A rule for Republicans, credited to the iconic William F. Buckley, suggests voting for the most conservative candidate who can win. This sounds reasonable at first. What good is there in expending time, energy and money behind a principled conservative if the candidate is doomed to fail?
As Ted Cruz leads a possibly large pack of GOP primary candidates into the arena, questions about his electability are coming from the left as well as the right.
Democrats are suggesting he is unelectable because he is just too conservative. Nervous Republicans are casting doubts because he is just too combative.
Those are interesting reasons to offer as negatives in view of the failures of Mitt Romney and John McCain, whom many Republicans lamented were not conservative or combative enough.
But a point-by-point critique of the Cruz agenda is for another day. The first thing to evaluate is whether his effort is doomed from the start. Plenty of people think so, including many occasional conservatives like The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, author of the Right Turn Blog, which seems more conservative because of its appearance under the banner of a liberal newspaper.
She called the Cruz run "absurd but important." The reasons for the absurdity charge: Cruz's thin political resume, his "divisiveness" and "irritability."
The experience card is a curious one to play after two terms of a president who ascended from his first Senate term. As for divisiveness, maybe I've forgotten all the recent success we've had with nominees who are conciliatory. And maybe this hasn't reached Rubin's cubicle in the Post culture, but Republican voters are longing for a candidate who is at the very least irritated by America's sorry status quo, engineered by Democrats and insufficiently driven Republicans.
I know she intends a barb at Cruz's personality, as if he is uncivil and short-tempered. But where exactly is the evidence of that? The government shutdown? That sliver of history that damaged virtually no one, and showed conservatives that at last there was a fighter in their midst? The shutdown that hurt Republicans so much that they won a wave election a year later? That shutdown?
But Rubin's nitpicking pales amid the venom the Cruz candidacy will draw from the left. Before Cruz delivered a word of his announcement speech, MSNBC contributor Donnie Deutsch unloaded a heap of invective, saying the Texas senator was "unelectable," had "achieved nothing," was an "obstructionist" and offered no "new ideas."
Oh, and he is "scary," "dangerous" and "slimy."
But the insults are instructive, in that disproving them is Cruz's path to being a better candidate than many expect.
His legislative tally may indeed be short, but this is not the measure of achievement for his base. He has given bold voice to upbeat, unapologetic conservatism in a manner unmatched since Reagan, a far loftier achievement than a list of bills passed in a nation where we pass too many bills anyway.
Obstructionist? Guilty. And nothing is as constructive as stopping a dangerous agenda.
No new ideas? Guilty again. Someone please share the new political ideas of the last 40 years that have been worth a flip. America needs a rediscovery of some old ideas, like obeying the Constitution and limiting the size of government.
I am not guaranteeing Ted Cruz will succeed Barack Obama; I'm not even suggesting he is a lock for the GOP nomination. I am suggesting that the clucking about his dim chances is premature, the product of liberals inclined to despise him and timid Republicans shaken from their comfort zones.
Mark Davis is a conservative talk show host who regularly writes for the Dallas Morning News. Email him at email@example.com.