We held a chat this morning with several The Pulse 2016 contributors to discuss the end of Ted Cruz’s campaign. Where does the conservative movement go from here? Can Donald Trump be trusted by social conservatives?
- Jon Schweppe, Communications Director, American Principles Project
- Shane Vander Hart, Editor-in-Chief for CaffeinatedThoughts.com
- Ralph Benko, Senior Economic Advisor, American Principles Project
- Mary Powers, pro-life conservative writer, and contributor to The Pulse 2016.
schweppe [10:04 AM]: Okay. Well, let’s get started. Thanks to all of you for joining.
ralphbenko [10:05 AM]: You are welcome, Jon.
schweppe [10:05 AM] Last night, Ted Cruz dropped out of the race after losing Indiana… so what happened?
ralphbenko [10:05 AM] Here’s my piece at Forbes: How Donald Trump Beat Ted Cruz.
shane_vanderhart [10:05 AM] Yep got that in my inbox bright and early :-)
shane_vanderhart [10:06 AM] This was written before Cruz dropped… Caffeinated Thoughts: Five Observations About Donald Trump’s Win in Indiana
ralphbenko [10:07 AM] Trump featured a powerful (and probably authentic) Peace and Prosperity narrative. Ted Cruz had a terrific Peace and Prosperity platform but muffled his narrative.
Just looking at their respective campaign websites shows this vividly.
Maggie nailed it perfectly a few weeks ago in her NR column (from which I quoted). [Editor’s Note: Maggie Gallagher’s National Review column can be found here.]
shane_vanderhart [10:08 AM] Ultimately narrative beat Cruz. It was hard to overcome the Trump PR machine aka the Media.
ralphbenko [10:08 AM] Yes, advantage Trump in projection of the narrative via the state-controlled media. But Cruz didn’t give the media much to work with.
shane_vanderhart [10:09 AM] Toward the end I would agree Ralph, but not at first.
Ultimately the vote in Indiana was supporting those the media ordained “the presumptive nominee.”
ralphbenko [10:10 AM] Cruz’s featured call to action, “Join the movement of courageous conservatives” is — as Maggie pointed out — too parochial a message for a presidential campaign. Trump’s “Make America great again” was far more powerful.
shane_vanderhart [10:11 AM] I think this says more about the state of the Republican (and independent) electorate than it does the campaign if we are boiling things down to a campaign slogan.
schweppe [10:12 AM] My biggest frustration with Cruz, and Rubio before him, and heck, even Jeb before him — where was the foundational message to compete with Trump? I thought that Rubio proved #NotTrump wasn’t good enough to win when he flopped post-March 1, but then Cruz followed it up with his own iteration of that messaging.
ralphbenko [10:12 AM] Politics is nonfiction. (Except when it’s fiction, but that’s another story.) Trump storyboarded his campaign message. Cruz waterboarded his.
shane_vanderhart [10:12 AM] I see your point though.
schweppe [10:12 AM] I know this is in many ways the fault of the media, but campaigns need to make sure their message is driven home.
shane_vanderhart [10:12 AM] Being an Iowan… I guess I like getting past rhetoric and into issues.
ralphbenko [10:13 AM] Hey, Schweppe. We in the Media actually did a fantastic job. I take umbrage!
We wrote about what you, our readers, wanted to read about. And now you are indicting us for our service? What’s up with that?
shane_vanderhart [10:14 AM] It’s hard to compete when the media when all Trump has to do is say something colossally stupid and then the attention goes back to him.
ralphbenko [10:14 AM] When I wrote about issues I got, like, one pageview. [Must have been Shane.] When I wrote about the Story, I got orders of magnitude more readers.
shane_vanderhart [10:15 AM] Ralph you’re doing it wrong :-)
schweppe [10:15 AM] “How Donald Trump Beat Cruz” – 5,000+, Ralph
shane_vanderhart [10:15 AM] Great SEO fodder. Not to mention timely.
ralphbenko [10:15 AM] Shane: you flirt with the crime of lese majeste! And as Alcuin famously wrote to Charlemagne in 798, “Vox populi, vox Dei!” Your criticism of We, The Media, is impious to the verge of heretical. Take care.
schweppe [10:15 AM] Here’s my question: what could Cruz have done differently?
And more importantly, what could the RNC have done differently?
mary_powers [10:16 AM] Well, one thing that hurt all the candidates and the RNC was that no one took Trump seriously until December.
shane_vanderhart [10:17 AM] Agreed Mary.
Prior to Indiana, speaking of narrative — teaming up with Kasich… bad move. Strategically I understand, but Trump was able to spin that.
Also going back to the night of the Iowa Caucus, that email about Carson sent to precinct captains. That dogged Cruz through South Carolina. That set up the “Lyin Ted” narrative.
mary_powers [10:20 AM] Also, I think the RNC didn’t realize–and still today doesn’t realize–how angry the Republican voters are with what they see as the “Establishment.”
Yep, you’re right Shane, that didn’t help him either.
schweppe [10:21 AM] That frustrated me to no end, Shane, not because of the Cruz campaign, but because of how absurd the narrative was reacting to that. Carson essentially suspended his campaign! Geez Louise.
shane_vanderhart [10:21 AM] I agree Jon, it was a bunch of nonsense, but that is how it was spun.
schweppe [10:21 AM] Mary, agreed. Paul Ryan still doesn’t get it.
ralphbenko [10:23 AM] Cruz never defined himself as the guy best equipped to get the economy moving again. (And best equipped to keep us safe from fanatic terrorists.) He didn’t even try. It’s weird. Really weird. If he had defined himself as Superman on these two issues (as Trump did), and Trump as the Supervillain, we pixel-stained wretches in the Media, both State-controlled and Subversives-like-me, would have eaten it up.
shane_vanderhart [10:23 AM] He could have toned down some of the evangelical-speak and offered a broader message to non-evangelicals. I think he could have done that and still have been a champion of social conservative values.
ralphbenko [10:23 AM] Instead, Ted, splendidly clad in spandex, ducked into the phone booth and came out campaigning as … Clark Kent.
shane_vanderhart [10:24 AM] Good point Ralph… He tried to pivot to jobs pre-Wisconsin, but it didn’t take and it was probably too late.
ralphbenko [10:24 AM] Way too late.
He already was defined by then.
mary_powers [10:25 AM] Yep. Another thing that hurt Ted Cruz and many other candidates this round was that the voters weren’t interested in hearing about a person’s track record. They wanted to know what they were going to DO in office.
shane_vanderhart [10:25 AM] Ultimately though establishment types and moderates were more #NeverCruz than #NeverTrump. They never really got behind him in the way some thought they would.
mary_powers [10:25 AM] I also agree with that Shane.
ralphbenko [10:26 AM] While you guys re-litigate the primary I’m going to take a little nap. I’m only interested in what comes next, both immediately, in the general, and long term. Schweppe, wake me when we’re talking about tomorrow.
Will Trump win?
shane_vanderhart [10:27 AM] This quote is apropos about my view of tomorrow. “If we must have an enemy at the head of government let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible.” – Alexander Hamilton
ralphbenko [10:27 AM] You’re quoting Red State quoting Hamilton, Shane. Trump is sure to be spectacular — he has a great sense of Presentation — but spectacular great or spectacular failure? Zzzzzzzz.
shane_vanderhart [10:28 AM] Actually I saw that in The Federalist.
ralphbenko [10:28 AM] OK, probably Ben Howe, or whoever, stole it from The Federalist too. What a drama queen Alexander Hamilton was. (Got to love him, although the Musical, not so much.)
schweppe [10:29 AM] I felt like there were three major mistakes on this campaign that led to Trump.
1.) Marco Rubio had an incredible shot at beating Trump, seemed to be building momentum nationally, but he went with the Giuliani 2008 “national campaign” strategy (which failed then and failed now) and didn’t build the proper infrastructure in early states. Rubio had operatives telling the media, in essence, that Iowa didn’t matter. And it seemed like that could have been a great state for him to win.
2.) The failure to coalesce early. We should have had one candidate to back on March 1. Rubio probably should have dropped prior, as he prevented Cruz from building momentum and winning states he should have. Later on, the prospect of strategic voting probably annoyed voters and built Trump’s base of support over time.
3.) As Ralph just highlighted, nobody, except Trump, messaged well on economics. Cruz was excellent on the social issues, but never really focused on the problems working Americans are facing — stagnant wages, rising prices, and general discontent.
And Mary that’s an excellent point. This was the cycle of the outsider, and far too many GOP candidates were talking about their lengthy records as politicians! Duh!
shane_vanderhart [10:30 AM] Re. what Jon said… I agree. I think we may be overanalyzing this. Where does the cult of personality weigh in? From the get go he was the celebrity and thousands flocked to him.
ralphbenko [10:31 AM] “Americans haven’t gotten a raise in 16 years.” The GOP has been in charge, or disproportionately influential, for most of that. Of course we mere voters are unimpressed with the Establishment GOP. I predicted that a maverick like Cruz or Paul would beat the outsiders like Trump and Carson. The mavericks really let me down!
schweppe [10:32 AM] It has to play a role, Shane. He was always the most dynamic personality on stage.
I also think, and I hope nobody shoots arrows at me over this, but I think he’s somewhat likable. I dislike many of the stupid things he says, but he is charming and funny and I think people warm to him over time. I also think America has accepted that much of what he is doing — “Jeb’s a mess. He’s the worst” — is a schtick.
shane_vanderhart [10:34 AM] Which again says more about our electorate, which at the risk of sounding like an elitist, is becoming increasingly more uninformed.
I won’t shoot arrows at you Jon, I just have a different standard for likable :-)
schweppe [10:35 AM] The constant refrain from Washington and the conservative establishment was “we have to stop Trump.” I’m wondering if people were reacting to who the “we” were and saying, you know what, forget them.
shane_vanderhart [10:36 AM] Great point… going back to the Cruz-Kasich “agreement.” That is why Trump played it the way he did.
ralphbenko [10:36 AM] Why are you denigrating the importance of leadership, including charisma, Shane, as “cult of personality?” We’re a republic, not a democracy, and we mere voters (unlike you) don’t want to have nerd out on all the “issues” every four years. We know where we stand and just want to hire a guy (or gal) who can get ‘er done.
Ultimately, we are to blame for this outcome (if blame is warranted, which I don’t think it is). We defaulted on the obvious opportunity to launch Maggie Gallagher for President at the crucial moment. Shame on us. Gallagher. Charisma. Brains. Beauty. Values. The complete package!
I’m pushing Cruz for VP. Gallagher might be a shrewder choice….
shane_vanderhart [10:38 AM] I’m not denigrating the importance of leadership. Lead on issues, on policy, and getting to what you are talking about… make sure you can communicate that. We do live in a Republic which is why I reject a guy like Trump.
schweppe [10:39 AM] Okay, I have one more theory:
Does the more dynamic personality always win presidential elections in the modern age?
Obama was more dynamic than Romney and McCain. Bush was more dynamic than Kerry or Gore. Clinton was more dynamic than Dole and H.W. Bush.
Does Trump have a shot at winning?
shane_vanderhart [10:40 AM] “Get ‘er done….” Get what done?
schweppe [10:40 AM] ‘er, Shane. ‘er.
shane_vanderhart [10:40 AM] LOL
ralphbenko [10:40 AM] Making America great again.
shane_vanderhart [10:40 AM] What does that mean Ralph?
ralphbenko [10:40 AM] Peace and prosperity.
shane_vanderhart [10:41 AM] What does that look like and how is that accomplished? See I’m not an ends justify the means type of guy.
ralphbenko [10:41 AM] Peace comes from “Peace Through Strength,” which Reagan lived by and Trump gets. (So did Cruz, but mostly he mumbled about it.)
Prosperity comes from the gold standard, properly done, the flat tax, properly done, and judicious deregulation.
As for the “ends justify the means,” Shane, you’re obviously rusty on your Alinsky, who wrote about that very question very astutely in Rules for Radicals. He teaches, quite correctly, that it all depends on which ends and which means…. Brush up.
mary_powers [10:42 AM] Jon, Romney and McCain dropped the ball in debates and didn’t go up against Obama. That was their downfall. I think this General is different…we have two dynamic personalities that aren’t afraid (as of now) to bash each other. Just depends on how Trump takes Clinton on.
shane_vanderhart [10:42 AM] Back to Jon’s question can Trump win? Polling would indicate no considering he’s the most unpopular politician to run for office.
Ralph, the problem with Trump’s messaging is that I don’t believe him for a second.
ralphbenko [10:43 AM] Trump is more likely to beat Hillary in a 40-state landslide than to lose.
schweppe [10:43 AM] *popcorn*
shane_vanderhart [10:43 AM] I don’t subscribe to Rules for Radicals.
ralphbenko [10:44 AM] Alinsky detested Big Government, Shane. Don’t tell me you’re going Socialist on us? Trump doesn’t do “messaging.” That is one of his strengths.
shane_vanderhart [10:45 AM] No Ralph, Alinsky detested some aspects of Big Government.
And I’m not a socialist :-)
schweppe [10:45 AM] One last question, which Shane just touched on, and then we can break:
As social conservatives, do we trust that Trump will be pro-life, pro-religious freedom, and appoint Scalias instead of Kennedys?
shane_vanderhart [10:47 AM] I don’t trust him at all Jon. I hope I am delightfully surprised should he win, but I don’t think he will.
ralphbenko [10:48 AM] No, Saul Alinsky detested everything about Big Government. He publicly called LBJ’s War on Poverty “political pornography.” Got into a big public fight with Sargent Shriver over this. You must be thinking of another Alinsky. OK, if you love Big Government maybe you’re just a Closet Progressive.
shane_vanderhart [10:49 AM] Ralph, Rules for Radicals advocates things that are contrary to my worldview.
But that is off topic.
I really don’t care what Saul Alinsky believed or didn’t believe.
ralphbenko [10:50 AM] You repudiate Alinsky’s passionate advocacy of the Judeo-Christian Ethic in Rules for Radicals? Shane, surely you are a sleeper agent for the Forces of Darkness.
schweppe [10:50 AM] One last question, which Shane just touched on, and then we can break:
As social conservatives, do we trust that Trump will be pro-life, pro-religious freedom, and appoint Scalias instead of Kennedys?
shane_vanderhart [10:51 AM] I don’t trust him at all Jon. I hope I am delightfully surprised should he win, but I don’t think he will.
ralphbenko [10:50 AM] Schweppe, trust? The odds that President Clinton will appoint nothing but leftists to the Supreme Court are 100%.
The odds that President Trump will do so are, patently, less than 100% and almost certainly a LOT less.
schweppe [10:51 AM] That’s definitely a gambler’s outlook. I like it. The Expected Value of Donald Trump is higher than the Expected Value of Hillary.
mary_powers [10:52 AM] Jon, my hope is that we can hold Trump accountable to the positions he’s outlined already…and make sure he knows where we stand on SCOTUS nominees. But in the end, he’s up against Hillary Clinton who, with her allies, is one of the most evil people on politics and who could wreak havoc on an already broken system. I’d rather gamble with Trump than fight Clinton. As Russell Moore pointed out last night — until Jesus of Nazareth runs for President, we will never have a perfect nominee.
schweppe [10:52 AM] That’s a great point, Mary.
ralphbenko [10:53 AM] Trump is committed to appointing nothing but Scalias and there’s no percentage for him in defaulting on that pledge. (On which he is about to double down in a big way with a major speech.) Right, Schweppe. Even you, a Clueless Millennial, apparently can do the math.
Um, Mary? I’m a Jesus Birther. The evidence is pretty strong that He’s not a naturally born citizen. Mind your Constitution!
mary_powers [10:53 AM] Haha. Thanks, Ralph! I’ll take that into consideration.
shane_vanderhart [10:54 AM] Mary, I’m with you on holding Trump accountable. I plan to vote my conscience and I expect everyone else to do the same. I don’t see much that is redeemable in him, and I’m not looking for a perfect candidate. I recognize everyone will approach the general election differently. That’s where I’m at.
ralphbenko [10:55 AM] Hmmmm. Wonder whether being Supernaturally born might prove a loophole on the whole citizenship thing…. Worth researching … when the Time comes.
shane_vanderhart [10:55 AM] Ralph, re. Alinsky, I wrote this awhile back: Caffeinated Thoughts: Ridicule: A Favorite Debate Tool of the Left.
schweppe [10:56 AM] Alright. That’ll do it, folks. Thanks for participating today. We’ll be sure to do it again soon.