Ted Cruz has the best campaign operation in Campaign 2016, whether or not you like him.
They have the best ground game. They have the best ad team and advertisements in years. Their mail design is awesome. Their data and polling operation is second to none. They have a loyal base. But when the messaging is wrong, none of that matters.
Cruz’s messaging is a muddled mess. Rick Tyler has had several awkward television appearances. The campaign, which has a general election strategy, has sold few people on Cruz’s electability. He has turned off a lot of voters with his evangelical pitch that came across as over the top.
As more Republicans realize they have to stop Trump, they do not view Cruz as electable or likable compared to Rubio.
Likewise, Cruz rode into an Iowa victory with very high popularity and favorability, but the combined attacks of all the other candidates against the liar Ted Cruz took their toll with little response.
In South Carolina, Cruz was heavily outspent, but barely came behind Marco Rubio. He weathered the storm. But the messaging of his campaign was to set South Carolina as a high benchmark for the campaign. Only at the very end did the Cruz team try to tamp down expectations, but it was too late.
Cruz can absolutely recover. For about eight months I have said it was Cruz’s race to lose. Now I think it is Rubio’s race to lose. The race has shifted in Rubio’s favor. Republicans want to beat Trump and Rubio is seen by many of them as the likable, electable alternative.
Cruz is going to have to turn that around going forward.
We got a taste of just how badly things have turned on Cruz’s message on election day in South Carolina. Without any evidence, the Rubio team claimed the Cruz camp was engaging in dirty tricks trying to suppress Rubio turnout.
It may or may not have been true, but the message had set in so well that Cruz was running a dirty, negative campaign that the press was willing to run the story before any evidence was offered.
Team Cruz has the fundamentals the other campaigns wished they had. But when the candidate and his campaign are being labeled as dishonest liars, they’ve got to turn that around. His campaign message of “Trust Ted” left him exposed to that attack and his campaign has done little to combat it. Going forward that must change.