Donald Trump may well win the Republican primary. The latest national poll on Republican or likely Republican voters has his support at a personal high of 41%, and his recent calls for the closure of Muslim immigration into the United States seemingly haven’t damaged his chances yet.
Though if Trump doesn’t win the Republican ticket, pundits are placing bets on either Florida Senator Marco Rubio or Texan Senator Ted Cruz to win the nomination.
Indications from inside the Democratic Party suggest that Rubio is seen as more of a challenge than Cruz. Rubio is youthful, hispanic, and can deliver a vital swing state in the general election. Addedto which, Rubio has presented himself as an optimistic candidate, calling for a ‘new American century’, while also emphasising his national security credentials.
Cruz is a champion of Tea Party America: vocally obstructive and obstreperous in the Senate, Ted Cruz is almost as polarising as Trump himself.
As the primaries near, the Rubio-Cruz showdown has loomed over debates, with both candidates taking pot shots at each other. Sadly, these early skirmishes have demonstrated a central problem with the current season of primaries.
Cruz and Rubio are goading each other into more conservative positions, targeting moments in their careers when they have shown moderate leanings.
Cruz is attacking Rubio’s involvement with Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer back in 2013, as they attempted to work on an immigration reform bill. The Marco Rubio of 2015 has distanced himself from his bipartisan legislative efforts, and has not made immigration a central point of his campaign.
However, Rubio has also been pulling Cruz further to the right, pointing to his vote to restrain the metadata collection powers of the National Security Agency. The Floridian Senator is eager to portray himself as experienced and strong on national security, and will likely build on this critique of Cruz at a time of increased anxiety.
Both Senators have their reasons for their records, and instead of articulating coherent defences about their actions, they are instead kowtowing to the forces of political gravity that currently are tending towards the right.
In part, this is the nature of primaries. Candidates aren’t speaking to ‘everyday Americans’ as much as they will in the general election; instead, their focus is on party loyalists and individuals already engaged in politics.
The problem with the gravitational pull of primary politics is that candidates often become gagged when it comes to views that don’t sit comfortably with contemporary party orthodoxy. But difference of opinion can enrich the debate. Silencing it sends party politics into extreme partisanship, leaving the middle ground vulnerable.