Most Republican candidates haven't learned the lesson from the early Trump/Carson dominance of primary polls. It isn't enough to adopt the hard right-wing orthodoxy demanded by core voters. All the candidates are fiercely anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, pro-gun, pro-tax cuts for the rich and corporations, pro-austerity economics, anti-Planned Parenthood, and most are equally fierce about immigration reform, military toughness, global warming, etc.
Trump and Carson prosper because they are also outsiders, non-incumbents untainted by the tradition of compromise and civility that democratic institutions require to function. At least half of the Republican electorate wants no part of discussion or bargaining with the Obama/Hillary/Reid/Pelosi traitors. Trumson has been their home.
It's sort of obvious but Jeb/John/Rand/Chris even Carly don't seem to get it. Resumes don't count. Solving problems in a divided government is a sign of weakness. Rubio, otherwise pretending to be an outsider, got trapped by his early attempt to craft a compromise on immigration. That leaves Ted Cruz. He understood both Trump and Carson from the beginning and hasn't said a bad word about either. He understood that the disintegration of either or both would leave the largest single bloc of voters up for grabs.
It looks like he was right. Carson's forays into the ether are troubling more and more voters. Trumps' attack on a physically challenged reporter seems to have woken up a lot of the folks who took his nuttiness for refreshing candor.
Whither the fleeing Trumsons? Early signs are that Cruz is inheriting as planned. It's easy to see why.
He is tough, or mean, enough to meet the "red meat" requirement: Mitch McConnell is a "flat-out liar". The press? "I apologize for bringing pestilence and plague into the church," pointing to reporters at an event. Immigrants? Christians first, if any, from Syria. And nobody attacks Obama more frequently and cuttingly.
Cruz wants no compromise, and touts his electability as a consequence of his hard line: "What Washington wants is conservatives divided. That's how the moderate establishment candidate runs up the middle with 23 percent of the vote, steals the nomination and then loses the general because millions of conservatives stay home."
He is an outsider in insider's clothing, and voters uneasy with the weirdness of Trumson are starting to move in his direction. And there may not be enough other Republicans to beat a candidate who captures the bulk of the raging outsider vote.
There are problems to be solved before Cruz is crowned. The trickiest is the upcoming Congressional battle over the budget. Within 10 days House and Senate Republicans will pick from the Planned Parenthood/Syrian refugee/Obamacare/environmental deregulation menu and decide what unacceptable policy riders they will attach to a budget. It remains to be seen whether they can get 60 votes for any of them, or whether Obama will veto, creating a shutdown crisis.
Cruz will lead the Senate rejectionist faction, and push for a shutdown. It will help him replace Trumson with Republicans. It will also require others, independents and moderate Republicans especially, to decide if they want a President who thrives on all-or-nothing conflict.
This will be the long sought moment for the Cruz candidacy and a test run for a Cruz presidency. It's simply unclear whether a majority of American voters support the traditional democratic practice of compromise. Cruz has been the shrewdest of the Republican candidates so far. Whether or not that swings the nomination, and then the general election, will be much clearer in the next few weeks.