At Salon, Jonathan Bernstein goes all #Slatepitchy with a piece titled "Ted Cruz Could Beat Hillary." I would never say never, but Bernstein's arguments are unconvincing:
Some liberals react by actively rooting for Cruz. The theory? The nuttier the nominee, the worse the chances of Republicans retaking the White House....OK, stop right there. Nixon beat McGovern because Nixon was "a popular president during good times"? As Rick Perlstein notes in Nixonland, at the beginning of 1972 Nixon had a 49% approval rating, and the Harris poll showed him beating Ed Muskie by only 1 in a three-way race with George Wallace, who was expected to run as a third-party candidate. Unemployent and inflation had increased significantly in Nixon's first term, as had the crime rate; Perlstein notes that the movies in the theaters -- Dirty Harry, Straw Dogs, The French Connection -- depicted rampant crime. Oh, and the war was still going on, and the country was still racially polarized. No, we weren't happy campers in 1972 reveling in peace and prosperity. We were just sold on the notion that Nixon was the uprightest of citizens holding the line against dirty hippies like George McGovern. That's largely why Nixon rose in the polls throughout 1972 and crushed McGovern.
Don't listen to it....
The bottom line is that candidates just don't matter all that much in presidential elections. Yes, a reputation for ideological extremism hurts, but it appears to hurt maybe 2 or 3 percentage points. Yes, George McGovern and Barry Goldwater had reputations for ideological extremism and were buried, but in both cases it was by a popular president during good times.
But here's where Bernstein really loses me:
Now, on top of that, it's an open question whether Cruz would really wind up with a reputation as more of a fringe figure than any other plausible nominee.... it's not impossible to imagine a scenario in which Cruz wins the nomination as the hero of conservatives, which then leaves him far more free to pivot to the center in the general election race than a less trusted candidate might have.Oh, please. Throwing verbal grenades is what Ted Cruz does; it's his brand. Speculating that he might moderate his rhetoric is like imagining that someday the Insane Clown Posse will write and record a series of cello sonatas.
In a field that's likely to include Rick Perry and Paul Ryan and Rand Paul and Scott Walker, and that may well include crazies like Rick Santorum and Allen West, how does Bernstein imagine that Ted Cruz is going to distinguish himself from the other candidates? By means of his sterling record of accomplishment in the Senate (which, as Dave Weigel recently pointed out, is nonexistent)? No -- he's going to distinguish himself by saying the most outrageous things, and proposing the most outrageous proposals. Is the record of those words suddenly going to vanish from the nation's databases once the general election starts? Is a Democratic campaign going to pass up the opportunity to hang Cruz's primary-season words around his neck? Or anything else outrageous he's said while in public life?
But the most amusing aspect of a Ted Cruz-Hillary Clinton race might be an endorsement of Hillary Clinton by John McCain -- who, of course, has feuded with Cruz and bonded with Clinton. That gives me pause regarding Hillary -- but swing voters would love it.
So, no, I'm not worried that a remade, centrist-friendly Ted Cruz is going to beat Hillary Clinton in 2016, because such a creature cannot possibly exist.