Opinion writer

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

THE MORNING PLUM:

A new national poll finds that Ted Cruz is on the move: he’s quadrupled his support among GOP voters nationally. Cruz is being increasingly talked about as a plausible GOP nominee. But what’s Cruz’s theory of the case when it comes to winning the general election?

On Morning Joe today, Cruz gave us an answer that’s worth quoting at length:

“Every day as I travel this country, people stop me, and they say, ‘I’m a Democrat. I voted for Barack Obama. And this isn’t working. I’m with you.’

“Washington thinks the core of our base is very different from who they are. The core of our political base are the Reagan Democrats. They are the blue collar Catholics across the Midwest and up in New England. They are union members, gun owners, pro-life, strong national defense. They are truck drivers and mechanics and electricians and plumbers and schoolteachers and nurses and waiters and waitresses.

“They’re working men and women who are getting hammered by the Obama economy. And they’re tired of the Washington elites who are not fighting for the working men and women in this country. That’s how we win in November of 2016.”

I’m not sure how many “Reagan Democrats” there are these days — aren’t they mostly aging Republicans now? — but this opens an interesting window on to a divide among Republicans over the best route to the White House. Cruz is essentially saying that the way to win is to maximize support among blue collar whites who are culturally conservative and are suspicious of activist government in the Obama era — voters who have already been fleeing the Democratic Party for many years now.

Democrats have long admitted that losing these voters is a problem that they must address. At the same time, though, it’s unclear how much of a problem it will pose for their 2016 chances. Democrats continue to retain confidence in their new coalition of millennials, minorities, socially liberal college-educated whites and single women, which helped power Barack Obama’s wins in the last two national elections. While the big unknown remains whether likely Dem nominee Hillary Clinton can turn out these Obama groups in Obama-level numbers, analysts (such as Dem pollster Stan Greenberg) continue to believe, with qualifications, that this confidence is probably well placed.

What’s interesting, though, is that some of the other Republican candidates also appear to share this Democratic theory of the case, in the sense that they believe a Republican must broaden the party’s demographic appeal and cut into these Dem groups to win. Jeb Bush has explicitly made this case, and Marco Rubio has sought to project an optimistic, inclusive aura that seems designed not just to unite Republicans but also to appeal (at least on the margins) to Latinos and millennials. By contrast, while Cruz says publicly that he wants to win over Reagan “Democrats,” the more plausible interpretation of his approach is that it’s built around the idea that the electorate is hopelessly polarized and that maximizing conservative and GOP base turnout is the route to victory.

Thus, Cruz and Rubio continue to be (slightly) at odds over immigration. And as Jonathan Chait details today, Cruz is plainly trying to find a sweet spot between Rubio and Donald Trump on policy. He’s positioning himself as a hard-core pro-liberty conservative, a scourge of the GOP establishment and true warrior (unlike those squish GOP leaders who despise him for revealing their true colors) against the Obama agenda, as well as a real hard-liner on terrorism, which has required him to sidle up to Donald Trump’s demagoguery while pretending not to. There’s a lot of GOP hand-wringing about how Trump might drive growing segments of the electorate away from the party, but it’s not clear Cruz is all that determined to do what it takes to make inroads in with those groups, either.

* TRUMP CONTINUES TO DOMINATE: A new New York Times/CBS poll finds:

Mr. Trump commands the support of 35 percent of Republican primary voters, leading his closest competitors, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas (16 percent) and Ben Carson (13 percent) by a more than 2-to-1 margin. While Mr. Carson’s support was cut in half since the last time The Times and CBS News polled on the race in late October, Mr. Cruz has quadrupled his share. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida’s support stands at 9 percent.

Cruz really does appear to be on the move. Also: Rubiomentum!!! Or, you know, maybe not.

* THE METHOD TO DONALD TRUMP’S MADNESS: Paul Schwartzman and Jenna Johnson have a fantastic piece that digs deep into Trump’s rhetorical patterns and finds, counter-intuitively, that he’s actually a very disciplined candidate:

He attacks a regular cast of villains including undocumented immigrants, Muslims, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, his GOP rivals and the media. He keeps the narrative arc of each controversy alive with an endless stream of statements, an unwillingness to back down even when he has misstated the facts — and a string of attacks against those who criticize him. All the while, his supporters see a truth-talking problem solver unlike the traditional politicians who have let them down.

I would only add that Trump also repeats variations of the idea that “something is wrong,” feeding vague, generalized uncertainty and anxiety, with remarkable regularity.

* TED CRUZ BATTLES TRUMP IN IOWA: CNN has a fascinating look at the competing strategies that the Ted Cruz and Trump campaigns are employing in Iowa, which represent differing bets on the makeup of the GOP caucus-goers’ electorate:

Trump’s strategy relies more on expanding the caucus electorate, while Cruz is taking the more traditional route and rolling up key Iowa endorsers and validators like Rep. Steve King….the [Trump] campaign is bringing new voters into the process. Many of their supporters are first-time caucus-goers who aren’t necessarily polled. The challenge, of course, is to make sure those would-be voters show up on February 1.

The big question, in Iowa and everywhere else, is whether these Trump supporters, who are being energized by his concoction of demagoguery against immigrants, Muslims, and all sorts of other villains, will actually show up.

* REPUBLICANS HAD BETTER TREAT TRUMP WITH ‘RESPECT,’ OR ELSE! Trump has now told CNN that he still might mount an independent run if he doesn’t win the GOP nomination, if he is not treated with a “certain amount of decorum and respect.” He added:

“If they don’t treat me as the front-runner — by far the front-runner — if the playing field is not level, then certainly all options are open…But that’s nothing I want to do….We’ll go through the primaries, we’ll see what happens and I’ll make a determination.”

Trump had signed a pledge to support the GOP nominee provided he is treated “fairly.” Now he is adding the condition that he must also be accorded “respect,” and treated “as the front-runner.”

* ANTI-MUSLIM FERVOR WHIPS UP GOP BASE: E.J. Dionne finds the roots of today’s Trump-fed anti-Muslim fervor in the 2010 battle over the Ground Zero mosque (remember that?), which at the time appeared to be about driving up GOP base turnout. Dionne adds:

The Republican establishment is now all upset with Trump, but he is simply the revenge of a Republican base that took its leaders’ pandering — on Islam and a host of other issues — seriously.

Yep. Shocking that GOP base voters who have been fed lies and distortions for years about the decline of America under Obama would turn to Trump, isn’t it?

* AND TRUMP CANCELS HIS TRIP TO ISRAEL: The Donald tweets this morning:

This comes after Netanyahu rejected Trump’s call for a Muslim ban. Now Trump is canceling his trip in what may be a snit over their disagreement. Only a Big Loser would do that!