Some politicians are known for throwing a punch. Ted Cruz has developed a knack for becoming a punch line.
Cruz’s critics – including everyone from media commentators to late-night talk show hosts – are ridiculing the Texas senator for picking Carly Fiorina as a running mate despite the fact that Republican voters have yet to pick him as their nominee.
One of the best digs came from Conan O’Brien, who quipped that – since Cruz recently lost a string of primaries – Fiorina was now “a heartbeat away from never being president.”
At the very least, many political observers agreed, the gesture was desperate and cynical. It was neither.
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In fact, it was brilliant. Anyone who doesn’t see that is missing something. Make that 10 things.
▪ Cruz knows how to change the subject after a series of losses and get the media’s attention focused back on him. It’s a skill the senator might have picked up from Donald Trump, who always managed to change the script whenever he lost a primary to Cruz.
▪ Fiorina’s attributes make her a strong pick. She is a gifted communicator, understands business and nullifies the canard that Republicans are anti-women. She could also help Cruz win primary votes in crucially important California, where she used to live and where she won a GOP Senate primary in 2010.
▪ While it’s true Fiorina dropped out of the race because she lacked support, the same thing can be said of 13 other GOP presidential hopefuls – all of whom are men. And yet this wouldn’t prevent them from being mentioned as viable running mates. In fact, some have been.
▪ Sure, this is an unconventional move. But this is an unconventional year, where the usual assumptions of how politicians and voters behave are getting shredded. Why should Cruz adhere to the traditional rules of picking running mates?
▪ The senator is good at the nuts and bolts of politics. He put together a strong ground game to win Iowa and several other contests. It’s one reason he has survived this long in the GOP’s version of “Game of Thrones.”
▪ Cruz has a long-term strategy. He is focused not on polls but on what happens at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. If he can deny Trump the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination on the first ballot, he has a shot of convincing enough Trump delegates to defect for him to win on the second. Fiorina could help, if those delegates like the idea of – to borrow a phrase – getting two for the price of one.
▪ In a campaign that has been steeped in narcissism, voters might like the idea of electing a team. Now that Cruz has chosen his running mate, perhaps he should introduce voters to his picks for the top four Cabinet positions: secretaries of state, defense, treasury and attorney general.
▪ It’s obvious Fiorina gets under Trump’s skin, as do other strong women. Hillary Clinton gets to Trump, who recently said the likely Democratic nominee was “shouting.” So does Megyn Kelly, the Fox News anchor whom Trump has often bad-mouthed. And Fiorina has the same effect; last fall, Trump attacked the former Hewlett-Packard CEO on her looks.
▪ Cruz likely remembers how that particular skirmish did not go well for Trump. Fiorina crushed the front-runner in a GOP debate with a stinging 36-word response that demonstrated strength, restraint and class. Polls taken afterward showed that most Republicans thought Fiorina won the matchup.
▪ Finally, there is a very real possibility that, with Fiorina back in the picture and taking frequent shots at Trump, the billionaire blowhard will be distracted and pulled off his game. Maybe he’ll become newly obsessed with attacking Fiorina. Or maybe he’ll make more boneheaded statements like he did recently when he accused Clinton of playing the “woman’s card” and insisted that the only reason she is doing well in this election is because of her gender.
Cruz’s campaign slogan insists voters can “TrusTed.” With his latest move, his supporters should trust that he knows what he’s doing. If the objective is to flip the script and flummox the front-runner, Fiorina is a smart choice at the right moment.