Trump is the moderate Republican now

Patricio Navia

Buenos Aires Herald, March 8, 2016

 

As the race for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party evolves into a two-man contest between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas, the controversial real-estate magnate finds himself in the unlikely position of being the more moderate Republican candidate.

 

Despite his outrageous statements and his ability to alienate important voting blocs, Trump can still claim to be more moderate than the conservative zealot Cruz. Although many in the Republican Party want to stop Trump at any cost, it might well be the case that Trump is the least unfavourable option for the GOP if it is to go after moderate voters — the decisive bloc — in the general election of November 8.

 

The Republican primary season has been a wild ride since it began last summer with 16 viable candidates. Five weeks after the Iowa caucuses, the race has taken an unanticipated turn. Out of the four candidates who remain in the race, only Trump and Cruz have won a significant number of delegates for the convention which begins on July 18 in Cleveland.

 

Trump has secured 384 delegates while Cruz has 300. The other two candidates still in the race, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich, have 151 and 37 delegates each (the remaining 34 delegates were won by candidates who have abandoned the race). Although Trump has secured 42 percent of the delegates so far, his path to the nomination is by no means guaranteed. With 33 percent of the delegates, Cruz has an even steeper road ahead to secure a majority of the 2,472 delegates.

 

So far 20 of the 56 states and territories which will send delegates to the Republican convention have held their primaries or caucuses (not counting 150 delegates to be elected today in Michigan, Idaho, Hawaii and Mississippi). Time is running out for those who want to stop Trump but Trump is also running out of time to increase his lead and secure a majority of the delegates to avoid a broken convention in July.

 

With neurosurgeon Ben Carson dropping out over the weekend, there are only four men left in the race. But Rubio and Kasich look increasingly marginal, even in their own states. Rubio is likely to lose Florida to Trump on March 15 and Kasich is also bound to lose Ohio to Trump the same day. Trump might not win enough votes to get a majority of delegates but he will be the candidate with the largest number of delegates for the Republican convention. In fact, the only candidate who stands in Trump’s way to the Republican presidential nomination is Cruz.

 

As the choices in the Republican Party seem to have narrowed to either Trump or Cruz, it is worth looking at what each candidate stands for. Trump made news early on for his derogatory statements about Mexican immigrants and for his promise to build a wall on the border (to be paid for by Mexico). Yet, Cruz has made more radical statements about illegal immigration. The senator, who was born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father, has pledged that he will deport 12 million undocumented immigrants who currently live in the United States. As a senator, Cruz has consistently opposed and blocked efforts to alleviate the legal situation of undocumented people who were brought to the US as children (and thus did not personally break any laws). Thus, while Trump has earned himself the label of the anti-immigrant candidate, Cruz has a tougher proven track record of opposing any initiative to let undocumented immigrants stay in the US. On healthcare — another key campaign issue relevant to Republican voters — Cruz has taken a tougher stance than Trump. While Trump has said that he favours some form of healthcare mandate and has vaguely stated that he would adopt a system which fosters more competition, Cruz has vowed to “repeal every word of Obamacare.” On issues like Planned Parenthood (a women’s health organization which receives government funding and has abortion as one of its health options), Trump has been more lenient while Cruz has vowed to defund the organization as president.

 

To be sure, Trump has made many statements which have alienated voters and have caught the attention of the press. But on specific policy positions, Cruz has a more radically conservative track record and more specific proposals lying further to the right of Trump’s controversial rhetoric and vague specifics. While the Texas senator has firmly positioned himself as one of the most conservative voices in the US Congress, the billionaire businessman has only recently adopted ultra-conservative positions. Not surprisingly, many people suspect that Trump has strategically moved to the right to win the Republican nomination but will swiftly move back to the centre in the general election (although it will be hard for him to build bridges with the many voting blocs he has alienated so far). With Cruz, on the other hand, there is no question that he will remain an extreme conservative should he win the Republican nomination.