Lennox: ‘Outsiders’ woo voters with authenticity

Dennis Lennox

Those who attribute the success of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump to the rise of the political outsider are wrong.

Rather, this year’s presidential election is showing the electorate wants authenticity.

Cruz and Trump are as authentic as they come in their own separate ways. The same is also true for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, the folksy U.S. senator from Vermont, whose Iowa surprise is a direct repudiation of the biggest hypocrites in the American body politic.

Trump may be absurdly rich and overly eccentric, but his supporters see someone who is comfortable being himself. Instead of faking it in steerage-class on a commercial airline, he flies in his luxurious personal 757 aircraft. He wears the same expensive, presumably bespoke suits at hustings in Iowa and New Hampshire — he doesn’t don the Average Joe costume worn by the politicians — as he wears when making multi-million dollar deals on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

By contrast, Cruz’s authenticity is rooted in his steadfast conservatism. Like him or not, the junior U.S. senator from Texas has done everything that he said he would do when he was elected to the upper house of Congress in 2012. That’s what makes him attractive to base GOP voters, who want more than a campaign conservative.

Don’t forget it was authenticity that propelled George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004, when Americans said they would rather have a beer with the teetotaler Republican president than Democratic challenger John Kerry. Kerry, the epitome of the Boston Brahmins, just couldn’t relate to everyday Americans in flyover country.

Republicans tried wrapping themselves in all things Americana in 2012, when Mitt Romney ran on a slogan of “believe in America.”

Yet the Michigan native and former Massachusetts governor was doomed by an awkwardness that only played into the Democratic narrative that he was a rich, out of touch corporate executive.

While the so-called establishment candidates in the Republican nomination campaign run largely on the same ideas and playbook, Cruz and Trump each claim to have a map that can lead the GOP out of the political wilderness.

Trump has considerable appeal with blue-collar voters. In fact, polls have shown Trump’s triangulation could result in Democrats losing upwards of 20 percent of their vote to him.

Cruz’s strategy is similar. Like Trump, he aims to reassemble the broad coalition that produced two landslide victories for Ronald Reagan. Among those in this coalition are the ticket-splitters of Macomb County, Downriver and the I-75 corridor. Beyond them Cruz also believes there is a considerable number of conservatives who haven’t been motivated to turn out for recent Republican nominees.

If either strategy holds then Republicans have a darn good chance of winning the national governing majority that has eluded the party in four of the last six presidential elections.

Dennis Lennox is a freelance columnist. He has worked on four GOP presidential campaigns, including as a consultant to Cruz’s campaign.