You can talk about the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire and South Carolina all you want – and those all are important – yet none of them is the most important primary on the Republican side.
No, the most critical Republican primary, at least for non-establishment candidates, is the Rush Limbaugh-Drudge Report-Breitbart-Mark Levin-Sean Hannity-Glenn Beck internet message board primary. For a conservative base candidate to win the nomination, he or she must carry most of the above precincts.
Now this is not to say that all, or any of the above, will endorse a candidate by name during the primary season. They probably will not. But they will all talk about, report on, interview and discuss what and who they like. And the some 30-40 million people who make up those combined audiences and readerships will be impacted and educated by these venues. They go to these shows and these websites specifically for opinion and news after all.
Thus it is critical to win this primary, because those are the voters who turn out for non-establishment candidates in primaries. They just are.
Consider: for the past six weeks, Scott Walker has dominated this primary. The Drudge Report has posted many very friendly headlines about Walker during this time, and talk radio – led by Limbaugh – has been recounting over and over how Walker defeated the liberals and the unions in Wisconsin.
As a result, he has skyrocketed up the polls, gotten unexpected fund raising traction, and has been drawing fire from panicked liberals from everywhere. And why not? He has beaten them at every turn. It appears he will be formidable for the long run, and as such, he has been aggressively vetted by some on the right as well. The take away is, his dominance of the Rush-Drudge-et al universe was a tremendous launching pad for him. It was almost overnight.
And going back to the cycle of 2007-2008, during the two stretches of that cycle where Newt Gingrich clearly won this universe, he was way ahead in the polls and did in fact win South Carolina in a high turn out rout. Newt did this by attacking Obama, judges, academics, unions and the media relentlessly in debate while praising other Republicans. For some strange reason, he abandoned that strategy totally in Florida, and promptly imploded. He immediately lost the talk radio-internet universe, and became irrelevant. It was over at that point.
Thus, this “primary” matters. A lot. Jeb might be able to win without it (though I doubt it), but no one else can.
And there was a shift in this realm on Monday as Ted Cruz announced his candidacy at Liberty University. Nobody said anything negative about Walker, but the talk of the internet and talk radio was about how impressive Cruz was, and how the liberal media was going bananas over him, and how finally there was someone articulating what we believe and doing so fearlessly and very well. Rush said it was dazzling and “scared the heck out of the left.”
Cruz definitely started to make big inroads in this unofficial primary on this day.
Which of course makes sense. Of all the potential candidates out there, Cruz -through my observation – is probably the most ideologically simpatico with, say Rush, Levin and the other talkers. More to the point, he is perhaps more in step with the listeners and readers of these venues than any other candidate. And many of these voters will no doubt rally around Cruz’ fearlessness as well.
Conservatism matters, but so does tone. This universe is not the least bit interested in some doddering old fool telling us we have “nothing to fear from an Obama Presidency” the way McCain did in 2008 – nor is there any appetite for someone who’s going to call the Democrats “nice guys who are simply over their heads” the way Mitt Romney’s catastrophic campaign did.
Conservatism, well articulated and without apology, will attract a huge following. It’s the unpolled craving that is out there. Certainly there is no slam dunk in politics, especially at this extremely early stage. However, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Cruz’ message will continue to resonate, and that he too will enjoy a tremendous boost from talk radio and the internet. The Rush-Drudge et al primary: you must win this, or at least a big slice of it, as a conservative to have a chance.
And for a domain where the ability to defend and promote conservatism off the cuff and without notes is paramount, Cruz’ ability to do just that will be important and score big points for him.