Thursday, April 28, 2016

The hunting of the presidency 2016 (Part 8):
Ted Cruz's desperate measures

ARULE of the medical profession for generations is equally applicable to floundering presidential campaigns, one in particular. Hey Ted Cruz! First, do no harm — to yourself.

In the wake of his 0-for-5 showing in the Acela/I-95 Primary on Tuesday, the Texas Republican senator was apparently eager to turn total defeat into some kind of immediate, optical victory.

Cruz made a decision that offers little opportunity for a dignified climbdown — except to finally, formally end a campaign that deserves to be put down.

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Some time between when he was undoubtedly told by his handlers that he’d be flattened on Tuesday and when the returns from the primaries were in, Cruz & Co, decided it was a good time to roll out something they’d surely have been sitting on ... waiting for the right time.

Team Cruz picked Wednesday to announce the politically unthinkable, that Cruz had chosen his vice-presidential running mate: former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, naming Fiorina to join him on a ticket on its way to probable oblivion — the first time in the modern American political era that a candidate with only a marginal chance to gain the nomination, and no chance to win it outright, went so far as to name a running mate in a contested primary season.

Even coming from a candidate known for being tone-deaf to his own political impracticality, it was a breathtakingly inept, transparently desperate move. With sporadic exceptions and inconsistent momentum, Cruz has finished out of the winner’s circle in primaries and caucuses all year long. On Tuesday, Cruz was routed in five states by the juggernaut campaign of billionaire attention addict Donald Trump.

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SO OK, benefit of the doubt. Maybe in your gut you feel Cruz’s action was a bold statement of belief in oneself, a stand on principles. And not to sell that short! We need all of that we can get.

But that’s not what this is. And Ted Cruz knows it, and he knows that we know it too.

This “solemn choice” Cruz announced Wednesday was a blatant cry for attention from a flawed and failing presidential campaign. Its timing — the idea that the Cruz-Fiorina tandem would be more politically potent and palatable for the rest of the primary season than Cruz soldiering on alone — provokes the obvious questions — “Why now?” and “What for?”

It also undercuts the deep objections that Fiorina had with Cruz earlier in the year, with Fiorina ripping into Cruz more than once, on and off the debate stage. At one point, back in January, Fiorina said Cruz “says whatever he needs to say to get elected.”

Wednesday’s actions speak as loudly, apparently, as Fiorina’s own, earlier words.

Fiorina endorsed Cruz back in early March, it’s true, but that was as much a default reaction to Trump, and to a field of other candidates that had been dwindling already, as an outright endorsement of the senator from Texas.

That’s part of what makes this such a dumb move. There’s no heart in it, no belief in anything beyond seizing the news-cycle opportunity of the moment. Look closely at Ted Cruz’s eyes in the pictures of Cruz at the podium, right after the announcement. That deep terror eating away at a public fa├žade from behind the windows to the soul? Hunter S Thompson [raise your glasses] used to describe that look as “the fear.” And Ted Cruz has got it, and it’s obvious.

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Cruz & Co. had reasons for doing this; there’s a calculus at work. With a move like this, Cruz clearly hopes he can limp along, get to Indiana and Nebraska on fumes, pull into the delegate-filling station of California, woo delegates from other, deceased candidacies ... and then hunker down, and pray for rain at a brokered convention — with a ticket already in place.

This other, hopeful scenario takes longer to probably get to the same place. Even if the 112-member rules committee of the Republican National Convention acts on Cruz’s behalf — by releasing delegates to vote on their own personal preference rather than in accord with the popular vote itself, theoretically wresting the nomination from Trump’s little hands — Cruz’s campaign would forever bear an asterisk in political history ... even as it went down in furious flames, losing the general election in November 2016, by margins probably worse than what Trump would have if he’d taken the nomination.

Cruz is losing the optical battle for competence and leadership, two of the attributes that presumably recommended him for the presidency. He’s just made more work for himself.

Once political reality and sixth-grade arithmetic catch up to him, between now and California, in June, Cruz will need to explain the reasoning behind such a politically irrational action, and he won’t look good doing it because it doesn’t really make any sense.

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AS THE DONALD Trump solidifies his vastly more legitimate claim to be the GOP’s nominee, and John Kasich treads water and eats deli, Cruz is unwittingly positioning himself as the outlier candidate — the Republican Bernie Sanders, the candidate whose dogged adherence to principles have kept him in a race he can’t win.

And that’s a perception that’s been in play for weeks now, and not something he can change by naming a running mate in the final weeks of a primary season ... when he’s 10-for-39.

Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign has had the whiff of failure all over it for a while; its spotty results in primaries and caucuses since February prove that. The presumptuous stunt of naming a running mate in a campaign as mortally damaged as his is like appointing a deckhand to be Admiral of the Ocean Sea when the ship is sinking by the bow. And absent a rescue by the USS Rules Committee, it won’t change by one degree the course that ship is on.

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