I was going to blog about Breaking Bad and Flannery O’Connor, but that would take too long and I have a few more thoughts about Ted Cruz. Over on twitter, Ross Douthat described Cruz as having become the leading candidate among “the axis of talk radio/Breitbart//RedState/etc.” Douthat calls this “the base of the base.”
I think Douthat is on to something, but I think that Douthat is underrating Cruz’s room for maneuver. I listened to two local conservative radio talk shows today and Cruz was definitely the man of the hour, but I think that Cruz’s support among talk radio listeners, etc (if he can keep it) can form a floor rather than a ceiling for his support. Cruz could use his credibility as Obamacare’s bitterest and most daring opponent to embrace issues that appeal to a wider audience. Support for something like Mike Lee’s tax reform has broad support outside the base of the base. In a potential contest over who becomes the “real conservative” alternative to the establishment candidate, Cruz could be the candidate of the middle-class tax cut while Rand Paul would be the candidate of the middle-class tax increase. That wouldn’t be a bad place to be.
Cruz has even more room to move on immigration. He could be the candidate that favors making any amnesty contingent on having universal mandatory employment-verification being on line first. That would make a good contrast with Marco Rubio’s amnesty-first/enforcement-maybe-never approach. Cruz could be the candidate who wants to favor high-skill and English-proficient workers in future immigration. This would be popular across the partisan divide. He could also come out against guest worker programs and argue that those we invite to come to our country should be welcomed as future citizens rather than helots to be exploited and discarded if they should face a spell of unemployment. This contrasts sharply with Rand Paul’s proposal for a virtually unlimited guest worker program and Paul’s opposition to workplace verification. Not every Republican voter would be for such a Cruz immigration program, but that is less important than it seems. The Chamber of Commerce won’t like it, but Chris Christie is already the presumptive candidate of the donor-lobbyist-industrial complex. Open borders libertarians already know they have a kindred spirit in Rand Paul (even as he stresses his opposition to Rubio’s Gang of Eight proposal when he is in front of broader audiences).
Cruz has a chance to unite the Republican “base of the base” with voters who might be open to a middle-class-focused conservative populism. We’ll see if he has the imagination and finesse to pull it off.