Ted Cruz Is Finished

The trouble-making junior senator from Texas is great at talking to one kind of voter, not at reaching all Republicans — a problem that precludes a 2016 win.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks to reporters after he spoke on the Senate floor for more than 21 hours September 25, 2013 on Capitol Hill.
National Journal
Beth Reinhard
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Beth Reinhard
Oct. 17, 2013, 11:49 a.m.

At a con­ven­tion of more than 2,000 re­li­gious con­ser­vat­ives last week, Ted Cruz worked the crowd like the son of a preach­er man knows how. Un­like Sen­ate col­leagues and pos­sible 2016 rivals Marco Ru­bio and Rand Paul, Cruz stepped away from the po­di­um and strode back and forth across the stage with out­stretched arms. A day later, a straw poll showed him to be the run­away fa­vor­ite.

But out­side that Val­ues Voter Sum­mit, there is little ap­plause for Cruz. After a 21-hour speech on the Sen­ate floor de­fy­ing Pres­id­ent Obama’s health care law launched a gov­ern­ment shut­down and drove the na­tion to the edge of de­fault, most Amer­ic­ans take a dim view of Cruz’s all-or-noth­ing tac­tics.

“He’s a niche can­did­ate who is only pop­u­lar in talk-ra­dio fantasy land,” said Steve Schmidt, a top ad­viser to 2008 nom­in­ee John Mc­Cain.

Polls are already cap­tur­ing the dis­con­nect between the con­ser­vat­ive grass­roots and the rest of the coun­try when it comes to the sen­at­or from Texas. Fa­vor­able views of Cruz among tea-party Re­pub­lic­ans soared by 27 points since Ju­ly, but un­fa­vor­able opin­ions among oth­er adults jumped 15 points, ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter.

So, un­less Cruz ex­pands his ap­peal bey­ond that Val­ues Voter hotel ball­room (and ral­ly­ing with scorned 2008 vice pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Sarah Pal­in last week shows he isn’t even try­ing), the na­tion­al am­bi­tions sug­ges­ted by his fre­quent trips to early primary states will nev­er trans­late in­to a win.

“He will cer­tainly have a loud cheer­ing sec­tion of value voters, and we will see wheth­er the Re­pub­lic­an Party wants to nom­in­ate someone with no ex­per­i­ence, no lead­er­ship, and no chance of win­ning a gen­er­al elec­tion,” said Schmidt, who is vice chair­man of pub­lic af­fairs for Edel­man, one of the world’s largest pub­lic-re­la­tions firms.

The tests that voters typ­ic­ally put be­fore would-be pres­id­ents go bey­ond Cruz’s demon­strated skill set. While his fiery rhet­or­ic and con­front­a­tion­al style rev up con­ser­vat­ive audi­ences, those same qual­it­ies are likely to pre­clude him from passing one of those cent­ral as­sess­ments: Can this man be trus­ted with the red phone, the nuc­le­ar codes, or, as Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton called the for­eign policy test in her 2008 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, the 3 a.m. call? When it comes to choos­ing a com­mand­er in chief, voters look for a steady hand, not a fist pump.

Even Cruz’s base is start­ing to erode. After egging on Cap­it­ol Hill the last few weeks, the Hou­s­ton Chron­icle — the ho­met­own news­pa­per that en­dorsed Cruz in his 2012 Sen­ate cam­paign — was wist­ful over the ab­sence of his more tem­per­ate pre­de­cessor, Re­pub­lic­an Kay Bailey Hutchis­on. “Cruz has been part of the prob­lem in spe­cif­ic situ­ations where Hutchis­on would have been part of the solu­tion,” the news­pa­per ed­it­or­i­al­ized. Jam­ie Wein­stein, seni­or ed­it­or of the right-lean­ing Daily Caller, pre­dicted this week that “if the con­ser­vat­ive grass­roots con­tin­ue to fol­low Cruz, they will be led from the cur-rent gov­ern­ment shut­down to fu­ture elect­or­al shut­downs.”

And if that wer­en’t enough, the budget show­down has put Cruz squarely at odds with one of the Re­pub­lic­an Party’s most im­port­ant con­stitu­en­cies: the busi­ness com­munity. The U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce, in a joint let­ter with the AFL-CIO, urged Con­gress and Pres­id­ent Obama to re­solve the con­flict, call­ing the shut­down “harm­ful and the risk of de­fault po­ten­tially cata­stroph­ic for our fra­-gile eco­nomy.”

Cruz’s latest fun­drais­ing re­port shows suc­cess lur­ing small, grass­roots donors — 93 per­cent of the 12,000 dona­tions in the past three months were un­der $100. But ma­jor donors say he has ali­en­ated the ti­tans of in­dustry who have long fueled GOP cam­paigns. “I cer­tainly wouldn’t write him a check,” said Al Hoff­man, former fin­ance dir­ect­or for the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee and a Flor­ida real-es­tate de­veloper. “He’s go­ing to have a tough time. These tea-party Re­pub­lic­ans are so out of con­trol and un­reas­on­able that there’s few big donors who are go­ing to open up their pock­et­books.”

An­oth­er mega-donor who has ad­vised four Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­ents, Fred Malek, said the shut­down in­creased the like­li­hood that the next GOP nom­in­ee will come from a state cap­it­al. “The re­cent de­bacle in Wash­ing­ton will make the vast ma­jor­ity of Re­pub­lic­ans more con­fid­ent about nom­in­at­ing a gov­ernor than someone who comes out of the Con­gress,” he said.

Cruz’s Cuban-Amer­ic­an her­it­age would ap­pear to be an as­set at a time when the Re­pub­lic­an Party’s path back to the White House runs through the fast-grow­ing His­pan­ic com­munity. Ex­cept that he fiercely op­poses two is­sues dear to His­pan­ic voters: com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form and the new health care law. (A Pew Re­search Cen­ter/USA Today poll in Septem­ber found that 61 per­cent of His­pan­ics ap­prove of the Af­ford­able Care Act.) “He took on a piece of le­gis­la­tion that’s more pop­u­lar among His­pan­ics than the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, so his bio­graphy is not go­ing to help much,” said Gary Se­gura, a prin­cip­al of the Latino De­cisions polling firm and a Stan­ford Uni­versity pro­fess­or of Amer­ic­an polit­ics.

Next Fri­day, Ted Cruz is slated to head­line the Re­pub­lic­an Party of Iowa’s Ron­ald Re­agan Com­mem­or­ative Din­ner. He can ex­pect a stand­ing ova­tion from an audi­ence dom­in­ated by con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ists. But when he walks out­side the con­ven­tion cen­ter in Des Moines and travels across the coun­try, he’ll likely find few oth­er people cheer­ing.

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