I just voted for Ted Cruz in New York’s Republican primary, and it was not a hard call. The emotions I most closely associate with this campaign season are, in no particular order, dread, despair, rage, and mournful resignation. So to my surprise, there was a spring in my step as I headed to my polling place, located in a public housing complex a few blocks from my apartment. No, I’m under no illusion that Cruz will win the New York primary outright. Donald Trump is quite popular among Republicans in New York. Almost every recent survey has him comfortably above the all-important 50 percent marker statewide, which means he is all but certain to win the lion’s share of New York’s delegates. I’m nevertheless holding out hope that I will be able, in my own infinitesimally small way, to help deny Trump one of the three delegates that my congressional district, New York’s 10th, will send to the Republican National Convention.
Why Cruz? Did I vote for him because I find him charming and approachable? No, I’m afraid that’s not it. Cruz struggles in personality contests for the obvious reason that he is impressively unappealing. Let us not forget that Cruz’s remaining opponents for the GOP presidential nomination are Trump, a blowhard who has literally made a career out of lying about the size of his fortune, and the petulant John Kasich, who would be one of the world’s most boring men if he didn’t also have an explosive and easily triggered temper. Somehow, among these paragons of human excellence, Cruz strikes many voters as the least likable of them all.
If it’s not Cruz’s winning personality that’s led me to him, what is it? The first and most obvious reason I backed the Texas senator is that he is the only Republican left in the race who can defeat Trump. John Kasich has bested Trump in exactly one state, Ohio, where he has been governor for more than five years, and he has failed to broaden his appeal among non-Ohio Republicans in the weeks since—despite having ample opportunity to do so. Kasich’s team has betrayed a failure to grasp the basics of how delegates are allocated, and for that reason alone he should go mutter to himself in a corner somewhere and leave the rest of us alone.
The same can’t be said of the Cruz crew. Cruz has run a disciplined, focused, and tenacious campaign, which has been causing Trump fits. Most recently, Trump has been crying foul over the fact that Cruz has outmaneuvered him in recent state conventions and caucuses in Wyoming and Colorado. One is reminded of a particularly choice Trump bon mot from August, when he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, “I am a whiner, and I keep whining and whining until I win.” Though I wouldn’t say that Cruz is immune to the whining impulse, he generally takes a different approach: He keeps organizing and organizing until he wins. I admire that.
There is another reason I support Cruz: Like a large majority of GOP voters, I favor stronger border enforcement and a reduction in less-skilled immigration. Why would I favor Cruz over Trump on this front, given that Trump has made building a wall along the U.S.–Mexico border his highest policy priority? While Trump’s champions insist their candidate has shifted the mainstream conversation on immigration to the right, I would argue that his noxious tone has made it much harder for immigration hawks to win new allies. Some voters who might have otherwise been open to a more selective immigration policy have recoiled from Trump’s thinly veiled appeals to racial and ethnic resentment. As long as Trump is the most visible figure on the anti-immigration right, partisans of more permissive immigration policies will have the upper hand.
Leaving aside Trump’s incendiary rhetoric, his approach to immigration policy is confused, contradictory, and often quite stupid. His campaign has issued policy papers outlining one position on, say, skilled immigrant workers only to have Trump take an entirely different stance in his public utterances. Trump has called for establishing a new “deportation force” that captures and removes all unauthorized immigrants from the country, a process that would prove quite expensive and contentious. But he has also said he’d like to allow “the good ones” back into the country. Why go through all that trouble if you intend to put in place what immigration hawks have dubbed a “touchback amnesty”? What separates the good ones from the bad ones?
Trump has failed to clarify these matters, most likely because he’s just making things up as he goes along. Critics of touchback amnesty tend to favor Cruz’s position, which is that governments at all levels should more rigorously enforce immigration laws, which in turn will encourage unauthorized immigrants to return to their native countries. In recent years, slightly more Mexican nationals have been returning to Mexico from the U.S. than moving in the other direction, a return migration that Cruz’s “attrition through enforcement” policy could accelerate. Though I don’t agree with every aspect of Cruz’s position on immigration, it has the virtue of being coherent and defensible, something that can’t be said of Trump’s.
Finally, I voted for Cruz because I believe a Cruz nomination will be far better for the longterm health of the Republican Party than a Trump nomination. Trump has drawn attention to the yawning chasm separating grassroots Republican voters from the elected officials who represent them and the donors who finance GOP campaigns. He has demonstrated that there is a large and receptive audience for populism among Republicans, and future candidates will do their best to appeal to this audience.
For all his faults, Cruz has tried to fuse elements of this new populism, from opposition to mass immigration to a deep cynicism about big business, to his more traditional constitutional conservatism. Cruz’s conservative populism might not be the best way forward for Republicans. My own view is that the party needs to go much further in embracing a modernized safety net and in putting the interests of working- and middle-income voters ahead of the rich and the connected. But there is no doubt in my mind that Cruzism is a better foundation for the party’s future than Trump’s odious authoritarianism. That’s why I voted for Ted Cruz, and that’s why I’m hoping my fellow New Yorkers did the same.