Last year Republicans baulked at the idea of Ted Cruz running for president. His reputation in the Senate won him few allies, as a champion of the boisterous, anti-government ‘Hell No’ contingent of Congressmen popular with Tea Party conservatives.
A hurricane called Trump has changed all that. Republicans are slowly starting to form behind Ted Cruz as main chess piece needed to prevent Donald Trump winning a majority of delegates in the primaries.
John Kasich, the most moderate Republican candidate, also quietly remains in the race and is potentially crucial for Trump-defense in north eastern states where Cruz has little chance of winning states.
However, for Ted Cruz the prospect of party elders supporting his campaign poses some significant problems. To a considerable degree Cruz’s message overlaps that of Trump: both argue that Washington needs wholesale change, and use anti-government sentiment to energise their support base.
While Trump is courting the GOP power brokers, hoping to avoid a contested convention in July, his appeal is little undermined by the fact that senior Republican figures refuse to endorse him. Quite to the contrary, many of Trump’s core support see this as a sign of his genuine ‘outsider’ status.
Yet for Cruz, figures like Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney offering their support challenges Cruz to walk a fine line between appeasing grassroots conservatives who are drawn to his anti-establishment language, and also attracting moderate conservatives in large enough numbers to contend Trump in upcoming states.
If Cruz moves too closely towards these moderate icons he risks abandoning his already-tenuous anti-D.C. outsider quality.
For the time being, Cruz has managed to walk the tightrope effectively. Indeed, Cruz has probably run the best campaign of anyone this electoral season. With excellent ground organisation and fundraising, Cruz set up a machine ready for the long haul, and tactically avoided confronting Trump and Ben Carson during early states. He’s performed well in debates, avoided major gaffes, and just won the Wisconsin primary.
However, Trump is still enjoys a big lead. If Cruz is to have any chance to taking the nomination from Trump he will need to harness both his grassroots appeal and establishment support.