Who Is More Toxic, Cruz or Trump?

Greg Sargent talked to Democratic pollster Geoff Garin about the two most likely Republican nominees. Garin, who works for Clinton’s Super PAC Priorities USA, had a lot to say about Cruz.

“Cruz would be the most extreme right wing nominee in modern American history,” Garin told me. “He is deeply out of sync with a large majority of voters on social issues. His role in shutting down the government is anathema to most Americans. If Republicans nominate Cruz, they concede any claim to the center whatsoever.”

Garin cited Cruz’s opposition to Roe v. Wade and his desire to prosecute Planned Parenthood over the sting videos (Trump has actually defended the group’s role in providing health services to women) as well as Cruz’s vow to continue fighting to reverse the Supreme Court’s ruling of a constitutional right to gay marriage.

“The fact that he wants to defund and prosecute Planned Parenthood puts him at odds with voters in a general election and with women voters in particular,” Garin said. “His desire to roll back the clock on marriage equality will be a deal breaker with a generation of voters.”

It’s easy to forget how hard-right Cruz is on social issues, but he’s so far out on that limb that he’d have to have something awfully big to compensate for it.

The problem is, he doesn’t have anything.

Garin allowed that Cruz would have some advantages over Trump, particularly in the temperament department. “Trump’s liabilities relate in part to the sense of risk voters feel about having him as commander in chief,” Garin said. “More and more people are coming to think of Trump as a know-nothing. Cruz’s intellect and knowledge are not his problems.”

But Garin also suggested that Cruz would have liabilities that Trump might not — chiefly, that Trump, for all of his crazy ideas, does convey a sense that he cares about the economic plight of struggling Americans and possesses some economic know-how. Cruz’s instincts and interests seem more bound up with social and constitutional conservatism, and with battling whatever symbol of big government overreach (or Washington betrayal) comes along to activate his base at any given moment, than with how to recast economic conservatism for an era of anxiety over stagnating wages and inequality. Garin argued that Cruz would struggle to appeal to the middle on economic issues.

Cruz might be modestly more convincing as an economic populist than Mitt Romney, but Goldman Sachs loaned him the money for his campaign and they pay his mortgage. I’m just not seeing it.

“Trump has some credibility with voters in talking about the economy,” Garin said. “Cruz brings nothing to the table other than prepackaged ideology.”

I also don’t think we should discount just how repellent Cruz is as a personality. Generally speaking (and Nixon excepted), the sunnier personality usually wins these elections. I don’t think Bernie or Hillary are rays of sunshine, but they win that contest easily when put up against Truculent Ted.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.