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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Ted Cruz, the electable conservative

Are you feeling upset?

Turn to most news outlets these days and you hear a lot about Republicans being “angry.” Democrats are always portrayed as concerned and caring, but Republicans and conservatives are just mad – at least Ted Cruz busaccording to the media.

Those feelings are played out in a new poll, too. Nick Gass of Politico reports, “Republicans are nearly three times as angry at the government as their Democratic counterparts, according to the results of the latest Pew Research Center study out Monday…

“The divide between Republicans and Democrats is even deeper among those who said they were politically engaged, with 42 percent of Republicans expressing anger toward their government, while just 11 percent of Democrats said the same.”

The results of the survey are easily explained. Democrats aren’t angry at the government because government gives them everything they ask for – free food, unpatrolled borders, free education, free this, free that… the list is endless. And regarding the “anger” among the politically engaged – if you’re paying attention to what’s going on of late, you should be stark raving mad.

Gass continues, “And among those who are angry, the most popular candidates are Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and Ben Carson. The least popular candidate among those angry: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.”

I’m puzzled by Rubio’s lofty place with the angriest Republicans. I would think his leadership in the Gang of Eight would get people steamed up at him alone. But I guess there’s still plenty to learn about Marco’s record.

Time will tell.

Jeb and Marco’s dreams fall flat from lack of substance

Lost in all the talk about who’s up and who’s down in the national polls is the practical reality that any candidate who hopes to win the Republican nomination next year must do well in the early states to survive.

It is true that a big campaign war chest might allow someone to stay afloat as long as they have the desire to remain in the race, but people often forget about how momentum surges or stalls after the first few contests.

If you still doubt, please ask “President” Rudy Giuliani. Rudy didn’t put much effort into trying to win in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in 2008 and his campaign was dead in the water by the time Florida came around. His was a shining example of what not to do in running for president.

Every candidate looks to plot a path to victory early on. For the establishment’s former best hope, Jeb Bush, that road begins in New Hampshire – the only problem being he lingers in fifth place there with a measly 7.6 percent in the Real Clear Politics polling average.

Undeterred by history, Bush soldiers on in the Granite State, seeing it as his only chance to realistically stay alive (at least in an electoral sense) into the delegate rich spring primaries. And certainly by appearances, Jeb is going after the geriatric vote in New Hampshire.

Tim Alberta of National Review reports. “Polling this year — in New Hampshire, in other early-primary states, and nationally — has shown Bush regularly performing better among older voters than with the broader electorate.”

Alberta’s story pits Bush versus Rubio in New Hampshire, with Jeb stumping about the past at a gathering of older folks while Marco offers the future to Millennials. The contrast is striking for more than just the demographics of the audience – and the candidates – the content of the sales pitch was decades apart as well.

New Hampshire does have the third-oldest population of any state and 69% of its 2012 Republican primary voters were 45 or older -- but will statistics alone be enough to revive Bush’s flailing candidacy?

Not necessarily, according to Alberta. “There are two dangers…in Bush’s banking on older voters to put him over the top. First, the 65-and-older bloc doesn’t always cast the decisive vote. John McCain, for example, won every age group except that one in New Hampshire’s 2008 primary (losing it to Mitt Romney), though he still won the state. Second, older voters like Bush, but not as much as they like some of his rivals — especially Rubio.”

Therein lies the problem in targeting one voting bloc and molding your campaign around it. What appeals to one group may not fly with another and Jeb has a hard enough time connecting with people as it is.

True, Marco Rubio does look like he could still be in college, but if anything, Rubio’s youth and lack of experience could work against him with any particular age group.

But beyond demographics, it’s Bush’s and Rubio’s lack of a real message that would eventually sink their campaigns. Jeb can call up the ghosts of the past and Marco can fantasize about the future, but platitudes aren’t what people want these days. They want leaders with ideas that address the issues.

Both Bush and Rubio are weakest on the key issue in the 2016 campaign, immigration. All the lofty sounding rhetoric in the world isn’t going to get them past that fact with the conservative base. Once voters start paying attention, they’ll find much better alternatives in the field.

And there’s nothing either one of them can do about it – except maybe to reminisce or dream.

Carson’s job interview answer doesn’t impress Rush Limbaugh

Similar to Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, Ben Carson has a message problem. He’s based his campaign on a fabulous life-long resume of personal triumph over adversity and professional success, but beyond those things, he’s lacking in chewable sustenance.

Such is true especially in foreign policy, where he’s struggled with basic facts and in articulating an overall strategy to handle the key aspects of his new “job,” if he should win the presidency.

Carson says it isn’t a problem…he has the capacity to learn foreign policy, just like anything else. Thomas Beaumont of the Associated Press reports Carson said on Sunday, "[W]hat is really needed is a clear understanding of what the problems are and the ability to work with very talented people that we have. The world is changing very quickly. We have to be willing to continually update our knowledge and adjust to the things that are going on in our country."

It’s the same common sense answer Ben’s been giving all along when asked about foreign affairs. In essence, he’s saying, ‘When a problem arises, I’ll listen to the facts, solicit opinions from advisors and decide what’s best under the circumstances.’

Carson is merely restating what every candidate should say when asked about a particular issue in foreign policy, where technically there is no right or wrong answer. It’s all hypothetical.

That’s not the case on all issues, of course. On tax policy, for example, you can bring out pie charts and long-term calculations from think-tanks to argue your point. But on foreign policy, you’re addressing problems that either don’t exist at present or are often too nebulous to give a yes or no answer.

It’s kind of like being in a job interview when the interviewer asks you, “What would you do if….?” If you admit that you just don’t know how you’d react without more information, you won’t get the job.

And Ben’s up against a collection of competitors who seem very self-assured when quizzed on the world. Donald Trump says he’ll bomb the s—t out of ISIS. Carly Fiorina says she’ll establish a no-fly zone in Syria. Jeb Bush says he’ll put in troops back in Iraq… and on and on.

The truth is, none of the candidates knows what they’ll do at the time because they aren’t privy to all the facts right now. It’s pure speculation. Carson knows this and provides a process for decision-making – and he’s heavily criticized for it. It’s not really fair, but it’s also understandable.

Another Carson critique came over the weekend from none other than Rush Limbaugh. Making a rare appearance on Fox News Sunday, Limbaugh discussed Ben’s qualifications to be president.

Joel Gehrke of National Review reports Rush told Chris Wallace, “Ben Carson equipped to be president? Um — probably not at this stage. But any of these Republicans running would be better than Hillary or better than anything we’ve got now, so on that, based on that comparison, yes. I would vote for him if it was up to him and Hillary. Absolutely, without a doubt.”

Rush prides himself on being “right,” but in this case, I think he’s wrong. Disqualifying Carson because of his present grasp of foreign situations is premature and unreasonable. You can say Ben is weak on the matter, but to deem him “unequipped” to be president goes a little far.

But it’s one man’s view and that’s what Rush is paid to do – offer opinions.

For his part, Ben is fighting back against the critics. With the wealth of other qualities Carson brings to the Republican race, he deserves an opportunity to show he can handle it.

To give him less would not be fair.

Ted Cruz, the electable conservative

Finally today, Ted Cruz has often portrayed himself as the candidate most ready to take on the “Washington cartel,” but now he’s saying he’s the most electable, too.

Steve Peoples of the Associated Press reports, “As Carson's support appears to soften, and Trump struggles to say with precision what are his exact plans for increasing surveillance of potential threats in the wake of the Paris attacks, Cruz is ramping up his pitch and trying to cast himself not just as an outsider - but an electable outsider at a time of widespread mistrust of Washington.”

In doing so, the Texas Senator is merely executing his strategy of confidently promoting his credentials while quietly playing down his opponents. Ted knows he needs to draw support from Trump and Carson – otherwise he’s got little chance to advance.

As the smartest candidate in the Republican field, Cruz has proven masterful at deflecting criticisms while appealing to conservative groups within the party. As the days go on, he’s certainly demonstrating that he’s a candidate to be reckoned with.

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Electability

To be "electable" means able to win. Winning anything -- a job, the presidency, or a date always involves three things: The candidate must appeal to the heart and to the mind. To me Ted Cruz passes the test in these first two categories big time. Where he lacks is in the third category. Some call this category charisma, others call it guts, some call it likability, in "show biz" they call it crotch. Whatever name you give it, it's that certain, undefinable something that attracts you to the person and causes you to pick them.

I think Limbaugh is right about Cruz in every regard except this last category. ...he has plenty of brilliance, that's for sure.....and his words are inspirational and appeal to the heart, that's for sure. But.... the question is does he have that certain, undefinable third category that will win him the job? Will America get in bed with him? For me, the jury's still out.