What Trump Saw and Cruz Missed

From: weeklystandard.com,  by William Kristol,  on Apr 26, 2016,  see the article HERE.

Garnet92: This is another long one, but worth the read. It identifies some of Cruz’s campaign mistakes and how Trump (inadvertently) capitalized on them. I can see some truth in what he says. 

Trump phenomenon

Here is the bulk of an April 24 memorandum from Rich Danker, a bright young conservative operative who ran the Lone Star Committee, an independent expenditure effort on behalf of Ted Cruz. Danker’s insights go beyond his analysis of the 2016 Republican race, and are a helpful guide to any independent candidacy that may be necessary if Trump prevails. Danker has given permission for this part of his memorandum (his analysis of the race) to be reproduced.

* * * *

To: Lone Star Committee supporters & interested parties

From: Rich Danker, Lone Star Committee founder

Date: April 24, 2016

Re: The 2016 Republican race

For those of you who have supported the Lone Star Committee’s independent expenditures and operations, I want to give you an overview of what we did, how it contrasted with other organizations’ efforts, and most importantly, how and why I believe the race has run its course with Donald Trump besting Ted Cruz as the presumptive GOP nominee. This includes an analysis of Cruz and Trump’s respective strategies, especially in the critical early voting states where we played a role.


How we got here

It’s easy to forget, but when Ted Cruz announced his presidential candidacy 13 months ago at Liberty University, he was far from top-tier status. Jeb Bush and Scott Walker were in front, with Ben Carson showing well as the outsider candidate. Many polls did not bother to include Donald Trump, and those that did had him in the low single digits. Cruz was in the high single digits – in the middle of the pack of an unusually long list of conservatives competing to be the nominee.

Even more improbable was his path to get there. Just six years ago Cruz was low profile enough in Texas to get big-footed out of the state’s attorney general primary. His Republican U.S. Senate primary upset of a well-funded, well-known opponent in 2012 was somewhat out of nowhere. It launched a groundswell of support for him from conservatives around the country who revered his willingness to fight his party’s political establishment and the Obama agenda with equal ferocity. Cruz continued to grow that base by applying this cause at every major turn in the Senate – most famously on the healthcare law funding.

Still, few could predict back then – especially with the specter of a Bush looming – that Cruz would find himself essentially in a two-man race with an even more unlikely candidate from the moment that Republicans starting electing delegates. It’s a testament to the Republican electorate’s demand for an anti-establishment conservative populist, and to Cruz’s clairvoyance of that all the way back when Mitt Romney was at the top of their ticket.

But I believe this very political shrewdness is also what undermined his quest for the GOP nomination. Cruz’s obsession with being the conservative in the race barred the door to the broader Republican primary electorate that, while just as conservative as Cruz, does not base its vote on an ideological scorecard, or even fidelity to the conservative movement.

This self-constraint also led Cruz to restrict the places he tried to win. Iowa and South Carolina met the criteria – but New Hampshire was out of the question. Florida seemed unlikely to him with two favorite sons running. The southeastern states were the big prize, and the fact that so many were frontloaded onto Super Tuesday for this cycle made that outlook even more appealing. Most of the media’s acceptance of a successful Cruz candidacy was based around this dynamic. To Cruz, the primary calendar was like a chessboard he would try to deftly navigate. Instead, it turned out to be what it has always been for the GOP: a game of knockout dictated by what happens in the first three states.

My former boss Jeff Bell dug up this fact last year: no presidential nominee of either party since the beginning of the New Hampshire primary in 1952 has ever finished worse than second place there. As he put it, there are three tickets out of Iowa, but only two out of New Hampshire. South Carolina usually goes with the eventual winner. This is not because the votes in the succeeding states count any less, but because of how voters filter out candidates based on what they learn from the previous contests. A candidate who performs badly anywhere is usually written off for good (which prompts the mass exodus after Iowa), and the expectations get tougher as the contests move on. I believe that’s because primary voters want a presidential candidate who demonstrates they can win across diverse voting blocs, which is required in the general election.

In that line of thinking, Cruz did everything right out of the gate with an impressive, come-from-behind win in Iowa. Donald Trump led by 5 points in the Des Moines Register‘s final poll the weekend before the caucuses, usually an accurate indicator of the results. Yet Cruz won by 4 points (though probably by a smaller margin if not for the campaign’s false suggestion about Ben Carson leaving the race and its controversial “Voter Violation” mailer).

Then came New Hampshire, a state Trump had held large leads in for seven months. Cruz had struggled to break out of the pack, yet many polls in the fall and into winter showed him a distant second place. To me, it was clear that the New Hampshire voters liked the Texas senator, even if he wasn’t a traditional fit the way others were. He had an economic agenda that appealed to their small government instincts. A respectable second place was in sight, and with it a chance to keep a lid on Trump’s momentum heading into South Carolina.

Instead, Cruz effectively bypassed New Hampshire. In a piece I published a few weeks later in Daily Caller, I cited the spending disparity:

Steven Hays tweet 01

That $580,000 total doesn’t include the $50,000 the Lone Star Committee spent on radio in the state – relative chump change but an intense ad schedule with an issue-laden message that I believe helped stave off a complete free-fall there.

By comparison, Cruz and his superPACs poured $7.5 million into Iowa, a smaller and less television-oriented contest than in New Hampshire.

Cruz averaged two events per day in New Hampshire in the nine-day run-up to the primary after the Iowa caucuses, but he had only been coming to the state about once a month since declaring for president (he didn’t visit at all in December). He also spent a lot of time during that period in South Carolina, including a trip to Greenville the day after Iowa. He finished a distance third place, at 12 percent, while Trump blew away the nine-person field with 35 percent of the vote.

This was not taken as a disaster or even as problematic by the Cruz camp. Instead, it was celebrated as a highly efficient performance of just $18 spent per vote (next-closest finishers Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio needed $1,200 and $500 per vote, respectively). Moreover, the media bought into this narrative. “New Hampshire Was A Very Good Night For Ted Cruz,” the Huffington Post headline read. Plus, South Carolina was next, a state Cruz had likened to the Texas of the east.

But South Carolina voters did not seem to like what they saw in New Hampshire. Though no public polling was done in South Carolina between the Iowa and New Hampshire contests, Cruz did have consistent leads over Rubio for second place in the January surveys. Trump’s double-digit lead remained consistent though Election Day. Even though Rubio faltered in New Hampshire after his horrific debate, his 2-1 outspending of Cruz enabled him to steal second place from him in South Carolina.

Steven Hays tweet 02

Because Trump had a wild debate performance a week before the vote and there was natural skepticism about his ability to win in the south, his polling edge in South Carolina was downplayed by the media. There were even articles suggesting that Cruz would pull out a win in the same fashion he did in Iowa thanks to his perceived strengths with voter canvassing and turnout. But Trump replicated his margin from New Hampshire and won by 10 points. Then he swept the rest of the south on Super Tuesday.

For all the talk about how this cycle is different, the old calendar configuration has still applied. New Hampshire turned out to be the inflection point. Cruz was relegated to the traditional role of the second-place Republican candidate after South Carolina: strong enough to trail the leader around the country and win delegates, but weakened past the point of overtaking him.

Contrasting the campaign strategies of Cruz and Trump is straightforward because they are so different. But it’s worth going through in depth because I believe it’s what elevated one outsider over the other in a year when the electorate had decided in advance to pick that type of candidate.

State strategy

As covered so far, Cruz was very selective in which states he would compete in and therefore rigid in his path to the nomination. This caused his campaign to stockpile its funds to deploy in what it viewed as the most winnable contests on Super Tuesday.

Trump’s strategy was so simple that it’s almost crude: try to win every state. He visited just about every state that held a nominating contest, and refused to concede that there was any place where he couldn’t do well. Because his campaign was not reliant on paid advertising, he was able to use this approach without much regard to his campaign budget.


Like his state strategy, Cruz was very selective when it came to media availability. He allotted more time for conservative media, was limited his appearances on mainstream outlets. He took press questions infrequently. A frequent image became Cruz delivering his talking points into a podium of microphones, and then hustling away to avoid reporters’ questions.

Trump basically took every legitimate media interview request that landed in his inbox. He held numerous press conferences and took lots of reporters’ questions. He became such a staple of the television talk shows that he was afforded the rare privilege of phoning in his appearances rather than appearing on camera. While these appearances, most notably on CNN with Jake Tapper where he declined to condemn hate groups, occasionally froze his campaign in its tracks for days, they totaled up to nearly $2 billion in free media coverage, six times what Cruz earned. I would argue that this disparity was completely legitimate given the candidates’ inverse attitudes toward media availability.


Cruz’s operation was oriented around microtargeting various types of voters using big data. This involved reaching individual voters with unique messages designed to appeal to their researched opinions. It was executed using everything from Facebook ads to canvassing via phone banking and door knocking through a large network of volunteers.

Trump’s operation essentially consisted of the candidate doing news interviews, flying around to speak at rallies, and issuing direct public statements on channels like Twitter. Only shortly before the actual voting did he deploy paid advertising and use volunteers. Unlike Cruz, he appears to have done no polling or other type of opinion research. Rather than microtargeting, Trump aimed for mass appeal among the GOP electorate.


Cruz tended to give the same stump speech at every appearance. Although he spoke without notes (a skill developed from his experience as a trial lawyer), the material in his speeches tended not to differ no matter the setting. He also sounded in part like a Baptist preacher (his father’s vocation). This produced an oratory style that led Ryan Lizza to observe in the New Yorker, “Cruz delivers every sentence, no matter how generic, as if he imagines himself reciting the Gettysburg Address.” Tough, but true.

Trump gave exclusively extemporaneous remarks at each rally. This gave him the ability to comment at each stop on what was happening that day in the news, which led to more earned media. Although his speaking style is prone to repetition, these performances were appealing enough that most of his events outdrew GOP rivals, including Cruz, by a factor of about 20-1. Trump insisted on large rallies at venues like airplane hangers and arenas; the others stuck to old traditions of working voters over in diners and at house parties. The only candidate whose speeches cable news regularly aired live was Trump.


If you had described these two approaches to any professional in politics before the campaign started, they would have predicted Trump to fail spectacularly. This is what most prognosticators like Nate Silver on the left and Karl Rove on the right did. They would have thought it insane that his approach – never mind his persona – would actually serve to make him the frontrunner. Trump threw out virtually every teaching in the rulebook of how to run for president.

Cruz, on the other hand, ran a very professional campaign and probably stuck closest to the rulebook of all 17 GOP candidates when it came to each category of campaign strategy. His use of data analytics to microtarget and ability to field a ground game were also highly praised in the political media, with glowing stories of Cruz’s “secret army” of superPAC canvassers and “Camp Cruz,” a makeshift dorm for his volunteers.

So what happened? I believe Trump ran a better campaign than Cruz for two reasons:

1) Republican voters not only wanted an outsider candidate for president, they wanted that candidate to campaign like an outsider

2) The conventional strategies and tactics on running in the presidential primary had become so stale that an outsider with disdain for professional politics found a new way to win using common sense

Trump’s simple, straightforward strategy of trying to win in every state, take as much free media as possible, have an inclusion attitude toward getting voters, and appear in front of as many people as possible proved to be sledgehammer against the old way. And unlike just about every other past self-funder, Trump did not let his campaign take him for a ride.

Political professionals have gotten so much power in presidential campaigns that they have diluted the candidates of a message and put up barriers to getting votes. They convince the candidates to run from most media interviews for fear of a gaffe (making them ultimately more gaffe-prone since they get rusty), stick to a boring, limited stump speech to give their talking points more resonance (even though saying something in a new way is more potent), and slice and dice the voters so that virtually everything the candidate says is geared toward an interest group rather than the electorate per se.

Why? Being stage-managed gives more power to the consultants. It makes the candidates more dependent on staff and vendors to navigate them through the torture chamber those people make the election into. The consultants become the smart people and the candidate is a commodity. This attitude is shared by the political media, whose access to the candidates is dependent on sharing a worldview about campaigns with those consultants.

It’s giving Trump too much credit to say that he meant to expose the stupidity of professionalized politics, but that’s what he ended up doing. And he got lucky in the sense that his final primary opponent – although in just about every other way the type voters were looking for in 2016 – was somebody who leaned on that professionalism.

Data and the cost of looking smart

Besides the primary calendar, Cruz was thought to have a campaign advantage with his use of “Big Data.” Instead of compiling traditional survey data, Cruz’s operation formed subjective, psychological conclusions about each type of voter in their universe and tailored their communications to that person based on it. I got a sales presentation from the main data vendor shared by the Cruz campaign and his superPACs. One representative said it was “scary” how well they were able to target each pro-Cruz voter.

In turn, the Cruz side devoted a disproportionate amount of its spending toward advertising that could be highly targeted, like Internet ads and mail.

Data is something that people in politics (especially the political media) love to talk about more than think about. I see two problems with relying heavily on it in a presidential race:

Data is by definition backward looking: it measures what’s already happened or learned

Data applied to voter communication results in narrowcasting

Voters’ opinions can change dramatically in presidential race, not just about the candidates, but issues, too. Events like terrorism and economic collapse have dramatically impacted candidate standing, whether it was Trump in the summer of 2015 or John McCain the fall of 2008. Therefore everything we learn about them is somewhat precarious because those opinions could shift with events, candidate performance, or the party’s image.

“There is a simple reason why Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucuses Monday night. He is a master strategist — and he always has been.” That was the lead of Yahoo News’ coverage of the February 1st results. The story revealed that the Cruz campaign had targeted voters so precisely that it had even sent a message about its position against fireworks bans to a small segment of people – reported elsewhere to be just 60 potential caucus-goers. Fireworks were one of 77 local Iowa issues it had identified to chase supporters with.

The problem with this strategy is that it is not operational beyond Iowa. All the other states are high turnout, quick-hitting contests with little lead time to weed out voters. Most importantly, national issues matter far more than parochial ones, and voters are interested in a presidential candidate’s opinions on big ideas rather than backyard problems. Narrowcasting deconstructs voters and makes them smaller than the sum of their parts.

When would data be most effective? In a local, low-turnout race featuring a disengaged electorate where comparably little is known about how voters feel about the election. In other words, the opposite of a presidential contest.

One well-known pundit and forecaster said on a podcast earlier in the year that he couldn’t believe Donald Trump was grasping the issues that animated Republican voters without having done any polling or focus groups. But that’s the point: a presidential race is where that research matters least because the opinions of the voters are continually being expressed and digested. While it’s harder to reach voters because of the competition for airtime, it’s easier to know things about them.

In my eyes, the Iowa result was fools gold for the Cruz campaign. The heavy reliance on data helped it win a low-turnout battle but was ill-suited for the rest of the way when it needed a nationalized message to mass audiences. For instance, Super Tuesday, the first multi-state election day of 2016, featured tens of millions of potential voters across more than a dozen major media markets. Even South Carolina had four times the number of voters turning out than in Iowa.

A final word about data-driven advertising: in the rush to be Internet savvy, I believe campaigns have overlooked how impractical it is to get a message across there. Because of the size constraint mobile is not conducive toward intrusive content like ads, and display advertising is incredibly ignorable and otherwise threatened by ad-blocking technology. While Twitter and other social media sites are effective for voter contact and media relations, the advertising on them is by definition a much weaker product than what you see on TV. Internet advertising is another space where campaigns seem to drift because it looks smart.

Conservatism in GOP presidential politics

Campaign strategy aside, many conservatives are perplexed that Ted Cruz could lose to Donald Trump when Cruz is undoubtedly the closest ideological approximation to Ronald Reagan since he left the scene. He’s the perfect conservative, many said, so how could he lose in a conservative primary?

I think this analysis misunderstands how Reagan framed himself as a candidate. He was not running to be winner of the CPAC straw poll or get the most conservative endorsements. He made it clear he was running to revive the U.S. economy and defeat the Soviet Union. Those were objectives that made it easy for any voter to support him. A majority ended up getting behind him because his ideas achieved those objectives, not because they dazzled on an ideological scorecard. Like Cruz, Reagan in 1980 had to get by better-funded establishment Republicans. But he didn’t try to shrink the nominating contest into a conservative beauty pageant.

I believe Cruz’s ideas on reviving the economy and destroying ISIS could have won over voters, but they got diluted by his quest to be seen as the most conservative candidate in the field – a contest that’s a sideshow to most Republican voters. Picking a president is about the candidate’s vision of where to take America. “Make America Great Again” may be facile but it meets this objective. Cruz did not have a campaign theme like this of his own, never mind a slogan for it.

Cruz certainly grasped something about conservatism in GOP presidential politics in that Reagan ran as a conservative across all three major policy zones – economics, social issues, and foreign policy – and Republicans ever since have resisted emulating that example. But Reagan made his conservatism seem utterly relevant to the world he was campaigning in. He understood presidential elections aresituational, not ideological. Therefore the candidate who wins the primary and the general elections is usually the one who best applies their ideological outlook to the issues of the day. Donald Trump loses to Ted Cruz on a conservative scorecard, but he did a better job on selling his conservative positions as the cures to today’s public evils.

Part of that involves finding new ways to sell old ideas. As Rush Limbaugh said once during this election, people are never permanently converted. You have to keep reengaging voters by meeting them where they are looking for political leadership. Again, Cruz seemed so wedded to a playbook that he couldn’t get to such a place. Trump drove away many conservatives by flunking on some conservative precepts, but he more than made up for it by matching the conservative ideas he did exalt to voters’ top needs.


I have to say that I find more to agree with than to argue against in this piece. From my personal perception of what’s happened, I tend to think that Mr. Danker is pretty accurate in his assessment of the two campaigns. I’ve little doubt that without Donald Trump in the race, Cruz would be walking away with the nomination, but Trump’s style overshadowed Cruz’s more conventional approach and hurt him in states like South Carolina that Cruz expected to win. That’s when things started to go downhill for Ted.

Realistically, I don’t know what Cruz could have done differently. He could have tried to out-Trump Trump, but that would be so out of character for Cruz, it probably would have been transparent and likely wouldn’t have worked anyway. Well, it ain’t over ’till it’s over, after after June 7th, we’ll have a pretty good idea whether Trump is in or we’d better stock up on more popcorn.


Categories: Political

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2 replies

  1. Where Danker is wrong is in insinuating that Trump is indeed a conservative. I wholly question that assertion. His blather may seem so, but his policies, pro Planned Parenthood, touch base amnesty, universal healthcare, etc., are decidedly NOT! We’ve previously discussed his being granted so much free media, but that was unique to his celebrity & style, not transferable to any other candidate. I think what “stole” the South from Cruz was Trump’s dog whistle racism and his unsubstantiated morals and lying accusations, both of which leached away evangelicals.


    • It is too early to do a post mortem of Ted Cruz’s campaign, but the parts of Mr. Danker’s article that I thought were most on target are as follows:

      In hindsight, I think that writing off New Hampshire was a mistake and likely contributed, at least partly, to Cruz’s loss in South Carolina. Trump beating Cruz in South Carolina (especially among evangelicals) was a surprise and gave more validity to Trump’s ability to capture voters.

      Cruz’s adherence to the same talking points at every venue and his “courtroom delivery” style wasn’t seen as interesting as Trump’s boisterous blather and didn’t get nearly as much free TV coverage. Not really a fault, but a fact of life.

      I think that another point made in the article was valid, that being: “Republican voters not only wanted an outsider candidate for president, they wanted that candidate to campaign like an outsider.” I suspect that’s right.

      Another valid point is that Cruz had targeted the voters in Iowa very narrowly and that was successful there, but that technique couldn’t be as effective in larger states and without as much lead time in between primaries.

      I also understand Mr. Danker’s point that while Cruz was easily the most solid conservative in the field, Trump did a better job of selling conservative hot buttons to all Republicans, even those who didn’t identify as conservative. Trump is not a conservative, that’s plain, but he took up several conservative demands and shouted them so loudly and so often that he ended up “owning” them – immigration and vetting refugees properly are two examples.

      And finally, Trump’s Alinsky-esque labeling of Cruz as “lyin’ Ted” repeated so often that it “broke through” and became a common perception among Trump supporters even though evidence shows that Trump was easily the biggest liar of the two.


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