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Lewis Morris / August 26, 2015

How Two Candidates Are Handling the Trump Effect

Cruz and Perry are headed in opposite directions.

No one ever assumed the Republican presidential nomination was going to be smooth sailing, with 17 announced candidates ranging from all walks of public and private life vying for the prize. But the candidacy, and we use that term loosely, of Donald Trump has changed the landscape in a way few could have imagined.

Trump’s presence thus far has muted the inevitability of establishment star Jeb Bush — a good thing, in our estimation, despite the insistence of some Trump supporters that our criticism of The Donald automatically means we favor the heir to the Bush Dynasty. Unfortunately, it has also flummoxed liberal dragon slayer Scott Walker, and all but neutralized Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry. Interestingly, however, it’s raised the stock of Ted Cruz, the first person to enter the race and — other than Trump — the one most considered to be a thorn in the side of the Republican Party, the Democrats, the Senate, and, well, anyone with a side to stick a thorn in.

That said, just what Trump has done to make all this happen is not the point here. The man has had more than his fair share of ink spilled in the campaign thus far. Our focus is how two candidates in particular, Cruz and Perry, came to find their fortunes reversed, one for the better, and one decidedly not.

Some are now considering Cruz to be a realistic frontrunner for the Republican nomination. This is a pretty good place to be for a man who, when he announced his candidacy in March, was tagged as the Tea Party candidate (a label of shame according to the Leftmedia) who has caused nothing but heartache for his fellow Senate Republicans.

The Leftmedia caricature is unfair and shallow. Sure, Cruz’s tactics have gotten him in trouble over the ObamaCare fight and budget issues. But Senate Republicans need a swift kick in the pants. Furthermore, intellectually, Cruz is no slouch. Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz once called Cruz “off-the-charts brilliant” for the time he spent at Harvard Law. Coming from a liberal like Dershowitz, that’s no small compliment.

Cruz’s short time in the Senate is another key criticism among opponents, despite the fact that he has held a number of public offices and rose to national prominence in the 2012 Senate race when he throttled both his establishment primary opponent and the Democrat general election challenger.

For all of the criticism of Barack Obama’s inexperience, it wasn’t his two years in the Senate before launching his presidential bid that was the problem; it was his ideology. Cruz is on the right path on that count.

Cruz’s stock has risen in recent weeks in large part because he is now well positioned to embrace Trump’s supporters when The Donald’s candidacy implodes. In a race that went from “Bush vs. Not-Bush” to “Trump vs. Not-Trump,” Cruz may be the strongest Not-Trump around. There are many conservative voters supporting Trump who may switch support to Cruz if the reality TV star were out of the picture. Which is why Cruz is playing it smart by not openly criticizing Trump like his fellow candidates. Besides, he doesn’t have to prove his anti-establishment bona fides.

It can be said that Cruz has grown in popularity by virtue of circumstance, even though it is to his credit that he has recognized that and played it well.

Rick Perry, on the other hand, is fading despite running a solid campaign on a good record.

Perry’s troubles began when he was relegated to the happy hour debate, a sad place to be for a candidate who was tracking in the top tier before the Comb-Over King came to town. Then Perry had to stop paying staffers because his campaign ran out of money. Poll numbers drive fundraising, and fundraising drives poll numbers. Neither was going anywhere but down.

On Monday, Sam Clovis, Perry’s Iowa campaign manager, announced his departure because, after all, the man’s got a family to feed. To add insult to injury, Clovis has signed on with none other than Donald Trump, the very man Perry has so harshly criticized.

Admittedly, Perry’s 2012 campaign was not an auspicious introduction to the national political scene, but, since then, he has put together a strong staff and honed his presentation and his platform. And his 14-year record as governor of Texas should by all rights make him perhaps the most attractive candidate out there. His state added 1.5 million jobs between 2007 and 2013 while the rest of the country lost 400,000. He has a proud military record, and he has dealt with the immigration problem and border security firsthand.

Perry still has super PAC support that can help resurrect his campaign, but it’s worth wondering how he could fall so far as to be on campaign-life support before the second debate even takes place. This is yet another reminder of the raw unpredictability of politics and another reason why we need to keep paying close attention to this race. Trump isn’t going away any time soon, but neither is he likely to win the nomination — much less the general election. But his effect on the field will be tremendous.

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