Will Ted Cruz Be Able to Convince People to Take His Campaign Seriously?

The Republican presidential candidate on Sunday fielded more questions about his experience and likability.

Senator Ted Cruz speaks at a Conservative Business League of New Hampshire Rally March 27, 2015 in Merrimack, New Hampshire. 
National Journal
March 29, 2015, 6:19 a.m.

In his first Sunday-show appearance since announcing his run for president, Ted Cruz was met with more of the media skepticism that he has seen all week.

Asked by CNN’s Dana Bash on State of the Union how Cruz, as a first-term senator, is any more qualified to be president than Barack Obama was, Cruz tried to make the case that he has used his short Senate experience differently.

“In my time in the Senate, you can accuse me of being a lot of things, but a back-bencher is not one of them,” Cruz said.

The questions of experience, temperament, and just general probability of success aren’t new. Since announcing his campaign, Cruz has been greeted to torrents of cold water. In The New York Times: “The most interesting question about Mr. Cruz’s candidacy is whether he has a very small chance to win or no chance at all.” In FiveThirtyEight: “Cruz almost certainly has no shot of winning the nomination, according to every indicator that predicts success in presidential primaries.” From Michael Brendan Dougherty in The Week: “His entire approach makes sense only if you believe that there is a sectarian conservative majority waiting to materialize the moment a leader decides that there’s no reason to compromise, ever.”

Bash asked Cruz Sunday how he could be successful without being particularly well-liked by not just the political establishment at large, but the Republican establishment. “I’ll point out there’s almost an inverse relationship between being liked and appreciated in Washington, D.C., and reviled back home, and being reviled in Washington and appreciated back home,” Cruz responded.

Early polls show that there’s a reason for the waves of Cruz skepticism. Just 4 percent of likely Republican primary voters in a mid-March CNN/ORC poll said they would most likely support Cruz, putting him behind most of the other major GOP contenders, like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, with 16 percent support. An early March NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 38 percent of Republicans wouldn’t consider supporting Cruz, just under the 40 percent of Republicans who said they would.

Cruz’s first week as an official presidential candidate did have one major success, though. After setting a fundraising goal of $1 million for the week, Cruz wound up pulling in $2 million by Thursday night. But he still faces a steep challenge in trying to convince Republican voters and donors that he can break into the top of the field and seriously compete with candidates like Bush and Scott Walker—that, as he says, there really is room in this race for a staunchly uncompromising conservative, the kind of person who touts his role in the fight that led to 2013’s government shutdown as a positive during his presidential rollout

Bash pushed Cruz Sunday on his slim record of bipartisan compromise in the Senate. Cruz highlighted a bill he introduced barring a proposed Iranian ambassador from entering the United States, which passed 100-to-0 and was eventually signed by the president. But as Bash said to Cruz Sunday, that bill was noncontroversial. “It’s fair that there’s just one piece of legislation that is now law with your name on it,” she said. “Well, that’s accurate,” he responded.

Perhaps more cutting, Bash asked Cruz, “How do you get to a place where you would be likable enough and have relationships enough to actually get things done?” Cruz said that he has never retaliated against other senators who have lobbed personal attacks in his direction, saying, “You have never heard me speak ill of any senator, Republican or Democrat, and I don’t intend to start.”

Cruz has the official presidential field to himself right now, but early April is likely to change that in a hurry. And he may find himself without much time to make his case for relevance before being drowned out.

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