The Never Trump movement can be summed up thusly:
We don't like Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. We think he's dangerous, ignorant, temperamentally un-presidential, thoroughly unlikable and a long shot in November. So we're here to offer you an alternative: Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas who is dangerous, ignorant, temperamentally insane, thoroughly unlikable and a long shot in November.
It's further proof that the Republican establishment isn't really opposed to what Trump says so much as they're opposed to the way he says it. Cruz is a theocrat, while Trump is at best ambiguous on religion. Aside from that, their opinions on things like border control, Muslim immigration and foreign policy are almost identical. The only difference is that Cruz couches his views in friendly language and smiles, while Trump simply doesn't bother trying to come off as a nice guy.
The Republican elites, those right wing talk show hosts, Washington power brokers and National Review editors who are suddenly railing against democracy, want a candidate they can control. They want a candidate beholden to them and deep-pocketed bigwigs like Charles G. Dawes and David H. Koch, and they're terrified of the Trump-style populism that rejects the idea that what's good for the ultra-wealthy is good for the working class.
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They prefer a candidate like Cruz, who employs the traditional Republican strategy of distracting voters with social issues, while drawing attention away from troubling facts, like the constantly-widening gap between America's rich and everyone else.
If the GOP's kingmakers really wanted a bona fide conservative candidate, a politician with a presidential temperament and a real shot at defeating likely Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, they'd be urging the party to unite behind Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, not Cruz.
An April 1 editorial in the The New York Times puts it plainly: "The problem is basically self-interest. Some conservative leaders see Mr. Cruz as their best chance for maintaining their influence and are thus reluctant to work for Mr. Kasich."
How else to explain the growing push to unite behind Cruz, despite the fact that he's deeply unpopular within the party itself, and despite the fact that for months polls have shown Kasich is the GOP's best shot at defeating Clinton?
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As of April 8, aggregated polls on Real Clear Politics show Cruz and Trump losing in a hypothetical match-up with Clinton by 2.8 points and 10.5 points, respectively. Those same polls show Kasich defeating Clinton by 6.6 points.
It's no secret that Clinton's favorability ratings among the general electorate are abysmal. The Huffington Post's Pollster, which tracks almost 400 polls from 42 polling outfits, shows 55 percent of likely voters view Clinton unfavorably.
Real Clear Politics counts similar numbers, with aggregate data showing 54.2 percent of American voters have a negative view of the Democratic frontrunner.
Likewise, Pollster finds 54.7 percent of Americans view Cruz negatively, while a whopping 64 percent view Trump unfavorably.
Compared to those three candidates, Kasich comes off like a relative saint: only 33.6 percent of Americans have negative views of the Ohio governor.
That's not surprising when you consider how Cruz's fire and brimstone, ultra-right-wing act would fare in a general election. Kasich offers a more moderate version of conservatism. He doesn't support laws that would allow businesses to refuse service to gay couples, he thinks government employees should respect gay marriage laws and, unlike Cruz, he realizes the battle over gay marriage is over.
He's got economic credentials, arguing in favor of reducing taxes on small businesses. His views on the environment are reasonable, and have emphasized the importance of leaving a clean, functional earth to future generations. He even supports affirmative action, and is the only Republican candidate who would take a common-sense approach to work with countries like Iran instead of simply ignoring them, like Cruz wants to do.
Backing Kasich instead of Cruz would also benefit the party in the long term, sending a message to America's general electorate that the Republican party can and will align itself with modern attitudes.
“It would be courageous to stand up and say that Kasich is a different kind of conservative,” Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center told The New York Times.
Noting the possibility that Cruz could become the nominee of a party that despises him, all in an effort to stop Trump, The Times editorial board says Republicans "deserve whatever they get," by backing the Texas firebrand. What they'll get, most likely, is a sound defeat on election day and a reinforced image that the GOP is the party of antiquated social views and hate.
If that's not a message the GOP wants to send to the American public, then party leaders should think long and hard about backing Kasich instead of Cruz.