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What Is Normal?

Will Ted Cruz’s Conservatism Sell in 2016?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Given the popularity of political outsiders in the 2016 race, pollster Pat Caddell’s recent warning to Washington insiders seems prescient.  Addressing “the political class, the media and the politicians” on the August 31, 2015 edition of Fox News Insiders, Caddell pointed into the camera and said, “The American people are coming in this election, and they’re coming for you.”

But the question that still has political observers buzzing is what the people are coming to do. 

Are we seeing a conservative revolt in which, after seven years of Obama’s radical agenda and Republican collusion, fed-up voters are determined to restore rule of law and put the federal government back in its constitutional corral?  Or is 2016 more of a throw-the-bums out revolt in which outsider status trumps political philosophy? 

Those questions have significant implications for conservative strategy and messaging.  Speeches about limited government will appeal to the GOP’s conservative base, but not to voters who are more worried about their declining quality of life than with the expansion of federal power over their lives.

 If seasoned political observers Pat Caddell and Bill O’Reilly are right, the electorate in 2016 may be more concerned with throwing establishment politicians out and putting in people who will solve problems than with restoring the Constitution.

In an interview broadcast on Breitbart’s Sirius XM 125 radio show and covered in a January 25 piece by Mike Flynn, Caddell argued that the coming election “is not about ideology, not about issues, it’s about insurgency.”  In Caddell’s view, what we’re seeing is a revolt against the political classes who have been running the political system in Washington for years. 

Caddell cautioned that Ted Cruz could be miscalculating by focusing on his conservative record when voters are more about insurgency and less about ideological purity. (Disclosure: I have endorsed Ted Cruz.) 

Bill O’Reilly has also weighed in on the relevance of conservative ideology on the January 25 edition of The Factor.  Discussing the recent friction between conservatives and Donald Trump, Bill O’Reilly opined that Trump believes conservatives “are putting ideology above problem-solving, and that may be true.”  O’Reilly continued with the observation that many voters “have become tired of political talk.  They want action and believe that Trump will bring it.”

Caddell and O’Reilly are right about the mood of insurgency and the electorate’s desire for more action and less rhetoric from our elected officials.  But are these developments really new to 2016, or is this year better seen as the culmination of trends that have been building since 2008? 

And, more importantly, is the insurgent mood somehow inhospitable to conservative ideas and solutions?

Voters this year are demanding action to secure our porous borders, and they want to rein in an arrogant and self-serving government that has one set of rules for Washington insiders and another for working people.  Voters are tired of a foreign policy that weakens our friends and strengthens those who hate us.  Voters are fed up with political correctness that refuses to call Islamic terrorism by its name but is fine with describing mainstream America as clinging to our guns and religion. 

But those are the kinds of conservative issues that gave birth to the tea party and drove the Republican sweeps of 2010 and 2014.  Yes, voters are in a throw-the-bums-out mood, but the “bums” in question are either the left wing radicals who have been running the administration since 2008 or the Republicans who promised to fight those leftists and then colluded with them.

The 2016 election is indeed an insurgency, but it is an insurgency rooted in the ongoing conservative revolt against Obama’s left wing agenda and Republican refusal to fight that agenda.

The noise level is higher now because repeated attempts by voters to change the country’s direction have been ignored by Washington.  But little else has changed.  Voters are facing the same choices this year that they have for decades.  The Democrats are offering a choice of two leftists, either of whom will radically expand the scope and power of government.  And the Republicans are locked in the perennial struggle between the conservative base and an establishment that either caves to or colludes with the leftist Democrats.

 Conservatives are rallying behind Ted Cruz who not only campaigned as a conservative but also took the people’s fight against Obamacare and amnesty into the very belly of the Washington beast. 

The establishment’s preferred choice is Marco Rubio, who has taken off his Gang of Eight jersey and is sporting conservative colors for the primaries. 

But the establishment will settle for Donald Trump, a billionaire businessman who sounds like an insurgent outsider, but who has long played both sides of the aisle and is seen by the Washington establishment as malleable enough to cut deals with them. 

Granted, conservative messaging needs work.  Conservatives are better at criticizing big government than promoting the benefits of liberty and free enterprise.  Even so, voters still rallied behind conservative rhetoric in 2010 and 2014. 

In 2016, those voters have in Ted Cruz an insurgent who will finally put that rhetoric into action. 

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