Ted Cruz and the Hunt for Trump Supporters

Ted Cruz and the Hunt for Trump Supporters
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If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

That seems to be the campaign philosophy of Ted Cruz, who invited Donald Trump over to the U.S. Capitol for a rally Wednesday against the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.

Though some GOP presidential contenders have opted to keep their heads down and wait out the Trump storm, Cruz has run toward it, arms wide open. And while a few, Jeb Bush in particular, have fought back against the frontrunner, the Texas senator has defended him.

Indeed, no candidate in this wild ride for the White House has embraced Trump like Cruz has. At the same time, however, no other candidate has had his thunder stolen because of Trump’s entrance -- and stands to gain most from his exit -- than the freshman lawmaker.

Cruz was the first Republican candidate to enter the race, and he did so with a Trump-like message. He presented himself as the anti-establishment choice, the one who isn’t afraid to tick off Washington leaders, having proved it through various menacing actions in the U.S. Senate.

But Cruz has largely been overshadowed by the rise of Trump and other true outsider candidates. In Iowa, the early voting state that might ideologically align best with his views, the RealClearPolitics average shows Trump leading with 26 percent, followed by Ben Carson at 19 percent and Cruz in a distant third place with just 7 percent.

Now that summer is over and Congress is back in session—and more voters are starting to pay attention to the presidential race in earnest—Cruz has something going for him. He can use the upper chamber as a platform for his anti-Washington message. In addition to the vote on the Iran deal, which now appears cleared for implementation, lawmakers will also engage in a fight over funding for Planned Parenthood. Cruz supporters believe these battles, even if eventually lost, will show their candidate’s audacity and ability.

Still, he could use a little star power.

Cruz has been standing behind Trump with the belief that if and when the real estate mogul falls—and that “if” remains a big one—the conservative senator will be there to absorb his support.  Sharing the spotlight with Trump at the Capitol on Wednesday is designed to advance that cause, even if the campaign insists its true intention is to focus more attention on the Iran deal.

Trump’s constituency is broad, but “there is a group in there who are socially conservative and supporting Trump despite the fact he doesn’t have a pure record on their issues,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, whose survey in Iowa recently found Trump and Carson tied with Cruz lagging behind in third place. “The indication is if those voters fall, they will go to Cruz.”

The Monmouth poll found that 24 percent of Trump’s supporters picked Cruz as their second choice while 20 percent chose Carson. Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, came in third at 8 percent in terms of Trump backers’ second choice.

“It seems like Cruz … has the spark, and realizes that if Trump falls by wayside, being seen as a friend of Trump is going to be something that serves you well with voters,” said Murray.

Others, however, find the Trump constituency to be more fragmented. David Brady and Douglas Rivers of the Hoover Institution found that the businessman’s supporters’ second choices are as follows: Carson at 13 percent, Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush at 10 percent, and Cruz at 9 percent. “If his candidacy falters or he quits the race, no single candidate benefits in more than the low double digits,” they wrote in a piece for RCP.

It appears the Cruz team has seen more evidence of the former theory, however. The candidate believes he has a more durable and organized campaign that will not only get him through Iowa but on to the vast and delegate-rich collection of Southern states that will vote in March. Cruz is also well financed, having raised more money than anyone in the GOP field with the exception of Bush.

While Trump’s appearance Wednesday could shine a needed spotlight on Cruz, it could also eclipse him. Even though the freshman senator invited his competitor to the event, which is sponsored by Tea Party groups, it will likely become a Trump-dominated rally. In addition, Sarah Palin and conservative radio host Mark Levin will be featured, along with Glenn Beck and others.

On Tuesday, Cruz ventured to Kentucky to visit with Kim Davis, the jailed clerk who had refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But he was outdone by Huckabee, who organized a campaign-like event around Davis’ release, complete with a stage, entrance music, and press gaggles. Cruz barely made it into the live video footage and photos from the event. And, as he tried to engage with the press, a Huckabee aide apparently blocked him, the New York Times reported.

In a similar fashion, though Wednesday’s rally is designed to feature Cruz, it might also challenge him to avoid being upstaged by a brash and even more outspoken rival.

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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