Edi­tor’s note: the print version of this article was edited sig­nif­i­cantly. The version here pub­lished more closely reflects the length of the original sub­mission.

Christopher Boy­ajian asserts that Ted Cruz is an “une­lec­table radical” (“Ted Cruz: Une­lec­table Radical,” April 2). I think Mr. Boy­ajian is largely incorrect, but his charge has two ele­ments and each deserves careful analysis.

The charge of “radical” stems from Cruz’s unapolo­getic insis­tence on a return to gov­ernment that is bound by a strict inter­pre­tation of the Con­sti­tution. I think it is correct to identify this as radical. The fun­da­mental prin­ciple of the Con­sti­tution, and of the Dec­la­ration before it, is the idea that the rights of indi­viduals are superior to the interests of gov­ernment and gov­ernment offi­cials. This is indeed a radical prin­ciple, at odds with ancient as well as con­tem­porary political philoso­phies. In par­ticular, it is at odds with the pro­gres­sivism of both Democrat and Repub­lican Party leaders, for whom con­sti­tu­tional con­straints are unwanted imped­i­ments. The lead­ership of both parties have no interest in seeing their power cur­tailed by a return to con­sti­tu­tional limits. Neither are they inter­ested in a fight with the pow­erful reg­u­latory bureau­cracies to whom they’ve ceded authority. For them, the main point of being in power seems to be cronyism, dis­trib­uting favors to special political sup­porters. Con­sti­tu­tional con­straints are indeed imped­i­ments to this enter­prise. But uncon­strained gov­ernment leads inevitably to despotism, so the sort of rad­i­calism Cruz espouses should make him more attractive to well-informed cit­izens, not less.

But what about “une­lec­table?” To win, doesn’t the GOP need to select mod­erate, less “radical” can­di­dates who can appeal to an alleged “main­stream?” The Repub­lican Party lead­ership has repeated this argument for decades. But it is demon­strably false, and probably exactly the opposite is true. The Repub­licans have a very dif­ficult time winning unless they have a “radical.”

The first time I heard GOP leaders make the “rea­sonable mod­erate” argument was in 1976, when they pushed incumbent Gerald Ford over “une­lec­table radical” Ronald Reagan. Ford pro­ceeded to lose to the little-known Jimmy Carter. Iron­i­cally, “une­lec­table radical” Reagan returned and easily swept the next two elec­tions, winning the popular vote by over­whelming margins of 9.5 and 18.1 percent. His mod­erate vice pres­ident, George H.W. Bush, rode this momentum to victory in 1988, whereupon his “kinder, gentler” cen­trism ini­tiated a nearly com­plete string of defeats for the “elec­table” Repub­lican mod­erates beloved of the lead­ership. In the next six elec­tions (1992 – 2012) Repub­lican can­di­dates managed to win more popular votes than their Democrat oppo­nents in only one election, 2004, when incumbent George W. Bush won the popular vote with a 2.5 percent margin. In the remaining five elec­tions, “elec­table” Repub­licans lost the popular vote by an average of 6 percent. Repub­licans managed to win a second of the six elec­tions only because of the “hanging chad” debacle in Florida that gave George W. Bush the elec­toral vote victory despite losing the popular vote to Al Gore. And had spoiler Ralph Nader not won nearly 3 percent of the popular vote for the Green party, Gore would likely have fin­ished several per­centage points, and 45 elec­toral votes, ahead of Bush.

Sub­se­quent Repub­lican cam­paigns fea­tured “main­stream, elec­table” can­di­dates John McCain and Mitt Romney. McCain lost the popular vote by more than 7 percent, and the very mod­erate and “elec­table” Romney lost the popular vote by almost 4 percent, despite the fact that Barack Obama’s extremism had become evident to much of the country. So much for the strategy of running “elec­table” mod­erates.

This per­sistent failure of Repub­lican pres­i­dential can­di­dates to win a majority of the popular vote is even more notable when one remembers that in elec­tions con­ducted at the state and local levels, where national party leaders have less influence, Repub­lican can­di­dates, including very con­ser­v­ative ones, have done very well. Admit­tedly, the pres­i­dential election is deter­mined by elec­toral votes, not popular vote. But mod­erate Repub­lican can­di­dates find it dif­ficult to win even a plu­rality of the popular vote, which in turn makes it very dif­ficult for them to win the Elec­toral College. Given that the “polar­izing, une­lec­table radical” Reagan won crushing vic­tories, and the sub­se­quent “more rea­sonable” cen­trists have usually been defeated and never won over­whelm­ingly, the “une­lec­table” charge against Ted Cruz makes no sense to me. It’s impos­sible to take seri­ously the pro­nounce­ments of “experts” like Karl Rove, who assure us only “rea­sonable” can­di­dates can win, while simul­ta­ne­ously working harder to sab­otage Tea Party-favored can­di­dates than they do to defeat Democrats.

This brings us back to the issue of “radical,” the more important issue. Boy­ajian argues that Ted Cruz has not been suf­fi­ciently loyal to the Repub­lican Party lead­ership. But why should I, or any voter, care about that? Political parties are merely means to ends, not ends in them­selves. In our current post-con­sti­tu­tional system, the only end I care about is reversing our country’s slide into despotism. I am sure that the McConnells and Boehners and Roves of the GOP hope to saddle us with a Jeb Bush or Chris Christie or some other big gov­ernment Repub­lican mod­erate who will do nothing to rock the boat and undo our current political crisis. But frankly, if we must con­tinue down the road to despotism, we might as well have a Hillary Clinton or an Eliz­abeth Warren as pres­ident. The ultimate outcome will be the same, but with a Democrat running the show the left will have a harder time blaming the growing tyranny on the free market and insuf­fi­cient gov­ernment.

In sum, I agree with Boy­ajian that Ted Cruz is radical, properly under­stood. But there’s sub­stantial reason to think this is what Repub­licans need if they are to win the pres­i­dency, and it is cer­tainly what we Amer­icans need if we are to win the battle for limited Con­sti­tu­tional gov­ernment and freedom.