Opinion

Why I'm rooting for a Ted Cruz-Bernie Sanders general election

We could all do a lot worse this year. And we probably will.

A boy can dream. And I'm dreaming of a Ted Cruz-Bernie Sanders matchup in November.

I know, I know. It's unlikely. But it's not impossible. And it's the anticlimax American needs to regain a little perspective.

Let's agree at the outset that I'm not just hallucinating here. As formidable as Hillary Clinton's and Donald Trump's leads may be, there is evidence that both their campaigns could be tipping toward a late-stage collapse. Sanders is behind, but he's on a major winning streak, taking eight of the last nine contests. Neither New York nor California is in the bag for Clinton. If Sanders catches up to Clinton in the pledged delegate race, or even just comes close enough, don't expect her superdelegates to stick with her and defy the popular will of the voters. So while a contested Democratic convention is unlikely, it's certainly not out of the question. Cruz, meanwhile, has cracked the GOP's delegate code, racking up support in states where Trump could have prevailed if his team had it together on the ground. All the ingredients are in place for a first-ballot failure for Trump in Cleveland.

Now, Sanders and Cruz can't just sit back and wait to win on a second ballot. Particularly on the GOP side, a supposed white knight could still ride in to "save" the party. But party bigs must understand that spurning Sanders and Cruz voters will come with painful consequences — in November and beyond.

None of which is to say that Cruz-Sanders is likely. But dreams are about the possible. And I shouldn't be the only one dreaming about these two unlikely candidates facing off.

A President Cruz or a President Sanders would be historically weak. Democrats would gripe that Sanders wouldn't be able to offset Republicans' advantage in Congress and statehouses nationwide; Republicans would complain that Cruz would lack the mainstream magnetism to enlarge the GOP tent. And the critics would be right! But they'd be missing the bigger picture: At the same time as President Sanders or Cruz would gratify our insurgent impulses without letting them run amok, they would also serve as a stark reminder to the party establishments that America isn't best off with a superstar in the White House.

That's right: Clinton and Trump are so hard to stomach in significant part because of how huge of celebrities they are — and how that fact defines their view of power. It's not just that they're ubiquitous, smack in the public eye for generations. They don't want to govern through coalition-building or shot selection — they want to consummate their ambitions in a political Super Bowl halftime show of personal greatness.

Contrast that with Cruz and Sanders. In the first case, we have an inescapably dorky man whose unglamorous style and look pairs oddly with the fact that he's actually a relative rookie. In the second, a rumpled holdover from a bygone era that predates celebrity as we know it. Neither of these men look particularly presidential. Neither of them have a face or demeanor made to dominate the news. They both break the pattern we've come to expect from the national elite — whether in its ruthlessly scripted Clintonian form or its ruthlessly unscripted Trumpian one. In that sense, both Cruz and Sanders offer a sort of forced moment of zen for members of both parties (or neither party). Two sharp, articulate, dogged guys, square pegs in round holes, clearly contrasting on the issues, but too constrained by political reality to suffer delusions of grandeur.

We could all do a lot worse this year. And even though we probably will, I'm not quite ready to give up the dream.

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