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May 5, 2016

Cruz Beat Himself

His own strategy and the persona he cultivated backfired.

In a scenario largely unimaginable just nine months ago, Donald Trump, who has spent his life funding Democrats, is now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. With Ted Cruz’s withdrawal from the race on Tuesday, the GOP — and conservatives across America — lost the only constitutionally conservative candidate left standing. While we did not endorse any particular candidate, clearly Cruz not only understood our Constitution but also thought it worth following and fighting for — imagine that.

So what happened?

When Cruz won Iowa, he looked poised to do well. When he won Wisconsin, it appeared as though he could really stop Trump. But his fall was precipitous.

The odds from the outset were not in Cruz’s favor, and, frankly, it’s a testament to his solid ground-game strategy that he made it as far as he did. Hardly beloved among the DC Republican elites, Cruz made a name for himself bucking the establishment, which he regularly called “the Washington cartel.” Whether or not you cheered his “Green Eggs and Ham” filibuster protesting ObamaCare funding, it didn’t win him many friends among entrenched party leadership. As a result, not only former House Speaker John Boehner but actual conservatives in Washington were happy to sit on the sidelines and watch the Cruz campaign fail. Indeed, Boehner didn’t call Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh” as a term of endearment.

Cruz helped fuel the rebellion against the Beltway establishment, but when a better showman came along and Cruz needed that establishment’s help, it was nowhere to be found.

While petty playground games are unbecoming (if standard practice) for members of Congress, Republican vitriol undoubtedly affected Cruz’s image. In the end, intraparty fighting within the halls of Congress may very well be credited with Trump’s nomination.

Yet the Beltway isn’t fully to blame for Cruz’s downfall. With 17 candidates crowding the field for far too long, at some point they all began looking pretty much the same — bland, same-old-loser Republicans, establishment or not. All but one. And that one is now the presumptive nominee.

At first, Cruz tried to ride in Trump’s slipstream. Cruz spent last summer praising Trump, saying the billionaire is “a friend of mine.” Furthermore, “He’s bold and brash and he’s willing to speak the truth.”

Just before Cruz left the race, he unloaded on Trump as “the biggest narcissist” and a “pathological liar.”

But while Trump was appealing to everyone, Cruz was focused on only the most conservative voters. Turns out he lost many of them, too, in part because voters decided that “Lyin’ Ted,” Trump’s favorite moniker, was an apt one.

In fact, the longer the campaign mayhem dragged on, and the more bizarre it grew, the more Trump supporters couldn’t distinguish even Cruz from the establishment. To them, anyone not named “Trump” became establishment — and nothing would convince them otherwise.

Of course, Trump himself was an attention-grabbing anomaly. He built his empire on the art of entertainment and the deal of paying for favors. Given the presidential race is the biggest stage of his life, naturally he put on a great show, with a script full of promises but few props of evidence to support them.

And he won over much of the crowd.

Any thoughts on Cruz’s downfall and Trump’s ascension would be incomplete without considering the role of the media. And no, we don’t mean only the liberal mainstream media so often blamed (rightly) for its bias, which gave the billionaire billions of dollars in free air time. We mean conservative media who drank the Trump Kool-Aid and made it their mission to poison their audiences with the same. (See Fox News’ sinking ratings for how this worked out for them.)

Explaining the demise of the entire Republican field, National Review’s Jim Geraghty wrote, “How likely was it that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, and Matt Drudge would not merely tolerate Trump’s previous liberal views but excuse them or conclude they were irrelevant to the 2016 discussion? How likely was it that they would look at Trump’s recent declaration that he’s pro-life and pro-gun and they would believe him?”

Trump himself told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, “I’ve spent zero on advertising because you and Fox and all of the others — I won’t mention names, but every other network, I mean they cover me a lot, to put it mildly. And in covering me, it’s almost like if I put ads in on top of the program, it would be too much. It would be too much Trump.”

Too much Trump? Now there’s something we can agree on.

In his exit speech, a gracious Cruz struck a tone of optimism, highlighting America’s exceptionalism and promising to “defend the Judeo-Christian values that built America” and to “continue this fight with all of my strength and all of my ability.”

Unfortunately for Cruz, his own strategy and the persona he cultivated backfired. Had Trump never entered the race, it’s still unlikely the Texas senator could have won the nomination. So in the end, he may only be able to blame himself.

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