A.B. Stoddard: Cruz’s path to victory

A.B. Stoddard: Cruz’s path to victory
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He is the most hated man in Washington, and he isn’t riveting record crowds like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are out on the campaign trail. But Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWith religious liberty memo, Trump made America free to be faithful again Interstate compacts aren't the right way to fix occupational licensing laws Texas Dem: ‘I don’t know what to believe’ about what Trump wants for wall MORE is running one of the best presidential campaigns of 2016.

After spending what will likely amount to the most money and most time in Iowa by any GOP candidate, Cruz is now the front-runner for the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1. The Texas senator has proven his hunger to Iowa Republicans with late-night stops and an effort to visit to all 99 counties, with 28 stops this week alone.

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Throughout, Cruz has made a few mistakes — like making a Joe Biden joke days after the vice president’s son died of cancer — but he has otherwise exhibited impressive discipline as a candidate. 

He has used humor on Twitter and flagrant flattery to deflect provocations from the press to criticize Trump. He appreciates the value of timing; though he started wooing Iowa conservatives just months after being elected senator in 2012, he kept his now years-old presidential campaign quiet until March. 

During several early debates, Cruz — a former debate champion — held back, aware that peaking too soon is one of the easiest ways to lose. And while Cruz was working to win the most critical endorsements of social conservative leaders in Iowa, which he has now received, he was also building formidable operations in the southern states that vote March 1, when more delegates will be awarded than on any other day.

A win in the first contest, previously written off as less significant than the second one, in New Hampshire, now appears likely to create powerful momentum for Cruz. Should he head straight to South Carolina to plant the first flag before its Feb. 20 vote, a nightmare scenario could result for establishment Republicans, who could end up splitting the vote in New Hampshire on Feb. 9 and serving as spoilers for a Trump victory in the state. To date, none of them have landed on a potent line of attack to stop Cruz in Iowa. Conceding the Hawkeye State could mean conceding the Palmetto State, too: in 2012, 65 percent of South Carolina GOP primary voters identified themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians.

So far Cruz’s plan is working, though history may prove it laughably futile. That’s because the senator doesn’t intend to win over the electorate, he plans to try to change it — like Barack Obama did. “Obama ran a masterful campaign,” he has said. “It was a grassroots guerilla campaign, encircled the Hillary campaign before they knew what hit them.”

The path to victory, Cruz insists, is through conservatives — not swing voters in the “mushy middle.” He thinks there are millions of white evangelical Republicans he can inspire who sat out elections in 2012 and 2008, when the GOP nominated moderate Republicans. He maintains “if the body of Christ rises up as one and votes our values we can turn this country around.” (The number crunchers disagree: voters who stayed home did so in red or blue states, not in battleground states, therefore they weren’t decisive in GOP losses.)

To meet his goal, Cruz is dispatching a data analytics firm to reach millions of potential supporters, through data gathered mostly from Facebook without their knowledge. Through “psychographic targeting,” his team is trying to locate possible Cruz voters based on five personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

Perhaps recognizing he may not be the best messenger, Cruz intends to be the best marketer. After all, winning the presidency is just a numbers game. The candidate with the most numbers wins, and Cruz thinks he knows how to find them. 

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.