Ted Cruz’s independence from independents

Eliana Johnson reports that Ted Cruz and his strategists see a path to the presidency that relies on turning out the conservative base and largely ignoring independents:

It’s almost conventional wisdom now that presidential candidates woo the party faithful in primary contests and tack to the middle in the general election to attract more-moderate voters. Not Cruz. As one of his advisers puts it, “winning independents has meant not winning.” The adviser says the moderate fiscal- and social-policy positions that candidates need to adopt to win independent voters have dampened base turnout.

As evidence, the adviser points out that George Bush won independents in 2000 but lost the popular vote, while both John Kerry in 2004 and Mitt Romney in 2012 won them and yet lost. Meanwhile, Bush won in 2004 when turnout by conservative voters peaked.

Cruz will not rely entirely on the conservative base. According to Eliana, he is courting Jewish voters. He also hopes to do well with Hispanics, from whom he received around 40 percent of the vote when he was elected to the Senate. Throw in “some Millennials” plus “blue-collar voters and women” and, voila. What could go wrong?

Here’s one thing that could. Cruz could get crushed by independents. Yes, Bush was reelected, rather narrowly, in 2004 without winning the independent vote. But he lost it by only 50-47.

Cruz’s adviser acknowledges that he can’t “get[] killed with independents.” But a strategy that tries to turn out the conservatives voters who allegedly went missing in 2008 and 2012 because McCain and Romney weren’t conservative enough would likely cause independents to kill Cruz.

Bush may not have “lavished attention on independents” in 2004, but he was a “compassionate conservative” who could point to centrist legislation and policy positions. Cruz will have nothing remotely centrist to point to, nor, if his strategy is to turn out conservatives for whom McCain and Romney were too centrist, will he want to do.

Here’s another hitch. A Cruz candidacy would likely energize the Democratic base, thus enabling a candidate with less base-appeal than Barack Obama to obtain turnout similar to what Obama received.

As for the Hispanic vote, Cruz shouldn’t count on the level of support he received in Texas in 2012. Back then, Cruz hadn’t become the symbol of strident conservatism that he is today. Back then, he hadn’t voted against amnesty and led the charge against Obama’s executive order on the subject.

As for the Jewish vote, don’t make me laugh. It’s great that Cruz has attended Commentary Magazine’s annual dinner, participated in Israel Day events, and raised money at a kosher deli in Manhattan. Perhaps he will win support from a few big Jewish political donors.

But Cruz is dreaming if he believes that Jewish voters, for whom (as Norman Podhoretz has written) liberalism has virtually obtained religious status, will support a stridently conservative candidate over a liberal who, unlike President Obama, can plausibly pretend to be a reliable defender of Israel. The Republican candidate, if any, who will make inroads with Jewish voters in a race against, say, Hillary Clinton is the one who lavishes attention on independents, not the one on a quest to turn out missing evangelical voters.

As Eliana says at the conclusion of her article, Cruz will have to persuade donors that his message and strategy “will produce a Reagan-like victory rather than a Goldwateresque defeat.” Donors will be aware that Cruz lacks Reagan’s sunny disposition and congenial demeanor, and that the Democrats won’t be running Jimmy Carter.

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