How Donald Trump’s Appropriation of David Perdue’s Strategy Could Stop Ted Cruz and Split the GOP

When I interviewed Ted Cruz at the Republican state convention last May, he spoke abolut building a broad based coalition of conservatives in the Reagan mold that would ultimately lead to his being nominated to the presidency. Over the summer and fall, Cruz talked about the various lanes within the Republican electorate that he could compete for, especially the evangelical lane, which he thought he could control, and especially in the south, serve as a firewall on Super Tuesday.

Well, Super Tuesday is today, and after a third place showing in evangelical-rich South Carolina and a similar ranking in the most recent Georgia poll, the Texas senator’s plans don’t appear to be working. And that’s because of someone else who decided to enter the race.

He tapped voter anger to emerge from a primary field full of experienced Republican officeholders. A political outsider, he had a name most voters recognized, a business background fused to a populist message and, given that he was funding his own campaign, a self-avowed freedom from lobbyists and special interests.

The candidate I’m describing above could easily be Donald Trump. But, it also describes David Perdue, who ran his cxampaign two years ago as an outsider, taking the nomination away from insider Jack Kingston. The quote is from a story out today in Politico that describes how Trump stole the south from Ted Cruz. The way he was able to do it was by emulating the campaign of Perdue, whom he sought out in May of 2014 for advice on how to run.

In Perdue’s Senate strategy, Trump saw the makings of a White House run of his own. And two years later, Trump has used that blueprint to not only capture the South, but to steal the region away from Ted Cruz on his way to the lead of the GOP primary.

“We knew then Trump was going to run for president, and this was a race we could watch,” said Nunberg, who left Trump’s team in August of last year but is still supporting his candidacy. “In terms of all the themes, the competition, this was the race Mr. Trump followed closely, as did his team, myself and [consultant] Roger [Stone]. It had the most similarities and parallels to what he wanted to do.”

The Politico story goes on to describe how Trump’s campaign appropriated the issue of illegal immigration–once thought to be a major selling point for Cruz in his match up with Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio–and used it as his signature issue. Trump was also able to win the support of a plurality of the evangelicals Cruz believed would support him in his race. The whole article is well worth the read for insight into how Trump appropriated much of Perdue’s strategy, and how that might lead to Cruz’s downfall.

If Trump ends up being the big Super Tuesday winner, he could have the GOP nomination wrapped up by the Ides of March, when winner take all voting begins. And that could be when the similarity between the Perdue and Trump campaigns comes to an end. After David Perdue won in an extremely close primary runoff in July 2014, those that had supported Jack Kingston knew that Perdue was, in the end, a conservative whom they could support in the general. Within a few days, the calls for unification started, and with the support of his party, Perdue went on to win in November.

Trump may not be so fortunate. Many Republicans do not view him as being conservative, and the number of people who say they will not support him in the general election continues to grow, as evidenced by the #NeverTrump movement on social media. If he wins the nomination, Trump might be able to moderate some of his views as he eyes a general election battle. For many in the GOP, though, his nine month scorched earth campaign is something that they can’t forgive. And that, in turn, could tear the Republican Party apart.


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