Less than a week after leaving the Republican Party, Glenn Beck had something to say about how Ted Cruz should approach the primaries.
Leave Scott Walker and Rand Paul alone.
Otherwise, Beck warned, “we’re just going to end up with Jeb Bush.” (Bill O’Reilly was skeptical about Beck’s whole GOP-leaving business.)
Cruz professed his admiration for Paul and Cruz, but didn’t quite commit to refrain from criticizing them. That’s because he can’t.
The Republican presidential race can be split into the conservative primary and the establishment primary. Beck isn’t wrong that a divided conservative vote could benefit Bush, but there also has to be a clear conservative candidate to challenge him.
Right now, Bush is beating Chris Christie in the establishment primary and Walker is winning the conservative primary. At the moment, it looks like the contest will eventually narrow down to those two candidates, but it is early and a lot could change.
In most polls, Cruz is well behind Walker. He is also trailing Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee and Paul. Cruz obviously needs to change that dynamic.
The Texas senator might be able to make up some lost ground simply by giving good speeches and, eventually, solid debate performances. He can do this by making the positive case for himself and his ideas without attacking anyone else — at least directly.
Cruz can also launch Beck-approved attacks on Bush, which is certainly easy to do. The former Florida governor is clearly out of step with the party’s base on a number of issues and doesn’t hit the same emotional buttons Cruz can.
Notwithstanding the public’s professed distaste for negative campaigning, however, there’s a limit to what feel-good oration can do (as the Obama years have made plain). And ultimately the pool of Republican primary voters genuinely undecided between Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush is probably too small to provide a path to the nomination.
At some point, Cruz will have to deal with Walker. He will also have to try and prevent the breakout of any other tea party candidates, especially Paul.
Immigration is the most obvious vulnerability for Walker. He is trying to walk the fine line between the base’s opposition to amnesty and appearing open to immigration reforms that have some support within the party but are unacceptable to hardliners. So trip him.
Unless Walker’s substantive position evolves or he clarifies what he means about border security as a condition for any path to citizenship, you can say the Wisconsin governor is taking the same position on amnesty as George W. Bush.
“I couldn’t have said it more plainly: I was against amnesty,” Bush once said on Rush Limbaugh’s show. “I don’t know many people who were for amnesty when it comes time for comprehensive reform.”
Bush’s definition of amnesty appeared to be automatic legalization or citizenship without any conditions or penalties. But like the supposed deportation of every single illegal immigrant in the United States, that’s not something anyone with real political power is actually proposing. It would also mean that the 1986 amnesty wasn’t an amnesty.
Thus such a definition of amnesty doesn’t make much sense, but it gave Bush a position that could be reconciled with both the dictionary and his own support for legislation widely viewed as amnesty. That’s where Walker seems to be right now.
If Cruz has to tangle with Paul, it’s even more straightforward. Just say the Kentucky senator is too libertarian, hitting him especially on libertarian messaging that seems pitched more to the general election than the primary.
This is not without risk, of course. For one thing, Cruz’s own immigration bona fides can certainly be attacked by someone to his right. He has favored legalizing illegal immigrants and guest workers. He has also voted against a (very generous) cap on legal immigration and supports increasing H-1B visas by 500 percent.
Cruz has a smaller version of this problem when it comes to Paul’s libertarianism. He has voted with Paul even on some issues that transcend normal left-right lines, such as sentencing reform and, to a lesser extent, foreign policy and civil liberties.
Finally, going after Walker or Paul could alienate potential Cruz supporters to a much greater degree than slamming Bush. But barring even more impressive filibuster heroics than defund Obamacare or a Rick Perry-like implosion by one of the conservatives polling better, it is difficult to see the alternative — besides losing.
Either way, Cruz is going to have to make Glenn Beck unhappy.
W. James Antle III is managing editor of The Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.