Uh, oh, here it comes: the big Main Stream Media effort to make Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) the face of the Republican Party. After all, the Democrats would like nothing better than to see Cruz be the Republican presidential nominee in 2016; they are confident that he would go down to a Barry Goldwater, 1964-like defeat.
And so the MSM is doing its part. That’s why we saw the big headline in Saturday’s Politico: “Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) delivers stemwinder at Iowa’s Reagan Dinner.” That’s why Cruz is on TV all the time: The MSM interviewers can’t get enough of him. For liberals, Cruz is the Eric Von Stroheim of American politics–“the man you love to hate.”
For his part, Cruz is playing right along, although he might prefer to say he is surging to victory–you know, as he was with the shutdown strategy.
Cruz certainly sounded like a possible presidential candidate when he told the Des Moines audience, “I’m convinced we’re facing a new paradigm in politics. It is the rise of the grass roots… it has official Washington absolutely terrified.”
Actually, official Washington is of two minds: Official Republicans are, indeed, terrified by the thought of losing a third straight presidential election–and this one in a landslide. Yet on the other hand, Official Democrats are delighted at the prospect of more Republican misfortune. And we know which side the MSM is on.
Cruz, of course, sees things differently. As he told that Des Moines audience, the stars are aligning for his “new paradigm,” and that vision could reshape the nation. As he put it,”This new paradigm has been beta-tested, unlike the Obamacare website. It was beta-tested in 1980 with the Reagan Revolution and it pulled this country back from the brink.” The implication is clear: time for another such revolution. And it starts by winning the White House.
So is Cruz another Ronald Reagan? Another straight-shooting conservative from the Sunbelt poised to launch a nationwide political transformation?
Maybe, but it’s also worth noting some key differences. First off, Reagan had been a governor–and had executive experience, as opposed to legislative experience, which is always a good qualification for the presidency. Those who doubt that need to remember just two words: “Barack Obama.”
Second, the country was much more poised to elect a Republican president back in the ’70s, when Reagan first sought the White House. When the Gipper challenged incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford for the 1976 nomination, the GOP was, in fact, the stronger party at the national level; it had won four of the previous six presidential elections, in the years 1952 to 1972.
So even though the GOP brand had been badly weakened by the Watergate scandal that had engulfed the Nixon presidency, the 1976 election was close: Ford lost by by just two percentage points, and the electoral college was 297-241. Indeed, as we think back to the presidential elections of that era, we see an electoral college map in which the GOP could count on the electoral votes of much of New England, much of the industrial Midwest, and the whole of the West Coast–including the colossus of California.
Back then, it seemed, the country was happy with divided government. The Democrats had a seemingly permanent lock on he House and the Senate, but the Republicans seemed to be more, well, executive–and that quality helped the GOP, most of the time, to control the Oval Office.
In that era, Democratic pundit Mark Shields summed it up: The Republicans were the Party of Governance, and the Democrats were the Party of Grievance. In other words, majorities of Democrats would come to Congress with lots of big–maybe even crazy–ideas, based on the passions of their diverse constituents. In response to this onslaught, Shields suggested, the voters, in their wisdom, would elect a Republican to veto things and generally keep the crazies under control.
Or, as another Democratic pundit, Chris Matthews, asserted, the Republicans were the Daddy Party and the Democrats were the Mommy Party. And both Shields and Matthews were making the same point: in those days, the Democrats were numerous and passionate, while the Republicans were fewer–but sober.
Yet these days, the electoral geography has shifted, and perhaps the electoral psychology has shifted as well.
Republicans have lost their former strongholds in the Northeast, the industrial Midwest, and the West, but have gained a firm grip on the South. And how’s that trade working out for the GOP? Not so well, at least in electoral college terms.
As we look to 2016, we can see that Republicans have gone from winning the White House most of the time to losing it most of the time. The GOP has lost four of the previous six presidential elections–and five of the last six, if one goes by the popular vote.
We might zero in on the present-day electoral math, because the numbers are important. After all, it’s possible for a political or ideological partisan to fall in love with a certain candidate or cause, but it’s impossible to ignore the math–if one wants to win.
So yes, the GOP has a strong base in the South. Of the 13 states of Dixie–that’s the 11 states of the Confederacy, plus Kentucky and Oklahoma–the Republicans control 20 of the 26 Senate seats. And in 2014, it’s possible that they could pick up some more in Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina. (It’s also possible, of course, that they couldn’t–and they could even lose a GOP seat in Georgia.)
And of course, Republicans have big majorities in the House delegations, too, and they also control most Dixie governorships.
However, as we have seen, Republicans are having a hard time winning the White House. It would seem that there’s something about the GOP that enables it to win locally, but not nationally. Maybe, per Shield’s dichotomy–Governance vs. Grievance–the voters’ psychology has shifted; it’s now the serious-minded Democrats who restrain the angry Republicans.
Obama played exactly that role in 2012, fending off the Tea Party, and he won. And come 2016, what happens if it’s Cruz vs. Hillary Clinton? As we think about that question, let’s remember, one’s own personal passions don’t count; the only thing that counts is the hard numbers that determine who wins and who loses.
So let’s take a closer look at the electoral college, to see how the numbers work out for Republicans these days–and how they may might work out in 2016.
We can start by noting that the South constitutes 175 electoral votes. And for Republicans, that’s good news and bad news.
The good news is that 175 is more than two-thirds of 270, the number needed to win. The bad news is that the last third of needed electoral votes is hard to come by.
And of course, some would say that it would be prudent for GOPers not to bank on all 175 of those electoral votes, since Florida (29 electoral votes) and Virginia (13) went for Barack Obama twice.
Yet for the sake of this hypothetical exercise, let’s say that Florida and Virginia “come home” to the Republicans; so let’s give the Republican candidate all 175 of Dixie’s electoral votes in ’16.
Now the Republican challenge is to get to 270. We can add the solidly Republican states of the Great Plains and Rockies: That’s Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. Alas, from an elephant’s point of view, these are loyal but tiny states; all eight of them add up to only 32 electoral votes.
So now, 175 + 32, we’re up to 207. Oops! We can’t forget Sarah Palin’s Alaska, so there’s three more. Now we’re at 210.
How ’bout Arizona, with 11 electoral votes? It’s becoming more of a purple state these days; five of the state’s nine House members are Democrats, and, oh yes, it’s 30 percent Hispanic, plus almost 9 percent African American or Native American. But let’s keep hope alive and put it in the GOP column. So now we’re up to 221.
And how ’bout those Hoosiers? Yes, Indiana went for Obama in 2008, but it came back to Mitt Romney in 2012. Okay, so that’s another 11. Thus we’re at 232.
Now we can see that we’re starting to bump up against the electoral college’s seemingly low Republican ceiling.
So where else can Republicans look? How about rock-ribbed Republican New Hampshire? Well, make that the not-so-rock-ribbed Granite State. Obama carried the state in both ’08 and ’12, and three of the four members of its Congressional delegation are Democrats, and so is the governor.
Yet before we get too detoured in speculation over what states the GOP might grab and put in the red column, let’s take a look at the Democrats. Let’s see what they might have locked up for their blue side.
The Democrats can probably count on their “blue wall” come 2016. That is, the 18 states, plus the District of Columbia–boasting a total of 242 electoral votes–that have gone Democratic in each of the last six presidential elections. (By contrast, the “‘red wall” for Republicans is 177 electoral votes.)
And of course, if we go below absolute unanimity for the donkey party, we find plenty of states that are almost completely blue; both Iowa and Wisconsin, for example, have gone Democratic in five of the last six presidential elections.
Interestingly, both the Hawkeye and Badger States have Republican governors. Once again, we see the paradox of Republican strength at the state level, but not at the national level. In Iowa, the GOP has won the governorship three of the last six elections, and in Wisconsin, it has won in four of the last six elections. But those GOP statehouse victories don’t seem to translate into GOP White House victories.
But wait just a second here! What about “the train wreck that is Obamacare,” as Cruz likes to call it? Well, yes, Obamacare is a train wreck right now, and if it’s still a wreck, all the way to 2016, that’s a problem for the D’s.
But what if it gets fixed somehow? Okay, not fixed, as in really fixed, but just fixed well enough to keep Democrats happy? After all, political memories are short. Does anyone in the broad middle of America, the swing voters, remember “the train wreck that is the IRS scandal”? Or “the train wreck that is Syria”? Or Benghazi, Solyndra, “green jobs,” etc.?
In the aftermath of all those train wrecks, Obama’s approval rating, according to the RealClearPolitics average, is hanging in there at 44.9 percent. No matter what the President does, or doesn’t do, that number doesn’t seem to change much–perhaps Obama’s greatest strength, in the minds of many, is that he is not a Republican.
Meanwhile, the Democrats lead by more than six points in the so-called “generic ballot,” Ds vs. Rs, for control of Congress next year.
Oh yes, the most recent presidential head-to-head, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) vs. Hillary Clinton, showed Clinton ahead by 23 points.
So what’s going on? What’s keeping the Democrats’ numbers afloat? Maybe there really is something to Shield’s theory of Governance vs. Grievance. Or Matthews’ Daddy vs. Mommy distinction. Only now, the roles have flipped between the parties. It’s the Democrats, now, who are the Party of Governance, as the last spate of presidential elections demonstrates. And it’s the Republicans, the party of shutdowns, who are the party of Grievance.
If you’re mad as hell, chances are you’re a Republican. If you think that this is as good as it’s going to get–even if it’s not very good–chances are you’re a Democrat.
If this is true, then what should the GOP do about it? How to win back the White House in such a climate? Is Ted Cruz the candidate to reverse these tendencies? Or should the GOP nominee be someone who seems more, well, plausible to the country?
For all those Cruz fans out there, don’t blame old Virgil for posing the questions. Please just consider those remorseless electoral college numbers and the poll numbers today.
And most of all, if Ted Cruz is the Democrats’ and MSM’s favorite Republican, what does that tell us?
We’ll take that up some possible answers to those questions in the next installment.