Among many of the Republican Party’s smart set—the strategists, lobbyists, and elected officials who congregate every four years at GOP conventions—the assumption is that this year’s presidential election is already lost. How can Donald Trump win if he only carries 14 percent of the Latino vote, if he loses college-educated white women, if he has the highest unfavorable rating of any nominee in memory? Attention is quietly turning to the aftermath, to what lesson the party will learn as it surveys the wreckage of another presidential election—the sixth out of seven—in which a Democrat wins the popular vote.
The idea that Republicans would respond by moving to the center—wooing Latinos with immigration reform, women with a softer position on Planned Parenthood, young people with an acceptance of climate change—is probably the opposite of where the party will go. This week, one primetime convention speaker represents the future of conservatism more than any other: Senator Ted Cruz.
Cruz? The most hated man in Congress? The Texas Republican blamed for shutting down the government in a disastrous effort to undo Obamacare? Yes, because Cruz offers the most compelling narrative to GOP primary voters about where the party should go next. Over and over again, in advance of his 2016 candidacy and during that campaign, Cruz told a story about Republican presidential nominees—who won, who lost, and why:
We need to look to history and what works and what doesn’t … One thing [that] is clear is if Republicans run another candidate in the mold of a Bob Dole, or a John McCain, or a Mitt Romney—and all three of those are good, honorable men, they’re decent men, they’re patriots. But if we run another candidate in the mold of a Bob Dole, or a John McCain, or Mitt Romney, we will end up with the same result, which is millions of people will stay home on Election Day. And if we run another candidate like that, Hillary Clinton will be president.
It’s not a story that Cruz invented. Leading conservatives—from Rick Santorum to Phyllis Schlafly—have been saying similar things for years. But no Republican embodies that message more than Cruz, the anti-establishment bomb thrower who is predictably to the right of everybody on just about everything.