Sen. Ted Cruz recently won, fair and square, the Idaho Republican presidential primary. He is now the best hope for Republicans who don’t like Donald Trump. If Cruz somehow defeats Trump, he would face a very difficult general election battle against Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee.
Cruz is a veritable rock star among Republican base voters. He can toss out the red meat and work up a crowd with the best of them.
But if he won, could he actually govern?
As a mainstream Republican, I admit I haven’t been a big Cruz fan, although I agree with his general goals and principles. Like Cruz, I believe the federal government has become too big, too expensive and too centralized. I believe taxes are too high and stifling regulations are out of control. I believe we must get control of deficits and entitlement spending.
But I haven’t liked Cruz’ style, tone and demeanor, which I think often come across as preachy and condescending. Whenever I see him speak I think I’m watching a well-rehearsed performance, not someone talking from his heart.
More importantly, I have questioned whether his hardened positions and unwillingness to compromise would enable him to build coalitions and win enough congressional and public support to accomplish his goals.
Giving a great speech on constitutional principles is much easier than winning support of Congress and citizens to actually cut beloved programs and reduce the size of government.
Cruz illustrates the gulf between conservative Republican rhetoric and the realities of governing in America today. If the Republicans actually take over the government, which I hope they do (although it’s looking unlikely), then they have to govern. And if they’ve raised expectations with the base that they’re going to dismantle the welfare state, drastically cut taxes and quickly balance the budget, they will fail both substantively and politically.
It has taken 60 years for the country to get in the predicament it’s in, and it won’t be reversed overnight. With so many people dependent on government, including a lot of Republicans, if President Cruz attempted to implement even a handful of the things he’s promising, the country would rebel, Republicans would have a disastrous mid-term election, and he’d be booted out in the next presidential election.
I absolutely want to see entitlements and the deficit brought under control, the tax system reformed and taxes reduced, the bureaucracy curtailed, and many regulations repealed. But in a closely divided country, no president, no matter how sincere, committed and ideologically pure, can make those things happen unilaterally. It will take a great deal of time, persuasion, and compromise to even make inroads. Most Americans, unfortunately, are in no mood for sacrifice. I wish we could dismantle the welfare state all at once, but we can’t. It would be so wrenching to society that chaos would ensure. If anyone tries to move too fast, they will quickly lose public support.
Look at what happened to Democrats after Obama was elected in 2008. They controlled the entire government. They quickly overreached. They forced through Obamacare. They passed an enormous stimulus program, throwing money at ever liberal program they could think of. They racked up enormous debt.
And, as a result, they caused the rise of the Tea Party in 2010 and they suffered an enormous humiliation at the polls in 2010, with Republicans taking control of the House, and then the Senate in a subsequent election.
I believe we need a conservative Republican president who will promote a pro-growth economic agenda that will create jobs and a strong economy. Reducing the size of government will be easier in a strong economic environment.
But we need a lot more realistic talk. Republicans are scaring much of the middle class and they’re not preparing voters for Republican governance.