My friend Alex, a prominent Republican political consultant, emailed a group of us this morning to make sure we read Curt Anderson’s attack on Ted Cruz in the Politico before we tuned into the Sunday shows.
Like my friend Alex, Curt Anderson is a Republican political consultant. He worked for Haley Barbour at the RNC. He’s worked for Mitch McConnell, Elizabeth Dole, and John Thune. He worked for Mitt Romney in 2008, then he worked for Herman Cain in 2011, who accused Curt wrongly of leaking the sexual harassment stories after Curt left to work for Rick Perry. Again, wrongly. In this cycle, Curt has worked for Bobby Jindal.
He’s a good guy. I don’t know him well, but I have many friends who think highly of him. But he is undeniably of the D.C. Republican consultant set. His piece, like Alex’s email, echoes so much of what I hear from so many of my friends in Washington. They don’t like Ted Cruz. They think he is too slick. They think he is a narcissist. They think he is in it for himself. Hell, a lot of my friends who support Ted Cruz say that.
Ultimately, they are all Republicans who see Ted Cruz as more often than not opposed to the Republican team.
It is worth noting that all these guys are currently getting their butts kicked by a, until recently, Democrat from New York City who yells at cameras and has no discernible path to victory, but is still leading national polls. And the only guy coming close to beating that guy is the guy Curt Anderson and so many others of the — dare I use this word — insiders think is a narcissistic televangelist in it for himself and who is wholly unlikeable and not a team player.
But this is all fundamental to the dynamic of the 2016 cycle so far. The normal run of political consultants in Washington have a different view of what the base wants or what the country wants than what the base and the country want. The more a candidate is seen battling Washington, the better the candidate does. Even now, Marco Rubio is pivoting to try to be seen as attacking Washington.
I know Curt did not mean his piece to be an endorsement of Cruz, but I think the guys in Washington need to understand that for much of the base of the party it is an endorsement. Ted Cruz’s Super PAC is running advertisements boasting that John Boehner called Ted Cruz a pain in the ass. Those sorts of ads are propelling Ted Cruz ahead of Donald Trump.
Here’s what everybody needs to note.
The normal rules of politics still apply. Polling is only a snapshot of personal support right now, but most of the polling is of registered voters, not likely voters. Of the people being polled right now, many of the most ardent supporters of Donald Trump are people who are not normal Republican voters. Trump has no ground game in place in places like Iowa or throughout the SEC primary to get those non-traditional voters to the polls.
Advertising still matters and fine tuned micro-targeted advertising works better than scatter shot mass blast advertising.
Ultimately, boots on the ground and door to door contact matters substantially more than anything else. Voters have a higher likelihood of turning out for a candidate if that candidate or his supporters have made personal, face to face contact with a voter.
But above all else, the candidate matters.
Right now, this is an election year where voters want someone who the Washington insiders see as a narcissist who fights the team because the voters in the Republican primary are rooting against that team too. The two candidates who are perceived as fighting against that team are Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
Between the two, the only one engaged in serious boots on the ground, micro-targeting of voters, and building large field operations is Ted Cruz. Oh, and he also does very well with likely voters, not just registered voters, the whole lot of whom actually do find him likable. This includes a sizable number of Iowa voters who have both participated in past caucuses and intend to go to the 2016 one.
An attack in the Politico by a Washington Republican consultant who worked for Haley Barbour at the Republican National Committee at a time when the most fired up of the most fired up Republicans still are pissed off about Haley Barbour in Mississippi’s Senate race is just another Ted Cruz ad campaign waiting to write itself.
Ted Cruz may be too slick. He may even be a narcissist. But he has fought the Washington Republican class at a time Republican voters hate the Washington Republicans as much as everyone else does. That those guys are now attacking him is just a net positive for much of the base.