Third-place in New Hampshire is a charm for Ted Cruz

Good morning Austin:

Ted Cruz didn’t make it into the highlight clips out of yesterday’s New Hampshire primary.

Flipping back and forth between MSNBC, Fox and CNN last night, I couldn’t find any coverage of his election-night speech. But, with 89 percent of the vote counted, it appears he finished third, well behind Donald Trump and John Kasich, but a little more than a thousand votes ahead of Jeb bush and nearly 3,000 votes ahead of Marco Rubio.

Fortunately, the Statesman’s Ken Herman was there.

When Cruz spoke to supporters Tuesday night he and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush were battling for third place behind Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, both of whom had the strong showings they needed here. Cruz led Bush for third by a hair and said he was “effectively tied for third,” a result that allowed him to sound the same themes he did after his surprising win over Trump in Iowa.

“We’ve done what the pundits and media said could not be done,” he said, also calling the result “what the Washington establishment desperately hoped would not be done.”

For Cruz, the good news about the third place finish meant he had beaten U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in the battle to emerge as Trump’s prime foe.

And here is some smuggled footage of Cruz’s election night appearance in New Hampshire.

In the words of Bernie Sanders to Larry David on Saturday Night LIve, that’s pretty, pretty, pretty good.

 

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He may not have been given the opportunity to give a triumphal third-place finish speech before a national audience, a la Marco Rubio in Iowa. He may not ride into South Carolina surging.  But he moves South in good stead, with the field reshaped in ways that largely benefit him.

Here, from Cruz’s press office, is what Cruz had to say Tuesday night:

HOLLIS, NH – Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz today addressed the people of the Granite State and conservatives across the country after a strong finish in the New Hampshire primary. Excerpts of his remarks included below:

“Together, we have done what the pundits and the media said could not be done, what the Washington establishment desperately hoped would not be done. 


“The real winner – the real winner – is the conservative grassroots. Who propelled us to an outright victory in Iowa and to a far stronger result and outcome in New Hampshire than anyone predicted….


“Thank you New Hampshire, for tonight’s result, your victory tonight has left the Washington Cartel utterly terrified.


“And so now on to South Carolina, on to Nevada, on to Super Tuesday. We’ve put Washington on the run, and tonight’s outcome is a victory for ‘we the people.’ And this election, this primary and this general election in November 2016, will be a victory for the hardworking men and women who want to believe again in the promise of America against the bipartisan corruption of Washington, which mark my words will end on January 20, 2017.” 

Well, I’m not sure  a 12 percent finish terrified anybody, and I think Trump remains the Godzilla of the 2016 presidential race.

But third place was good for Cruz in a place outside his political comfort zone, and he did it with admirable efficiency.

From Huffington Post:

 

Huffington Post

Huffington Post

Cruz now has a win in iowa and a show in New Hampshire. The most important outcome in New Hampshire was beating Rubio and the effective humiliation of Cruz’s generational and senatorial peer, who, absent his embarrassing performance at Saturday night’s debate, would probably have finished second, ahead of Kasich and well ahead of Cruz. And, Rubio, far more than Kasich, would have been in a position to exploit a second-place finish in New Hampshire to execute his 3-2-1 strategy South Carolina.

Rubio was the one candidate who could have emerged as the consensus anti-Trump center-right candidate and competed with Cruz for tea party/conservative voters. But, after New Hampshire, Steve Schmidt said on Morning Joe this morning, Rubio, “doesn’t have the oxygen or the rationale” to make a real play in South Carolina.

He’s most likely done.

“Ted Cruz is the conservative candidate in this race,” Schmidt, an accomplished Republican operative, said. “Donald Trump has to avoid a head-on-head with Ted Cruz.”

Cruz was hoping, coming out of Iowa, that this would devolve into a one-on-one race. That hasn’t happened yet, but the modestly thinned pack is not bad for Cruz. Bush has standing and organization – and, with his super PAC, money to burn –  in South Carolina, and will have his brother campaigning for him in a place where that really helps. But Kasich complicates things for Bush, and neither is likely to cut much into Cruz’s base with the most conservative and evangelical voters.

Trump, however, is another matter, and South Carolina, per the truly ugly Bush-McCain primary in 2000, could be brutal.

“In South Carolina, meanness is a virtue,” said Schmidt, who was McCain’s top strategist in 2008.

Trump is already running a tough anti-Cruz ad in South Carolina.

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From Theodore Schleifer at CNN:

Donald Trump is launching an offensive against Ted Cruz in South Carolina, calling him the “worst kind of Washington insider” in a wide-ranging attack ad that paints him as dishonest, unsavory and inconsistent.

Cruz and Trump have both labored to position themselves as the race’s outsiders, a claim that Trump looks to rebut in the new South Carolina spot.

“What kind of man talks from both sides of his mouth on amnesty for illegals on national television — and still denies it?” a narrator says in the advertisement. “Who took more than a million dollars in sweetheart loans from Wall Street banks, and fails to disclose it as required by law? Who runs a campaign accused of dirty tricks, and tried to sabotage Ben Carson with false rumors?”

 

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Here’s another ad from a pro-Trump super PAC.

Cruz has his own clever and sophisticated, anti-Trump ad. But I think it’s patty-cake compared to what is to come.

Trump’s a hard problem to solve.

How does Cruz fight a guy who has a broader ideological reach even as he  does well with evangelical voters – he has the endorsement of Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell Jr. – and can, as needed, out-flank Cruz on the right, whether it’s on immigration – ban Muslim immigration – or torture – on which, Trump, with profane mischief, suggested Cruz is “a pussy.”

Cruz flinched at Saturday’s debate when he had the opportunity to directly confront Trump on his lack of a presidential temperament.

I am not sure Cruz is yet ready for a one-on-one race with Trump, and he may benefit from having Jeb Bush and his super PAC in South Carolina, and all the others all throwing their weight into bringing down the American Godzilla.

 

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