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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Candidate Profile: #7. Ted Cruz

For background to this series, click here. For previous posts in the series:

Tier 4--They Know They Can't Win
16. George Pataki
(15.5. James Gilmore)
15. Lindsey Graham
14. Carly Fiorina

Tier 3--We Know They Can't Win
13. Rick Santorum
12. Mike Huckabee
11. Donald Trump
10. Bobby Jindal

Tier 2--So You're Saying There's a Chance!
9. Rick Perry
8. Ben Carson

Now we get to the candidate who's MORE CONSERVATIVE THAN RICK SANTORUM.

Ted Cruz, 44, senator from Texas, 2013-current

Campaign Website and Slogan--www.tedcruz.org/--"Reigniting the Promise of America"

PPFA Slogan--"Reigniting Literally Everything"

Ideology on liberal-conservative spectrum (-10 is far left and +10 is far right. A center moderate is 0.): +8.25 (Individual rights: +7; domestic issues: +8; economy: +9; foreign policy: +9). Holy Moses. He makes Ronald Reagan look like a clean shaven Karl Marx.

Conservative Rank based on above: 1 of 16. In other words, conservative stalwarts like #9 Rick Perry#10 Bobby Jindal, and #12 Mike Huckabee, are too liberal for Ted Cruz.

Spin from the candidate's campaign--Remember the last time a young, idealistic, well-spoken U.S. senator, just two years into office, threw his hat into the presidential ring against an old establishment candidate? He became President of the United States. Ted Cruz can repeat that feat. No one in politics is a bigger champion of limited government and the Constitution. This obsession with liberty stems from his father who fled oppressive Cuba and repeatedly told his son, “When we faced oppression in Cuba, I had a place to flee to. If we lose our freedom here, where do we go?” His career as a lawyer, Solicitor General, professor of law, clerk to the Supreme Court Chief Justice, and senator has seen him fight many battles to defend a strict interpretation of the Constitution, including defending the Second Amendment; opposing Obamacare and President Obama's relentless executive orders; fighting federal spending; and supporting the values of life, family, and marriage. He wants to abolish the IRS and simplify the tax code with a flat tax.

Importantly, he might just be the smartest guy in the field. He graduated cum laude from Princeton. While there he became one of the top debaters in the country, winning the national and North American debating championships. He then attended Harvard law school, graduating magna cum laude, but not before becoming a primary editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. One of his professors described him as "off the charts brilliant." In a likely showdown with Hillary Clinton, is he not the candidate Republicans should want as her competitor? We saw Mitt Romney take his only lead of the general election against Obama after Romney's superior first debate performance, but he couldn't keep the momentum in the next two. Cruz gives the Republicans their best chance to sweep all three and seal the deal in November.

Ultimately, let's remember that we tried maverick McCain and moderate Mitt. Neither worked.  Nor did Bob Dole or Gerald Ford, the establishment candidates of their time. George W. Bush worked. Ronald Reagan worked. True conservatives. If Republicans want to win this time around, they should look to their "right" to find the right candidate.

Spin from opponents--Even brilliant people can be unelectable. This unelectability stems from two factors. First: his extreme conservatism. His greatest advantage this election has been Donald Trump overthrowing him as mayor of Crazytown. He's seen even by members of the GOP as too extreme. FiveThirtyEight--or, as bloggers call it, "the Gospel"--did an entire article on Cruz's unelectability. It noted:
Cruz is likely far too extreme ideologically to win the nomination. The Republican party has a habit of nominating relatively moderate candidates (see John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012). . . . A Cruz nomination wouldn’t just break this streak; it would throw it off a 100-floor balcony and drop a piano on it.
Cruz is more conservative than every recent nominee, every other candidate who mounted a serious bid in 2012 and every plausible candidate running or potentially running in 2016. 
Moreover, his obsession with derailing the President was too aggressive for even Republicans' liking (remember the government shutdown?). He's earned a lot of enemies in his two years as a senator, enemies that might try to curb his chances were he to become a viable candidate.
If we’re ever in a world where it looks like Cruz could win the nomination, you’ll very likely see such pouncing. You can read article after article about how Cruz has isolated himself in the Senate. It got so bad that he recently had to apologize to his Republican colleagues.
And the Cruz hatred doesn’t stop at the edges of the Senate cloakroom. Influential party actors dislike him, too. I can’t remember another Republican who united Ann CoulterPat RobertsonJennifer Rubin and Thomas Sowell in opposition.
Party standard bearer Mitt Romney piled on, not counting Cruz as one of the electable candidates. If nominating him just hands the White House over to Hillary Clinton, then who cares how smart he is?

How do the polls look?--His RCP national average is 5.5, putting him in eighth place. (He's the last candidate before the big drop off. His eighth place 5.5 to Rick Perry's ninth place 2.8 is the only spot where support is halved from one candidate to the next.) In Iowa, he's again in eighth place, this time at an average of 6.5 polling points. However, the last two polls--the only two taken in the last month--have him at a competitive 8 and 9 points, which puts him with a handful of others competing for second place behind Scott Walker. His New Hampshire numbers are struggling as he unsurprisingly languishes outside of the top eight at an RCP average of 3.8, but he makes up for that with his fourth place, 7.7 average in South Carolina. As expected, he's much more competitive in the conservative states. Doing well in Iowa and South Carolina is all he needs to do to survive until Super Tuesday.

PPFA analysis--Again, Cruz's biggest break so far has been the wrecking ball called Donald Trump. The attack on Cruz was going to be how "out there" he was in his views, but with Trump losing sight of "out there" in his rear view mirror, a well-spoken Senator, even one with extreme conservative views, looks downright moderate.

If you listen to Cruz, who almost comes across as an objective pundit here, he's the natural candidate to unite the factions of the Republican Party. He compares these factions to an NCAA bracket with four regions; in this case the factions are types of Republicans: moderates, libertarians, evangelicals, and Tea Partiers. Cruz thinks one candidate can emerge from each of these four brackets, and that "final four" will do battle for the nomination. The winner will be the one who can best pull from multiple factions. Naturally, according to Cruz, he's the guy who can best do it. With his ultra conservatism, he sees himself as the favorite in the Tea Party bracket while also playing well in the evangelical and libertarian brackets, especially with libertarians fearful of Rand Paul's dovish foreign policy. If he can combine those three groups, he can stand up to whichever candidate comes out of the moderate bracket, most likely Jeb Bush.

If only it were that easy for Senator Cruz. Thinking positively, he is indeed the preferred candidate of the Tea Party and a top three candidate for those who call themselves "very conservative." It's also worth noting another strength here: he has had a tremendous start to fundraising. These passionate bases of support have made him the top fundraiser in the entire GOP field in terms of hard money. He's even doing well in soft money, running second only to the gargantuan totals earned by Jeb Bush Super PACs. If you combine both hard money and Super PAC money, he's running in third place of all presidential candidates, behind only the titans of the election--Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. (I highly recommend looking at these charts assembled by the New York Times to see who's winning the fundraising races from both parties. It has many categories to sift through.)

And let's not forget that he hasn't even begun debating yet. For the reasons mentioned earlier, he's expected to show really well in them, which would give him a boost in the polls and even more cash flow. He could be Gingrich minus the baggage, which will be attractive to all the voters who were skeptical of the establishment candidate both last time (Romney) and this time (Bush).

Impressed yet?

But now we get to the limitations of the Cruz campaign. Sure, he seems to unite multiple camps of conservatives, but so does Scott Walker.  The big difference is that Walker, on top of being an executive, which the Republican Party usually prefers to a Washington Congressman, is doing extraordinarily well in the polls. Until the surge from #11 Donald Trump, which is expected to fizzle thanks to, among other factors, yesterday's disrespectful comments about John McCain, Walker was the only candidate competing with Bush in national polls. Meanwhile, Walker has dominated the Iowa polls since wresting control of the state from #12 Mike Huckabee in February. In New Hampshire, Walker has gone back and forth with Bush in leading it. In South Carolina, only Walker and South Carolinian but no-shot candidate #15 Lindsey Graham have competed with Bush at the top of its polls. In other words, if the anti-Bush movement wants a conservative alternative, Walker is probably their guy. In fact, he may have already has been anointed it.

Furthermore, we can't forget just how detested Cruz is by moderates and establishment Republicans. That is a group that has been strong enough to send McCain and Romney to victories over the likes of Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul. They have more money and weight in the party than Cruz could dream of, and they probably have the ability to pull the rug out from underneath him if the time comes.

Still, his puncher's chance derives from the fact that the people do ultimately make the decisions, even if a few powerful people are really good at convincing them what decision to make. Here's how a Cruz nomination could develop:
  • Step 1: Continue doing what he's doing: being a top fundraiser in the field and polling well, staying in the top half of the field nationally, in Iowa, and in South Carolina.
  • Step 2: While laying low but competitive in the polls, the frontrunners--Bush, Walker, Rubio, and, incredibly, Trump--attack each other. Cruz comes out relatively unscathed while also hoarding his money.
  • Step 3: Debate well.
  • Step 4: Peak in Iowa. Top four finish in its conservative February 1 caucus. (Walker, Huckabee, Bush, Cruz is a realistic top four there)
  • Step 5: Repeat the feat in the February 20 South Carolina Primary. (February 9 New Hampshire finish irrelevant for him.)
  • Step 6: As the other conservative candidates drop out due to their lack of money--Santorum, Jindal, Graham, and later Huckabee and Perry--much of their support goes to fellow conservatives Walker and Cruz.
  • Step 7: Win his home enormous state of Texas on March 1's Super Tuesday, where he's currently leading in the polls. The delegate haul from this and other conservative states that day--Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee--will see him as one of the big winners of Super Tuesday, even bigger than Walker.
  • Step 8: A majority of Republican voters determine they really don't want another Bush. Since Cruz has debated better and beat expectations while Walker has fallen short of them, he becomes the Bush alternative.
Are the specifics of the above likely? No. Are they realistic? Okay, still no. But are they possible? Absolutely. But much more likely is him merely but significantly affecting the primary. His conviction that pure conservatism is absolutely necessary instead of the "mushy middle" if Republicans want to win the White House can make him a dangerous candidate. He's not afraid of using his considerable war chest to wage a conservative campaign against the moderate candidates, because he'll conclude that even if he can't win himself, he'll need to move them to the right to get them to win.

PPFA nomination rank--7 of 16 (Odds: 18:1). He has Perry's conservatism combined with Carson's fresh face, but he also doesn't have their weaknesses. Cruz's education and debate experience starkly contrast Perry's, and Cruz has served on some heavyweight Senate committees to bring some solid, if minimal, experience, unlike Carson's biggest weakness. However, the six candidates above Cruz on this list are all more viable general election candidates and therefore have the edge over the Texas Senator in a desperate election for the GOP.

PPFA general election rank--13 of 16. I reserved the bottom feeders of this category for those who are either too conservative for the general electorate, or their name is Donald Trump. Cruz fits in nicely. The three below him are two also-ran conservative Republicans--Huckabee and Santorum--and the aforementioned Trump.

2 comments:

Stevie K said...

Thanks for the reminder on Cruz's impressive educational background. An overwhelming number of overall US presidents come from Ivy League schools, and we're amidst a trend of electing US presidents who have graduated from Yale/Columbia/Harvard. Is Cruz the only Republican candidate with an Ivy league pedigree?

IC said...

Great idea for a post, Stevie K!

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