We’ve talked about the existential search for the soul of the Democratic Party, but what about the Republicans? They aren’t a party for much in the way of soul-searching by nature. They’re typically driven by two important forces: conservative ideology and winning.
Then again, there’s a third force that’s always present – the establishment and their ability to control things.
Today, most of this has been thrown out the window. The defenestration (a word I have longed to use) of the party’s most cherished forces has come down to a rough populist sense of conservatism. Winning? It’s not worth it if all we get are RINOs (Republicans In Name Only). Control by the establishment? Hahahaha! The Iowa Caucus, never a reliable gauge of anything, may have given us some guidance only in the sense that the top three are likely to dominate New Hampshire and maybe beyond. Let’s run this down and see where it takes us.
Ted Cruz was the big winner in Iowa. That’s hardly surprising if you remember that the big winner in 2012 was Rick Santorum. This is all about the evangelical vote, and Cruz clearly worked through the churches and social media in a very effective “ground game” to gain this win.
It’s easy to dismiss the effort as just another Santorum. But Cruz is different in a lot of important ways. For one, he’s very good at articulating just what “conservatism” is all about in plain language. He also has the patter of his dad, also Rafael Cruz, who is a fiery and inspiring preacher. But more importantly, Ted Cruz knows how to go for his opponent’s jugular while all the time looking like the saintly preacher’s kid.
It’s far too easy to write off Cruz, as many serious pundits have. It’s also stupid. He’s a very good campaigner who has an amazing ability to reach voters. In winning Iowa he has taken the mantel of the “outsider” candidate as his own, and that will take him far.
His problem is that he is about the most unlikable person anyone knows. If you watch him for any length of time it becomes obvious. I don’t know anyone who has met him in person but it’s pretty easy to imagine based on the anecdotes – the more this guy talks, the phonier he seems.
Still, no matter what, he clearly wins an old game I’ve always seen among conservatives. It’s very juvenile but I’ve seen it play out at more bars and parties than I can count. Conservatives get into this groove where they have to explain in great detail why they are the most conservative person in the room. It’s like a variation on “We were so poor” as expressed in the Python (actually from At last the 1948 Show) sketch “Four Yorkshiremen”. Whenever I’ve seen this, I always interrupt with a joke along the lines of, “Yo momma so conservative when a homeless guy asks her for change she take all his clothes from him.”
No one gets that joke, so if you don’t it’s all good.
The point is that Ted Cruz is the most conservative guy in the room and all “yo momma” jokes aside he has no problem staking out that claim. His invocation of “All glory to God”, literally the English translation of “allahu akbar” in his victory speech after Iowa, contained an irony utterly lost on everyone. This guy has his schtick, his patter, and his organization nailed.
Anyone of any political ideology counts out Ted Cruz at their own peril.
That takes us to the guy who came in second, a guy whose name we will not use in Barataria. Every time someone says his name an angel dies. Seriously, he lives for people to say his name so we won’t. He looked like an oompah-loompah after Iowa and said nothing of substance. The entire schtick is like a very elaborate performance art piece that conservatives are now catching on to.
After all, he only a few years ago sang the praises of Hillary Clinton and said that $5 trillion for universal health care was a good idea. There are no core beliefs at play here and it’s becoming obvious. He plays for applause lines and nothing more. 24% may look good in a crowded field of dozens, but in a field of 3 it’s the share of a loser.
My only question: Are we sure Andy Kaufman is dead? Because this sure looks like very elaborate performance art.
This takes us to Marco Rubio. He’s the one guy in this field that Democrats have solid reason to fear, even if he is awfully stiff and robotic at times. My partner, Jeannie, met him in 2000 and already he was being groomed to be the first Hispanic President. He came off to her as a shy but genuine guy, a real serious man who had a lot riding on his shoulders. I grew up with a lot of guys like him, and I can’t help but see him as a comrade of sorts. He is the real deal.
Then again, he was elected to the Senate with Tea Party backing, showing that he knows how to work the system. He’s far from a lightweight.
The problem Rubio has is that he has now become the logical candidate for the Republican establishment. They seem unamused by this prospect. Rubio is not someone they know or someone they have reason to think they can control. After sinking millions of dollars into the campaign of Jeb! the establishment has to think long and hard about how much they care about the Republican Party. The short answer for many will be that there have to be better things to do with millions of dollars – like a new yacht or a sports team. Even a serious cocaine habit would be cheaper.
Besides, if half of what is said about Hillary Clinton is true, why not just buy her out? If you’re the establishment this is shaping up to be an election to sit out and ignore.
So where does that leave the party? It’s probably between Cruz and Rubio at this point, with a lot of that other guy thrown in for comic relief. If the establishment doesn’t step up, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason that they will, it’s all Cruz. Which is to say that the Democrats really do have a good year no matter who is nominated.
Oh, it’ll be Clinton, BTW. It’s just going to get really, really weird before “inevitable” happens for her. In case any of you were wondering what it took to get a woman into the White House, the answer is …. wow, it’s a long answer.