- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ted Cruz spent more than two years using his seat in the Senate to fight the Republican establishment on behalf of conservative principles, often enduring the scorn of his own party’s brass.

Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman and reality TV star who hasn’t spent a second in public office, just started his national tour bashing the political elite in Washington two months ago. Already, the real estate magnate dwarfs Mr. Cruz in media coverage and presidential polls, even though their messages and issues are nearly identical.

The affinity — and gap — between the two anti-establishment candidates speaks volumes about the state of the electorate. Voters seem averse to anything Washington and appear to be yearning for authenticity and competence, even if it comes with a brash, New York-sized ego.

The popularity gulf between Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump “makes no sense,” Ohio Tea Party Patriots founder Ralph King said.

Cruz has been fighting on the front lines for every damned thing conservatives have been asking for. He’s the one out putting principles ahead of politics — and not getting any traction. And here comes Donald Trump saying the same things Cruz says. And Trump’s ahead of Cruz and everybody else,” he said.

The contrast was on full display last week when Mr. Trump drew 30,000 cheering, sign-waving fans at an event in Alabama, while Mr. Cruz’s crowds were appreciably smaller.


“Anybody who can turn out 30,000 people in Alabama in August at a sports stadium with no sport event has something special going,” said publishing magnate Steve Forbes, a traditional conservative who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 and 2000 on a flat-tax platform that his party rivals torpedoed, with the help of critics in the press.

Mr. Forbes, who has not endorsed any Republican presidential contender, agreed that Mr. Cruz has been doing almost exactly what the conservative voter base has been demanding.

Yet much of that voter base seems not to care that Mr. Cruz, alone among Republican candidates, has been walking the walk incessantly and getting hammered by his own party’s leaders.

Except for an abortion-related issue, Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz have practically identical views on just about every topic that matters to most conservatives. But with his red baseball cap bobbing atop his 6-foot-3-inch frame, Mr. Trump leads the 17-member field with an average of 22 percent in the three latest national polls.

That puts him 10 points ahead of nearest rival Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who also stands 6 feet, 3 inches tall. That double-digit lead alone is an astonishing feat for Mr. Trump in the widened eyes of people who make their living advising politicians. Pollsters say they can’t explain it.

Far worse for Mr. Cruz, he is also chasing retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in national telephone polls taken after the Aug. 6 Fox News debate in Cleveland.

With Mr. Trump as the star attraction, the debate drew 24 million viewers, a cable record for a non-sports event.

Some observers have an answer for the pollsters and Mr. King’s cry that “it makes no sense.”

Trump has swagger and panache,” said Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr., a Democrat known to pal around with conservatives. “He is a natural in front of the camera. Everyone else in this race is a scripted stiff.”

Mr. Clarke thinks Mr. Trump outshines his rivals, including Mr. Cruz, because the same man who had a flair for firing people on his “Celebrity Apprentice” TV show “just lets it all hang out” on the stump.

Trump shows no fear,” said Mr. Clarke. “If he loses here, life goes on. For the rest of the field, it’s basically the end of their political career. They are all afraid of making a mistake.”

Mr. Cruz, however, has been a reliable crowd-pleaser for small and large audiences. It’s just that Mr. Trump has an intangible attraction that fills stadiums the way other A-team politicians fill hotel ballrooms.

The two men are remarkably alike in several respects. Mr. Trump has called just about everybody of note in most of the world “stupid” or worse. Mr. Cruz, with his Senate career and political credibility possibly at stake, has called out his fellow Republicans for ideological hypocrisy and double-dealing.

Most recently, he publicly called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, a liar for allowing a vote on whether to keep alive the Export-Import Bank that conservatives have long despised.

In one respect, it was an easy target because Mr. McConnell is almost as unpopular among conservative voters as House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. But protocol and revered tradition forbid one senator from publicly insulting another — until, that is, Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz stormed the national political stage. Little is forbidden in either’s lexicon for bashing establishment politics.

In 2013, Mr. Cruz’s fellow Republican senators accused him of grandstanding, saying it was he — not President Obama nor the Democratic congressional leadership — who shut down the government over Obamacare.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who often has backed Mr. McConnell despite many ideological differences, and other Republicans privately or publicly have hammered Mr. Cruz for “not having an exit strategy” for his failed drive to kill or cripple the Affordable Care Act, against which he conducted a 21-hour Senate filibuster.

The Texan insisted on a procedural vote to raise the federal debt ceiling to put Republican leaders on the record for what he said was hypocrisy on the issue of spending.

He threatened another government shutdown over President Obama’s executive actions on amnesty.

Unlike Mr. Paul and other candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, he has made positive remarks about Mr. Trump, who has returned the favor. The two men have conferred in private.

Every time Mr. Cruz has socked it to his party’s leadership for being unfaithful to conservatives, the leadership has hit back.

As a result, he is second in fundraising for his super PAC and campaign only to Mr. Bush. Still, his loyalty to conservatives is not reflected in the polls.

Mr. Cruz has been struggling in the single-digit ghetto of the Republican field, except for a brief spell in April when he broke into the 11 percent range in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls.

Mr. Cruz, whose father is an evangelical pastor, is planning a 50-state campaign for the religious right to pressure lawmakers to end federal financing of Planned Parenthood.

He and Mr. Paul began their unofficial campaigns by courting evangelical pastors in person. They prayed with them, laid hands and attended events arranged by Pastors and Pews founder David Lane.

The Planned Parenthood issue is Mr. Cruz’s one significant divide with Mr. Trump. The billionaire businessman says taxpayers should stiff only the abortion wing of Planned Parenthood and that the rest of the organization provides good services for women.

Whether that will separate Mr. Trump from religious conservatives who have expressed positive sentiment to pollsters is unclear.

“The reason the party’s leaders don’t like Trump is they can’t control him,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland Faith Whittlesey, a pro-life Catholic who twice served in the Reagan administration. “I know Trump and I like him. I don’t really know Cruz.”

No one in the known world ever says Republican leaders and big donors control Mr. Cruz.

As the days count down before the first ballots are cast, it should become clearer whether politics will make bedfellows of Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump.

“Nothing strange about that,” Mrs. Whittlesey said.

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