by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Eliana Johnson of National Review Online looks at the limitations that helped end Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s bid for the White House.
Cruz’s is the story of a disciplined candidate and a well-run campaign that couldn’t overcome their respective limitations. Since well before he officially launched his campaign, Cruz had worked to carve out a niche as the insurgent conservative candidate capable of uniting Evangelicals and tea-partiers under the same banner. Cruz had been eyeing a presidential bid from the time he was elected to the Senate, and his carefully crafted political brand carried a cost: He’d publicly flogged his Senate colleagues to build up a national fan base, earning himself many powerful Republican enemies. As the campaign dragged on, Cruz’s team came to believe that if he could emerge as the last man standing against Trump, even those who despised him would be forced to come on board. But in the end, they fatally underestimated Trump’s strength: Cruz occupied an enduring and powerful niche; the man who defeated him had a message for the masses and a platform to deliver it. …
… The Cruz campaign argued that its unparalleled data operation and ground game, along with Cruz’s popularity among grassroots conservatives, were a recipe for clinching the nomination. They aren’t. In that sense, Cruz’s victory in Iowa was misleading, masking his identity as a niche candidate who, despite a skillfully run campaign, was ultimately unable to expand beyond his core supporters. “His niche was always on the far right, being the most conservative guy,” says a top Republican strategist. “That was integral to the candidacy and integral to who Ted Cruz is. That’s his character in the play.”
As his rivals began to fold — Scott Walker in July, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum after Iowa — Cruz struggled to break out of the box he’d built for himself after arriving in the Senate to mount a tea-party insurrection in 2012, and to expand his support. “Cruz has run a clever, tactical race,” says David Axelrod, who served as the chief strategist for Barack Obama’s insurgent campaign in 2008, as well as for his reelection effort in 2012. “He identified a discreet cohort — Evangelicals and very conservative voters — and worked them relentlessly, which pays dividends in a huge and divided Iowa field. But the Trump wave overwhelmed tactics, the field dwindled, and Cruz found himself scrambling to enlarge his base.”