Senator Ted Cruz of Texas will become the first presidential candidate (in a strictly legal sense) of the 2016 campaign on Monday. He’s not going to go the whole “exploratory committee” route and intends to jump in with both feet.
Senior advisers say Cruz will run as an unabashed conservative eager to mobilize like-minded voters who cannot stomach the choice of the “mushy middle” that he has ridiculed on the stump over the past two months in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
“Ted is exactly where most Republican voters are,” said Mike Needham, who heads the conservative advocacy group Heritage Action for America. “Most people go to Washington and get co-opted. And Ted clearly is somebody that hasn’t been.”
I’ll have to look at the financial implications of Cruz’s decision, but getting an early start is important regardless of how you legally organize your campaign.
This guarantees that Cruz will get the attention he craves, and that won’t be a good thing for the Republican Party. I don’t think he plans to leave any room on his right for his competitors to maneuver in, and his schtick is going to be that everyone else is a weak-kneed conservative wannabe. I expect this to get very personal, very quickly. Because the other candidates will be more comfortable attacking Cruz than the outlandish conservative ideas he espouses, I think they will talk about his knowledge, temperament, and effectiveness rather than challenge him from an ideological point of view.
The exception will be Jeb, who will attempt to be the voice of reason. He’ll have to hope that his opponents divide up the majority into enough pieces that he can win with a small plurality.
We ought to remember that Ted Cruz isn’t a former pizza executive, backbench representative from Minnesota, or even a disgraced former Speaker of the House. He is one of two U.S. senators from the largest red state in the country, the same state that gave us Lyndon Johnson and both Bush presidents. How he behaves and what he says helps define the Republican Party to the nation and the world. This will be more true than ever now that he’ll be a presidential candidate.
That most of his Republican colleagues in the Senate despise him and disagree with his critiques means that there will be a lot of pushback. It’s not only the Republican Establishment, but a much broader segment of the Republican base that doesn’t want Cruz to speak for them. This should quickly become evident even on Fox News, and it’s going to take existing wedges on the right and pry them wide open.
I can see Jeb prevailing as a kind of champion against Cruz, but there will be a Humpty Dumpty effect even if Jeb is successful.
[Cross-posted at Progress Pond]