Ted Cruz did not lose the race for the Republican nomination
in Indiana. He lost it weeks, maybe years, before. Here’s why.
In his speech after his defeat in Indiana, Cruz harkened back repeatedly to the last contested Republican convention. That took place 40 years ago. Ronald Reagan, darling of the conservative movement, fought for the
nomination all the way to the convention. In the end he lost to incumbent President
Gerald Ford. His withdrawal was gracious and classy and four years later he won
the nomination and the general election.
No doubt Cruz was thinking something like that might happen
to him too. There are serious doubts about Donald Trump’s ability to win a general
election. And Cruz, as he almost tearfully quoted Reagan, was no doubt thinking
that his future in 2020 could be like Reagan’s was in 1980.
But there are three problems with that hope.
First, as my colleague Bill Galston wrote
recently in the Wall Street Journal, it’s not at all clear that today’s
Republican Party will be the party of Reagan. And it’s certainly not at all
clear that the 2020 Republican Party will be the party of Cruz. In fact the big
demographic changes sweeping the country mean that America in 2020 is certain
to be a very different place than it was 40 years before.
Second, the tactic of naming Carly Fiorina as his vice
presidential running mate will have to go down as one of the most bone-headed
decisions since, well, Ronald Reagan announced he would put the Republican
liberal, Senator Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania, on the ticket as his
running mate. The move backfired on Reagan since his hard-core supporters were
appalled at the choice of a liberal. And for Cruz, the idea that putting a
woman on the ticket to make him more palatable against a probable Hillary
Clinton candidacy was just ridiculous. Moreover, as any cursory reading of
American political history will tell you, the vice presidency is the ultimate
deal-making card at a nominating convention. American history is filled with presidents
and vice presidents who hated each others guts but who came to the White House as
the result of a deal to win the nomination. Giving up the VP card before
Cleveland constitutes a major case of political malpractice.
Finally, the Cruz campaign understood that the nomination
isn’t over until the delegates voted and in many states they played a very savvy
delegate game. But to really get delegates to vote against the voters in the
primaries, a candidate needs to be liked, if not loved, by the other leaders of
the party. That was not one of Ted Cruz’s strengths, to say the least. In fact
just this week the former speaker of the House, John Boehner, called
Cruz “Lucifer,” stating, “I have never worked with a more miserable son of
a bitch in my life.” Ted Cruz’s strategy of working hard to be disliked inside
the Beltway in order to be liked outside the Beltway was a costly strategy for
someone seeking a presidential nomination the old-fashioned way.
Ever since the prospect of a contested convention raised its
head, I’ve been defending the right of a political party to make
its own rules and select its own nominee—regardless of what happens in the
primaries. The nomination of each party is, in the end, a party process, not a
public process. The leaders of that party—the senators, governors and congressman—have
to run on the ticket with the presidential candidate and they have to govern
with the eventual president. So they have a deep and serious interest in who
the nominee of their party is. As Cruz tried to move to an inside game, he
needed them and they just weren’t there with him.
Elaine C. Kamarck is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of Primary Politics: Everything You Need to Know about How America Nominates Its Presidential Candidates. She is a superdelegate to the Democratic convention.