If provocateur businessman Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFundamentals or euphoria? Both fueled post-election stock surge Freedom Caucus founder: GOP health plan did not meet campaign promises Former US envoy: No good military options against North Korea MORE stumbles, Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzHow 'Big Pharma' stifles pharmaceutical innovation AIPAC must reach out to President Trump Under pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support MORE (R-Texas) is ideally positioned to win the GOP presidential nomination. Whatever risks a Trump nomination might entail, nominating Cruz would be riskier.
The problem for Cruz is not that the first-term Texas senator is a despised, outsider unacceptable to the GOP establishment, but simply that he’s a first-term Texas senator. Both his regional identity and his professional resume are liabilities.
Let’s start with his Senate career. To echo the point an exasperated Jeb Bush, Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) and Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) have failed to adequately impress upon Republican primary voters, senators rarely win presidential elections.
Yes, Obama won the presidency as a sitting senator. But since 1900, only he, John F. Kennedy and Warren Harding did so.
Nominating a rookie senator like Cruz would also undermine the oft-repeated conservative talk radio and TV critique that Obama was unprepared to govern because he served only briefly in the Illinois state senate and the U.S. senate prior to his 2008 election. For all the talk of Marco RubioMarco RubioSenators introduce new Iran sanctions Senate intel panel has not seen Nunes surveillance documents: lawmakers With no emerging leaders, no clear message, Democrats flounder MORE being the “Republican Obama,” among Republicans Cruz’s political resume in 2016 most closely resembles then-Senator Barack ObamaBarack ObamaCotton: House 'moved a bit too fast' on healthcare Obama to travel to South Pacific island to work on memoir: report Sanford: 'Testosterone can get you in trouble' MORE’s in 2008.
As Christie said in the recent Republican debate, senators “talk and talk and talk.” In our era of mostly divided government, they occasionally pass significant legislation. Cruz’s legislative record is thin, and he has never made a major executive decision nor led a government staff larger than his Senate office. Like Obama eight years ago, the largest organization Cruz has supervised is his presidential campaign.
Cruz has been a national-caliber debater since he was a teenager. His command of constitutional law and his rhetorical skills served him well as a law professor, at the Justice Department and now in the Senate. He has argued many cases before the Supreme Court. The problem is that Ted Cruz is running for Commander in Chief, not Arguer in Chief.
As I contend in my latest book, The Stronghold, the Republicans’ congressional wing too often creates troubles for the party’s presidential aspirations. Of course, atop the list of Capitol Hill troublemakers is Ted Cruz, king of the government shutdown. Republicans would be wise to heed the advice of notable Republicans including Ed Gillespie, Gov. Terry Branstad (Iowa) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), all of whom have declared that the GOP would be better served by nominating a governor with executive experience.
Cruz is also a Texan at a time when the South is an anchor around the GOP’s electoral neck. Keep in mind that the GOP’s “Southern Strategy,” which Richard Nixon first rode to the White House in 1968, works best with non-southern presidential nominees: Nixon and Ronald Reagan were Californians, and both George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush were Texas transplants by way of the Northeast.
In a country where Democrats carry overwhelming majorities of non-white voters but also majorities of white voters outside the South, southern sentiments are out of step with the broader population. Conservatives may cheer the fact that the South has been most resistant to increasing the minimum wage, legalizing gay marriage, enforcing reasonable background checks for gun purchases, and decriminalizing marijuana, but the rest of America mostly rejects the South’s politics. (That said, touting rather than rejecting his Canadian roots might actually help Cruz in the Midwest, the most pivotal region in presidential politics the last 80 years.)
Cruz doesn’t speak with a Tom DeLay-style Texas twang, or project the southern affect that his Senate colleagues Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissWyden hammers CIA chief over Senate spying Cruz is a liability Inside Paul Ryan’s brain trust MORE (R-Ga.) or Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsSanders: 'What do the Russians have on Mr. Trump?' Poll: Trump controversies make him more popular among supporters More than ever, Justice must demand a special prosecutor for Trump-Russia probe MORE (R-Ala.) do. Still, his tea party-influenced conservative politics are Texan through and through. Like her husband and Obama did in both their elections and re-elections, Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDemocrats step up calls that Russian hack was act of war Comet Ping Pong shooter pleads guilty Time for 'J. Edgar' Comey to take his leave MORE is quite capable of amassing 270 non-southern electoral votes. To win, however, Sen. Cruz would need to significantly broaden his appeal outside his home region.
Whatever their relative strengths and weaknesses, Bush, Christie, Kasich and Trump all boast executive experience: the first three have governed major states, and Trump has private-sector business management experience. They also hail from purple or blue states where Republicans must gain traction in 2016. Cruz offers neither advantage.
If Republicans want to win arguments, call Ted Cruz. But if they want to win the White House, nominating a first-term Texas senator whose greatest political skill is constitutional argumentation makes little sense.
Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and author of The Stronghold and Whistling Past Dixie.