For GOP voters, the choice is either head or heart
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There's been a lot of conventional wisdom offered in this presidential race, and on the Republican side, most of it has been wrong.

But with about 75 days until the Iowa caucuses, a likely endgame scenario is coming into view.

While Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson remain stubbornly atop of the polls, Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition Trump has officially appointed one in four circuit court judges On The Money: Retirement savings bill blocked in Senate after fight over amendments | Stopgap bill may set up December spending fight | Hardwood industry pleads for relief from Trump trade war MORE (Texas) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump Paul's demand to out whistleblower rankles GOP colleagues MORE (Fla.) appear to be the two most likely finalists for the nomination, given their consistently strong debate performances, low burn rates, strong fundraising, impressive campaigns and their unique ability to consolidate their respective vote.

What is striking is how different the Cruz and Rubio approaches are.


Rubio is an attractive choice for Republicans in many of the same ways that Barack Obama was attractive for Democrats. He's a first-generation, native-born American and his election would be a powerful statement. He's bicultural, bilingual and offers a generational choice. Rubio is so smooth that his debate answers often are completely formed and beautiful sentences that singularly communicate his message with gravity and effect. Rubio is aspirational: He is not attracting support because he has a long record of significant legislative achievement. Rather, his appeal is part biography and part aptitude.

I have admiringly compared Cruz to the Terminator. He appeals equally to Tea Party members, evangelicals, social conservatives, economic conservatives and national security conservatives. Cruz likes to make logical arguments. He believes in the power of words, often citing the Margaret Thatcher line, "First you win the argument, then you win the vote." He's been winning arguments for much of his adult life, first impressing adults with his memorization of the Constitution in high school, then winning national debate contests at Princeton University and finally winning legal battles at the U.S. Supreme Court as solicitor general of Texas. Cruz understands conservatism better than perhaps any other Republican in politics today, and he does not go against the base — ever. He makes highly logical arguments and uses different tactics when needed, alternatively attacking the media, refusing to accept a false premise, or using humor to deride his opponents. Surely, Cruz has relished going after the Republican establishment, while Rubio has not.

Rubio appeals to your heart. Cruz appeals to your head.

But they have far more similarities than differences.

Both candidates ran longshot bids for U.S. Senate against highly favored establishment front-runners. It is hard to overstate how unlikely either of their campaign victories were. Rubio was the first successful statewide Tea Party candidate, and Cruz studied his campaign (and those of Sens. Mike Lee [Utah], Rand Paul [Ky.] and Pat Toomey [Pa.]) to utilize best practices in his bid four years later.

Both possess uncommon self-confidence, intelligence, communication skills and natural ability.

But what interests me most are the different responses they elicit.

Rubio can bring tears to his audience when he talks about the hard life of his parents, a bartender and a maid. He describes them by saying: "They weren't rich, but they were successful." In hotel ballrooms, Rubio often mentions that the waitstaff are just like his father, and how remarkable it is that it is that as the son of a bartender, he can run for president. Rubio talks emotionally about owing a "debt he can never repay" to America, because it "literally changed the history of my family."

His story is the story of every American — the only difference being the country of origin and the time period that the first generation arrived here.

As Rubio talks about himself, he talks about us. It stirs a deeply personal emotion in the audience. I've seen it firsthand. I've felt it myself.

Cruz's approach is different.

In his U.S. Senate bid, which I watched up close for much of 2011-2012, Cruz relied heavily on his biography to close his stump speech. His father fought the regime of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Bautista, was imprisoned, had his teeth knocked out and fled Cuba for America, arriving with $10 sewn into his underwear and without fluency in English. He started washing dishes, making 50 cents an hour and put himself through the University of Texas.

Cruz talked about the promise of America seen through the lens of his father, that it offered a beacon of hope and freedom and opportunity. He would often quote his father, "When we fled oppression in Cuba, we had America to come to. If we lose our freedom here, where do we go?"

In my view, Cruz has gotten away from that biography, though I expect it will return in paid media as the campaign goes on. Today, Cruz focuses far more on his themes of "courageous conservatives" who fight the "Washington cartel."

In his view, big government is being advanced by both the Democratic Party and the GOP establishment, and he has fought against it every minute in Washington.

Cruz can talk about religious liberty better than an impassioned pastor, about national security threats better than a retired general and about economic concerns better than a leading economist.

He lists threats facing the country and explains why President Obama has failed, why a traditional Republican won't do and why his own conviction, courage and conservatism offer the kind of solution that can bring a Reagan-like renaissance for the country. Audiences regularly give him multiple standing ovations. He knows how to appeal to their instincts, their fears and their hopes for the future.

If this race comes down to Cruz vs. Rubio, GOP primary voters will decide it based on whether an emotional or logical appeal best motivates them.

A reference to Sen. Marco Rubio's father has been corrected.

Mackowiak is syndicated columnist; an Austin, Texas-based Republican consultant; and a former Capitol Hill and George W. Bush administration aide.