Good morning Austin:
I met a very elegant San Antonian yesterday at the Greenville County Republican Women’s luncheon.
Her name is Diana Denman, who was in South Carolina to lend a hand to the Ted Cruz campaign ahead of Saturday’s primary, just as she had in Iowa before the Feb. 1 caucuses.
Denman was a friend to Ronald Reagan. An actress as a young woman, “my first vote for Ronald Reagan was for president of the Screen Actors Guild.”
I met her climbing up to the balcony — the luncheon was full to capacity. She offered that she liked Cruz precisely because she liked Reagan.
“I served with Reagan as a presidential appointee and was vice chairman of the Texas Republican party. I see in this brilliant young man a statesman. I see him prepared, incredibly well prepared, to lead this country. To follow in (Reagan’s) footsteps economically with his flat tax, to restore the military …. to respect this country.”
But I wondered whether Cruz could project Reagan likability. Ronald Reagan was, after all, a man who had built a successful career playing likable people in the movies.
She agreed that Reagan, “was like a Teddy bear people wanted to hug.”
Cruz has built a reputation on who doesn’t like him. He’s relished it. He has made enemies of most of his colleagues in the U.S. Senate and worn it as a badge of honor.
He has fashioned himself the new Reagan. 2016 is 1980 all over again. Barack Obama is Jimmy Carter. And Cruz is Ronald Reagan.
The trick, however, is how to explain the likability gap between Cruz and the Gipper.
He has sought to do this by suggesting that the Washington establishment detested Reagan quite as much as they detest him.
Among his favorite lines in his stump speech:
Washington despised Ronald Reagan. By the way, if you see a candidate who Washington embraces, run and hide.
If someone should say to me that he doesn’t get along with some of his cohorts, the American people are so completely tired of what is happening in Washington, so it’s almost a yellow rose to pin on him that they don’t want to talk to him, because all Americans are disgusted with them.
When one is strong in believing in your principles and convictions, the grassroots will be grateful.
I was early for him in the Senate race. The old Texas saying is, your word is your bond. Everything he said he was going to do in the Senate he has done.’
Here is the last Cruz ad of the South Carolina campaign.
It ends with a quote from Rush Limbaugh.
“This is the closest in our lifetimes we have ever been to Ronald Reagan.”
But Cruz’s likability problem, which is the most serious obstacle to his doing the Full Reagan, worsened considerably since his victory in Iowa, and especially in the last 10 days in South Carolina — thanks in large part to the assertion, repeated over and over by Donald Trump and Marco Rubio — that Cruz is a big liar, who Trump refers to as a “a nasty guy,” altogether more Tricky Dick than Gipper.
It has taken its toll.
From this week’s Public Policy Polling South Carolina poll.
One surprising finding from the poll is that Ted Cruz has the worst net favorability rating of the candidates, with 42% of voters seeing him positively to 48% who have a negative opinion of him. He and Jeb Bush (41/43) are the only candidates under water. Showing that popularity isn’t everything Ben Carson is by far the most widely liked hopeful in the state with a 68/23 favorability rating, followed by Rubio at 58/32 and Kasich at 52/29. Trump is only the fourth most well liked at 50/43, but in contrast to the other candidates most of the voters who like him are also planning to vote for him.
I spoke with University of Texas government professor Daron Shaw, who co-directs the Fox Poll.
I actually think Cruz is extremely well positioned right now. My sense is that people are underrating how impressive it will be if he does what I think he’ll do on March 1, and that is win a big chunk of those states.
My assumption is is that those are states where Ted has done spade work. His coalitions are stronger in those states, even than in South Carolina, which is pretty strong for Ted. Alabama, Mississippi, probably Texas, Oklahoma — those are states that Ted should do really well. If Ted wins five out of eight or six out of eight states on March 1, I think that is a huge set of wins. Now granted it’s proportional, and you’re not going to have a huge delegate toll, but I’m amazed at how we underrate the power of raising your hands Election Night in victory and giving a speech before a cheering crowd. That sill drive images and drives narratives and people are underrating, they’re sort of writing it off, `Well Cruz has all these states so on March 1 he is going to do real well.’ But, when that happens, I think it is going to be very striking.
Trump has his group. The establishment group is all over the map. And Ted is in a really good position.
Shaw thinks the sooner it gets to be a head-to-head race with Trump, the better for Cruz, and to do it on friendly southern turf.
Cruz, per his Senate race against former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, likes running to the right of the front-runner.
Ted has better credentials as the outside, anti-establishment guy than Trump has as a conservative.
But, Shaw said, Cruz’s likability problems hangs over his prospects:
I think his likability numbers are really dangerous right now. The tag on him — if Marco Rubio is too callow and inexperienced and Trump’s a bully, Ted is being defined as the guy that nobody likes and Trump has built on that, and that’s really a problem.
It’s not a Senate race. Its a presidential race and people don’t like to vote for somebody they don’t like. And I don’t know how Ted deals with that.
And if I were on Ted’s team, I’d be very concerned with how do you deal with that. I think that at some level you have to be just a little bit likable, and I think Ted’s in danger of losing control of that, and that’s something that probably could hurt him and maybe cost him the nomination and certainly that could cost him in the fall.
You talk about New York values. What New York values means to me is the New York guy really knows how to pick out your weak spot. That’s Trump. It was Ted, it was Marco, it was Jeb. He just picks it and picks it. He’s got a genius for that.
I know Ted from the Texas Lyceum. I worked with him in 2000 on the Bush campaign, and I never thought of him as unlikable.
The media is always looking …whats the hook? Some are right but some of them are not right. You know Carville used to rail on this that once the media settles on one of these they’ll never back off. They are trying to figure out Ted. They haven’t gotten it right but this unlikable thing is becoming a meme and I think it’s political poison. What do you do, have Ted kiss babies?
I also talked with Kirby Goidel, an expert on political communication at Texas A&M University.
There’s a quote originally about FDR but was often applied to Reagan as well, “second rate intellect and fiist-rate personality. Where Cruz is probably first-rate intellect, second- or third-rate personality. (the actual quote, from Oliver Wendell Holmes, was that Roosevelt had a second–class intellect but a first–class temperament.)
I think it’s a real challenge because to extend beyond your base and especially to extend to a broad segment of the electorate, people have to like you.
It’s even different than Hillary Clinton, who’s got strong unfavorables but most of the people who work with her like her. But the people who’ve worked with Cruz are the ones who don’t really like him, so I think he’s got an even bigger challenge.
I really admire sort of the disciplined campaign he’s running. That he’s drawn this up about as well as he could have possibly drawn it up and he’s carved out exactly what he wants to do and is very disciplined in going about it. But it does present an issue.
I think sometimes it can be played exactly the way he’s played it — that it’s not really a weakness, it’s a strength. But I’m not sure he’s really been able to do that yet, at least with a wide segment of voters. I think it’s a challenge that he has to overcome.
Even worse than being unlikable is being inauthentic. The trouble for Cruz is he’s just not a likable guy, and I think the challenge for him is sort of how to play that in way that’s a strength. At the end of the day we tend to vote for the candidate that we see as more likable. I think that’s a pretty consistent pattern over time. We vote for people we’re comfortable with.
How does Cruz get beyond his base? It’s really hard for me to see how he does that, unless he is winning establishment support, but the establishment seems to like him less then Trump.