Ted Cruz is running the smartest campaign in the entire republican field, and it shows. He is steadily rising, by any measure of popularity. First, the Ground Game. Cruz has a veritable army of organizers, he is collecting, and utilizing, highly personal information about voters and targeting his message specifically to them. His use of social media and technology platforms (and the data collection that comes with them) has been masterful. Even the vernacular of his campaign – the #Cruzcrew, the use of his first name in campaign imagery “TrusTED.” Abolishing the IRS is made to look like god’s work (“One Nation, One Tax” – sound familiar?) Like Obama before him, Cruz is creating the idea of his presidency as something people can actually participate in.
Second, the Trump Tactic. Cruz has been carefully drafting behind the recently-annointed “most vulgar” candidate. And careful is the operative word here. Even in a closed door donor meeting (recently leaked), Cruz was measured in his assessment of Trump’s readiness for the Oval office. He has avoided personal attacks, and fostered a bromance with the front-runner. Because of his conservative platform and evangelical appeal, he’s benefited the most from a declining Carson. And he’s just waiting for the Donald to implode to scoop up the fed up anti-establishment Trump voters.
Third, the Holy Trinity. The three key indicators of a candidate’s success according to the NY Times are polling in early states, endorsements, and fundraising. Cruz is rising in national polls and is likely to win Iowa, he is attracting endorsements (though few have been forthcoming to any GOP candidate this early on), and has raised the most money as a candidate (and is second for outside groups, behind Bush).
But here is where it gets interesting (and tricky for Cruz): Winning the Presidency. He’s running on a pure conservative platform, and as we’ve seen in the Senate, he has a no-compromise approach to government. To govern, well, government is an exercise in compromise. Cruz will not be able to do any of the things he promises without bi-partisan support. And the problem with being a dyed in the wool conservative is that it’s a narrow approach (that has never won the Presidency-we could argue about whether Reagan was as principled a conservative, but I’ll leave that to another day). To ultimately prevail, Cruz needs moderate republicans, independents, and he also needs democrats. He needs youth, and he needs non-white voters. His position on women’s health and planned parenthood fly in the face of the views of most Americans. He wants to ban abortion, with no exceptions. He is a climate change denier. He wants to abolish the IRS and eliminate five governmental agencies, including the departments of energy and education. He wants to defund the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, HUD, and many federal climate and environmental research programs. This is pretty extreme stuff, and while it resonates with many on the right, it does not resonate with many in the middle. And to win, Cruz needs the middle.