by Matt Bowman
Conservatives seem to agree on the need to stop Donald Trump’s burgeoning candidacy, but they disagree on a strategy.
The first obstacle is how to somehow combine Ted Cruz’s and Marco Rubio’s 20-25 percent of the vote each into a 40-50 percent block to contend with Trump. Various conservatives have urged their allies to coalesce around Cruz, or alternatively, around Rubio.
Cruz advocates, such as The Federalist‘s D.C. McAllister, contend “Rubio Needs to Move Aside for Cruz, not Vice Versa.” McAllister cites Cruz’s expertise for picking Supreme Court justices and contends that many Cruz voters would drift to Trump and not to Rubio if Cruz left the race.
Advocates of backing Rubio include Leon Wolf of RedState. Though Wolf says, “I’ve been on the record for months saying that Ted Cruz would be a better President than Marco Rubio. I still believe that,” he concludes that Cruz simply has not expanded his voting base beyond evangelicals and very conservative voters as would be necessary to beat Trump in the post-Super-Tuesday states with thinner evangelical populations. Therefore, a poor March 1 primary showing by Cruz will likely end his chances.
Many conservatives have also openly wished that Cruz and Rubio would join forces in a combined ticket. Jonah Goldberg proposes that “A Rubio-Cruz Ticket Might Be the Only Way to Stop Trump.” David Harsanyi concurs. How would they decide who gets lead billing on such a ticket? “Flip a Coin,” says Jonathan Witt.
But the prospect that either candidate will back down before it’s too late seems less and less likely.
Conservatives seem further united in saying Cruz and Rubio must start attacking Trump. National Review‘s Charles C. W. Cooke pens that in tonight’s debate, “Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz must find their resolve and all-but-machine-gun the man to the floor.” Rachel Lu declares, “Cruz and Rubio Need to Fire at Trump Not Each Other.” Echoing a similar weapons metaphor, Ben Domenech urges both men, “At Tonight’s Debate, Take a Flamethrower to Trump.”
Unfortunately, this grassroots desire seems not to be fully shared by the candidates.
On Monday, Cruz fired his communications director for sharing on social media a negative story about Rubio that turned out to be false. Rubio in the meantime joined Trump in portraying the Cruz campaign as underhanded.
Asked whether he would go on the offense with Trump, Rubio told ABC, “I’ve never been a campaign that attacks people.” But later in a stump speech, he criticized Trump several times. Cruz’s and Rubio’s stance towards Trump and each other in tonight’s debate may give the candidates a chance to choose a strategy.
Both Cruz and Rubio are struggling with Trump in their home state polls. The last two polls for the March 1 primary in Texas show Cruz statistically tied with Trump. Meanwhile Trump leads Rubio by 16 in the latest Florida poll ahead of the state’s March 15 primary.
A final looming obstacle seems to be Ben Carson’s and John Kasich’s decisions to stay in the race. Their persistence despite no realistic path to the nomination is absolutely maddening to conservatives, since they are peeling off 5-8 percent of the total vote in key primary states.
To solve this problem, The New York Times‘ Ross Douthat, and some others, urge a different unity ticket: Rubio-Kasich. They cite, for example, the two men’s combined percentages in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania which could overcome Trump’s lead there.
Douthat has additionally responded to objections that this ticket would help Cruz by painting Rubio as a moderate, urging instead that Rubio make the bid just after Super Tuesday’s evangelical-heavy primaries are over.
Kasich, in the meantime, has scoffed at the idea. “Sure, if he wants to run for vice president with me, that’d be great. Are you kidding? I don’t run for second.”
Kasich has, in recent days, tried to boost his social conservative credentials somewhat, by signing Ohio legislation to defund Planned Parenthood.
Yet, as Maggie reports, he also came out strongly against businesses who do not want to provide products for gay weddings.
Trump, too, is making a bid to maintain the surprising support he has among evangelicals. Vistiting Pat Robertson’s Regent University in Virginia Beach, he said his Supreme Court nominee would be “pro-life. We want — it starts with that, starts with it. A very conservative, a very, very smart, I mean like Judge [Antonin] Scalia would be a perfect . . . representative.”
Tonight’s debate and the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries are set to play a major role in deciding whether any non-Trump scenario occurs — and if it occurs, whether enough time is left in the race for it to matter.
Matt Bowman is an attorney who practices pro-life and constitutional law in Washington, D.C.