If [Cruz] were to be the nominee, it would be good news for the Democrats in the short term and the country in the long term. His ideologically extreme positions would hand Hillary Clinton an edge in what the fundamentals still suggest is otherwise likely to be a close election. And a Cruz loss would be most likely to end the myth on the far right that “Republicans lose presidential elections when they don’t run far enough to the right.” If Trump were nominated and (inevitably) lost, his backers would, as they did with George W. Bush toward the end of his administration, suddenly start declaring him a moderate or even a liberal. Such rewriting of history would be next to impossible with Cruz.Nope. If Downie believes that Cruz couldn't be retroactively declared a RINO squish, he's naive.
Among the party's elites, the neocons already think Cruz is a squish. Here's Bret Stevens on The Wall Street Journal's op-ed page:
At this point, readers may sense that Mr. Cruz is closer to President Obama when it comes to fighting terrorism than he lets on. His views on metadata collection are identical to those of James Clapper, the incompetent and dishonest Director of National Intelligence whom Mr. Cruz cites approvingly in his [recent foreign policy] speech [at the Heritage Foundation]. He excoriates the Obama administration for hollowing out the military but fails to note that he was one of just two Republican votes (the other was Rand Paul) against the latest National Defense Authorization Act, opposition he justifies on obscure civil-liberty grounds. He cites Libya as a case study in why not to intervene in a Middle Eastern civil war. But he may also have noted that his anti-interventionist instincts precisely track those of Mr. Obama, who was reluctantly dragged into a war he led from behind.(As an aside, please note that opposition to maximal intervention can't be a simply policy disagreement -- if you don't approve, that's a failure of character. Also note that even agreeing with Netanyahu on Syria isn't good enough.)
As for Syria, Mr. Cruz insists “we do not have a side in the Syrian civil war” and endorses Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s view that nonintervention allows two evil sides to exhaust themselves in the fighting. But this is indistinguishable from Mr. Obama’s hands-off approach to the conflict, notwithstanding the administration’s flaccid efforts to arm a credible opposition and bomb ISIS.
If your aim is to bomb ISIS until the “sand glows in the dark,” you are taking a side in the conflict. Mr. Cruz knows this. If you want to destroy ISIS without strengthening the Assad regime and its backers in Tehran, you have to target the regime, too. The truth about Syria isn’t that we have no dog in the fight. It’s that we’ve got to fight two dogs. The alternative is the endless chaos in which ISIS incubates and desperate refugees come knocking on our doors.
Again, Mr. Cruz knows this. Again, he’s too smart not to. Intelligence is never in question when it comes to the junior senator from Texas. Character is.
And see Max Boot in Commentary:
Ted Cruz inveighs against “these crazy neo-cons” who want to “invade-every-country-on-earth and send our kids to die in the Middle East.” Ronald Reagan proudly filled his administration with neocons like Jeane Kirkpatrick, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle. In many ways, Reagan himself was a “neocon,” having left the Democratic Party and embraced an open and idealistic form of conservatism....So, yes, if Cruz wins the nomination and loses in November, the conservative opinion elite will absolutely argue that he lost because his foreign policy was insufficiently muscular, no matter how many times he may have argued that ISIS should be carpet-bombed into oblivion.
Cruz’s suggestion that the U.S. back Assad is particularly egregious.... Backing Assad is not Reaganesque; it is more Obamaesque, since the current president has reached out to anti-American dictators in Moscow, Havana, and Tehran, among other places. Indeed, Obama has tacitly agreed to allow Assad to continue in power. So Cruz, by backing an alliance with Assad, is endorsing the de facto policy of the current administration.
And rank-and-file voters? If Cruz is the nominee and he's defeated in November, they'll say he lost for the simple reason that he's not Trump.
Downie is certainly correct when he says that Trump, if he's nominated and then loses a general election, will be retroactively deemed a RINO by Republican voters -- but if Trump fails to win the nomination, the same voters will say he was the one true conservative, the candidate who could have won the general election, if only RINO treachery hadn't stolen the nomination from him.
Conservatism can't fail -- it can only be failed. If the GOP loses the presidential election next November, the right will say that it was because conservatism was failed. We just don't know how it was failed yet.