The Chances of Ted Cruz

NRA Gathers In Houston For 2013 Annual MeetingPower hungry.  Arrogant.  Unwilling to yield or compromise.  Self righteous.  Single-minded piety.  High intellect.  Brilliant with a hard edge.  Charisma.  Fearless.  Extremely smart.  All of these have been used to describe Texas [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ].  There is likely a hint of truth in all these statements.  Detractors focus on the negatives while his supporters see them as strengths.  Say anything you want about the man, but he may the most principled conservative in the 2016 mix this time out.  Whether that proves to be a selling point or work to his detriment this time around will be left to the process.  If we want to use 2016 to run the most conservative candidate regardless of any other factor, then Cruz is your man.

Within conservative circles, he is well-respected and viewed as a person who will stand up to the powers-that-be whether those powers are the Democratic president of the United States or the leadership within your own party.  Much has been made of the so-called division within the GOP- the alleged rift between the conservative base and the Establishment/moderate axis.  Some believe that the candidate who can best bridge the gap between them will end up the winner of the nomination.  However, the dynamics are much more complex than “this group versus that group” mentality.  And it is that complexity that gives a candidate such as Cruz, like any other candidate, an opportunity in 2016.

There are signs that he is gearing up for a presidential run.  He recently hired political operative Jason Miller, who has ties to the early primary state of South Carolina, to head up digital media and communications for a campaign.  Miller previously worked with Issa and Coburn.  Former Rick Perry staff member Lauren Lofstrom was hired for fundraising while Jeff Roe, another Perry operative, was hired for organizational guidance.  Cruz will be attending a conference in Munich on international affairs with other Senators and Congressmen before a March 7th stop in Iowa and being a keynote speaker at an event in New Hampshire on March 15th.  This has all the telltale signs of a presidential run.

No one doubts his intellect.  In fact, he may be the most intellectual of the field this time around.  Besides being a brilliant debater in college and on the stump in politics, he has argued cases before the Supreme Court with victories along the way.  He is a Harvard and Princeton graduate who received rave reviews from his former instructors including Alan Dershowitz who can hardly be considered a conservative.  Likewise, no doubts his charisma.  He is a brilliant speaker who, unlike Obama, does not use a teleprompter in front of him.  In the 24/7 news cycle, he is a candidate built for the 15-second sound bite.  And that is what most disturbs his detractors.

There is the question of a Senator with only four years under his belt running for President, although in 2008 no one seemed to have an reservations about Obama who probably was the least prepared to hold the office.  At least Cruz has experience as state solicitor general under his belt.  There will be the inevitable comparisons between the two vis-a-vis their short tenures in the Senate.  Although I personally feel that given the electorate’s low view of Congress the eventual nominee should be a Governor with executive experience, Cruz’ tenure in the Senate thus far has been one of being “anti-Washington,” which could be a big advantage.

Of course, it takes money to win a nomination and the big prize.  There is a finite donor pool and with so many quality candidates in the mix, there will be competition for those donations.  However, in the post-Citizens United era, a candidate like Cruz can see light in the tunnel.  He likely has the so-called “heart” donors as opposed to the “investment” donors who view their contributions as a business decision.  It is this latter group that most of the other candidates are trying to sew up.  They tend to donate to the more establishment candidates, but in a general election might be willing to support a Cruz.  Regardless, there is a pseudo-establishment class of donors composed of advocacy groups, some media figures and their followers and some select mega-donors who Cruz can turn to which probably explains why he made a side trip to Kansas to talk to the Koch brothers.

There is also the primary schedule to consider.  According to the tentative schedule, the first three are Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.  Many consider South Carolina the most conservative of the three which would be to Cruz’ advantage.  However, previous exit polls indicate that 84% of Iowa caucus goers describe themselves as somewhat or very conservative while only 68% of South Carolina primary voters describe themselves so.  While this can be seen as an early advantage for Cruz, Iowa AND South Carolina voters say that “electability” is the top reason for voting as they do.  The least conservative primary voters are in New Hampshire (53%) although electability is also their top reason for choosing their person.  Incidentally, since 1976 the New Hampshire winner is the best predictor of the three early states in determining the eventual GOP presidential nominee (controlling for uncontested primaries).

Hence, assuming Cruz can create a decent fundraising base among the heart donors and a significant portion of the  pseudo-establishment class, he can be at the very least a thorn in the side of other candidates, even if he does not capture the nomination.  That thorn can be driven even deeper if he wins either Iowa and/or South Carolina and performs strongly (a close second or third) in New Hampshire.  A good showing in New Hampshire would indicate that Cruz can play well outside his comfort zone- conservative red states and audiences.

One knock on Cruz is that although clearly a “message” politician rather than a policy wonk, it plays very well among his base and in Texas.  The knock is that he has not displayed his skills beyond the fishbowl of conservative functions.  However, he has not really had the opportunity until now.  In short, Cruz would have to do some heavy lifting in convincing independents to vote for him in a general election, or even in delegate-rich blue and purple state primaries.

There is little downside to a Cruz candidacy.  He is a Senator until 2018 when he would likely be reelected to another term should he fail in 2016.  Unfortunately for Cruz, at this early stage he ranks about 6th (of 11) among Republican candidates in most polls conducted thus far.  His combined percentage as the first or second choice of possible voters does not break 10%.  Of course, a lot can change once things really get geared up.

The one thing Cruz has going for him is a rabid, adoring base (Ron Paul had his Paulites; Cruz his Cruzites).  But, speaking in broad policy terms also works for so long before he will have to expound on that “message” with more specifics.  Right now the best the Democrats have on him is an extremist label and criticism over a government shutdown that resulted in Yellowstone Park being closed in a presidential hissy fit.

Pundits on the Left would love to see Cruz as the GOP nominee believing he is the most “extreme” on the Republican side and that they can portray him as some kind of nut job.  Trust me…I read their blogs.  They may ultimately regret what they wish for in 2016.

This writer has no doubts that Cruz would deliver some memorable lines in a debate and in a weird, perverted way seeing Cruz debate (shred) a Hillary Clinton would be great theater.  The question is whether after eight years of Barack Obama the American electorate wants strong leadership or more theater.  He has shown leadership to the conservative base.  Now for the hard part- convincing everyone else.