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February 22nd, 2016

It’s not the Cruz campaign that’s the problem, it’s the candidate.


Photo by Dave Davidson –

Texas Senator Ted Cruz was supposed to be a different kind of conservative presidential candidate. He was supposed to be unique because not only did he have impeccable conservative credentials, but he also proved he could raise money and thus could build a national campaign that former caucus winners like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee could never accomplish.

This was the narrative of the Cruz campaign in the lead up to the Iowa Caucuses. When the Cruz campaign opened its Iowa headquarters in September, Steve Deace, a syndicated talk radio host who was deeply involved in the Cruz campaign, made a strong case as to why he was backing Cruz this time around.

“Imagine if Rick Santorum had six months to plan for that primary. Imagine if Mike Huckabee, eight years ago, had a year of fundraising and organization to run a national campaign,” said Deace, who has endorsed Cruz. “Maybe we would not have been sentenced to those nominations,” he added, referring to John McCain and Mitt Romney.

It was an equally powerful and persuasive argument. And let’s be honest, as far as Iowa was concerned, it was true. Cruz dominated the field in Iowa because just winning here wasn’t good enough anymore. The Cruz campaign did an excellent job of convincing Iowa Republicans that they needed a conservative candidate who could win the nomination, not just the caucuses.

Everything was going according to plan until the results from South Carolina’s Republican primary began to come in. Cruz dominated the Iowa caucuses, where 64 percent of caucus-goers labeled themselves as evangelicals. South Carolina should have been even easier since 72 percent of voters there were evangelicals. As we saw on Saturday night, Cruz struggled. He didn’t win a single county and ultimately finished in third place.

Third place is exactly where the last winner of the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum, finished in South Carolina. What happened to all the advantages that Cruz was supposed to have that set him apart from those who had tried and ultimately failed before him?

Let me suggest a theory. The only thing wrong with the Cruz campaign is that its people have yet to figure out how to play nice with others. Even when Cruz was only parachuting into Iowa once a month last summer, people connected with the campaign constantly talked about how Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee should just hang it up.

“It’s not going to happen for them again,” they would say. It’s not that any of this wasn’t true, but when dealing with individuals who may have personal connections with a candidate, you are not doing your candidate any favors by telling them the guy or gal they like sucks. It’s a conclusion they need to come to themselves.

Despite the fact that the Cruz campaign has struggled at playing well with others, it’s difficult to find much fault with the machinery and implementation of their operation. The deficiency on the Cruz campaign can be found in the candidate himself. Cruz may have built a legitimate campaign that was more capable of winning the Republican than Huckabee and Santorum built in 2008 and 2012, but he’s simply not as authentic as they were.

Huckabee had a charm and charisma about him in the 2008 race that made him a difficult match up head to head with Mitt Romney in Iowa, and later in conservative southern states against McCain. Santorum was a passionate blue-collar fighter who matched up well against Romney. Both Huckabee and Santorum had a populist message that made people feel like these candidates cared about people like them.

People rooted for Huckabee and Santorum. They may have been the underdogs in their respective races, but one would think the same dynamic should exist for Cruz since he’s running against a billionaire with a questionable record. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

The Cruz campaign at times can feel like a church revival, with the candidate himself delivering a sermon full of fire and brimstone. What’s odd is that in the debates Cruz rarely if ever steers the conversation in a direction where he advocates for a strong socially conservative policy. In the 2012 debates, Santorum always found an opening to remind people that strong families are a critical part of a strong economy. Cruz seems content with volleying back and forth on the issues of the day.

In the years that Huckabee and Santorum were candidates, there were key moments when they delivered a message that would silence a room and as the attendees contemplated what Huckabee was saying about human life or what Santorum was saying about his own family. There has been none of that with Cruz. Cruz has focused mainly on the strength of his campaign, the key political battles in which he fought, and the narrative that conservatives were coalescing behind his campaign. In essence, the Cruz campaign has always just been about Ted Cruz and nothing else.

The entire Cruz campaign was built on the narrative that he was the conservative candidate who could win the nomination, but after a big loss in South Carolina they are now forced find a new basis for the campaign. If they couldn’t beat Donald Trump by running ads that featured him supporting late-term abortions in a state like South Carolina, I’m not sure it will ever work.

Cruz was supposed to be different from Huckabee and Santorum, but as one looks at the calendar, you start to wonder if he will win eight states like Huckabee did in 2008 or 11 like Santorum in 2012. For all the talk about the campaign Cruz has built, it only highlights that the problem may just be the candidate himself.



About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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