Home/Daniel Larison/Will Republican Elites Prefer Trump Over Cruz?

Will Republican Elites Prefer Trump Over Cruz?

Bob Dole slammed Ted Cruz and warned against nominating him:

“I don’t know how he’s going to deal with Congress,” he said. “Nobody likes him.”

But Mr. Dole said he thought Mr. Trump could “probably work with Congress, because he’s, you know, he’s got the right personality and he’s kind of a deal-maker.”

The remarks by Mr. Dole reflect wider unease with Mr. Cruz among members of the Republican establishment, but few leading members of the party have been as candid and cutting.

Some anti-Trump Republicans seem to have banked on the idea that when push comes to shove Republican voters and elites would eventually prefer Cruz to Trump because Cruz is more of a conventional “very conservative” partisan candidate and Trump’s positions are all over the map and his commitment to the party is tenuous at best. According to this view, Cruz’s nomination might be an electoral disaster, but it wouldn’t represent the transformation of the party that Trump opponents fear would follow from a Trump nomination. Because Cruz is ultimately a creature of the GOP and movement conservatism, his nomination would supposedly be more tolerable. If many party leaders and donors view Cruz the way Dole does, however, that would seem to get things backwards. Dole’s remarks suggest that Cruz’s knack for making enemies out of potential allies will take a real toll on his campaign, which is why I have assumed that Cruz isn’t going to be the nominee.

Trump may currently hold several views that party elites reject, but perhaps they can imagine dealing with him in a way that they can’t imagine doing with the much more obstreperous and ideological Cruz. Trump sells himself as a deal-maker, which implies some capacity for compromise. Party leaders can work with that. Cruz presents himself as an annoying fanatic and is accordingly regarded with suspicion and hostility. The funny thing is that Cruz’s latest attacks on Trump for being a phony conservative make it that much easier for party elites to reconcile themselves to a Trump nomination. This reminds party elites that Trump’s views are malleable and have changed significantly in recent years, so that his nomination might potentially represent less of a threat than Cruz’s. They can deal with an opportunistic, shape-shifting businessman-turned-politician. They already did that with Romney. They don’t want to have to deal with a demagogue who is always claiming to be the one true conservative in a party of apostates, since they probably expect that to produce nothing but irritation and intra-party squabbling.

Another reason that “establishment” figures might be more agreeable to nominating Trump instead of Cruz is that Trump is one of a kind and Cruz represents what has sometimes beencalled a conservative “counter-establishment.” A Cruz nomination would represent the victory of one party faction over another, but a Trump nomination would just be a fluky, unrepeatable event that doesn’t really threaten the long-term position of party elites. If the choice is between losing with Trump or losing with Cruz, many party elites will likely accept the former.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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