As the spirited field of Republican candidates heads into the final turn of the GOP Presidential Sweepstakes, the thinning pack suggests the likelihood of a two-horse race down the stretch: Trump vs. Cruz!
Wait. Isn’t that Carson calmly nestled in behind leader Trump, and Rubio pumping hard in third place? And what about all the money that favors Bush, who’s not just yapping but running hard in 5th place? And the mare? Lord know she has grit. And Stand With Rand could always muster an ornery bolt to the finish.
Well, anything could happen, but here’s what will. As they come out of the Iowa-New Hampshire-South Carolina turn and into the stretch, Trump will retain his lead, but Cruz will mount a carefully planned, ferocious challenge, turning the contest into a two-horse race right down to the wire.
Trump has clearly captured the die-hard support of smoldering Republicans who are frustrated with both the Obama Administration’s grievous faults—overreaching intrusions into their daily lives, lax enforcement of immigration laws, inept handling of the U.S. economy, ineffectual foreign policy, etc.—and the lackluster opposition mounted against the Administration by Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C.
Trump has consistently delivered a clear, high-decibel message that he will fix the country’s problems and make America great again. More importantly, he has demonstrated a refreshing fearlessness in attacking anyone who stands in his way or criticizes him, whether forthrightly or subtly. Take on Trump, and expect a thrashing in return. That especially applies to the mainstream media, which for the past generation has increasingly abandoned objectivity in its treatment of public figures who don’t hew to “acceptable” liberal, progressive views.
It’s that fighting spirit, especially when directed against mainstream media bullies, that has inspired Trump’s unexpectedly large and resilient following among Republicans. Finally, a larger-than-life, brash persona loaded with cash and wielding a loud megaphone has stepped forward and bellowed “We’re not taking it anymore. We’re taking back the country!”
People have long rallied around a leader bold and courageous enough to challenge misguided, arrogant, and unresponsive authorities. Trump plays that role with a panache unimagined even by the most fanciful standards of Hollywood casting.
Trump’s loyal, excited, and mobilized followers truly believe he will, indeed, make America great again. These followers concern themselves little about Trump’s policy positions (current and past), campaign gaffes and improprieties, or inexperience with the intricacies of the federal government. They are with him all the way.
Moreover, Trump’s deep pockets are funding a strong organization that is funneling this strong emotional following toward effective message delivery and voter turnout.
Trump has led right out of the gate, around the clubhouse turn, and down the backstretch and will continue in that position through the far turn and well into the stretch run. Can he hold on through the finish line?
Maybe. The odds certainly favor him at this point. The so-called establishment Republican candidates have been unable to hit their stride in this era when public frustration with the public status quo favors “outsiders” who just might offer fresh ideas and fresh solutions for “making America” great again. That means Bush and Kasich, moderately conservative government insiders, won’t gain traction with disgruntled voters. They should pull up now and save their money.
Rubio will emerge as the establishment Republican stallion and attract big dollars from the big donors. He offers an emotionally appealing life story (which he pushes hard, maybe too hard), speaks glibly and knowledgeably about the issues, and confronts his opponents head-on—smartly or otherwise. But glib and tactical as he is on the issues, he doesn’t connect with grassroots conservatives who, among other things, remember his squishy position on “comprehensive immigration reform,” AKA amnesty for illegal immigration. Support from establishment Republicans will sustain him part way down the stretch but will desert him as Trump goes to the whip.
Carson, inspiring surgeon and legend that he is, lacks international experience at a time when Islamic regimes are threatening Europe and the States. He’ll fade as insecurity engulfs the national psyche.
Paul, too, suffers in the post-Paris international climate. His steadfast adherence to the principles of small government, individual rights, and neoisolationism fits uneasily with the requirement for American assertiveness in the allied war against ISIS and other Islamic threats. His campaign will continue to slump.
Fiorina clawed her way to the frontrunners coming out of the first turn but hasn’t been able to sustain the pace. Organization? Personality? It’s a mystery, but real. She’ll hang on down the stretch and possibly earn serious Vice President consideration.
That leaves Cruz as the only competitor who can mount a sustained run to the finish with Trump. Thinking conservatives call him the real deal. His articulate and ever-so consistent message emphasizing small government (eliminate four administrative departments), free markets (repeal Obamacare and choking government regulations), individual rights (including those for Christians and the unborn), and strong national defense (destroy ISIS) both informs and elevates the Republican base.
So skillful and coherent are his presentations to groups large and small, conservative acknowledge him to be their de facto intellectual leader, one with the vision and path for reviving the constitutional republic that America once was.
Cruz’s appeal does not end with his erudite presentations, calm demeanor, and charming personality. Dial up his name on Wikipedia and evaluate his record. He has been a successful lawyer, arguing nine times before the Supreme Court while the Solicitor General for the State of Texas. As a campaigner, he was a domestic policy advisor for George W. Bush during his 2000 presidential campaign and then served in his administration as an associate deputy attorney general in the Justice Department and as Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. And, of course, he pulled off an amazing upset victory in 2012 to become a U.S. Senator from Texas.
That’s highly successful judicial, executive, and legislative experience and leadership at the highest levels of the federal government.
But Cruz is more than a resume. He’s a proven fighter for conservative principles. As a freshman, he filibustered in the Senate against raising the federal debt in 2013 and supported the federal government shutdown, drawing the wrath of both Democrats and Republicans. Bucking his own party, he has aggressively opposed Senate Republican leadership, using such terms as “the surrender caucus,” criticized the “Washington cartel” that controls both parties in the nation’s capital, and openly questioned the integrity of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
That’s eyeball-to-eyeball, hand-to-gland, mano-a-mano pugilism. Unlike most politicians who cross the Potomac for duty in Washington, Cruz is not afraid to mix it up with Democrats, fellow Republicans, and the hallowed mainstream media.
While Trump has established himself as the quintessential outside-the-beltway challenger to the status quo, Cruz lays claim to the role of the ultimate inside-the-beltway challenger.
So down the stretch they’ll come, Trump pugnaciously leading on the outside, Cruz skillfully steering his way into contention on the inside. A wild finish it promises to be!
For the forecast of who wins the GOP Presidential Sweepstakes, don’t miss Part II of “Down the Stretch: Trump vs. Cruz!” in a future Fairfax Free Citizen posting.