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.