Ted Cruz gets no respect.
At least no respect in keeping with the impressiveness of the campaign he’s built and his increasing odds of winning the Republican nomination.
The press and the political class are beginning to catch on to Cruz’s strength, and there has been more talk of a prospective Cruz-Marco Rubio race during the past two weeks, but his coverage and his buzz have been lagging indicators — and they are still lagging.
After Tuesday night’s GOP debate in Milwaukee, a Politico survey of Republican insiders had as many respondents saying Cruz won (6 percent) as Ben Carson and John Kasich (6 percent each). This is an extraordinary finding, given that Kasich showed up for the debate wearing a suicide vest.
Cruz tends to be an afterthought in the Sunday show chatter, and on TV generally.
The Atlantic tracks candidate mentions on cable TV. In the past 100 days, Cruz ranks ninth among all presidential candidates from both parties, well behind Chris Christie and just above Kasich, both of whom are throwing Hail Marys for the nomination.
A Washington Post analysis specifically looked at the amount of cable TV coverage devoted to each candidate compared with his or her position in the polls. It found that Cruz got 60 percent less coverage than you’d otherwise expect from July through October.
Donald Trump, as you might expect, gets more coverage than warranted by his polling. So does Jeb Bush. It’s as though the media still haven’t been able to adjust the level of coverage of the former Florida governor to account for his diminished stature in the race.
The indications of the strength of Cruz’s operation and the shrewdness of his positioning are mounting.
He had more cash on hand at the end of the third quarter than any other Republican.
He has major super PAC backing.
He assessed the anti-establishment mood in the party more accurately than any of the other traditional Republican candidates.
He reacted to the rise of Trump very deftly for his purposes.
He has seen a couple of key potential competitors, Scott Walker and Rand Paul, either hit a wall or badly underperform.
He has a discernible ideological and geographic base.
He has, relatedly, a path to the nomination that is simple and intuitive (win Iowa, consolidate the right and beat an establishment that might be too fractured and unpopular to prevail).
He lights up pretty much every conservative audience he addresses.
He is an excellent debater, and he simply doesn’t make tactical or rhetorical mistakes.
And yet, while many of these qualities are duly noted, he doesn’t really get his due. Why?
The political press corps made up its mind about him — too divisive — as soon as he showed up in Washington, and has never entirely gotten over its dismissiveness about his campaign.
Cruz has never mounted a John McCain-style charm offensive with reporters, most of whom, it is safe to say, find him personally off-putting.
The appeal of Cruz’s conservative populism is lost on most reporters and political insiders, who have a natural reflex to roll their eyes at the message and the messenger.
Cruz is not as interesting as Trump and Carson, and he doesn’t feature in any personal drama like the Bush-Rubio mentor-mentee showdown.
Finally, he is graded on a bit of a curve. He routinely performs so well at Republican cattle calls that his standing ovations tend to get discounted.
Cruz is hardly a cinch. Trump and especially Carson are significant obstacles for him in Iowa. His theory that he will inherit Trump and Carson’s support if the outsiders deflate is too simplistic. So is his schematic of the Republican race as coming down to two candidates, one representing the conservatives (him) and someone representing the moderates.
Nonetheless, it should be obvious to any fair observer that Cruz is a serious threat for the nomination. Be warned, and get over it.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.