As the primary season enters the home stretch, the leading candidates in their respective parties continue to be Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton: he the free-wheeling, politically incorrect billionaire who wants “to make America great again”; she the highly credentialed, much maligned, technocrat who seeks to maintain and build on Obama’s accomplishments as the first female president. And it may well be that six months from now those two will be in the midst of a hotly contested campaign that will partly be decided by which of the two the electorate is less uncomfortable with (both, at this point, having very high negative ratings in most polls).
But neither has secured the nomination yet, and their two prime opponents could still end up wresting the nominations from them. Yes, the odds are long for both Sanders and Cruz (longer still after their significant defeats in New York this week), but let’s have some fun and consider the possibilities.
And the first thing we’d have to acknowledge is that in Cruz v. Sanders, the country would be forced to choose not between the less distrusted but between the less extreme. Or, put another way, a race between Cruz and Sanders would present the American electorate with the clearest ideological choice since 1964 when ultra-conservative (for the times) Barry Goldwater ran against ultra-liberal (Great Society proponent) Lyndon Johnson.
The results in that election were decisively against Goldwater’s brand of conservatism. Johnson and the Democrats scored a massive victory that gave them the veto-proof control of both houses of Congress, which allowed Johnson to push through the Voting Rights Act and other civil rights legislation, Medicare and Medicaid, and a bunch of other liberal programs and policies that Republicans thought at the time would mark the ruin of the country. (Actually, the war Johnson promulgated in Vietnam did a lot more to threaten domestic tranquility than any of his social and economic policies.)
Fifty-two years later, Ted Cruz is much more conservative than Barry Goldwater was and Bernie Sanders is a lot more liberal than Lyndon Johnson was. And those differences make the potential race between the two absolutely fascinating. The election would require of the voters that they decide whether they wanted a government role that was limited to providing for the national defense and little else or a government role that was geared to regulating much of the economy and to providing far more assistance and support for the country’s have-nots and far less for the well-to-do.
For Republicans, the nomination of Cruz would be a means of testing once and for all the proposition that only a “true conservative” can draw the support of the many Americans who yearn for free markets and “traditional family values.” Cruz would campaign on a platform that would seek to repeal the graduated income tax (a boon for the wealthy) and remove restrictions on business in the areas of health and safety and environmental protection (another boon for the wealthy). As president, he would appoint ultra-conservative Supreme Court justices with the goal of reversing major decisions in the area of individual freedoms. Gone would be the constitutional right to an abortion, along with the right of gays and lesbians to marry.
Cruz would also seek massive increases in military spending and in the use of military force. He speaks unashamedly of “carpet bombing” the Islamic State so as to destroy the threat of Islamist terrorism. He would also seek to enhance gun ownership rights, to include universal open carry-rights for gun owners. And he would seek some form of immigration control – if not a full wall across the border with Mexico, then a much more rigorous means of patrolling that border and of deporting undocumented immigrants.
A Cruz administration would re-introduce religion (defined in Judeo-Christian, with the decided emphasis on Christian, terms) into American life in an effort to reverse the trend towards secularism. A constitutional amendment to allow prayer in schools would be a likely part of that effort. Cruz would seek the repeal of many liberal criminal defense rights that have withstood review by the Supreme Court. Miranda rights would be further limited, if not repealed, as would the exclusionary rule (for unconstitutional searches and seizures).
Simply stated (from a liberal perspective), a Cruz administration would be plutocratic in its economic focus, theocratic in its social agenda, and authoritarian in its foreign policy and on matters of law and order.
For Democrats, the nomination of Bernie Sanders would be a way to put forth a truly liberal economic agenda, wherein a far more severe redistribution of wealth would be effectuated than anything Obama has accomplished. The tax code would be revised to resemble the tax rates in many European countries (with higher tax rates for all, but especially higher rates for the most wealthy). The added revenues would then be used to assist the lower middle income and lower income share of the population.
Sanders would try to repeal Obamacare, so as to replace it with a single-payer government-run program not unlike universal Medicare. He would also seek to restrict corporate power in government by eliminating the effects of the Citizens United case in campaign financing and to regulate far more heavily those industries that contribute to climate change, which he would declare a war against (the only war he’d likely allow the United States to be engaged in).
Sanders would curtail the power of banks and Wall Street traders and would aggressively prosecute insider trading and other forms of “white-collar crime.” On the other hand, he would seek to reinstitute the full measure of protections originally intended by Miranda and the exclusionary rule and would seek to de-criminalize drug use and sale. It’s also safe to say that Sanders’ nominations to the Supreme Court would make someone like Merrick Garland look like a conservative. On social issues generally, Sanders would be the closest to a non-religious president the country has ever had. He would seek to take all religion out of government activity and would promote civil rights in all areas of individual liberty.
From the perspective of conservative ideologues, Sanders would be a true socialist with a radical, Godless social agenda, who would seek to destroy the country that the founders intended it to be.
Thus would a presidential campaign of Cruz versus Sanders offer no middle ground. And for the first time in two generations, it would truly define the nation’s electorate.