Will Republicans come to their senses in 2016 or continue with another year of living dangerously? We will soon know, when Iowans caucus in classrooms and rec halls to pick their presidential favorites and New Hampshire voters head for the polling booths. A big victory for Donald Trump or Ted Cruz in either state could well make it difficult, though not impossible, for another candidate to emerge down the road. Only if those candidates still in the single digits give up the ghost will a consensus develop around an alternative to Trump or Cruz.
But more importantly, the continued dominance of either Trump or Cruz guarantees that the party will be pushed into more destructive rhetoric on immigration, trade and the war against the Islamic State group. Those two are already drowning out or silencing other candidates on immigration and trade.
Both men favor mass deportation of the 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally, which would wreak havoc not just on the individuals and their families but on the U.S. economy, and both favor limiting legal immigration, as well. Both candidates have adopted protectionist trade positions -- though Cruz's opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a trade promotion authority bill seems more indicative of his slippery opportunism than it does his ideology.
And neither man seems to believe that the Islamic State poses any serious threat to the United States, at least not one worth our investing more military assets than currently committed. On that issue, both Trump's and Cruz's policies are virtually indistinguishable from Barack Obama's and Hillary Clinton's.
The likely outcome of a Trump or Cruz presidential nomination would be a GOP rout in November, one that could cost the party control of the Senate, as well as the White House. Hillary Clinton is an immensely flawed candidate, but her base is a lot larger than the anti-immigrant, protectionist, isolationist wing of the Republican Party, which is the Trump/Cruz base.
I don't think I am alone among Republican voters who would face a tough choice if Trump or Cruz were to top the ticket. I cannot vote for Trump. He is not fit to be president. Frankly, I think the man is deeply unbalanced. I once thought it impossible for him to win the nomination but am less sanguine now. The only time I have ever not voted for president was in 1972, when I was still a Democrat. I thought George McGovern was a dangerous choice in a world in which the Soviet Union was gaining in power and influence, but I could not bring myself to vote for Richard Nixon, so I left the top of the ticket blank. I'd do the same thing in 2016 if Trump were to be the nominee.
If Cruz were to emerge, I would end up voting for him -- but holding my nose. For all his divisive rhetoric and Senate antics, his nominees for Cabinet, sub-Cabinet and federal court positions would most likely be good, and his policies would be far superior to Hillary Clinton's. But I don't see how he would win the presidency. The general electorate would be faced with two of the least likable candidates in presidential history. If it's a Clinton-Cruz race, I predict a historically low voter turnout, which would end up favoring the Democrats, who have a superior ground game in turning out their voters.
As a conservative Republican, I hope it doesn't come to that. It is possible that Trump will lose momentum once he has to start spending money; he may be "very, very rich," but he sure hasn't spent like the billionaire he is to date. And Marco Rubio and Chris Christie are in a dead heat with Cruz for second place in New Hampshire, which may break Cruz's momentum going into other states. Looking back on 2012, Rick Santorum's Iowa win meant little, nor did Newt Gingrich's win in South Carolina give him staying power. Trump and Cruz may yet falter if the broad GOP electorate wakes up to the danger their candidacies would pose in the general election.
Count me an optimist -- but a worried one until the votes prove optimism is warranted.