Donald Trump is a nativist demogogue who attacks racial and religious minorities and heaps praise on authoritarian leaders abroad. He borrows from white nationalists and channels the worst impulses in American life. He’s an opportunist with little connection to the Republican Party or the conservative movement.
If he has a serious rival for the GOP presidential nomination, it’s Ted Cruz, the caustic senator from Texas. Cruz is a genuine ideologue, with deep support in the “counter-establishment” of conservative activists and right-wing billionaires. But he’s also been a commissar of sorts in the GOP, blasting fellow Republicans for any deviation—real or perceived—from orthodoxy and leading the party in an almost self-destructive charge against the Affordable Care Act and the Obama administration.
Trump is vulgar, but singular—he stands for no one but himself. Cruz, however, represents a faction of the GOP with real enemies in the party. And if he wins, he brings that faction to power.
Which means that in official Washington—where Cruz is a pariah—the choice is easy. “I’ve come around a little bit on Trump,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch in an interview with CNN. “I’m not so sure we’d lose if he’s our nominee because he’s appealing to people who a lot of the Republican candidates have not appealed to in the past.”
“We can live with Trump,” said one Republican lobbyist to the New York Times. “Do they all love Trump? No. But there’s a feeling that he is not going to layer over the party or install his own person. Whereas Cruz will have his own people there.”
“You can coach Donald. If he got nominated he’d be scared to death,“ explained Charles Black, a former GOP operative, to the Times. ”That’s the point he would call people in the party and say, ‘I just want to talk to you.’ ” John Feehery, a former Republican congressional aide, put it simply. “Trump won’t do long-lasting damage to the GOP coalition,” he said to the Times. “Cruz will.”
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