And then there were two — the two whom most Republican Party elected officials, donors and political consultants have identified for months as the least appealing options to be their presidential nominee: Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
Yes, there are still two other men left in the race, but if Sen. Marco Rubio loses in his home state of Florida in next Tuesday’s primary, as looks likely, and if Gov. John Kasich fails to win his home state of Ohio the same night, as is quite possible, both will almost certainly drop out of contention. Only Cruz will be left to challenge the Trump juggernaut.
The American political and media world has been fixated on Trump with a growing realization that he could not only win the GOP nomination, but the presidency. Democrats, at first gleeful about facing Trump in the general election because they saw him as a sure loser, are now sobering up. Trump has brought millions of new voters into the political process, and many of them are working-class folks who once were a key constituency for Democrats. If he is the Republican choice, the Democratic candidate will have to run hard to avoid being swamped by the wave of anger among disaffected voters that Trump is riding.
Still, for Democrats, there might be something worse than having Trump in the White House. That would be President Cruz. In February, former President Carter told members of Britain’s House of Lords that he would choose Trump over Cruz.
“The reason is, Trump has proven already he’s completely malleable,” Carter said. “I don’t think he has any fixed [positions] he’d go to the White House and fight for. On the other hand, Ted Cruz is not malleable. He has far right-wing policies he’d pursue if he became president.”
Trump supporters, of course, think their hero is a tough guy who will do everything he says he will do, but Trump has made clear on various occasions that his hard-edged rhetoric — even his incessant blather about building a big, beautiful wall along the Mexican border — is a bargaining technique. He is ready to make deals because that is what he has spent his life doing. The conservatism to which he is a recent convert is not in his bones, it is just one more batch of notions he has adopted that are open to negotiation. For Democrats like Carter, that is the slim silver lining on the dark-clouded horizon of a possible Trump presidency.
That silver looks black to Cruz. The Texas senator’s strongest and most accurate attack against Trump is that he is not a deeply convicted conservative. It must be especially galling to Cruz that Trump is stealing away the evangelical voters whom he had counted on to buoy his own campaign. He thought he could be their favored champion with his militant stands in favor of banning all types of abortions, same-sex marriage and Obamacare. Instead, many evangelicals are going for the guy who pays lip service to those issues but who, if given the chance, might opt for Ronald Reagan’s approach and give ground on them all.
Cruz is not a guy who would give ground. If Democrats look at Cruz and Trump as scary monsters, then Trump is Dr. Frankenstein’s creature made of many parts; a brutish beast with a hidden soft side. Cruz is Dracula. He wants one thing — to bleed and kill progressive government.
For Democrats, dealing with President Trump would be like appeasing an erratic, impulsive, self-centered teenager; deeply infuriating, but with the possibility of occasional moments of agreement. With President Cruz, it would be unending battle; a culture war without end.