They did this in 1980 with Ronald Reagan. They sent up Bob Dole, Howard Baker, John Anderson, and George H. W. Bush against him. When they all faltered, Anderson went third party and Dole and others tried to recruit Gerald Ford. In fact, they got so heated that, when all else failed, they tried to get Reagan to make Ford the Vice President in exchange for support.
History is repeating itself in a big way with Republican leadership anger about Ted Cruz. They have decided to let emotion trump everything and areworking furiously to hand victory to Trump to stop Cruz. This is folly. Despite the emotional angst among all of them, Cruz is a far better candidate than Trump and much more viable in the general election.
The hatred against Cruz has more to do with him defying the party establishment repeatedly than anything else. The leadership and their acolytes have simply concluded that they do not like Ted Cruz because he is not a team player. It is entirely emotional and they have no polling data to suggest Cruz is less viable than Trump. They just want it to be so.
But there’s one big problem with the theory being embraced by many party pooh-bahs. It risks handing the election to Trump on a silver platter—helping knock out his strongest rival while watching helplessly as more-moderate alternatives blow each other up in the process. The wishful thinking behind such a strategy is that Cruz is utterly unelectable, while Trump is unpredictable enough to win a general election. In reality, Cruz looks like an electable standard-bearer, while Trump could blow the party to smithereens.
Cruz, despite being loathed by his colleagues in Washington, is a better general-election candidate than his detractors believe. His general election favorability ratings are currently respectable, and he runs competitively with Clinton in early match ups. His professional resume and academic credentials are exceptional. The political environment for Democrats is dismal, and is as ill-suited for an establishment figure like Hillary Clinton as it is for a hard line conservative. Despite their differences, Cruz’s voting record in the Senate is not dissimilar from Rubio’s. Both have near-equal vote ratings from the Chamber of Commerce, American Conservative Union, and Club for Growth. And if Cruz is as phony as his critics argue—former McCain adviser Mark Salter wrote, “I don’t think any senator really believes Ted Cruz is a conviction politician, save for his conviction that he ought to be president”—he would likely inch to the middle in a general election.
He’s right on this front. The idea that Cruz is not a conviction politician is more projection than substance, but if so, they are rationalizing Cruz like Trump. The reality is that Cruz’s supporters realize Cruz will go toward the center in the election, just as Reagan did for the sake of getting elected. The reality too is that Trump will be emboldened after Iowa and the Establishment hopes of finally consolidating may very well be too late.
The other reality is that Cruz’s supporters are more likely to go Trump, which keeps consolidation from happening. This is an entirely emotional strategy for Republican leaders who are basing their party’s future on their dislike of the leading Republican in the race and only one of the candidates close enough to take out the Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer donor currently at the top of the heap.