There is little doubt that the two GOP candidates who came out of last night’s debate the strongest were Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
Obviously, it remains to be seen if this will be reflected in their poll numbers. It might be a bigger challenge for Cruz as much of his natural support is with Trump, but if he starts to cut into Trump’s support then watch out. Let’s put it this way. If Jeff Lord turns his attention from Trump to Cruz then we know that the ground has shifted.
With this in mind, I think it is safe to say that Cruz excites conservatives more than Rubio. But if Cruz wins the Republican nomination, I don’t see him beating Hillary Clinton. If you were to ask Hillary’s camp to pick between Rubio and Cruz, I bet they would say Cruz without hesitation.
There is no question that Cruz has a brilliant mind. He might very well be the smartest of any of the GOP presidential contenders, After all, it’s not everyone that can argue cases before the Supreme Court. But Cruz’s appeal has thus far been limited to the choir. Cruz has shown no capacity to appeal beyond conservatives. Now some might consider that a virtue. Well, I hate to break it to you but in order for a Republican to win the White House he or she has to simultaneously attract conservative voters while also attracting people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. I’m not talking about hardcore leftists, but working people who try not to think about politics with maybe a week or so to go before the election. While going to town on the liberal media will resonate with conservatives, it won’t resonate with these voters. Like it or not, Republicans need these voters and I doubt Cruz could get them.
What Rubio has going for him is that he is more personable than Cruz. While Cruz knows his stuff he tends to talk at people and does so in a way that comes off as unnatural. Rubio also knows his stuff but he presents himself in such a way that he can talk to people. Rubio comes across as reasonable and we should not underestimate what an asset that is in a presidential debate against Hillary Clinton. If Hillary comes across as angry and strident and Rubio can present himself as calm and knowledgable I think a lot of voters who might have pulled the lever for Hillary would switch to Rubio. It isn’t to say that Cruz wouldn’t do well in a debate against Hillary, but if it only inspires conservatives then he loses.
Now it’s possible that Cruz could adapt on the campaign trail and find a way to resonate beyond the conservative constituency. That would be something to behold. But if he can’t adapt and the choice is between him and Rubio, Republicans are better off with Rubio.