WASHINGTON -- In auto racing it’s called “drafting”: The lead car knifes through the air, creating a vacuum that sucks the car behind it along in its wake. Shrewd drafting saves the second car gasoline and wear and tear until the final push into the lead as the finish line nears.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is cleverly and successfully “drafting” Donald Trump on the Republican track of the U.S. presidential race.
Trump is aiding Cruz in three ways: by taking (until now) virtually all of the heat from the American (and indeed world) media; by preventing other potential Cruz competitors from locking in voters; and, most important, by obscuring the fact that in many cases Cruz’s votes and views are more extreme and outlandish than Trump’s.
Politics is a game of comparison. And at first glance, or sound bite, Trump sounds far more outrageous than anyone else in the race. That, in fact, has been his whole strategy. But on most issues Cruz is not only more to the right, he is far more disciplined, focused, organized and disruptive.
A few examples. Trump wants to change the tax code; Cruz wants to abolish the agency, the Internal Revenue Service, that collects taxes.
Trump says that Chief Justice John Roberts made a bad decision in upholding Obamacare; Cruz says that Roberts never should have been nominated to be on the court.
Trump drew worldwide scorn for his proposal to “temporarily” bar Muslims from immigrating to the U.S., but Cruz in the Senate has been a foe of all immigration reform efforts and wants to bar all Syrian refugees. No one paid attention, and he looked almost moderate by comparison.
At the same time, Cruz refused to criticize Trump’s more sweeping statement, bidding to win over Trump voters.
Cruz arguably is the most doctrinaire conservative in the race -- and yet has been able to make that clear at the grassroots with minimal coverage on the national level.
Cruz would deny abortion rights to women impregnated by rape; believes marriage should only be between a man and a woman; opposes all limits on gun ownership; denies that the climate is warming and that humans are a cause; favors full repeal of Obamacare; and opposed the nuclear arms deal with Iran and new relations with Cuba.
Clever maneuvering on the track isn’t the only reason why Cruz is where he is today, poised to take the lead in the race. Here are some others:
AGE AND PEDIGREE. Only 45 years old, Cruz was cultured in the petri dish of the Reagan years and the Reagan coalition of libertarianism and conservative religion.
Cruz’s father is an evangelical activist with close ties to the conservative movement from early days. But Cruz himself was schooled in libertarian economics from his high school days.
He was a star student at Princeton and Harvard Law, plugging into the nascent Ivy League end of a movement -- called the Federalist Society -- to use the law and the courts to topple the entire edifice of the social welfare state.
MONEY. Well-credentialed by institutions he despised, Cruz from the beginning has had access to big money, both in his home state of Texas and on Wall Street in New York.
Perhaps his most important backer is Robert Mercer, a pioneer “quant” whose program trading company has made him many billions.
Mercer provides not only “independent” financial support of unlimited scope, but technical “big data” savvy for Cruz's campaign.
TECH SAVVY. The Cruz campaign may be the leader in using big data and social media to identify and turn out voters.
STRATEGY. Focusing on the Iowa caucuses as a way to gain traction is nothing new. An obscure Georgia governor named Jimmy Carter was the first to do it, in 1976, on his way to the White House.
Cruz has not only taken the organization effort there to a new and obsessive level, he has the money and reach to capitalize on it in a way that recent GOP winners there have not.
STAGE SKILLS. His father is a preacher, and Cruz himself was a national collegiate debate champion. His professors at Harvard, while disagreeing with him on issues, admired his tenacity and debating skills. They were on display in recent Republican debates.
Now he will be the focus of fire from his competitors, including Trump. They could come to regret taking him on.
THE PRIMARY SCHEDULE. The Republican Party officials who set up the 2016 schedule weren’t trying to help Cruz, but they did.
After the initial set of caucuses and primaries, the first “super” day is March 1, in which people will vote in a host of Southern states, including Cruz’s home state of Texas.
Cruz could have sufficient momentum for a big sweep that day, and right now Trump is helping propel him in that direction.
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