If Cambridge Analytica is so smart, why isn’t Ted Cruz president?

The Mercer’s first choice.
The Mercer’s first choice.
Image: Reuters/Yuri Gripas
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It is no secret that Donald Trump wasn’t the first choice of the Republican party, or some of its most powerful donors.

The powerful Mercer family originally backed Texas senator Ted Cruz for president in 2016. By January that year, the mega-donors, Cambridge Analytica backers, and Stephen Bannon patrons had spent $11 million to support Cruz’s presidential campaign. The Cruz campaign hired Cambridge Analytica to “to assist in data analysis and online advertising,” Cruz said this week, spending almost $6 million directly with the firm.

Today, Cambridge Analytica is under scrutiny for using Facebook user data to target political advertising. Some fear that the firm may have offered the Trump campaign undue sway in the election, fueled by claims by Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie that it developed Trump’s iconic, divisive, slogans long before he was even a declared candidate, and CEO Alexander Nix’s boasts that Cambridge Analytica did “all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting,” behind Trump’s successful campaign. But if Cambridge Analytica is as powerful and prescient as they claim, why isn’t their original client, Ted Cruz, president today?

Cruz-linked groups spent nearly as much money into Cambridge Analytica as Trump backers, show data from the 2016 election cycle.


Yes, the most obvious political action committee that supported Trump, Donald J. Trump for President, spent the most on its own. But Cruz’s is a close second. Make American Number 1 was originally named “Keep the Promise I,” backed by the Mercers, and supported Cruz. “Keep the Promise II” also initially supported Cruz.

KelliPAC was created to help Kelli Ward defeat Arizona Senator Jeff Flake. The Warrior PAC, another Mercer-funded vehicle, didn’t make any federal campaign contributions in 2016.

What role Cambridge Analytica, Russia, the mainstream media’s mistakes, and the unvarnished desires of the American electorate played in garnering enough support for Trump, a political outsider, to win in the US electoral college remains a subject of debate more than 16 months later. The Mercer’s initial embrace of Cruz and Cambridge Analytica’s inability to advance him suggest the data firm is less powerful than its own executives believe.

On the other hand, not all candidates are created equal; perhaps no data analytics company could overcome Cruz’s often-discussed unique personality. Cruz is reportedly despised in Congress, in Washington DC, and even by his college roommate. “I probably like him more than most of my other colleagues like Ted, and I hate him,” former Senator Al Franken wrote last year.

In the end, Trump crushed Cruz in the GOP primary, winning 44.9% of the vote to Cruz’s 24.9%.