Opinion

Yes, Ted Cruz has a shot at the nomination

Don't underestimate the anti-establishment candidate

Ted Cruz

So, Ted Cruz is running for president.

So, he's doomed.

It's the iron rule of Republican primaries: There is a lot of Sturm und Drang, but in the end, the establishment candidate wins. My colleague Paul Waldman sets out that view very nicely here.

Jeb Bush — clearly — is the establishment candidate. And, as such, his win seems inevitable. Ford beat Reagan. Reagan beat Bush. Bush beat Dole. Dole beat Forbes. Bush beat McCain. McCain beat Romney. Romney beat...what's their name, again?

So, clearly, whatever else is going to happen to Ted Cruz, it is certain he won't be the Republican presidential nominee.

After all, even the massively unloved Romney, at the height of the Tea Party insurgency, still managed to find his way to victory. We seem to be condemned to the existential despair of Clinton-Bush.

But is our fate so certain?

There is one fact of the 2012 Republican primaries that has gone unnoticed: Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich got more votes in the decisive primaries than Mitt Romney.

If they had been one candidate — Santgrich, Gingrorum — they would have not only won Iowa and South Carolina (and every single candidate who won two of the three early primaries won the nomination). They would have been extremely close in Florida (45 to 46 percent). They would have won Romney's father's state of Michigan. And they would have swept Super Tuesday. Gingrorum beat Romney in Alaska, Georgia, North Dakota, Ohio(!), Oklahoma and Tennessee. The mandatory scenario is for the anti-establishment candidate to be crushed by superior money and organization on Super Tuesday after winning an early contest, but here the anti-establishment camp won on Super Tuesday.

This is actually an incredibly momentous fact: In 2012, for the first time in the history of GOP primaries, the anti-establishment camp got more votes than the establishment camp.

This cannot simply be overlooked and written off: The votes are there for... well, for someone like Ted Cruz to pull off the upset of a lifetime.

Now, of course, the 2012 election was unusual in some respects. In particular, the establishment candidate was uniquely unloved by the base. There would have to be a compelling reason for the base to turn to a less-proven candidate in desperation.

Well, how's this for a compelling reason: The prospect of nominating a Bush against a Clinton in a change election?

Jeb Bush is, personally, a great candidate, both on the stump and on paper. But his four-letter last name will necessarily make many voters think twice about voting for him. The rationale for pulling the lever for the establishment candidate is that he or she substantially increases the likelihood of victory. But here that rationale is severely hobbled. And look how it worked out last time...

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz has some problems, but one thing is certain: He is a better candidate than Gingrich or Santorum.

Does that mean the nomination is Cruz's to lose? Of course not. Countless stars have to align. The odds are definitely not in his favor.

But the fact remains that the pool of anti-establishment votes has been proven, at least once, to be bigger than the pool of establishment votes. And that fact alone should get us to at least question the conventional wisdom on GOP primaries.

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