Lessons for Ted Cruz From the Obama Campaign

Jason Reed / Reuters
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Ted Cruz isn’t a fan of President Barack Obama. But the Obama campaigns for president? That’s another story.

His campaign manager tells The Washington Post that Cruz is building a massive data-based tool for profiling voters psychologically—one inspired by the Obama campaigns’ analytics prowess. Cruz himself told The Guardian, “Obama ran a masterful campaign. It was a grassroots guerrilla campaign, encircled the Hillary campaign before they knew what hit them.” When rivals say Cruz shouldn’t be the Republican nominee lest he be like Obama, Cruz’s allies turn it around: Deplore Obama’s positions all you like, they say, but he was effective at winning two elections and enacting his policies.

Here’s one more way the 2008 Obama campaign might provide a model for Cruz. Mike Allen reports today that audio will soon leak from Cruz fundraisers in New York:

Our little bird says that when addressing Manhattan donors, Cruz strikes a more moderate and inclusive tone on social issues than he does when speaking to Iowa audiences. Some donors say that New York Cruz sounds different than Iowa Cruz. Look for the next audio track on a conservative news site early this week. The leaks are designed to undermine Cruz’s authenticity.

In spring 2008, Obama—like Cruz—was locked in a tight primary race. At what he believed was a private fundraiser in San Francisco, Obama said this:

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them .... It's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

The comments were captured by Mayhill Fowler, a Huffington Post blogger, and promptly blew up in Obama’s face. They were damaging because they found Obama revealing in private the elitist attitudes he publicly denied; he’s never been able to win white working-class voters since. (Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comments, in contrast, seemed to match his public profile; they were just less varnished.)

Maybe the Cruz tapes will be a nothingburger; after all, some opponent is presumably leaking them, and building them up as damaging has some motivation. But if they are bad, it’s another chance for Cruz to look back at the Obama 2008 playbook.