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Ted Cruz Going After Scott Walker In Fight For Nomination

March 26, 2015

And the cat fight is underway.  Among the top writers in the nation about politics is E.J. Dionne Jr. and he brings his skills front and center to put the Cruz and Walker plot lines in perspective.

Although Cruz has always been a religious conservative, the senator from Texas is much better known for his crusade against Obamacare and his willingness to shut down the federal government. His evangelical turn is his first play to create a base on the right end of the party to challenge Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as the main alternative to Jeb Bush.

The Cruz strategy starts with marginalizing former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson, the physician and best-selling author who has developed a significant following on the right. Huckabee and Carson are also in the running for evangelical votes. If Cruz pushes them aside, he can then go after Walker and, after that, Bush.

Perhaps all this is fanciful, but Cruz knows what he’s doing. 

So far, Walker’s emergence is the key development in the Republican race. “Walker has made a decision to run at Bush from the right, and he’s trying to consolidate the very conservative vote,” says Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a shrewd analyst of conservative voting. “The pop for Walker in the polls shows the deep desire of very conservative voters in the Republican Party to find an alternative to Bush.”

But their constituencies are very different. Among moderates, Bush, the former Florida governor, led Walker 26 percent to 15 percent; conservatives gave Walker 20 percent to 18 percent for Bush. Among those who called themselves very conservative, on the other hand, Walker walloped Bush 24 percent to 7 percent.

Walker’s main competitors for the “very conservative” vote were Huckabee and Carson at 19 percent each. Overall, Huckabee got 10 percent and Carson 9 percent. Add those constituencies up, and you have a number that competes with both Walker and Bush.

Cruz may now be at only 4 percent nationwide in the McClatchy-Marist survey, but he can build a base by grabbing those who currently support Huckabee and Carson. And Cruz’s talk about liberty and the Constitution could help him shake loose some votes from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Whit Ayres, a pollster who advises Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), has a rule about his party’s nomination contests: “No one faction is large enough to nominate its favorite candidate,” he says. “Whoever is nominated will be rooted in one of the factions but will be acceptable to a number of the factions.”

Cruz’s entry is thus very good news for Bush. Cruz has as much interest in taking Walker down as Bush does, and the more right-of-center candidates there are on the ballot come next year, the better Bush’s chances will be.

Therefore, don’t believe anyone who says that little of what happens this year matters to an election that seems so far away. Cruz has just turned the battle for the political souls of religious conservatives into the first bloody crossroads of the GOP’s struggle. And Scott Walker needs to watch his back.

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