Josh Kraushaar | GOPe wants to take out Cruz to clear path for Rubio

Josh Kraushaar, National Journal:

The think­ing goes as fol­lows: If Cruz loses Iowa, he peters out in New Hamp­shire and doesn’t pose a risk of fin­ish­ing in a re­spect­able second place. That al­lows the es­tab­lish­ment win­ner out of the Gran­ite State to build mo­mentum as the anti-Trump al­tern­at­ive. A de­cent num­ber of Cruz’s sup­port­ers, when asked to choose a second can­did­ate, grav­it­ate to Ru­bio. Polls show many more of Trump sup­port­ers, by con­trast, would sup­port Cruz. And even with Trump’s im­prov­ing fa­vor­ab­il­ity num­bers with­in the GOP, there are more Re­pub­lic­an voters who wouldn’t vote for him un­der any cir­cum­stances than say the same about the sen­at­or from Texas.

These strategists are look­ing at Trump’s in­creas­ingly bel­li­cose at­tacks against Cruz with glee. In their view, only Trump can suc­cess­fully put a dent in Cruz’s sky-high fa­vor­ab­il­ity among Re­pub­lic­ans, which is a pre­con­di­tion to block­ing him from the nom­in­a­tion.

But there’s one big prob­lem with the the­ory be­ing em­braced by many party pooh-bahs. It risks hand­ing the elec­tion to Trump on a sil­ver plat­ter—help­ing knock out his strongest rival while watch­ing help­lessly as more-mod­er­ate al­tern­at­ives blow each oth­er up in the pro­cess. The wish­ful think­ing be­hind such a strategy is that Cruz is ut­terly un­elect­able, while Trump is un­pre­dict­able enough to win a gen­er­al elec­tion. In real­ity, Cruz looks like an elect­able stand­ard-bear­er, while Trump could blow the party to smithereens.

Cruz, des­pite be­ing loathed by his col­leagues in Wash­ing­ton, is a bet­ter gen­er­al-elec­tion can­did­ate than his de­tract­ors be­lieve. His gen­er­al elec­tion fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ings are cur­rently re­spect­able, and he runs com­pet­it­ively with Clin­ton in early match­ups. His pro­fes­sion­al re­sume and aca­dem­ic cre­den­tials are ex­cep­tion­al. The polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment for Demo­crats is dis­mal, and is as ill-suited for an es­tab­lish­ment fig­ure like Hil­lary Clin­ton as it is for a hard­line con­ser­vat­ive. Des­pite their dif­fer­ences, Cruz’s vot­ing re­cord in the Sen­ate is not dis­sim­il­ar from Ru­bio’s. Both have near-equal vote rat­ings from the Cham­ber of Com­merce, Amer­ic­an Con­ser­vat­ive Uni­on, and Club for Growth. And if Cruz is as phony as his crit­ics ar­gue—former Mc­Cain ad­viser Mark Salt­er wrote, “I don’t think any sen­at­or really be­lieves Ted Cruz is a con­vic­tion politi­cian, save for his con­vic­tion that he ought to be pres­id­ent”—he would likely inch to the middle in a gen­er­al elec­tion.

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