I think Bernie Sanders has a better chance (today, at least) of getting his party's nomination than Ted Cruz has of getting his, but your mileage may vary. Matt Bai has posed the question to few cringing conservative insiders, and the results may not surprise you.
Imagine you have this incredibly valuable sports car, and when you drive it up to a valet stand there are two guys anxiously vying to take the keys. One of them looks wild-eyed and agitated, like he just drank seven Red Bulls. The other is a guy you remember from high school, except that you hated each other and he’s eyeing the hubcaps with contempt.
Now you have a rough idea of how Republican insiders in Washington are feeling this week. With the season of choosing passing its midpoint, governing Republicans are slowly resigning themselves to what looks like a two-man race between the unpredictable Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, a man so universally disliked that if you Google “hated senator,” every single link that pops up is about him. (Try it yourself.)
It’s an agonizing thing for them to contemplate, but in conversations with a half dozen of the leading Republican strategists and lobbyists this week, it became clear that a solid consensus is forming as to which guy they would rather see get the keys. When it comes to Trump versus Cruz at the top of the ticket, most in the so-called establishment would prefer the devil they know to the daredevil they don’t.
At least he didn't bury the lede.
The more likely scenario for denying Trump the nomination, at this point, is that Cruz can overtake him, or that he ends up mounting a serious convention challenge if Trump can’t lock up the delegates before then. And while the D.C. elites are none too jazzed about this possibility, they’re starting to almost embrace it.
The reason Republicans in Washington don’t like Cruz is that even by the standards of Washington, where we think of blatant self-promotion the way most other Americans think about getting out of bed in the morning, he seems to stand out for his insincerity.
Colleagues disdain the holier-than-the-rest-of-you image he has cultivated since arriving in the Senate just three years ago.But that same opportunism, they will tell you, is what ultimately makes Cruz a more palatable nominee. That’s because they assume that Cruz’s evangelical and anti-government purity is more a matter of political positioning than it is of actual zealotry.
If nothing else, the insiders believe, Cruz is coachable and calculating in a way Trump is not, and he’s a more reliable conservative.
They will fall in line. They always fall in line. In this calculus, the White House is abandoned for the tenuous clench of the Senate.
With Cruz as the nominee, Republicans figure they have at least an outside shot at holding the Senate, mainly by giving their more vulnerable candidates some distance from him. Less so with Trump, whose insatiable need for controversy and incendiary appeals to emotion might overwhelm everything else.
None of which is to say that Cruz has a better chance of winning than Trump. He doesn’t, and even most governing Republicans will admit that Trump could conceivably broaden the appeal of the party nationally, while Cruz almost certainly runs its aground. He’d have a better chance of landing his own show on MSNBC than he would of winning the popular vote — something Republicans have done only once in the last 20 years.
But that might not be the worst thing in the world, either. If Cruz were to become the nominee and suffer a Goldwater-type thrashing in November (which probably can’t happen, given the polarized electoral math of the country today, but he could certainly do worse than John McCain or Mitt Romney), then governing Republicans might finally be able to go on the offensive against their own activists.
The argument then would go something like this: “Hey, we tried it your way, and we nominated a purist, and we got dismantled, and now the Clintons are prying up floorboards in the Lincoln Bedroom and retrieving all the secret files they once squirreled away. So maybe it’s time to build a more tolerant party that actually governs.”
It’s a bleak excuse for optimism, to be sure — half-hoping to lose in the expectation that you can make people understand how to win. But for Republicans in Washington, it’s all pretty bleak right about now.
There'll be a post in the future about whether the GOP can indeed hold the upper chamber -- highly doubtful despite the scads of money to be poured into competitive races -- but your takeaway ahead of tonight's showdown is that the Republican nominee loses very little of the vote, base or otherwise, to a third party nominee -- no matter who it is -- to Clinton, or to their crying rooms on Election Day. (More on the potential Libertarian spoiler here.)
Oh yeah, fight night.
Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Marco Rubio will face off at CNN's presidential debate on Thursday night in a state that could make one of the four men virtually unstoppable -- and spell doom for another.
Thursday's debate here comes just five days ahead of the next week's "Super Tuesday 3," when there are more than 350 delegates up for grabs, including in winner-take-all contests in Florida and Ohio.
Both Trump and Rubio are predicting that they will be victorious here in the Sunshine State, and fully aware of how much is riding on Florida. For Trump, a win here would fuel his growing momentum and further grow his delegate lead; for Rubio, losing his home state could be the death knell for his campaign.
Cruz and Kasich will also take the debate stage at a crucial moment in their campaigns. Cruz is aggressively trying to convince the Republican Party to coalesce around him, arguing he is the only candidate other than Trump capable of reaching 1,237 delegates; Kasich, who still has not won a single state, is eying his home state of Ohio with fresh optimism after a new poll this week showed him ahead of Rubio nationally. A Fox News poll released Wednesday showed Kasich leading Trump in Ohio, but the front-runner topping Rubio in Florida.
More there on what's at stake for each of the four men left standing, and more in the Twitter feed, top right column, as the bell rings for the main event this evening.