The conventional wisdom remains that the only way for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to beat Donald Trump is to attack him relentlessly over the next week until Super Tuesday, especially in Thursday night’s GOP debate.
That is the same bad advice that has failed for one Republican candidate after another, and which Cruz wisely ignored until January.
Instead, Cruz needs to project a vision that goes beyond the confines of conservatism, and build a broader coalition.
That does not mean he should moderate his views. But he should show how conservatism fits into a bigger picture.
He is not running for President of the Conservative States of America, but of the United States of America, and he is actually missing voters in his conservative audience by speaking to them as part of a narrow constituency.
Some conservatives like to think of themselves as an exclusive club. But most want to be part of something greater.
Conservative voters also know intuitively what the numbers guys show mathematically–that even though a narrow plurality of Americans say they are conservative, a conservative candidate still has to attract some votes from non-conservatives to win.
Many conservatives want to hear a pitch they know might appeal to, or at least not repel, voters who may not share their convictions but who might be drawn to strong leadership and an inspiring vision.
When he is up against Trump, Cruz has been nasty (recall “Trumper tantrums“). When down against Trump, Cruz has attacked Rubio, pointlessly.
Though his own voters want to see more “fight,” Cruz has to fight smarter.
At his best and most interesting moments, such as his impromptu debate with Code Pink, Cruz has shown how his conservative principles could make America stronger and also more inclusive.
That is the message he needs to find again–and soon.