In case you’ve forgotten, there was an insurgent vs establishment battle for the Republican presidential nomination back in 2012 too. One big difference was that Mitt Romney was clearly the establishment candidate back then. So conservative writer David Frum mapped out the four possibilities of a Romney vs Tea Party nomination and general election result.
Possibility 1: Romney is nominated, Romney is elected.
Possibility 2: Romney is nominated, Romney loses.
Possibility 3: A tea party Republican is nominated and loses.
Possibility 4: A tea party Republican is nominated and wins.
Being a good establishment conservative, Frum’s preference was #1. But he described #4 as resulting in a “political and economic crisis.” What is most interesting however, is how he described #3:
Yet within the disaster might lurk a silver lining. At least the GOP will get the ideological adventure out of its system. For three years, Republican activists have lived in a fantasy world in which fringe characters like Sarah Palin and Herman Cain somehow “speak for the common sense of the common people.” It seems incredible that anybody could believe such a thing. It seems crazy that anyone would actually need a presidential election to disabuse them of such notions. But as Benjamin Franklin said: “Experience is a hard teacher, but fools will have no other.”
Given that #2 was the eventual outcome, we never learned whether or not the insurgent right could actually learn from experience. But that is exactly what James Downie says he’s hoping for this time around.
…of far greater significance is that Cruz is the one contender who understands the far right and whose conservative bona fides are impeccable. If he were to be the nominee, it would be good news for the Democrats in the short term and the country in the long term. His ideologically extreme positions would hand Hillary Clinton an edge in what the fundamentals still suggest is otherwise likely to be a close election. And a Cruz loss would be most likely to end the myth on the far right that “Republicans lose presidential elections when they don’t run far enough to the right.”…That fiction has sustained the right-wing after multiple general election losses in recent decades, convincing them to double down on extremism rather than reconsider. Such intransigence has already led to enough destructive government shutdowns and near defaults. The sooner the GOP’s rightward sprint is stopped the better; Cruz’s nomination may be the best way to do so.
I have to admit that I find the idea of this scenario intriguing. But the fundamental flaw that both Frum and Downie make is in assuming that the insurgency is fueled by the logic of electoral calculations. It is a mistake that rational people often make in trying to apply logic to behavior that is animated by fear and anger.
So no…I don’t think a Ted Cruz candidacy would be good for the country in the long term. Breaking the fever of the fear and anger that fuels the insurgency is definitely something that needs to happen in order for our country to move forward. It’s hard to imagine something that would accomplish that. But I suspect that the answer lies with exposing those who exploit it for their own purposes. And that is easier said than done.