Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ted Cruz and the Quest for the GOP Obama

Ted Cruz's declaration that he's running for President doesn't make a lot of sense from the normal perspective. No one has ever given him any reason to suspect that he could become President. No poll has showed him with even ten percent support.  It only makes sense when you realize who Ted Cruz is modeling himself after: Barack Obama. Of course, he's not like Barack Obama in almost any way. But Ted Cruz doesn't know that. He doesn't see the real Barack Obama. He sees the conservative caricature of Barack Obama, and that's what he's trying to mimic.

Like Obama eight years ago, Ted Cruz is a first-term US Senator who hasn't achieved much in the Senate yet, but who is popular with some activists in his own party, and who is considered a rising star by some. That much is true. But that's pretty much where the resemblance ends. And that's apparently enough for Cruz to tell himself that he can follow Obama's route to the White House.

But in the real world, Ted Cruz is nowhere near the path Obama was on in 2007. Cruz doesn't have the base of donors he would need to run an actual campaign. He doesn't have the organization he would need, or the people to set up that organization; most of the talented GOP campaign-runners don't want anything to do with him. And he's got no support from other elected Republicans. Most Republicans hate Ted Cruz. Cruz announcing his candidacy for President is like someone saying that if you overlook his hitting, his fielding, his running, and his throwing, he's a lock for the Baseball Hall of Fame someday. Eight years ago, Candidate Obama was already building one of the most formidable national campaign organizations in decades. He had built relationships with major donors. He had major power brokers in his party, people like Ted Kennedy, urging him to run. If Cruz looked seriously at where he is right now and compared it to where Obama was at this point, he'd see how ridiculous he's being.

But that would mean seeing Barack Obama as he actually is. And the Republicans are committed to seeing Barack Obama as merely a media phenomenon, a guy who might be a talented orator but doesn't have any substance. They're committed to seeing him as an incompetent manager, in over his head. So they don't allow themselves to understand even bottom-line facts about him. They forget about the terrifyingly efficient ground organization he built. They forget that he outplayed and out-strategized Hillary Clinton, who wasn't any naive newcomer. They prefer to believe that Obama is just an unqualified guy who made a couple of nice speeches and got lucky. So Ted Cruz is trying to run as that version of Obama: the reality-free "Imagine" speech he used to kick off his campaign is his idea of an Obama speech. Cruz actually imagines that some vacuous lofty rhetoric might be all he needs.

Cruz is not only ignoring the practical differences between Obama and himself (like, you know, having a plan and not having a plan). But he also misunderstands the differences between himself and Obama as candidates. Cruz is abrasive where Obama is affable. Cruz is way out on his own party's right wing; Obama has always been comfortably middle-of-the-road for a Democrat, but gets called a crazed radical socialist by the right-wing echo chamber. Instead of comparing himself to the actual Obama and moving toward the middle, Cruz compares himself to the Republican fantasy of Obama and tells himself that if a far-left-winger could win, a far-right-winger can. Of course, a far-left candidate hasn't.

The Republicans have made this mistake before; their first attempt to run their own Obama wasn't Ted Cruz but Sarah Palin. That seems ridiculous now, but Palin in 2008 looked to the Republicans almost exactly like Obama looked to the Republicans: inexperienced, with no real substance, but charismatic and exciting on the stump. Of course, the weakness in Palin's preparation started to show disastrously early whereas, to some Republicans' mystified frustration, Obama's alleged lack of preparation never gives itself away. The obvious explanation for that is something Republicans don't want to consider.

And of course the search for a Republican Obama, and Ted Cruz's hopes to follow what he thinks of as Obama's strategy, overlooks a major factor in 2008. One of the reasons that a senator with a short track record in Washington was viable that year, when he wouldn't have been in a normal election cycle, was the Iraq War. The newcomer was viable because the establishment candidates had all voted for a war which, by 2008, voters had come to see as a terrible mistake. Obama was elected as a newcomer because the old guard had screwed everything up so badly. And Republicans don't want to think about that reality at all.

cross-posted from Dagblog

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