In Barnstead, numerous voters told me they were initially attracted to Trump’s candidacy. Some were still considering voting for him, but most said they considered Trump a blowhard and a bully, where Cruz struck them as comparatively civil. “Ted Cruz, he’s more presidential than Trump,” said Darren Nielsen, a 52-year-old software engineer in plaid suspenders and a black wool cap. Mary Corliss, a “born-again Christian” with long blonde hair, added, “I have some concerns about Donald Trump maybe being a loose cannon.” Cruz struck her as “a man of integrity.”
For Cruz, it is all going almost exactly according to plan. The campaign is his vindication. What the dim bulbs in Washington can’t see is that he did it all on purpose, and now he is a hero to the many Americans who also hate the establishment. (Hilariously, a plurality of Republican primary voters say Cruz is the candidate who would best be able to work with Congress if elected.) Ted Cruz set out to win the establishment’s hatred. He turned it to his advantage. And now, the establishment may not be able to stop him.
The following morning in Exeter, Fran Wendelboe was hanging out near the entrance of the town hall, which looks like something out of a New England picture postcard, and where Cruz was scheduled to make an early campaign stop. The event had to be moved up two hours so Cruz could return to Washington for Senate votes, a surprise disruption he repeatedly implied was intentionally inflicted by the majority leader, Mitch McConnell. Cruz recently called McConnell a liar on the floor of the Senate. He and McConnell are not friends.
Wendelboe, a former seven-term state representative who is helping lead Cruz’s New Hampshire campaign, is a leader of the 603 Alliance, a coalition of two dozen New Hampshire grassroots conservative groups (“Tea Party organizations, pro-life organizations, school-choice organizations, Second Amendment organizations”). The alliance formed a year ago, in an effort to unify conservatives. “A lot of the other campaigns didn’t want to deal with us,” Wendelboe told me, “but the Cruz campaign embraced us.” Cruz spoke to the group several times. In October, at an event at a fairgrounds outside Concord that drew more than 700, the alliance voted overwhelmingly to back Cruz.
Conservatives love nothing more than forming clubs—organizations with Patriot and Freedom and Eagle in the name that get together and start email lists and obsess about politics local and national. More than any other candidate, Cruz understands this loosely knit network and has wooed it. His schedule is littered with appearances hosted by little groups like the 603 Alliance in every state.
The network dates back to the 1950s, when a ragtag group of McCarthyites, isolationists, and segregationists came together around the premise that neither political party was representing their views. Through mailed publications and local groups, they gradually began organizing a movement under the name For America. Unsuccessful at first, the right-wingers set their sights on 1964, parsing convention and delegate rules and looking for a champion.