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Eye On Candidates
August 28, 2015

Cruz Patiently Awaits Trump Collapse

Several articles have pointed to the campaign strategy of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who at the moment seems to be waiting patiently for Donald Trump’s campaign to collapse so he can then swoop in to pick up his supporters. National Journal this morning has an article describing Cruz’s plan:
Ted Cruz Is Stalking Donald Trump


"Trump's message is resonating with people. They're upset about a lot of things, and he expresses the frustration they feel. But if they examine his stances on a whole range of issues, they'd find they are in disagreement with him," said Bill Stewart, the retired chairman of Alabama's political-science department, who sat in on Cruz's speech. "In the end, I think Trump will have generated the interest—and then Cruz will benefit from it."

This is precisely the endgame that Cruz and his team now visualize. It explains why Cruz has cozied up to Trump at a time when most of the Republican political class shunned him. It explains why the Texas senator refuses to utter a negative word about the real-estate mogul. And it explains why Cruz is stalking Trump—if not geographically (the Alabama trips were coincidence) then ideologically and rhetorically, making sure the two stay in lockstep on issues of the day so that voters who are energized by Trump's message but looking for a more polished messenger discover a natural transition to Cruz.

From the top down, in fact, Cruz's campaign has come to view Trump as an asset. Equipped with universal name-identification and celebrity appeal, Trump has a megaphone that Cruz could never dream of—even from his perch in Congress—to preach a fiery populism to angry voters. He has demonstrated a unique ability to galvanize conservatives (Cruz's base) and steer the 2016 conversation toward subjects like illegal immigration (Cruz's wheelhouse) that may otherwise have been secondary.

The article explains the campaign’s view that Trump’s candidacy has a “natural arc” that ultimately entails his falling in the polls, and that by avoiding direct criticism of the frontrunner Cruz can more easily absorb Trump’s supporters.
In the meantime, Trump will sustain plenty of attacks from other opponents. And as an added bonus for Cruz's hands-off approach, Trump is doing his dirty work. The real-estate mogul has been especially harsh lately on Scott Walker, long considered by Cruz's camp to be their most direct competition in Iowa because of his appeal to both evangelicals and tea-partiers.

Most consequentially, Cruz allies see Trump on a collision course with Bush—especially in New Hampshire, the state Bush needs to win and where Trump's numbers and organization are strongest—and predict that "Armageddon" between those two candidates would greatly weaken both the establishment favorite and the anti-establishment front-runner….

Part of their calculus in taking a hands-off approach to Trump is that his massive crowds and wall-to-wall media coverage has not translated into a strong grassroots presence needed to compete in the early primary states. This was visible last week, Cruz advisers pointed out, when a handful of candidates showed up for an event in South Carolina. Virtually every GOP contender, including those not present, had volunteers there holding up signs and handing out literature—and there wasn't a single piece of Trump signage to be seen or found.

The POLITICO Caucus, composed of leading political insiders in the early nominating states of Iowa and New Hampshire, this morning offered a few thoughts on what might bring Trump down, which in turn would give Cruz the opportunity to test his strategy:

When asked what would sink the campaign of Donald Trump, the bombastic billionaire who continues to rise in the GOP primary polls, the most popular response from insiders was that Trump would eventually sink himself. But there was plenty of hand-wringing — and potshots — from insiders on both sides of the aisle who said they were flummoxed by his seeming ability to defy political gravity.

“Let’s see, what if he insulted a POW… wait. If he said the Mexican government is sending rapists across the border… oh, wait. How about if he called Megyn Kelly a menstruating no-talent idiot… that would do it! Wait, what? He already did all those things? Hard to imagine what he could say at this point,” an Iowa Republican said….

“If the media begins treating him like every other candidate — Republican and Democrat — then he will be forced to run an actual campaign, and not ride a wave of free media coverage that occurs daily with no real accountability or requirement to be substantive or newsworthy,” complained a New Hampshire Republican. “How many Bush, Clinton, Fiorina, O’Malley, Walker, Sanders, or Rubio town hall meetings have been carried live in prime time on multiple national cable news networks this cycle? For that matter, how many national front runners in 2007 or 2011 had their town hall meetings carried live in prime time before there was a nominee?”

Despite Trump’s apparent ability to “defy political gravity,” Cruz’s campaign is still banking on an inevitable collapse that will ultimately benefit them. The Washington Post yesterday afternoon reported that Cruz had invited Trump to participate in a rally at the U.S. Capitol protesting the Obama administration’s nuclear arms deal, and Trump accepted:

“We are talking to Ted Cruz, who is a friend of mine and a good guy, about doing something very big over the next two weeks in Washington,” the billionaire businessman said after a rally in South Carolina. “It’s essentially a protest against the totally incompetent deal that we’re making with Iran.”

A spokeswoman for the Texas senator said Cruz invited Trump to join him on the Capitol grounds “to call on members of Congress to defeat the catastrophic deal that the Obama Administration has struck with the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The kind words from Trump regarding Cruz had to have made the Texas senator’s team happy, and they aren’t the first, as the article notes:

Earlier this year, Trump -- who previously demanded to see President Obama’s long-form birth certificate -- said Cruz’s 1970 birth in Canada, where his parents were working in the oil fields, was “a stumbling block” for his candidacy. Cruz’s mother is a native-born U.S. citizen.

Now Trump is sounding a much friendlier tune. During a 51-minute speech to a crowd of 1,400 supporters — after ripping into former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, ex-Texas Gov. Rick Perry and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham — Trump began praising Cruz.

“Sen. Cruz has been so nice to me,” he said. “Ted Cruz has been so great.”
It’s difficult to predict when or even if the Trump collapse will occur, but it’s not difficult to see how it would benefit Cruz and potentially vault him into the top tier of candidates. Patience has perhaps not been the defining attribute of Texas’ junior senator, but he seems to be practicing it well in this case and it is likely to benefit him in the long run.