Ted Cruz Is Just Getting Started

Reviled by the Left, hated by the middle, disliked by his own party, the junior senator from Texas is exactly where he wants to be.

Followed by members of the media, U.S Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) leaves the Capitol after he spoke on the Senate floor for more than 21 hours September 25, 2013.
National Journal
Alex Roarty
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Alex Roarty
Oct. 17, 2013, 11:53 a.m.

The Re­pub­lic­an es­tab­lish­ment des­pises Ted Cruz. And that’s great news for the sen­at­or from Texas: It’s the most prom­in­ent sign that he’s the front-run­ner for the GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion.

Con­ser­vat­ives are deeply frus­trated with the party’s pres­id­en­tial polit­ics. In their telling — and it’s a story they tell a lot — the es­tab­lish­ment has blown it the last two elec­tions by de­mand­ing the party ac­cept mod­er­ate squishes as their nom­in­ees. John Mc­Cain and Mitt Rom­ney might lack the con­ser­vat­ive fer­vor of most act­iv­ists, but party bosses ex­plained they were the only ones who stood a chance in the gen­er­al elec­tion. Ex­cept both men went on to lose, badly.

Now those same con­ser­vat­ives, the kind who con­trol primar­ies in early vot­ing states like Iowa and South Car­o­lina, vow they won’t listen again in 2016. “We have a lot of people claim­ing to be con­ser­vat­ives who con­stantly score for the oth­er team. And people are dis­gus­ted by it,” said Bob Vander Plaats, the Iowa so­cial-con­ser­vat­ive power broker.

And that’s where Cruz comes in. The firebrand’s 21-hour faux-fili­buster and no-sur­render strategy dur­ing the gov­ern­ment shut­down fight has en­deared him to act­iv­ists. The party es­tab­lish­ment, mean­while, is de­cry­ing a man they con­sider an ideo­logue un­will­ing to com­prom­ise even when the polit­ics go south. Stay away from Ted Cruz, they say.

Sound fa­mil­i­ar?

“There’s a sense that we played it their way two straight cam­paign sea­sons for pres­id­ent, and we’re not go­ing to do that again,” said John Brabend­er, who served as the chief strategist for Rick San­tor­um’s second-place pres­id­en­tial cam­paign last year. “There is an angry, take-no-pris­on­er con­ser­vat­ive out there say­ing, “˜Look, we’re tired of ne­go­ti­at­ing, we’re tired of com­prom­ising.’ “

Sug­gest­ing that a band of act­iv­ists can topple the party es­tab­lish­ment in pres­id­en­tial polit­ics can seem fool­hardy, even at a time when those same con­ser­vat­ives con­trol the House. But San­tor­um and Newt Gin­grich gave Mitt Rom­ney a run for his money last year, even though both men were polit­ic­al has-beens when the primary sea­son began. Cruz is a sen­at­or from the coun­try’s largest con­ser­vat­ive state, and he’ll have two more years of Sen­ate ac­tion to keep him­self in the lime­light. If a Ted Cruz had been around in 2012, he ar­gu­ably could have beaten Rom­ney by giv­ing con­ser­vat­ives a single cha­ris­mat­ic can­did­ate to rally around.

Already, Cruz’s no-com­prom­ise ap­proach is work­ing. His fa­vor­able rat­ings among tea-party Re­pub­lic­ans have jumped from 47 per­cent to 74 per­cent since Ju­ly — des­pite the neg­at­ive at­ten­tion of most main­stream me­dia out­lets, in­clud­ing the highly un­usu­al de­cision of his home-state news­pa­per, the Hou­s­ton Chron­icle, to sharply cri­ti­cize him. Tra­di­tion­ally, that would hurt a can­did­ate. But not Cruz, and not for a tea-party base that feeds off me­dia an­ti­pathy.

“While es­tab­lish­ment folks will blame him for the shut­down, he will be­come a rock star for stand­ing up and fight­ing the fight,” said Dave Car­ney, a seni­or strategist for Rick Perry’s pres­id­en­tial cam­paign. “When Ted Cruz ran for of­fice, from the day he an­nounced to the day he was elec­ted, he al­ways said he was go­ing to de­fund Obama­care and stop Obama­care, and the fact is that he did ex­actly what he said he was go­ing to do.”

Car­ney ad­ded: “His scorn by the me­dia and the es­tab­lish­ment and Cap­it­ol Hill staff is just mak­ing him stronger. He comes across as a breath of fresh air.”

Sure, Cruz’s act­iv­ism comes at a cost. (The same Pew Re­search Cen­ter poll found more non-tea-party Re­pub­lic­ans dis­like Cruz than like him.) The es­tab­lish­ment, but­tressed by the re­main­ing mod­er­ate and lib­er­al Re­pub­lic­ans in the party, won’t go away quietly.

But the former Ivy Leaguer doesn’t need that wing of the party. He’s already gone a long way to­ward se­cur­ing the act­iv­ist base. Marco Ru­bio, Rand Paul, and Bobby Jin­dal, among oth­ers, will com­pete with him for the re­li­gious con­ser­vat­ives who con­sti­tute the party’s con­ser­vat­ive wing. But Cruz has already demon­strated something they haven’t: a wild pop­ular­ity among evan­gel­ic­als.

Cruz eas­ily dom­in­ated the Val­ues Voter straw poll held earli­er this month, win­ning more votes than Ru­bio, Jin­dal, and Paul com­bined. And his early vis­its to Iowa, the ob­vi­ous launch­ing pad for his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, have re­ceived an up­roari­ous re­cep­tion. When he spoke in Au­gust dur­ing a so­cial-con­ser­vat­ive gath­er­ing, one loc­al re­port­er wrote in no un­cer­tain terms that Cruz “over­shad­owed” the pre­vi­ous win­ner of the Iowa caucuses, San­tor­um, who is a fa­vor­ite of evan­gel­ic­als in his own right.

“What’s happened, the op­pos­i­tion, the Left, and the es­tab­lish­ment of the Re­pub­lic­an Party has el­ev­ated Ted Cruz to an un­pre­ced­en­ted level if he chooses to run in 2016,” said Vander Plaats. “I really be­lieve if the Iowa caucuses were held today, I don’t even think it’d be close. Ted Cruz would walk away with it.”

Even the most cited draw­back of los­ing es­tab­lish­ment sup­port — money — isn’t a deal-break­er for the sen­at­or. Not in the su­per-PAC age, when a hand­ful of wealthy donors can en­sure Cruz has all the TV ad sup­port he needs, or when Cruz’s pop­u­list ap­peal is sure to at­tract a bounty of small-dol­lar dona­tions. And even the party’s moneyed in­terests are look­ing around. “I know a lot of con­ser­vat­ive, wealthy donors who aren’t go­ing to fund the Rovi­an-type gam­bits any­more,” said one con­ser­vat­ive con­sult­ant, who asked for an­onym­ity to speak can­didly. “They did last time, and they’re done with them.”

The Re­pub­lic­an es­tab­lish­ment hates Ted Cruz. And that’s ex­actly where Cruz wants them.

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