Laura Ingraham, blasting Rubio, reiterating that Rubio's immigration plan would have granted a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, something most normal Americans-- but not right-wing Republicans, want.
Rubio had opposed adding provisions to the bill that would have strengthened border security.

“He opposed every single one of them. Every single amendment,” said Cruz, who had introduced some of those amendments. “It’s not like people were quiet in sharing their concerns at the time. It’s not like one had to engage... It’s not like this was rocket science.”

Rubio pushed back on those claims Thursday, saying that the bill had the correct security components but was waylaid by voter mistrust-- and arguing that he and Cruz shared “almost all the same views on immigration.”

“Ted is a supporter of legalizing people that are in this country illegally,” Rubio said after a campaign stop in South Carolina. “In fact, when the Senate bill was proposed, he proposed giving them work permits. He’s also supported a massive expansion of the green cards. He’s supported a massive expansion of the [H-1B visa] program, a 500 percent increase.”

As the campaigns battled Thursday, other candidates jumped into the fray. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Rubio’s tax plan would give money to undocumented immigrants, and called him “the leading proponent for allowing people in the country illegally to be citizens.” Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee called the H1-B program “worse than amnesty.” And Rick Santorum turned his sights on Cruz, with the campaign of the former senator from Pennsylvania saying Cruz was “not a real conservative on immigration.”

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