Mitt Romney walks right into Ted Cruz's trap: Why his new attack only helps the Texas huckster

Following Cruz's inflammatory anti-Obama broadside, Mitt told him to tone it down. Cruz couldn't be happier

Published July 31, 2015 9:59AM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Photo montage by Salon)
(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Photo montage by Salon)

Willard "Mitt" Romney to the rescue! In his latest act as self-appointed guardian of Republican Party decency, the candidate who said whatever nonsense he needed to say in order to win the 2012 Republican nomination is chastising an uncouth member of the current field. While he has not tweeted about Mike Huckabee's assertion that President Obama was leading Jews to the "door of the oven," he has taken Ted Cruz to task for his own marginally less egregious comment:

[embedtweet id=626719073691410432]

The quote to which Romney was referring came on Tuesday. Cruz said that "If this [Iran nuclear] deal is consummated, it will make the Obama administration the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism." Which is not ... true. It is not a true statement.

I'm hard-pressed, though, to think of a better response Cruz could have hoped for than a denunciation from Mitt Romney, whom the hard-right voters Cruz is courting determined was an irredeemable RINO squish some 10-15 years ago. It's just an excellent turn of events for Cruz to have dainty Mitt Romney come along, on behalf of the GOP establishment, to tell him to shut his mouth.

Cruz ran with it on a radio appearance this morning. "You know, one of the reasons Republicans keep getting clobbered is we have leaders like Mitt Romney and like Jeb Bush who are afraid to say that," Cruz said, obviously. Shoehorns Jeb Bush in there too! (Jeb had not commented on Cruz's particularly over-the-top framing of the Iran deal's repercussions, but did find the time to denounce Mike Huckabee's comment about how Obama was restarting the Holocaust.)

Cruz was not finished:

Cruz went on to rail against Romney, arguing his toned down rhetoric cost him the election in 2012. "Part of the reason why Mitt Romney got clobbered by Barack Obama is because we all remember that third debate where Barack Obama turned to Mitt and said 'I said the Benghazi attack was terrorism and no one is more upset by Benghazi than I am' and Mitt, I guess listening to his own advice, said, 'well gosh I don't want to use any rhetoric so OK, never mind, I'll just kind of rearrange the pencil on the podium here,''' said Cruz.

Ahh, remember this one? One of the various comical tactical explanations drawn up in conservative circles following the presidential race that didn't square up with reality. The theory goes -- and I chuckle remembering this one, so thanks for bring it back up, Ted Cruz -- is that Mitt Romney lost the election because he didn't go hard enough after Obama on BENGHAZI! If Romney had just kept talking about how Obama personally murdered four Americans in the BENGHAZI! attacks, he would've walked away with an electoral college landslide. (The 2008 analogue to this was that if John McCain had talked more about Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers, then he would have easily defeated Barack Obama, despite the avalanche of fundamentals working against McCain and the Republican Party at the time.)

The Romney team looked into pushing Benghazi further and determined that it was far from voters' highest priority, and continuing to push it and all of the speculation surrounding it above all else would have backfired. The better explanation for why Romney lost is that Barack Obama was a better politician who ran a better campaign to convince a majority of Americans that he more adequately served their interests.

The Obama campaign effectively tagged Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat intent on serving the economic interests of plutocrats, as the chosen representative of the Republican Party. Cruz's primary campaign is centered on fulfilling conservative fantasies about how if Romney had just dug in further on conservative rhetoric and policies, he would have ensured greater turnout from the Republican base on Election Day. Cruz wants to test this theory out. And nobody's rooting harder for him to have that opportunity than Hillary Clinton.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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2012 Elections 2016 Elections Barack Obama Benghazi Editor's Picks Iran Nuclear Deal Mitt Romney Ted Cruz