Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

What America needs is Ted Cruz as the GOP nominee

Todd Gillman of the Dallas News, reporting from Iowa on the reaction of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to the Democratic debate Tuesday night:

“It was more socialism, more pacifism, more weakness and less Constitution,” he told about 100 people crammed into a motel lobby in Kalona, a small town in southeastern Iowa. “It was a recipe to destroy a country.”

Speaking after the campaign event with reporters outside the Dutch Country Inn, Cruz acknowledged that he hadn’t actually watched the debate. During much of it, he was stumping at a Pizza Hut a half-hour away.

But he had firm views on what viewers saw.

“We’re seeing our freedoms taken away every day, and last night was an audition for who would wear the jackboot most vigorously. Last night was an audition for who would embrace government power for who would strip your and my individual liberties,” he said.

You could make a strong case that the Republican campaign is shaping up perfectly for Cruz. In the latest Fox poll, he has inched up into double figures, behind frontrunners Donald Trump and Ben Carson. As demonstrated by his rhetoric about jackboots coming to strip your liberties and destroy the country, he's positioned to claim much of their support should either of them falter. And he has more cash in his campaign chest than any other candidate.

More importantly, if we get a confrontation in Washington over the debt ceiling and budget, as appears almost certain, Cruz is again well positioned to benefit. Given the mood of the party, the only thing that he would like better than playing conservative hero against Majority Leader Harry Reid would be to cast Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the same role.

A few months from now, assuming that Trump and Carson will indeed fade and that Jeb Bush is going nowhere, it is entirely conceivable that we'll see Cruz and Marco Rubio as the last two standing, and in that contest Cruz would have the far better claim on the conservative heart of the party.

As political guru Stu Rothenberg points out, a Cruz nomination would give the conservatives exactly what they've claimed to have wanted since at least 1988: A "true conservative" on the presidential ballot who isn't shy about drawing contrasts with the Democrats, and who will bring all these supposedly "disenchanted conservatives" back to the ballot box to vote for him. In short, it's "time to make the anti-establishment wing of the GOP put up or shut up."

Rothenberg doesn't think much of Cruz' chances in a general election. To the contrary, he predicts it would result in a historic whooping along the lines of LBJ's defeat of Barry Goldwater back in 1964, with Democrats sweeping the Senate and potentially even the House as well.

He concludes:

"So why should the GOP nominate Cruz if it entails so much risk? Because a clear and convincing defeat is the only thing in the foreseeable future that has any chance of convincing Freedom Caucus types in the Republican Party that their strategy is flawed and they have helped damage the Republican brand. (Alas, even a crushing defeat wouldn’t convince everyone.)

Until that happens, Republicans, and the country in general, seem destined to suffer through more months of legislative shutdowns and gridlock that will further weaken the country."

Give them what they want, and see if they really wanted it.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.