The objective of course, for those of us who supported Ted Cruz for president last year and this year, was for Senator Ted Cruz to win the GOP nomination, and then defeat Hillary Clinton in November. That plan fell short as Donald Trump won more votes, more states, and more delegates on his way to the nomination, than Ted Cruz did. While we appreciate and honor all that was done by Senator Cruz himself, and everyone who supported his campaign, it is important at the same time that we learn some lessons about why this campaign fell short of winning the nomination for Cruz. If we fail to learn from this experience, we are only likely to repeat those mistakes in the future.
While this is the time to learn from our experience, it is also not the time to turn on our own fellow supporters, because some of us suggest we learn from this experience, or that some of us say it’s time to unite behind our party’s nominee to defeat Hillary Clinton, or because some react to any of this by suggest some of us were never really Ted Cruz supporters anyway. I’ve already seen some of this divisive chatter online, and it has no place in this discussion. A few are showing signs of scary fanaticism at this point, in voicing these kinds of reactions to the more level-headed voices in the aftermath of Cruz’s defeat by Trump.
First, let’s be realistic about the candidate himself. Many of us hoped, and even expected, that Cruz is or would become the second coming of Ronald Reagan himself. He wasn’t. Sure Cruz was the most consistently conservative candidate that ran in 2016, and that had a lot of appeal to many conservatives around the country. And when he lasted to become the strongest challenger to Donald Trump left, he became the last hope of preventing Trump from winning the nomination. Ted Cruz came a long way to be in that position, considering where he started last year. He was, after all, a first term senator, who hasn’t yet finished his first term, who really wasn’t ready to run for president yet.
In a country plagued by eight years of failed and disastrous economic policies, and still suffering from a Great Recession we haven’t actually recovered from, a strong prosperity message would easily win. A solid plan to bring Middle Class Prosperity back to this country would be an easy winner. The voters gravitated to the closest thing that sounded like a Middle Class Prosperity message, the Make America Great Again theme offered by Donald Trump. What did Ted Cruz offer, he was the most consistent and principled defender our Constitutional liberties. That’s great and it has a lot of appeal to conservative activists. But if had little appeal to the voters out there who are struggling to pay their bills and stay afloat in this rotten economy. Cruz’s message was great for the conservative activist class but failed to inspire most Republican voters who are looking for some hope of getting out the depressing economic failures of the last seven years of Barack Obama. Voters are fed up with politics-as-usual, and the current administration, and its politics, and Trump connected far more effectively to that anger than Cruz did. Ted Cruz could have easily inspired voters with a strong Middle Class Prosperity message, and he would have easily defeated Trump if he had done that. His failure to do this is only Ted Cruz’s making, we can’t blame anyone else, not even The Donald.
Somewhere along the line, the Cruz campaign abandoned any realistic hope of winning 1237 delegates and winning the nomination legitimately, and instead focused on a strategy of winning in the event of a contested convention where Cruz would obtain a majority of delegates on the second or third ballot in Cleveland. The Cruz campaign was well aware of how the Ron Paul campaign in 2012 gamed the system and sought to win delegates at state conventions where Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum had won the primary or caucus votes, and therefore should have won the delegates, for those states. So Cruz’s campaign staff out-hustled The Donald’s campaign by skulking around at county and states conventions in many states to win delegates that were supposed to be, in many instances, pledged to vote for Donald Trump on the first ballot in Cleveland.
This process didn’t look right, and The Donald exploited the poor optics of this strategy by accusing the Cruz campaign of gaming the system, and also accusing the party leadership of running a rigged process. The optics worked for Trump, and against Cruz, and after Cruz’s big win in Wisconsin, every state after that voted against Cruz and for Trump, including a state that Ted Cruz was winning in, according to polls, and should have won: Indiana. Ted Cruz’s problems with optics were clear the night he lost the five states in the Northeast. Cruz supporters who dismiss Ted Cruz’s losses in those states because they are “more liberal” states politically are only fooling themselves with that convenient, and inaccurate, analysis. A candidate running on a strong Middle Class Prosperity message would win just about all the states, including those in the Northeast.
Even after those losses, I was assuring everyone who would listen that Ted Cruz would rebound in Indiana, and he still had a chance, even if his chance was slim. I still argued, that Ted Cruz was a far better choice than Donald Trump for the GOP nomination. I wrote and told everyone I communicated with that Cruz was still the best candidate to do all the things that needed to be done, in working to repeal the entire Obama agenda (including but not only Obamacare) and move the country forward towards freedom, prosperity, and a foreign policy based on advancing American interests around the world rather than solving all the worlds problems, regime change, and nation building. Ted Cruz was the only real conservative in the race, I wrote and told everyone who would listen. I never declared myself #NeverTrump, because I made it clear I am #NeverHillary, but I said we would definitely be much better off as a country to nominate and elect Ted Cruz as our next president. I argued these issues with Trump supporters as much as anyone did, including with close friends who were and are Trump supporters.
And then April 27 came. For a moment, time stood still. I was in shock. A friend called, before I could read any news online or hear it on the radio or television, and asked me, did you hear that Ted Cruz is going to announce Carly Fiorina as his running mate today? I said he’s going to announce what, and my friend repeated the news. After a few seconds of digesting the news, I asked, is that real? I thought this could be an April Fool’s joke 26 days late. I was assured it was for real. I asked, what was Ted Cruz smoking when he came up with this idea?
The announcement was wrong on so many levels. It looked so desperate and amateur hour a move. It was a move made only by a losing campaign, picking someone who had come in seventh place in the presidential nomination contest this year, picking up very little support along the way. In no way would such a weak and losing candidate bring anything to the ticket for Ted Cruz. Strategically, the timing and the choice of Carly Fiorina was a terrible decision.
Politically, this choice invalidated just about every reason I so strongly supported Ted Cruz, because Carly Fiorina is not anything that Ted Cruz in fact is. I ranked Fiorina at the very bottom of just about all the 17 candidates that ran this, including even Jeb Bush, because she’s not a conservative, she’s not an outsider, she’s not a reformer, and she is corrupt, tied to cronyism, and bought and paid for and connected to the establishment. To pick Carly Fiorina as his running mate, is just as bad as if Cruz had picked Jeb Bush or Lindsey Graham. If Ted Cruz really thinks Fiorina is qualified to be vice president, how can I be confident, or tell others, he will make great appointments to the Supreme Court or cabinet positions? Suddenly I lost confidence in Ted Cruz to make good decisions after how badly he blundered on the Carly Fiorina decision.
Up until exactly nine days ago today, I supported Ted Cruz for president as much as anyone, argued for his candidacy with anyone, and really believed he was the best candidate for the GOP nomination, and to actually be the president. The he made the pick of Carly Fiorina, quite prematurely, as his would-be running mate if he won the nomination, and the GOP convention went along with Fiorina being the candidate for vice president. It is no coincidence that, just six days after making this colossal blunder of a running mate announcement, and the totally non-Cruz type individual he chose to be the running mate, moderate and squishy Carly Fiorina, Cruz has no choice but to suspend his campaign after being destroyed and losing all 57 Indiana delegates to Donald Trump, just days after Nate Silver’s Polls Plus forecast had Ted Cruz winning the state. Let’s not mince words, and let’s be honest enough to admit it, the Fiorina choice had more than anything else, any other factors, in ending Cruz’s 2016 quest for the GOP nomination. I know there will be some fellow Ted Cruz supporters that don’t want to hear this, or read it, but it’s time for us to be honest with ourselves, and learn the lessons, and not just keep telling us those things that make us feel better, in a false way. Ted Cruz made the mistakes that lost this nomination battle. Donald Trump is not the problem here, nor is he to blame.
Ted Cruz, himself, was the strongest asset his campaign had, as the strong conservative candidate who, as an almost unknown first term senator before that, attracted as much support as he did in this campaign for president. But it was also Ted Cruz, and those he appointed or hired to run his campaign, that made all the mistakes, including the delegate strategy that created such bad optics, the choice to not emphasize a Middle Class Prosperity message that clearly would have won this campaign, and then in the end, the Carly Fiorina decision that was the last straw of a desperate and losing campaign. Ted Cruz made these mistakes, not Donald Trump.
Those are the lessons of the 2016 Ted Cruz for president campaign. We can learn from them and be better prepared for next time. Or we can bash Trump supporters, and those who call for Republicans to unify behind the GOP nominee, and keep our heads in the sands and be doomed to repeat those mistakes next time.