Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Is Cruz a Goldwater or a Reagan?
Controversial U.S. Senator Ted Cruz has announced he is running for president. He is the darling of the Tea Party and the boogeyman of liberals. His chances on becoming president will depend on whether he can follow Ronald Reagan's example and not Barry Goldwater's example.
Both Goldwater and Reagan had impeccable conservative credentials, but Goldwater was unable to win the presidency while Reagan was a successful candidate. What was the difference and whose path with Cruz follow?
Goldwater was trounced by the uncharismatic Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Goldwater famously said, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." It played well with his conservative base, but it was not a way to attract the votes he needed to defeat Johnson. Goldwater's bumbling of the civil rights issue chased many blacks who had voted for Eisenhower and Nixon to switch over to the Democrats, a problem that has plagued the Republican party to this day. His far right campaign was costly to Republicans when down ticket candidates for congress lost big time, giving the Democrats historic majorities they were able to use to pass damaging welfare programs that have since cost America more than $15 trillion without making a dent in poverty.
Reagan was just as conservative as Goldwater, but he was no ideologue when it came to campaigning. He made sure he appealed to moderates to get the votes he needed to win. For example, when running for governor of California in 1968, he asked Goldwater to stay out of California and not campaign for him, it would not get him any votes. On the other hand, he went out of his way to visit former President Eisenhower (not a conservative) to get his endorsement. When he ran for president in 1976 he picked liberal Senator Richard Schweiker as his running mate during the primaries. He lost to Gerald Ford, but he showed he was not leaning to the hard right. When he did get the nomination in 1980, he picked moderate George Bush as his veep. His 1980 message was crafted to appeal to moderates that did not vote for Goldwater. He clobbered Jimmy Carter and did even better in 1984 against Walter Mondale when he won 49 states.
Goldwater and Reagan make a good contrast on how a conservative can lose or win a general election. If Cruz tacks right, he can't get the moderate votes he needs to win. Surveys show, with little variability over time, that 35% of voters are conservatives, 25% are liberals, and 40% are moderates. A conservative who can't win over moderate votes will lose every time. A conservative who is able to win the moderate vote will win every time.
By all accounts, Ted Cruz is amazingly smart. He is an excellent communicator and he can more than hold his own in any debate. His challenge is, does he want to win the debate in the eyes of conservatives, or does he want to win the votes needed to win by presenting a message that moderates will agree with?
Extremism in national politics is no virtue. And moderation in the pursuit of the presidency is no vice.
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