The Unpleasant Alternative

Democrats sure would like to know who they’ll be running against this year – Trump or Cruz or Kasich or maybe Paul Ryan, or maybe Mitt Romney again. That would make planning things a bit easier – but Republicans would like to know the same thing. Someone has to run against Hillary Clinton – Bernie Sanders seems unlikely – but they can’t seem to decide who that will be. The party establishment, such as it is, maintains that it cannot be Donald Trump. He’s worse than an embarrassment. The party’s base will accept no one else, but in a pinch, Ted Cruz might do – but that hypothetical or perhaps real party establishment loathes Ted Cruz – and no one pays any attention to John Kasich at all. It’s a puzzle, but both sides seem to see that there is only one alternative to Trump. If not Trump, Cruz.

That project – Project Cruz – seemed to be going well. Cruz won the Wisconsin primary in a landslide and that changed everything. Cruz had the momentum, whatever that is – it really cannot be defined – but Trump is poised to win the much more important New York primary in his own landslide, and roll on from there. Perhaps he will be stopped at the convention if he doesn’t clinch the nomination with those magic 1237 delegates in hand, but if he has 1230, or 1200, or 1100, it’ll be hard to say someone else, with far fewer delegates, should be the nominee – and it really is hard to say who has the momentum now.

Josh Marshall wonders about this Cruz-can-win talk:

It’s quite possible. But it is worth noting that in the nationwide GOP primary polls, after a brief Cruz Boomlet (a Dead Ted Bounce) Trump’s numbers have rebounded and actually appear to be rising again. Yes, rising. (The rise could just be wobbliness in the polls; but he’s at least stabilized his support nationwide.) Conventional wisdom was – perhaps still is – that Trump had hit his ceiling and the sheer weight of bad news was pulling him down. That probably wouldn’t stop Trump from winning more primaries. But it would likely make it impossible for him to secure 1237 delegates. Meanwhile, Ted Cruz would accrue enough to make him a plausible alternative nominee. 

But that’s not what’s happening:

Cruz’s numbers nationwide are going down, seemingly shedding at least a margin of support to both Trump and Kasich. There’s also little doubt that a big win in New York, which seems highly likely, will give him a wave of good press and allow him to reclaim the look of a winner.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Trump will get 1237 delegates or that he’ll be the nominee. I find it hard to figure out or at least game out the chances of any of this – mainly because all the possibilities seem deeply implausible and yet one must happen. What does seem clear to me is this: Conventional wisdom seems to be or has been that Trump had peaked and started to fall with mix of the Lewandowski “assault” and the terrible week with four different positions on abortion, various protester beatings and unified elite GOP denunciation.

He likely couldn’t be caught by any other candidate. But he might be a “zombie” plurality winner – still in the lead but so clearly damaged and losing steam that he could with some ease be denied the nomination – but the polls show Cruz is falling and Trump has not just stabilized but actually seems to be gaining steam.

For Marshall this raised the question of “how much this is being driven by Trump and how much people seeing Ted Cruz is turning people against him” – because Ted is kind of a jerk:

Clearly the anti-Cruz wall Cruz built in the Senate is holding strong. But whether it’s more strength from Trump or the failure of the anti-Trump stalking horse doesn’t really matter. The upshot is the same. Trump is getting stronger, not weaker. And that portends bad things for any effort to deny him in Cleveland.

And the Wild Woman of Wasilla isn’t making things any easier:

Voters will “rise up” in opposition if Republican power brokers try to take the presidential nomination away from Donald Trump or Ted Cruz at the GOP convention this summer, Sarah Palin said Thursday in a wide-ranging interview.

The 2008 vice presidential nominee told The Associated Press that GOP voters have the right to decide the party’s nominee and will rebel if House Speaker Paul Ryan or some other “white knight” is chosen at a contested convention. Ryan said this week he will not seek or accept the nomination.

Palin said voters know better than to be fooled by party leaders.

“How dare they?” Palin asked, denouncing “arrogant political operatives who underestimate the wisdom of the people.”

If party leaders try to intervene at the July convention, “we will rise up and say our vote does count, our activism does count,” she said.

And when she talks, Republicans listen, or they don’t:

Palin said she plans to attend the convention in Cleveland, but she conceded that she may have to “invite myself to the party.”

“I can’t see any of them inviting me,” she said of party leaders. “I think they are afraid of what I would say.”

Palin, who has endorsed Trump, said she is confident he will win the GOP nomination, but said she can support Cruz if he emerges as the nominee.

She said she backs Trump because he is “so reasonable and so full of common sense…”

Her position is that Cruz might do, but Trump is far more reasonable and a solid tower of common sense, and she has a gripe with Cruz:

While Palin said she could support Cruz, she said it was “unfortunate that he has people around him who are not truthful. I sure want to believe it’s the people around him and not Cruz as a person who would flip-flop on so many issues,” including trade and immigration.

“He was there at the border incentivizing illegal families coming on over the border with gift baskets of soccer balls and teddy bears and now he says he was never for amnesty. Yes, you were, dude, come on,” Palin said.

Maybe she made that up, maybe she didn’t, but the party is unlikely to respond well to lectures about common sense from Sarah Palin. They remember 2008 of course, and they can snub Ted Cruz without her:

Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) speech at the New York City Republican gala on Thursday night was met with a cool reception from the crowd, who spoke amongst themselves and milled about as Cruz delivered his campaign stump speech.

“I will admit to you, I haven’t built any buildings in New York City,” Cruz said at the beginning of his address, drawing some applause, according to Buzzfeed News.

But it went downhill from there.

As Cruz continued with his speech, his applause lines drew little attention from the New York Republicans at the dinner, according to NBC News. The sound of chatter and cutlery on plates grew louder as Cruz’s speech went on, according to Buzzfeed News. People also began wandering the room to chat with acquaintances at other tables.

He’s not the alternative to Trump, as he has burned one too many bridges:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has decided he may want some help from Washington after all to stop Trump. But alas, his entreaties to his Senate colleagues aren’t going very well.

Cruz is facing varied and dynamic obstacles in his quest to build support on the Hill. Some senators are stubbornly nursing grudges against the freshman senator’s 2013 government shutdown gambit or any other number of slights and affronts he committed as a freshman senator that made him deeply unpopular. Other senators endorsed candidates who already dropped out of the race and are unwilling to repeat that mistake with Donald Trump the clear frontrunner and Cruz likely needing a contested convention to win the nomination.

Ultimately, Cruz is little more than a polarizing colleague asking individual senators to go out on a limb for him on his long-shot bid to deny Trump the nomination. It’s a request that makes for sometimes awkward private conversations.

According to one Republican senator, who was given anonymity to disclose details about the conversation with Cruz he had, Cruz’s pitch went beyond a standard courtesy call.

“It wasn’t a short phone call,” the Republican senator said. “It wasn’t a hello, help me phone call.”

The senator said Cruz’s pitch is that even though he had disagreements with the conference on strategy, he and his colleagues had shared the same goals.

That may be so, but he’s still a jerk:

Aside from approaching endorsement-wary senators, Cruz’s other struggle is perception. He is attempting to coalesce support in Washington while simultaneously trying to maintain his reputation as an outsider. Cruz’s screeds against the “Washington cartel” were supposed to help him sail to the nomination in a fervently anti-establishment election cycle, but it turns out now he needed the very senators he has been campaigning against.

“It’s pretty tough to just let bygones be bygones when the person who is asking you for your endorsement is a person that’s labeled you as the problem with Washington,” said Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN). “He is trying to have it both ways and I don’t think he can have it both ways.”

Another Republican senator speaking on background said “In my case, I’ll support him if he is the nominee, but I don’t intend to do anything else.”

There also is no indication that Cruz has made attempts to apologize to the Republican Senate’s leader, Mitch McConnell, a man with major sway in the GOP whom Cruz once called a “liar.”

There was not only no indication of that, Cruz then doubled-down:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is standing by his declaration last summer that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was a liar.

In an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd to be aired in full on MSNBC Thursday evening, Cruz told Todd that “every word I said there was true and accurate.”

The interview was taped as part of a town hall meeting and the clip played Thursday on MSNBC.

In the interview, Todd asks Cruz if he “regrets” calling McConnell a liar from the Senate floor.

“You know Washington is an amazing place,” Cruz said. “When somebody stands up and lies to you and someone else points out that they lied …”

Todd interrupts him.

“He lied to you?”

“Every word I said there was true and accurate,” Cruz says. “The reaction in the Senate is, ‘How dare you say that out loud?’ They’re not upset that somebody lied to them. I mean, that’s the amazing thing.”

And it’s also an amazing thing that his fellow Republican senators told him to go pound sand, or not that amazing at all. He is a strange fellow with a history far beyond the Senate. They know him there, but he was deeply strange before that, as David Corn reports here:

In one chapter of his campaign book, A Time for Truth, Sen. Ted Cruz proudly chronicles his days as a Texas solicitor general, a post he held from 2003 to 2008. Bolstering his conservative cred, the Republican presidential candidate notes that during his stint as the state’s chief lawyer, in front of the Supreme Court and federal and state appellate courts he defended the inclusion of “under God” in the “Pledge of Allegiance,” the display of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state Capitol, a congressional redistricting plan that assisted Republicans, a restrictive voter identification law, and a ban on late-term abortions. He also described cases in which he championed gun rights and defended the conviction of a Mexican citizen who raped and murdered two teenage girls in a case challenged by the World Court. Yet one case he does not mention is the time he helped defend a law criminalizing the sale of dildos.

Yeah, he did, and that was one strange case:

The case was actually an important battle concerning privacy and free-speech rights. In 2004, companies that owned Austin stores selling sex toys and a retail distributor of such products challenged a Texas law outlawing the sale and promotion of supposedly obscene devices. Under the law, a person who violated the statute could go to jail for up to two years. At the time, only three states – Mississippi, Alabama, and Virginia – had similar laws. (The previous year, a Texas mother who was a sales rep for Passion Parties was arrested by two undercover cops for selling vibrators and other sex-related goods at a gathering akin to a Tupperware party for sex toys. No doubt, this had worried businesses peddling such wares.) The plaintiffs in the sex device case contended the state law violated the right to privacy under the 14th Amendment. They argued that many people in Texas used sexual devices as an aspect of their sexual experiences. They claimed that in some instances one partner in a couple might be physically unable to engage in intercourse or have a contagious disease (such as HIV), and that in these cases such devices could allow a couple to engage in safe sex.

But a federal judge sent them packing, ruling that selling sex toys was not protected by the Constitution. The plaintiffs appealed, and Cruz’s solicitor general office had the task of preserving the law.

So that’s what he did:

In 2007, Cruz’s legal team, working on behalf of then-Attorney General Greg Abbott (who now is the governor), filed a 76-page brief calling on the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to uphold the lower court’s decision and permit the law to stand. The filing noted, “The Texas Penal Code prohibits the advertisement and sale of dildos, artificial vaginas, and other obscene devices” but does not “forbid the private use of such devices.” The plaintiffs had argued that this case was similar to Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark 2003 Supreme Court decision that struck down Texas’ law against sodomy. But Cruz’s office countered that Lawrence “focused on interpersonal relationships and the privacy of the home” and that the law being challenged did not block the “private use of obscene devices.” Cruz’s legal team asserted that “obscene devices do not implicate any liberty interest.” And its brief added that “any alleged right associated with obscene devices” is not “deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and traditions.” In other words, Texans were free to use sex toys at home, but they did not have the right to buy them.

That is clever, but odd, and that allowed Cruz to be proudly self-righteous:

The brief insisted that Texas, in order to protect “public morals,” had “police-power interests” in “discouraging prurient interests in sexual gratification, combating the commercial sale of sex, and protecting minors.” There was a “government” interest, it maintained, in “discouraging autonomous sex.” The brief compared the use of sex toys to “hiring a willing prostitute or engaging in consensual bigamy,” and it equated advertising these products with the commercial promotion of prostitution. In perhaps the most noticeable line of the brief, Cruz’s office declared, “There is no substantive-due-process right to stimulate one’s genitals for non-medical purposes unrelated to procreation or outside of an interpersonal relationship.”

That is, the pursuit of such happiness had no constitutional standing. And the brief argued that there was no “right to promote dildos, vibrators, and other obscene devices.” The plaintiffs, it noted, were “free to engage in unfettered noncommercial speech touting the uses of obscene devices,” but not speech designed to generate the sale of these items.

He put that all in his book too, but he lost:

In a 2-1 decision issued in February 2008, the court of appeals told Cruz’s office to take a hike. The court, citing Lawrence, pointed to the “right to be free from governmental intrusion regarding ‘the most private human contact, sexual behavior.'”

But he’s still proud he fought the good fight, for governmental intrusion regarding the most private human contact. It’s no wonder his fellow Republicans run the other way when they see him coming – but there was this late breaking news – Ted Cruz Says He Won’t Ban Dildos If He Becomes President – so federal SWAT teams won’t be busting down your bedroom door looking for these gizmos.

That’s good to know, but this guy is in desperate need of what political consultants call “humanization” – to let you know he’s not a creep. Ruth Graham notes that CNN hosted a town hall in New York City with Cruz and his family – his wife and two daughters – to do just that – but what his wife said about the early days of their marriage was a bit unsettling:

When I married Ted, we got back from our honeymoon, and he went off to the store and came home by himself. And I was completely shocked to see that he arrived back at our apartment with literally 100 cans of Campbell’s Chunky soup. I never bought 100 of anything.

This was shocking to me, so we had a tough conversation about it. I said, “You don’t buy 100 of anything, much less canned soup. We can’t do this. I’ll be making things.” He said, “No, I know you. You won’t be making things.”

So the next morning, it was a weekend morning, I loaded up our car before he woke up and returned every single can. And when I got home, I called my mother just to make sure I’d done the right thing as a newlywed. And she emphatically disagreed with me. And so when Ted opened the pantry, I had to quickly tell him that I would go back and buy those cans again.

Graham comments:

How you interpret this incident probably has to do with what you think about Ted Cruz. Was his soup investment a passive-aggressive jab at Heidi, an insult to her domestic dexterity? Was it proof that Cruz is something other than a normal human man?

I believe the correct reading is a more charitable one. Ted Cruz’s decision to buy 100 cans of Campbell’s Chunky soup upon returning from his honeymoon is not insulting. It’s endearing.

First of all, Ted Cruz loves canned soup. He told Us Weekly last month that a can of soup is his usual dinner when he is alone in Washington. So eating a steaming bowl of Hearty Pizza with Sausage & Pepperoni Soup for three months in a row is not a punishment for Ted Cruz. It is his default mode. If the man still prefers to heat up a $2 tin can of food rather than using Seamless in 2016, suffice to say he was not insulting his new wife by assuming the same plan back in 2001.

Second, buying 100 cans at a time is not out of line with Cruz’s modus operandi. According to that Us Weekly story, he currently has “dozens” of cans of soup in his pantry in Washington. Now, I eat a lot of black beans, but I rarely have more than five cans on hand. And maybe this is why I’m not cut out to be president.

Graham is not quite being sarcastic, but Michael Garofalo is keeping a list of creepy Cruz stuff, which includes these items:

As an undergrad, Cruz weirded the hell out of his Princeton classmates with his “habit of donning a paisley bathrobe and walking to the opposite end of their dorm’s hallway where the female students lived,” according to The Daily Beast. The women eventually appealed to Cruz’s roommate to help keep the creepy Cruz at bay. …

As recounted in GQ’s 2013 profile, Cruz adorned his Senate office with a giant oil painting of himself arguing before the Supreme Court as a young lawyer. “From the artist’s vantage point, we see three other courtroom artists, each also drawing Cruz – so the painting actually features not one but four images of young Cruz before the bench,” GQ noted. “It is helpful for keeping one grounded,” Cruz explained. …

As a teenager, Cruz memorized a mnemonic version of the Constitution and travelled throughout Texas to recite the document as a performance piece for (presumably bewildered) Rotary Clubs as the star of a roving troupe called the Constitutional Corroborators.

Now imagine Ted Cruz wandering the halls of the White House in that paisley bathrobe. All of this adds up. All this makes Donald Trump seem kind of normal, and Jonathan Chait argues that this is the Republican dilemma:

Donald Trump would probably be the worst candidate any major party has ever nominated – grossly uninformed, disorganized, personally and ideologically repellent to a majority of the public, and so unreliably attached to its core agenda he could potentially blow the party apart. Ted Cruz would be a much better choice. But there is a huge gap between “much better” and “good.” Cruz would not be a good nominee. He’d be very, very bad.

It’s more than the paisley bathrobe:

As the electorate has hardened into polarized camps, with the Democratic camp growing slowly every four years through cohort replacement, Republicans face a strategic challenge to broaden their appeal to the presidential electorate. Several potential strategies have emerged. They can try a targeted appeal to Latino and Asian-American voters by embracing immigration reform; they can soften their stance on gay rights and other social issues; they can move to the center on economics by redirecting their attention from reducing taxes on the rich to problems faced by the working class; or they could simply find a likable pitchman to make their old policies appear less threatening.

Cruz has closed off all of these strategies. He is weighted down by all of the liabilities that any standard Republican candidate would bring to the general election. He advocates for a huge tax cut for the rich and deregulation of Wall Street, and would eliminate the Clean Power Plan and take away health insurance from some 20 million people who’ve gained it through Obamacare. He has defined himself as more militant and uncompromising than any other Republican in Congress, and many of his fellow Republican officeholders have depicted him as a madman. This is a broad heuristic – Ted Cruz is the candidate whose main reservation with the Republican Party is that it’s too thoughtful and compromising. This definition colors Cruz’s public image and accounts for high unfavorable ratings despite a relatively brief time on the public stage.

And Chait sees him as far more vulnerable than any generic Republican candidate:

Begin with taxes. In addition to the de rigueur ginormous tax cut for rich people, Cruz proposes a massive shift of the tax burden away from income taxes to sales taxes. So, not only would Cruz’s plan give nearly half of its benefit to the highest-earning one percent of taxpayers (who would save, on average, nearly half a million dollars a year in taxes per household), but it would actually raise taxes on the lowest-earning fifth…

Cruz’s sales tax would inflict special hardship on the elderly, who earn very little and spend (on the whole) more than 100 percent of their annual income. It is a longtime conservative dream to shift the tax burden from income to consumption, but one reason the Republican Party has shied away from such a plan is that the transition would impose huge costs on the generation that grew up paying income taxes and then would suffer from the transition to consumption taxes. Cruz’s plan would leave him vulnerable to devastating attacks.

But that’s not the half of it:

Cruz has taken other stances from which other Republicans with national ambitions have shied away. He proposes to eliminate, among other agencies, the Department of Education, a cause most Republicans abandoned two decades ago as a hopeless political albatross. He’s committed to a legal and political rollback of legalized same-sex marriage, and has embraced a pastor who has endorsed the death penalty for homosexuality. He opposes all abortion, without exceptions for rape or incest. Republicans are justifiably reluctant to defend a vision of America where happily married same-sex couples have their unions involuntarily annulled and women are forced to spend nine months carrying their rapist’s child to term.

The man is poison for the party:

Elections are not policy seminars, but the vulnerabilities in Cruz’s platform are not subtle or difficult to communicate. Cruz’s career is dedicated to ignoring any pragmatic recognition of the limits to Republican power or the appeal of conservative orthodoxy. Were it not for the rise of Donald Trump, the Republican Establishment and even most conservatives would be frantically working to prevent his nomination. Only Trump’s astonishing success has made the once-unfathomable prospect of a Cruz nomination seem comparatively normal.

He is the unpleasant alternative, but there are no good alternatives:

Donald Trump is the most unpopular top-tier presidential candidate over more than three decades of ABC News/Washington Post polls, except for former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. That’s according to the results of the latest national ratings released Thursday, which did not carry too auspicious results for Trump’s two Republican opponents, either.

Two in three Americans surveyed in the poll – 67 percent – said they held an unfavorable view of Trump, while just 31 percent said they saw him favorably and only 2 percent said they had no opinion of him. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s favorability rating was marginally higher, at 36 percent, while 53 percent said they had an unfavorable view of him and 11 percent said they had no opinion. Ohio Gov. John Kasich made out the best in the poll, with 39 percent each responding that they had a favorable and unfavorable opinion of him, but 22 percent said they had no opinion either way.

Democrats sure would like to know who they’ll be running against this year, but look at the numbers – any of these guys will do. Republicans would like to know how the hell this happened.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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