Cruz had big wins in Iowa and Wisconsin. Those wins gave him media coverage and an opportunity to make a public impression. Cruz had amassed enough money that he could have used commercials to drive his message in key markets.
And yet, Cruz’s message stayed “below the awareness threshold.” Part of the problem (though there are many parts of the problem) is the language that conservatives have used to communicate with the public. Trump is (sometimes) perfectly clear. If you like him or hate him, you know that he wants to build a border wall and ban Muslim immigration. Conservative politicians have developed rhetorical habits that make them incomprehensible to the average person.
Take the phrase “culture of life.” It isn’t just meant to be poetic. It is meant to signal to pro-life activists that the candidate opposes abortion while being obscure (though pleasant-sounding) to everyone else. Throwing “culture of life” into a speech allows a politician to imply a political commitment while making it difficult for opponents to create soundbites that will be used against them in the court of public opinion.
This has infected the rhetorical style of conservative Republicans. Religious liberty means giving people of faith the benefit of the doubt when government regulations conflict with deeply held beliefs. Growth means lower taxes (usually on the rich.) All of these phrases signal something to an activist community, but they add up to gibberish when they are strung together for a general audience. [emphasis added]