Welcome to Thunderdome, Ted Cruz! And wow, that’s a video straight out of the consultant minds of Veep. Maybe throw in a puppy? Seriously, though, if announcing via Twitter is the new thing, I’m all for it. It could’ve saved us sending a reporter to Lynchburg this morning. Maybe somebody will announce via Meerkat and we can all stay at our desks and not drive somewhere to see candidates give the same speech they gave at CPAC but with a couple more paragraphs? It’d save us all a lot of time and it’d be environmentally friendly, too. Lower your carbon footprint: announce by Tweet.
The Acela corridor mindset about Ted Cruz is basically: “he has no path”, “why is he doing this”, or “he’s a disruptive pain in the butt and should shut up and go away”. Allow me to quote one of the emails I received last night on this topic: “he’s a disruptive pain in the butt and should shut up and go away”. Yes, I understand that Cruz’s approach to politics and speechmaking rubs some people the wrong way, but there is actually a counterintuitive case to be made that he has a clearer path to the nomination than his critics might like.
First: Ted Cruz matches up with the activist base better than any other significant candidate in a long time. I don’t think people outside of that base really understand how powerful Cruz’s appeal is to the populist energized conservative voter, which is of course just a faction of the right, but is a sizable faction. Cruz’s critics need to hope that he is limited to this faction, and incapable of appealing outside of it. But that may not prove to be the case, particularly if Cruz is able to cut into the appeal of, say, Walker for pro-business types, Huckabee for social conservatives, Paul for libertarianish Republicans and the like. And he doesn’t just match up with them on policy, he matches up with their brashness, their yearning for someone who loves the taste of blood in his mouth. Cruz was the only guy on the stage at the Iowa Ag gathering to basically give the whole room the finger on ethanol. His words are sweet music to the conservative right which has wanted a capable fighter for so long. Here’s a guy who’ll fight the lion and the midgets at the same time.
Second: To the degree that this is a nomination battle about who has done the most to fight the Obama administration about two key issues – amnesty and Obamacare – Ted Cruz can claim that mantle and beat his opponents over the head with their stances on these topics. We underestimate how going soft on both of these issues is going to play in the GOP primary this cycle, particularly in the early going. As I’ve noted before, most of the candidates this time around are in roughly the same position on immigration: either full throatedly in favor of reform or tepidly in favor of it. But there is no indication that the position of the party base is at all moderated compared to 2012, and Obama’s approach to executive amnesty has made the issue all the more toxic. Cruz can argue that his only fault is boldness – that when the party balked about doing its utmost to stop Obamacare, he went to the mattresses, and it led to sweeping wins at the ballot box. And when it comes to immigration, he will attack Jeb, Rubio, Christie, Huckabee, Walker, and others as being soft on the issue or tacitly in favor of what Obama did by executive action. The faction of the right that will punish him on both these counts was never going to support him anyway, so he can afford to be the full-throated champion on both fronts.
And third: While the “purest” conservative candidate rarely wins, that assumes a divided right. Cruz may end up running in a field where the other candidates are scrabbling over support from the Chamber of Commerce, Wall Street, and establishment dollars while he could corner the populist talk radio base. Cruz’s critics need to hope that Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul and others horn in on this area of the right – because if the election includes a crowded field outside of that faction – including Bush, Christie, Huckabee, Walker, Rubio, and say Kasich – that only serves to help Cruz’s case.
Now, this isn’t to say Cruz’s path is a clear one. Historically, outsider conservative candidacies like his are not very successful. But it’s clear he believes he’ll be the exception, and not without good reason. The traditionally powerful factions of the Republican Party have less control than they used to. What’s also clear is that his campaign is likely to be one of the most aggressive of all of those who are playing with the idea of running. He’ll go after the other candidates directly and have no hesitation about causing trouble. It’s the sort of thing that endears him to the right, but may make him a lot of enemies in the process – but when has Ted Cruz cared about that? He’s Sonny Corleone, and he’s here for a fight.