For the first time in weeks, I’m indulging in the faintest smidgen of optimism. Ted Cruz’s come-from-behind beat-down of Donald Trump in Wisconsin indicates that Trump Fever may be breaking. He likely won’t secure the nomination before the convention, meaning Cruz now has a real chance to become the Republican nominee.
And there are some Democrats who couldn’t be happier. Last night, former senior Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer tweeted that, “There is not a Democrat in America who sees a Cruz nomination as anything other than a great gift.” This is the conventional wisdom, which attempts to pretend that Trump’s rise never happened, and Cruz is still merely the most disliked conservative ideologue in Washington, a man whose lack of human warmth is matched only by his inflexibility. He’d have problems with Latinos, women, and of course African-Americans. Establishment Republicans would stay home. He’d lose in a rout.
Democrats can keep telling themselves that, but they ignore a powerful new reality: Ted Cruz is the underdog who is at long last uniting every strand of conservatism to face down an existential threat. He defends his wife against Trump’s vulgar sexism, he’s the young Hispanic counter to Trump’s loathsome alt-right fans, and he’s attacking Trump not with the language of the gutter but with principle and conviction.
Moreover, if Cruz were to emerge victorious from a contested convention, it would be a moment of high drama in which tens of millions of Americans witnessed Cruz in his finest hour, defeating an ugly, crass, and vicious movement — a movement comprising large numbers of men and women who are more Democrat than Republican. And as he did so, the pressure to unify would be overwhelming. There is a large #NeverTrump movement on the right. There is no meaningful #NeverCruz movement.
We can already see conservative talk-radio starting to shift Cruz’s way. Last night even Sean Hannity was suddenly less concerned with promoting Trump than he was with ensuring that Trump or Cruz was the nominee. The speed with which the months of Trump-love seem poised to vanish down the memory hole is shocking, and doesn’t speak well of conservative talkers as a class. But if Cruz does gain the upper hand, the base will hear a message that is all-Cruz, all the time, nonetheless.
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