Republican party leaders rally to attack Trump, Cruz

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Leaders of the Republican party entered prevent defense mode this week with former Senator Bob Dole warning of “cataclysmic” failure and “wholesale losses” if voters select Sen. Ted Cruz as the party’s nominee, and the conservative National Review magazine calling Donald Trump “a menace” to Republican principles.

The attacks on Trump, the populist New York billionaire, and Cruz, the conservative stalwart from Texas, come as polls show the two men pulling ahead of the pack both nationally and in key early primary states, leaving conservative leaders to ponder: which man would do the party more harm?

In an interview with The New York Times published Wednesday, Dole, a former senator from Kansas and the GOP’s 1996 nominee, said Cruz would be worse than Trump because he has trouble getting along with others.

Nobody likes him,” Dole said.

Trump, on the other hand, could “probably work with Congress, because he’s, you know, he’s got the right personality and he’s kind of a deal-maker,” the former Senate Majority Leader told the Times.

The next day, the National Review posted an online editorial and a series of pieces by 22 prominent conservative thinkers making the case against Trump.

The series includes essays by conservative talk show host Glenn Beck, economist Thomas Sowell, former U.S. Attorneys General Edwin Meese and Michael Mukasey, novelist Mark Helprin, conservative columnist Mona Charen, former Congressman David McIntosh, and Weekly Standard publisher William Kristol, among others.

The essays will also be included in National Review‘s Feb. 15 print edition.

Conservative leaders distrust Trump, a former supporter of the stimulus, of abortion rights and of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for Senate from New York, who claims to be a convert to conservatism.

Many regard his understanding of public policy and international affairs as rudimentary, at best.

“Like Obama, he is astoundingly ignorant of everything that to govern a powerful, complex, influential, and exceptional nation such as ours he would have to know,” Halperin writes.

“He doesn’t know the Constitution, history, law, political philosophy, nuclear strategy, diplomacy, defense, economics beyond real estate, or even, despite his low-level-mafioso comportment, how ordinary people live.”

But some Republican leaders see Trump as less problematic than Cruz, whose condescending demeanor has earned cold shoulders from even those who share his conservative political viewpoints.

Moreover, many Republicans view Cruz as not only personally irritating, but as incapable of expanding the party’s base, winning a general election, or governing effectively.

John Feehery, a Republican analyst and former aide to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, called Cruz a “titanic jerk” in a blog post on his website and said he fears that if the party nominates Cruz, it will lose not only the White House, but the Senate as well.

And earlier this month, Republican pollster Dave Sackett privately told Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that a recent poll he conducted for the National Republican Congressional Committee indicated that, of all the presidential hopefuls, Cruz would be most detrimental to GOP House candidates running for re-election this year.

And so, as between Trump and Cruz, there are a fair number of conservatives who’d rather see Trump as the nominee.

This has prompted Cruz to quip that the “establishment is lining up behind Trump,” and has allowed his supporters to paint the race as a two-man contest between the so-called establishment and Cruz, who they regard as the only person willing to fight the establishment head on.

“But that’s not true,” Florida senator and fellow presidential candidate Marco Rubio told Martha MacCallum on Fox News on Friday. The establishment is “not lining up behind Donald Trump, they’re just telling people their opinion about Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz is an incredibly calculated individual.”