A Bay State road map for Cruz and Rubio

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/02/27/a-bay-state-road-map-for-cruz-and-rubio/

In the Republican presidential contest, pundits never tire of asking: “Who’s going to command the establishment lane?”

Without anyone really noticing, it’s already happened. Paradoxically, the mainstream or moderate candidate is one Donald J. Trump. His wide swath of support across all demographic groups best replicates the similar wingspans accorded prior establishment candidates named Romney, McCain, and Dole. Admittedly, Trump is an ill-fitting establishment choice.

Of course, his rhetoric and unpredictability make him an unpleasant pill for most establishment types to swallow. As a result, the power-brokers and insiders at the top of the GOP have dutifully withheld their endorsements

Simultaneously, conservatives have two viable candidates in the field; three counting the honorable political neophyte Dr. Ben Carson. In most presidential years, either Florida Senator Marco Rubio or Texas Senator Ted Cruz would be embraced as the conservative standard bearer. Cruz fits the mold well, apparently too well to broaden the base.

Rubio might have been the contemporary conservative ideal to expand the conservative imprint, but for his blundering immigration compromise and his awkward attempts to occupy both the conservative and establishment lanes.

Cruz’s strongest support comes from deeply committed conservatives who want a candidate who “shares my values,” while Rubio’s comes from practical conservatives seeking the candidate “most likely to win” in November.

In response to Cruz and Rubio splitting the base, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus has stepped forward and asked that they unite under a single banner.

Arizona Republican Trent Franks wrote: “We call upon all national security, free-market, and pro-family conservatives to boldly rally around the two of you together and ask you both to answer the call of statesmanship and decide between yourselves which shall be the candidate for President and which shall be the candidate for Vice President.”

If Franks’ call goes unheeded, Trump likely will proceed to win the most state contests taking votes from moderates as well as conservatives. It may already be too late for movement conservatives to unite, but a bit of political lore from – of all places – liberal Massachusetts provides a potential road map to success.

The 1990 Massachusetts Republican gubernatorial primary offers a lesson plan for national conservatives to follow in the remainder of this year’s presidential sweepstakes. In that contest from a quarter century past, Bay State conservatives rallied around State Representative Steve Pierce, the House Minority Leader.

Pierce claimed wide support from both social and economic conservatives, who had labored under businessman Ray Shamie’s leadership to rebuild the decimated state party during the fallow 1970s and 1980s. In point of fact, a Republican had not won the governorship since 1970, nor a statewide office since 1972. Finally, the playing field had changed, and 1990 was primed to be a good year for the GOP. Voters had tired of Governor Michael Dukakis’ three tax-and-spend terms, and his failed 1988 presidential run soured them even more. Years of painstaking work by Shamie and conservatives appeared about to pay off.

Meanwhile, moderate and liberal Republicans seemed headed to split their vote between former US Attorney William Weld and State Senator Paul Cellucci. After decades of being on the outside of both state government and the GOP establishment, it seemed like conservatives had a clear path to the Republican nomination for governor. Then something unprecedented happened.

Instead of running separate gubernatorial campaigns cannibalizing the centrist vote, Weld and Cellucci reached a headline-grabbing agreement to run as a team, Weld for the top spot and Cellucci for lieutenant governor. The twosome concluded their business quickly, because the senior Weld, with a family fortune at his disposal, never considered the lieutenant governor slot. Weld and Cellucci joined forces early enough to exploit a full year of campaigning. Despite losing the Republican convention, the duo went on to win the primary and the November election.

Their high-stakes gambit paid off.  What looked like a hopelessly divided moderate Republican constituency coalesced around the Weld-Cellucci ticket.

As regularly happens in Massachusetts, conservatives lost yet again.

Today, national conservatives face an eerily similar dilemma. Although, this time, it is they who risk splitting the electorate.

Can Cruz and Rubio pull off a Weld-Cellucci and pair-up for the good of the conservative cause?

Idle whispering about a so-called “brokered” convention continues to arise, as visions of the “smoke-filled room” dance in the heads of political insiders. Unfortunately, those with such visions must already be lighting up something or other in their own smoke-filled hideaways.

If anything would taint a Republican nomination, it would be the appearance of Karl Rove, Mitch McConnell, and company denying Trump the nomination, after he won a clear plurality of states and delegates. Rubio, himself, played into this scenario, recently telling Fox news: “You don’t win the nomination by how many states you win.”

Such delusional political thinking will only serve as a harbinger of a Trumpian third-party effort. Who could really blame him for not accepting such an ill-gotten result?  After all, it’s not 1876 or 1920 anymore.

Forget about brokering a deal after all the votes are in. To borrow a phrase: Do it now.

The “brokering” should take place directly between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Each has a legitimate claim at being the one truly conservative alternative to Donald Trump. Neither has a clear route to the so-called non-Trump lane, as long as the other remains in the race. Yet neither has a strong reason to get out, each expecting to be the “last man standing” in the demolition derby to take on Trump one-on-one.

Right now, rather than hurting Trump, they are damaging each other. In the most recent Texas debate, Rubio and Cruz pressed each other less and targeted their potent verbal firepower on Trump. That’s a marked improvement over bickering with each other.

But, if one seriously doubts that Trump has converted to conservatism, then Rubio and Cruz are still risking doing a disservice to the nation and to the conservative movement by continuing their rival campaigns.

How might Rubio and Cruz team up? The road map leads right back to that Massachusetts gubernatorial race of 1990.

Because Weld and Cellucci joined forces early in that race in September 1989, there was no bad blood between their campaigns, no harsh words exchanged. It’s too late to avoid such intramural flare-ups between Rubio and Cruz. Yet, because they are both genuinely committed to the conservative Republican agenda, they should be gentlemanly enough to overcome the sharp elbows and heated rhetoric.

Each brings to the table what the other lacks at this moment. Cruz brings toughness, inspiring confidence that he will do what he says; Rubio promises to broaden the base.

It’s another echo of 1990, when Weld delivered the “vision” and the eccentric Brahmanisms, as Cellucci brought his nuts and bolts knowledge of state government combined with an ethnic appeal.

Neither is the other’s ideal VP pick, but each both reinforces and complements the other very well. It’s a conservative replay of the Bill Clinton – Al Gore 1992 generational dream team pairing.

When Weld and Cellucci hammered out their ticket, Weld assured Cellucci an active role in the administration, especially in the inner workings the of state bureaucracy, where Cellucci’s experience supplemented Weld’s lack of interest.

In like fashion, a President Rubio should guarantee Vice President Cruz a powerful portfolio over judicial nominees, the Justice Department, and immigration policy.

On the other hand, a President Cruz should assure V.P. Rubio an active and decisive role in foreign policy, national defense, and homeland security.

In most aspects of life, it takes the bigger person to willingly accept the lesser position for the greater good. If these ideas find their way to Rubio and Cruz, conservatives must hope that the bigger man steps forward. And does so immediately.

Joseph Tortelli

Joseph Tortelli

Joseph Tortelli is a freelance writer. Read his past columns here.