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Opinion: Columnists

Dreaming of 'President Ted Cruz' will turn into a nightmare for the GOP

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Opinion,Noemie Emery,Columnists,Republican Party,2016 Elections,Ted Cruz,Campaigns,Ronald Reagan,Conservatism,Magazine

As with most things, there are good and bad aspects of the Tea Party movement. And all the bad ones were on display March 6 in a speech by Ted Cruz to the Conservative Political Action Conference that replayed every silly thing ever said by conservatives and added some riffs of his own.

He began with a mocking refrain about "presidents" Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney (two of them veterans impaired by their trauma), chiding them for not being his kind of conservative. He also asked if we remembered their reigns.

Well, we do remember, and we remember one more that for some reason is never brought up in this context: the glorious tenure of "President" Barry M. Goldwater, Mr. Conservative, far more in-your-face than Ronald Reagan, who lost by far more than those other worthies. Goldwater lost in one of the great drubbings in history, lost by more than any Republican but Alfred M. Landon, and carried only his home state and five southern states for all the wrong reasons (opposing -- for a fairly innocent reason -- the Civil Rights Act of 1964.)

No one followed the Cruz playbook more than Goldwater, and no one has managed to lose so conclusively. He offered a choice, not an echo, and nobody took it. But how, if Cruz is so right, could this have happened? It can’t, which is why it is never brought up in this context. In his world, it doesn’t exist.

As the Goldwater debacle has been excised from history, so have the actual reasons why Dole, McCain and Romney all lost. Dole lost because the Bill Clinton he faced in 1996 was not the Clinton of 1993-94, but the Third Way Bill Clinton, who with the help of Dick Morris was triangulating his way between Newt Gingrich and congressional Democrats -- the Bill Clinton who would sign the welfare reform bill and say the era of big government was over and gone.

Under the restraints exercised by the Republican Congress, the economy was beginning to hum, and we were still in our decade-long vacation from history. No incumbent producing peace and prosperity has ever been ousted by the opposition party, and Clinton was no exception. Reagan himself could not have won in these conditions, and he could not have won either were he running to succeed a president of his party when the economy collapsed six weeks before the election. When the markets collapsed, McCain was leading Obama, and his lead had been widening. Luck beat McCain, not ideology, and without this he might well have won.

As for "President" Romney, exit polls showed he carried the electorate on critical measures like values and leadership, and lost because he failed badly on one single measure: "cares about people like you."

This suggests that he lost not because he needed to be more like Cruz, who gives not a clue that he cares about anyone, but more like compassionate conservative George W. Bush, who did very well with the Hispanics and the lower-middle-class white voters whom Romney so drastically lost.

Cruz also said Democrats celebrate when Republicans move to the middle, but what really makes Democrats happy is when Cruz does things like shutting down the government (which trashed the GOP brand until health care revived it and sank the Republican slate in Virginia), forcing Republican senators into difficult votes that do not make their re-election more likely.

Republicans need much advice from pragmatic advisers. But not from a source like Cruz.

Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."
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