Friday, October 18, 2013

Why We Have Campaigns

Alex Roarty called Ted Cruz the 2016 Republican "frontrunner" today:
The Republican establishment despises Ted Cruz. And that’s great news for the senator from Texas: It’s the most prominent sign that he’s the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination.
He also gets one good quote from Iowa conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats: “I really believe if the Iowa caucuses were held today, I don’t even think it’d be close. Ted Cruz would walk away with it.”

But here's the thing: it's not just a quirk of timing that the Iowa caucuses aren't being held today. What it means is that we're only at the beginning of a very long campaign.

And campaigns matter. Even general election campaigns matter; what they mainly do is remind people which party they belong to, and inform them that the nominee of that party is a perfectly acceptable representative of that party. That's a big party of why if you ask before the campaign you'll find all sorts of people ready to jump to a third party candidate, or in some circumstances even cross over to vote for the other party's candidate, but by November most people are back where they "belong."

In primary elections, the information environment is more complicated, because there are fewer obvious cues. Tail Gunner Ted is taking advantage of one of those cues right now -- he's been the most visible, recently, of the radical Republicans, so those who basically look for the representative of that strain of the party are moving to him.

Whether that lasts, however, is another story, as Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain could tell you.

What's going to happen is that Iowa voters will learn more about the various candidates. Recently they've had more exposure to Cruz; later, all the fully-funded candidates will get their own messages out. And, meanwhile, the press coverage will increase, both in the neutral press and the GOP-aligned media. And here's the thing: to the extent that GOP opinion leaders either hate Ted Cruz or, now, think that Ted Cruz is a loser, that's going to show up on the coverage that Cruz gets. Sure, not in all the coverage; there were, I'm sure, plenty of conservative blogs that were with Bachmann or Cain (or the Newtster for that matter) to the bitter end). But clearly enough to get the proper cues to a sufficient number of primary and caucus goers that they figured out: hey, that's not our candidate.

To the extent that those future negative cues are already baked in -- and I'm fairly confident that's the case for Ted Cruz -- no, he's not the frontrunner. Not at all.


  1. ... Ted Cruz -- no, he's not the frontrunner. Not at all.

    Without disputing virtually any of what you have to say here, the position of frontrunner is by definition not an empty one. It's got to be somebody, and right now it may well be Cruz, notwithstanding his considerable liabilities. If not him, who?

    1. This. And I could also see a conception of frontrunner not as the person with the highest probability of winning, but more of a symbolic placeholder who sets the context for the current activity in the visible portion of the primary. It's a conception that may not be very useful I suppose. But Ted Cruz might fit the bill.

    2. And one more: the narrative about Cruz is (roughly) "Seems to be ahead now, but that's only because there's not yet viable opposition, the insiders and decision-makers despise him, which will eventually spell his doom."

      We could have said pretty much the same thing, four years ago, about one Willard Mitt Romney, no?

    3. No. My recollection is that Romney was the favorite of the insiders and the decision-makers. To an absolute certainty, they preferred him over his principal challengers then to the title of front-runner, Huckabee and Palin.

    4. Yeah. I don't think Romney ever had any love from any particular segment of party actors, but no one hated him, and by the second campaign social conservatives got to the point, as far as I could see, that they trusted him enough that they could live with him -- they didn't support him, but they wren't desperate to defeat him.

    5. Thanks for the comments - I certainly agree that it appears as if the venom directed toward Cruz is worse than anything Romney faced. Not sure, though, if our perception of Romney isn't colored somewhat by the fact that he pretty much spent his most recent 2-3 years in the public eye spewing soundbites that were right for the right. Was the decision-maker comfort you describe, Jonathan, a byproduct of those soundbites? Its hard to remember, but I have this hazy recollection that a lot of folks really didn't like Romney...pre-soundbites, of course.

      Point simply being that, unless he's got Rick Perry's handlers running his show, there's no reason Cruz can't spend the next 2-3 years spouting the same soundbites. In the second Princess Bride reference here in a week, it seems to me that Cruz's POTUS aspirations are only "mostly dead".

    6. The Establishment doesn't trust Cruz anymore. So they'll block him.

    7. It's not just about whether key party actors trust or like Cruz anymore. They may have really become annoyed by him and yet still not have the balls to do what's necessary to marginalize and condemn and stop enabling their extremist base.

  2. Bachmann, Cain, and Perry were, once the light was shown on them, painfully and awkwardly incompetent. Cruz is as ideologically extreme as them, but it looks like he will not, as easily, come across as incompetent and embarrassing. That's why your prediction last week was correct: a reputation for incompetence is what would damage him.

  3. Also, may not many Republicans say, "well, we listened to the Republican Establishment in 2008 and 2012 and we nominated McCain and Romney and we lost. So why not take a chance on Cruz this time?" In short, the very fact that mainstream Republican "opinion leaders" got their way in 2008 and 2012 may make it harder for them to do so in 2016.

  4. The only way Ted Cruz is going to save this decrepit, corrupt, dystopic hellhole from RINO squishes and liberal traitors is to mount a third campaign. If he has the good sense to pick Sarah Palin as his running mate, he'll lock up about 1/4 of the country, geographically-speaking. Then all he has to do is challenge the Dem challenger to dozens of debates and stick to his precocious guns, not bothering with the bien pensant naysayers who will criticize him in public to avoid castigation from the NYT editorial board and the vegan voting bloc, but will vote for him enthusiastically when shielded from prying eyes and ears in the privacy of the voting booth.

    Run, Ted, run! Extremism for the sake of extremism is no vice; squishing for the sake of squishing is sure as hell no virtue.

    1. Four questions:

      1. What is "a third campaign"?

      2. "All he has to dois challenge the Dem challenger to dozens of debates." Shouldn't he have a back-up strategy, just in case the Democratic candidate refuses that challenge?

      3. If the vegan voting bloc is so influential as you indicate, why is your post the first time we are hearing about it?

      4. Do you realize that winning only a quarter of the states is the same thing as losing the election?

    2. Extremism for the sake of extremism is no vice

      I think this is the giveaway that Geoff's post is sarcastic.

    3. I apologize for the typo - it should be "mount a third party campaign."

      As to mighty power of the vegans, their insidious campaign against all we hold dear is working pretty well if they haven't even shown up on Fox News's radar. I can tell you that they are far more dangerous than the New Black Panthers and ACORN combined. When the jackbooted thugs (neoprene, not leather) from the Federal Dept. of Tofu show up at your door to confiscate your meat and butter, shouting slogans from "Rules for Meatless Radicals," we'll see who's laughing. (It won't be the vegans, they don't have a sense of humor.)

      If Cruz's opponents refuse to debate him, he'll debate an empty chair - duh! (Added bonus - he's better at debating furniture than he is at debating people, though he prefers to debate "elite Ivy" furniture.)

      As to the point about geography, size matters, baby. Being governor of the largest state (with our No. One geopolitical foe on one side, and Cruz's homeland on the other) is ten times harder than being governor of one of the shrimps. Serving half a term is like serving ten terms in New York or California. A Cruz/Palin administration might even break with precedent and give Gov. Palin the nuclear football because of her experience managing Alaska's nuclear arsenal (and the top secret "Strategic Putin's Head Defense Initiative").

      As to whether or not I'm being sarcastic, well, maybe. But I am 100% sincere that I would be as thrilled by a Cruz/Palin third party insurgency as any of their (other) most ardent fans. In their hearts, they know they're right.

  5. This one sentence discredits the entire post:
    "And, meanwhile, the press coverage will increase, both in the neutral press and the GOP-aligned media.".

    Sorry pal, but if you consider the non "GOP-aligned" media (assuming you mean Fox News) "neutral", then you have shown your true colors all to easily. Therefore you must mean media like "MSNBC", which in no way, shape or form is "neutral".


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