In her memoir published this summer, Claire McCaskill recounts for readers how she confounded political observers who assumed she would lose reelection to the U.S. Senate in right-of-center-leaning Missouri. In order to do that, she poured nearly $2 million of her campaign war chest into an ad blitz designed to elevate the most extreme, right wing candidate among the Republicans seeking to challenge her in the general election.
"I helped Todd Akin win -- so I could beat him later," she recalled.
He had little money to compete with his better-financed opponents in the Republican primary so McCaskill's effort would do what he could not -- introduce him to and define him for the extremely conservative voters expected to cast ballots in the primary.
Calling him "the most conservative Congressman in Missouri," her ad went on to inform voters of his positions on a host of issues including his distaste for "big government," his supposedly "pro-family agenda," and his hatred of President Obama before concluding with the tag line: "Missouri's true conservative is just too conservative."
McCaskill's gamble paid off. Akin narrowly won the Republican primary and she beat him handily in the general election after his campaign imploded following his remarks about women, "legitimate rape," and abortion.
The rest, as they say, is history and as far as I'm concerned, this piece of history bears repeating.
This week, President Obama lambasted Sen. Ted Cruz for absurdly suggesting that Muslim refugees from Syria be barred from entering the United States while Christians should be met with open arms because they pose no "meaningful risk." Without mentioning Cruz by name, Obama called the remarks "shameful" and said "that's not American. That's not who we are."
Sensing a golden opportunity to stand out in the crowded field of Republican presidential hopefuls, Cruz pounced, puffed his chest, and told reporters that the President should "insult me to my face."
It is a fact of political life that media view every move Hillary Clinton makes through a prism of cold calculation. Far from ever getting the benefit of the doubt, conservative and mainstream media alike twist themselves into pretzels analyzing her every move in an attempt to determine her real motivation.
If she were to single out one of the Republicans candidates seeking to challenge her next year and do to them what McCaskill did to Akin, every Sanka-sipping, Fox News-watching, doomsday-prepping, old white man who votes in GOP primaries would be told in no uncertain terms that Secretary Clinton is trying to influence the Republican contest in her favor.
In other words it probably would not work.
However, because Republican base voters have such a visceral hatred for the Muslim-interloper-from-Kenya-that-Americans-twice-elected-president, Obama might be able to "McCaskill" the GOP primary even with Fox News and conservative talk radio going into overdrive in their attempts to undo the damage.
If the President were to aggressively engage the likes of Donald Trump or Ben Carson it would boost their candidacies while diminishing his office. Cruz, on the other hand, is at least a United States Senator. For some strange reason (Texas) people have actually voted for him. Like Trump and Carson, he also has an aversion to reality and an affinity for saying crazy things.
That is precisely the combination that makes Cruz the perfect pawn for deploying the McCaskill strategy.
It is hard to imagine anyone actually agreeing to run for vice president on a ticket led by Cruz but if he were to secure the Republican nomination, a Democratic ticket headed by Clinton would easily win lopsided majorities in the popular vote and Electoral College. It might even secure majorities for Democrats in Congress and state legislatures around the country.
The GOP's quest for the White House is far from settled though many conservative insiders believe it will eventually come down to Trump, Carson, Cruz, or Sen. Marco Rubio. President Obama has the power to pluck Cruz from this foursome and boost him in the eyes of primary voters as the chief opponent of everything his administration has accomplished, from Obamacare to the economy.
Doing so would suck Trump and Carson dry of the attention that fuels their candidacies and put Cruz in a commanding position to easily dispatch Rubio and anyone else standing in his way.
In the end, the best thing Obama can do to protect his legacy and help elect another Democratic president is elevate Cruz and allow him to lead the GOP into obscurity.