Well, an event that I had hoped would not happen but knew probably would happen has, in fact, happened. Ted Cruz, Texas’ junior Senator, has stepped into the Republican Party presidential primary. Let me first off state that there is no chance that I will be voting for Ted Cruz. He fiercely opposes marriage equality for gays and lesbians. He has praised the late racist, homophobic Senator Jesse Helms. He is, in short, a reprehensible bigot. However, whether those of us who usually vote Democratic want to admit it or not, the Republican Party has the advantage going into the 2016 presidential election. It is very difficult for the same political party to win three presidential elections in a row. From 1952 to the present, it has only happened once, when George Bush, Sr. was elected after two terms of Reagan. Furthermore, the Democratic Party lost control of the Senate a few months ago, leaving the GOP in control of both houses of Congress. There is no strong reason to think that the Affordable Care Act has helped the Democratic Party politically. The public frustration over issues like HealthCare.gov and canceled insurance plans, to say nothing of the problem of the individual mandate and the fact that national health insurance opens the door to government control of people’s lifestyles, suggests that it will likely hurt the party.
The Democratic Party certainly has a significant chance of winning in 2016, but they will have to go through the election with an understanding that the overall odds are stacked against them this time. What should they do to win if Ted Cruz gets the nomination? In the first place, Cruz’s views on gay rights are now in stark contrast to public opinion, so the party will need to nominate someone with good, solid credentials on supporting equal rights for gays and take care to emphasize the difference between this nominee and Cruz. I’d prefer, of course, someone who has consistently supported equal rights for gays, but a convert to the cause like Joe Biden, or even a relative latecomer like Hillary Clinton or Brian Schweitzer could probably do well taking the fight to Cruz on this score. They will also need to maintain their support for women’s rights, racial equality, and immigration reform. These are all important from an ethical and practical standpoint no matter who the Republicans nominate, so that means John Hickenlooper and especially Jim Webb need to be kept away from the Democratic nomination. What are some tactics that will be particularly necessary if Cruz gets nominated? First of all, Ted Cruz has been critical of overreaches of power by the NSA, which have continued to take place under a Democratic administration. This means that the Democratic nominee needs to be someone with a bona fide record of supporting strong restrictions on government surveillance or at least someone who has not gone on record as tacitly supporting a Surveillance State. Otherwise, people for whom reigning in the Surveillance State is a top priority may vote Republican. Secondly, the Democratic nominee needs to have a strong antiwar record or at least not have voted for, say, the Iraq War in the past. As has been pointed out by another commentator, Cruz was not in national politics when the Iraq War happened, meaning that if the Democrats nominate someone who voted for the war, he could potentially criticize them on this issue FROM THE LEFT. And if the amount of liberals who like Ron Paul is any indicator, this could potentially send some liberal, antiwar voters into Cruz’s column. The takeaway from these two points is that the Democratic Party would be ill advised to nominate, say, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, or Joe Biden, since all of them voted for the war, and none of them are particularly liberal/libertarian on government surveillance.
Cruz’s greatest strength with voters will be his fiscal conservatism. He can tap into widespread frustration over the problems with the Affordable Care Act and generally out of control government spending. Democrats are going to have to try their best to neutralize these issues and make the election turn on social issues. It is probably a pipe dream that the Democrats would nominate anyone who opposes national health insurance. Such a candidate would never make it through a primary. But they can nominate someone who is against pork barrel spending and corporate bailouts. The bailouts enacted in the early days of the Recession triggered the formation of the Tea Party and, as Eliot Spitzer surmises, probably helped cost the Democrats control of the House in 2010. Pork and bailouts are an issue that a Tea Partier like Cruz can exploit in a way that more “establishment” Republicans never can. All things considered, it is hard to think of a better candidate for the Democrats than Russ Feingold. During his time in the Senate, he was one of the most liberal politicians on gay rights, cosponsored a bill to ban racial profiling, had a reliably liberal record on immigration and women’s rights, was the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act, voted against the Iraq War, crusaded against government waste, and voted against the Troubled Asset Relief Program. There are certainly other candidates who would be suitable, but if the Democratic Party does not seriously work at neutralizing the advantages of Cruz or whoever else the Republicans nominate, they are probably in for a long night on November 8, 2016.