The 2016 presidential race has arguably been underway for months, but it lacked an important element: officially announced candidates*. That changed overnight, when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) kicked off his campaign with an announcement on Twitter, unveiling a 30-second video filled with stock imagines and a voice-over from the far-right senator.
“It’s going to take a new generation of courageous conservatives to help make America great again, and I’m willing to stand with you to lead the fight,” Cruz said in the video, which featured footage of churches, baseball games, cornfields and other campaign-friendly imagery.
Cruz will follow the Twitter announcement with a formal kick-off event this morning in Lynchburg, Virginia, where the senator will deliver a speech at Liberty University, a right-wing evangelical school founded by the late Jerry Falwell, a radical TV preacher perhaps best known for blaming 9/11 on Americans. The Texan’s speech is expected to begin around 10 a.m.
To get a sense of Cruz’s platform, the candidate’s campaign website is up and running, and he stakes out the positions most would expect him to embrace. The site also glosses over the fact that Cruz hasn’t actually accomplished much since joining the Senate two years ago – note the text that uses phrases like “fought for” and “sponsored.” (The campaign’s online presence also overlooks Cruz’s most notable exploit since reaching Capitol Hill: the senator took a leading role in shutting down the federal government in October 2013.)
Of course, as any presidential campaign gets underway, the first question is always the same: does the candidate stand a good chance at success? In the case of Ted Cruz, answering the question isn’t as straightforward as it is with his likely rivals.
For many political scientists, assessing a national candidate’s odds starts and ends with the kind of backing he or she can expect from the party establishment – and on this front, Cruz appears doomed. During his two-year Senate career, the Republican lawmaker has managed to annoy nearly all of his colleagues in both parties. Much of the GOP establishment sees Cruz as an arrogant and intemperate radical who doesn’t play well with others. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) once called Cruz a “wacko bird.”
But that need not be the end of the conversation. Benjy Sarlin noted, “As much as any politician in America, Cruz embodies the tea party movement that has defined the GOP in the Obama era.” I couldn’t agree more. Cruz embodies the Republican Party’s id, not only more than his White House rivals, but perhaps more than any other national figure in GOP politics.
There’s a sizable portion of the Republican base that wants a GOP standard bearer who never compromises, who never accepts concessions, who insists on an all-confrontation-all-the-time posture, who sees critics as enemies, and who’s doctrinaire on far-right orthodoxy on every issue.
Ted Cruz fits the bill with surprising ease.
To be sure, in recent generations, no Republican presidential hopeful has persevered in the face of establishment opposition, but let’s not forget that Republican politics has been radicalized in recent years to a degree unseen in the modern era. It’s quite easy to imagine Cruz celebrating the fact that the party establishment doesn’t like him, exploiting that opposition to rally support from right-wing activists who believe their party compromises far too much already.
Recent polling shows Cruz running sixth or seventh in a crowded GOP field, but let’s not forget that as a Senate candidate in 2012, he faced similar circumstances – right up until he sailed past the better financed candidates who enjoyed support from the Texas Republican establishment.
With that race in mind, it’s hardly outrageous to think Cruz could fare quite well in a state like Iowa, where social conservatives dominate, and sticking around for a while after some of the field thins out. He’ll be an adept debater, an aggressive attack dog, and benefit from a significant donor/activist base, which doesn’t care that Cruz has failed miserably to be an effective senator.
Watch this space.
* Postscript: Team Cruz apparently hasn’t taken url registration too seriously. TedCruz.com leads to a page supporting President Obama and calling for immigration reform, which the Texas Republican strongly opposes, while TedCruzForAmerica.com redirects to the White House’s health care website. What’s more, TedCruzForPresident.com was recently purchased by someone who is not a fan of the senator.
* Clarification: Cruz is the first credible candidate to kick off a major-party presidential campaign this cycle. There are, however, assorted figures who’ve technically filed the paperwork to run for the White House, though they are largely unknown to a national audience and stand no realistic chance at success.