In sports, there is the dreaded vote of confidence given to coaches from athletic directors, general managers, or team ownership. The public vote of confidence is dreaded because most of the time it is a precursor to the coach getting fired.
In politics, a similar thing happens when a presidential campaign discloses to the media that states that were once central to a campaign strategy to win the nomination suddenly are not. Publicly tying to lower their expectations in an early state is a clear sign of a campaign in trouble or one with serious problems.
The later happened on Wednesday, when a campaign official with Texas Senator Ted Cruz told Politico:
“Our strategy is taking it to the convention, which is why you’ve seen us announcing chairmen in California and New Jersey, as well as Iowa and New Hampshire,” said Mark Campbell, Cruz’s political director. “There are 2,470 [delegates] total, and you need 1,236 of them to win. None of these can be accumulated at any one time, which is why it’s a marathon more than a sprint. So we are methodically going state by state, focusing on grass roots and party activists.”
Campbell would add, “Obviously Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada are important, but then there are many large states that will be distributing their delegates starting March 1.”
Regardless of how you read the Politico piece on Cruz that was published on Wednesday, the Cruz campaign’s desire to manage its expectations in Iowa and New Hampshire is result of recent polls showing Cruz in sixth place in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
Cruz’s staff may not have said it in these exact words, but on Wednesday, they essentially announced to the world that Cruz is not capable of winning the Republican nomination outright, so instead, they are now going to work towards a goal of preventing anyone one else from accumulating enough delegates to win the nomination. In many ways this is reminiscent of the strategy Ron Paul adopted in 2012, with one major difference – Paul actually tried to win Iowa and New Hampshire.
Why the campaign chose to publicly discuss its weakness in a state like Iowa, which should be an area of strength for Cruz, is difficult to understand. Instead of viewing their current place in the Iowa polls as their floor on which they need to build, they seem to be viewing it as an indication that Iowa just isn’t suitable for them, which is an incorrect read of where things currently stand in Iowa.
When Cruz announced his candidacy in April, I noted how Cruz is a natural fit for the Republican caucuses in Iowa, and even though his poll numbers are not where his campaign wants them to be, I still believe that Cruz is a natural fit in Iowa. Cruz and his team shouldn’t be surprised at where they currently stand in the polls because they really have not done the things necessary to build support in the state. Since the first of the year, Cruz has been in Iowa just six days. Sure, that’s only one less day in the state than Scott Walker, but besides his announcement tour, Cruz has only attended multi-candidate events. Cruz’s father spent some time campaigning in Iowa last week, but Cruz himself hasn’t been in Iowa since April 25th.
The last two times that Cruz came to Iowa, he basically came in to attend a specific multi-candidate event and didn’t hold any of his own campaign events. It is imperative for candidates to build their own campaign events across the state, but it takes staff and a commitment from the candidate to spend the time travelling the state. Cruz is scheduled to be in the state next week, and his campaign does have three town hall events scheduled.
Cruz’s Iowa campaign director is Bryan English, who’s a great guy. But you could assemble the best staff in the state, and it wouldn’t matter unless the candidate is willing to actually campaign across the state. English also doesn’t have previous caucus campaign experience, and while that not a prerequisite to working on a campaign, Cruz needs experienced hands to guide him through the caucus process.
I never thought I would write this, but Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush have a lot in common when it comes to Iowa. They didn’t hire all the right people, and they don’t seem interested in putting in the work that is required to be successful in Iowa.
Iowa was never going to be easy for Cruz because the 2016 field of candidates is full of strong social conservative candidates, including two who have won the caucuses before. When Cruz launched his campaign in April, he crowed about all the money he was able to raise. It was purposeful, because he was essentially saying that he was the conservative who could win the nomination. It was a knock against Huckabee, Santorum, and Jindal.
Money is important in politics, but if there is one contest where hard work and dedication can make up for money it’s the Iowa caucuses. It’s shocking that Cruz and his team misread what it would take to actually win here. Cruz is a natural fit in Iowa because it was assumed that he would be a candidate who would appeal to grassroots conservatives, but they are not going to back a candidate who’s not here.
The Cruz campaign’s new strategy, to not focus on early primary states, is perplexing and doesn’t take into account the roll that momentum plays in politics. To be relevant beyond Iowa, Cruz needs to be the top conservative on caucus night. That means he has to beat Huckabee, Santorum, Jindal, and Perry. In many respect I’ve always viewed Iowa as a must win state for Cruz, and his campaign’s decision to not focus on winning Iowa just makes it more unlikely that he will win Iowa or even have a shot at the nomination.
It seems like the only thing the Cruz campaign is good at these days is over-thinking things. His campaign’s new strategy is nothing more than a recipe for disaster.
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com
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