Off and running… Off, and running… Commas matter. And Ted Cruz pulled the trigger:
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas announced on Monday morning that he would run for president in 2016, becoming the first Republican candidate to declare himself officially in the race.
Linking the determination of his immigrant father with the resolve of the founding fathers and his own faith in “the promise of America,” Mr. Cruz spoke at length about his family and his faith as he laid out a case for his candidacy.
“God’s blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation, and I believe God isn’t done with America yet,” Mr. Cruz said before thousands of cheering students here at Liberty University. “I believe in you. I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to re-ignite the promise of America.”
“Today, I am announcing that I am running for president of the United States,” Mr. Cruz added. “It is a time for truth, it is a time for liberty – it is a time to reclaim the Constitution of the United States.”
Yes, the venue was Liberty University – “The University was founded as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971 by Jerry Falwell, who was also Senior Pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church. The name was changed to Liberty Baptist College in 1976 before settling on its current name, Liberty University, in 1984, when it obtained university status. Liberty University describes itself as a Christian academic community.”
Note that Ed Dobson is a former dean there – the former head of the now disbanded Moral Majority organization, the group that started the whole business of making Christianity, and Jesus, exclusively Republican. Cruz may be only a first-term senator, and seen by most Republicans and all Democrats as the most divisive figure to pop up in Washington in many a long year, but he was positioning himself as “a truth-telling hero” to conservatives and particularly to evangelicals, and this speech was a barn-burner:
His speech was packed with calls to “imagine a president” who would repeal the Affordable Care Act, abolish the Internal Revenue Service, “defend the sanctity of human life and uphold the sacrament of marriage.”
The New Yorker’s John Cassidy heard this:
He started out by talking about his background as the son of a Cuban immigrant who fought to bring down the dictator Fulgencio Batista during the Cuban revolution, but who subsequently turned against Fidel Castro and, at the age of eighteen, decided to move to the United States. “Imagine, for a second, the hope that was in his heart as he rode that ferry boat across to Key West and got onboard a Greyhound bus to head to Austin, Texas, to begin working, washing dishes, making fifty cents an hour,” Cruz said. But the thoughts of an immigrant fifty-odd years ago weren’t the only thing that he wanted the crowd to imagine. Indeed, as the speech developed, it sounded increasingly like he was channeling John Lennon. But not Lennon the atheist skeptic and peacenik: this was a Liberty University version of the Beatle.
“Imagine, instead of economic stagnation, booming economic growth,” Cruz said. “Imagine young people coming out of school with four, five, six job offers. … Imagine in 2017 a new President signing legislation repealing every word of Obamacare. … Imagine a simple flat tax that lets every American fill out his or her taxes on a postcard. … Imagine abolishing the IRS … Imagine a federal government that works to defend the sanctity of human life and to uphold the sacrament of marriage. … Imagine a federal government that protects the right to keep and bear arms of all law-abiding Americans.”
If there were any liberal Democrats tuning in, they were probably hurling things at the screen by now. Cruz wasn’t done. “Imagine repealing every word of Common Core,” he went on. “Imagine a President who stands unapologetically with the nation of Israel.” (That one earned him his biggest cheer yet.) “Imagine a President who says, ‘I will honor the Constitution.’ … Imagine a President who says, ‘We will stand up and defeat radical Islamic terrorism, and we will call it by its name.'”
It was the same old stuff, but delivered well, although Cassidy wonders what good it did:
Appearing to be thoroughly enjoying himself, Cruz conceded that some of his wish list might be difficult, or even impossible, to imagine. He reminded his audience that, in 1979, when Ronald Reagan started his second Presidential campaign, it would have been equally impossible to imagine the Berlin Wall coming down and the Soviet Union collapsing. “Compared to that, repealing Obamacare and abolishing the IRS ain’t all that tough,” Cruz said. Then he asked the audience members, most of who weren’t born when Reagan left office, to text the words “Constitution” or “imagine” to the number 33733.
What did that mean? Most likely that Cruz intends to run as the Howard Dean of the religious right – a tub-thumping insurgent who uses social media to outmaneuver better-financed rivals. Speaking on Fox News, Joe Trippi, the Democratic strategist who ran Dean’s campaign in 2004, said after the speech, “I thought he did a great job.” Ed Rollins, the veteran Republican operative who was once Ronald Reagan’s campaign manager, was equally impressed. He raised the prospect of Cruz winning the Texas primary, which will take place next March, and emerging as a serious contender.
That’s looking a long way ahead, and Cruz has a lot of ground to make up.
The New York Times account offered this:
At times a history lesson – he invoked both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Patrick Henry – and at times a call to action, Mr. Cruz sought to position himself as the candidate who would give the Republican Party’s right wing the country they desire. He spoke directly to conservatives, with no real broad appeal to the more moderate wing of his party.
But not to worry:
Several Republicans said on Monday that given Mr. Cruz’s rhetorical skills and passion, and his ability to inspire restless or disenchanted conservatives and evangelical Americans, his candidacy should not be underestimated.
“He has had the single best sound bite over the last three years, saying that the big problem in Washington is we don’t listen,” said Frank Luntz, a longtime Republican pollster. “That message transcends ideology and partisanship, because so many in the public think Washington is out of touch.”
Mr. Cruz’s chief downside, Mr. Luntz said, is reflected in his relationships with other Republicans in the Senate.
“His colleagues really don’t like him, and it’s very difficult when your own colleagues won’t stand up for you,” Mr. Luntz said. “There’s a subtle message that there is something wrong.”
In fact, Cruz was off, and running anyway, because he had to run now:
In part, financial urgency prompted the accelerated timetable: advisers to Mr. Cruz have seen donors of the party flock to other potential candidates, including Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who since January has won the most notice among Republicans clamoring for a nominee other than former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida. Mr. Cruz’s advisers say his goal is to raise at least $40 million, with roughly $1 million in the first week.
This was all about the money, but his party has issues:
Rep. Peter King (R-NY) on Monday mocked his party’s first major presidential contender, Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), as “a carnival barker.”
“Shutting down the federal government and reading Dr. Seuss on the Senate floor are the marks of a carnival barker, not the leader of the free world,” King said in a Facebook post.
King said the Republican Party could do better than Cruz…
And there was this:
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said on Monday that he won’t back his fellow Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) during the 2016 Republican presidential primary.
In an interview with Politico, Cornyn said that he would not endorse any candidate in the primary.
“You know, we’ve got a lot of Texans who are running for president, so I’m going to watch from the sidelines,” he said.
When asked if he would support Cruz’s run financially, Cornyn responded, “Nope. You got a lot of people involved, and I don’t see any benefit to them or to me.”
Cornyn’s lack of support does not come as a huge surprise, as Cruz would not endorse Cornyn in his 2014 Senate re-election primary against Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX). Cruz later endorsed Cornyn after he defeated Stockman.
Nate Cohn at the Upshot statistical blog at New York Times explains the problem:
In April 2013, Cruz was identified as “The Most Hated Man in the Senate” by Foreign Policy magazine, which described him as “the human equivalent of one of those flower-squirters that clowns wear on their lapels.” And that was before he led the government shutdown. If you did a web search for “Senators Hate Ted Cruz” on Sunday, that Foreign Policy article wouldn’t have even come up on the first Google page. It was supplanted by titles like “Why Senate Republicans Hate Ted Cruz,” “GOP Still Despises Ted Cruz,” “Everybody Hates Ted Cruz” and the generously titled “How Unpopular Is Ted Cruz Right Now?” Answer: very.
This man dug his own grave:
Mr. Cruz is not an outsider, grass-roots version of President Obama in 2008. He is unacceptable to many conservative officials, operatives, interest group leaders and pundits. If they don’t take him seriously, voters won’t either. The elites would rally to defeat such a candidate if he ever seemed poised to win.
I can already hear the conservative, grass-roots activists complaining about this establishment, elite-driven model of Republican primary politics. I can hear them promising to prove the mainstream news media, and every one of Mr. Cruz’s detractors, wrong. But much of the Republican rank-and-file has reached the same conclusion as the party’s elite, whether they’ve done so because of elite signaling or by some other means.
Just 40 percent of Republicans in an NBC/WSJ poll last month said they could see themselves supporting Mr. Cruz, while 38 percent said they couldn’t. That two-point margin in the plus column was the second worst among the elected officials who are thought to be major contenders for the nomination. Only Chris Christie fared worse.
No one likes the guy:
Despite considerable national media attention, Mr. Cruz holds only about 6 percent of the vote in national polls. Early national polls aren’t exactly predictive of the nomination, but every presidential nominee since 1976 except Bill Clinton has reached about 15 percent of the vote by this point in the campaign.
The point isn’t that Mr. Cruz’s low level of support precludes him from winning the nomination. But he clearly hasn’t entered the race as the favorite of conservatives, and there isn’t much reason to assume that he will eventually become the favorite. The fight for conservatives will be hotly contested. Viable candidates with a far more plausible shot to win the nomination, like Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, or even Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee, will all be competing for these voters.
Ah, but that may be the plan. This man is very clever, and Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine argues that Ted Cruz actually wants Republicans to hate him:
In the course of a short political career, Ted Cruz, who today announced his campaign for the presidency, has defined himself in singular terms as the authentic representation of the right. He is loathed by nearly all Democrats and many Republicans, and treated by the Washington Establishment with unusually undisguised contempt, a man apart from the crowd. And yet there is very little in his platform to distinguish him from the rest of the party. In his announcement speech, Cruz ticked through his plans for America: repealing Obamacare, a flat tax, securing the border, banning abortion, preserving traditional marriage, opposing Common Core, and unyielding support for Israel and opposition to terrorism. Cruz’s style is uniquely terrifying to his critics (or thrilling to his supporters), but the substance is unremarkable standard-issue Republicanism.
But if policy does not explain Cruz’s “uniquely radical image” what does? Chait cites the Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway – “It’s not necessary for him to show that he’s the most conservative, but that he’s the most courageous conservative.” And there’s Mike Needham, head of the conservative lobby Heritage Action for America – “Ted is exactly where most Republican voters are. Most people go to Washington and get co-opted. And Ted clearly is somebody that hasn’t been.”
Then there’s Cruz himself – “Every candidate is going to come in front of you and say I’m the most conservative guy who ever lived. Well gosh darn it, talk is cheap. One of the most important roles men and women of Iowa will play is to say, ‘Don’t talk, show me.'”
So there you have it:
Cruz is not attempting to distinguish himself from his party substantively. He is attempting to distinguish himself characterologically. Cruz depicts a party Establishment too cowardly to actually fight for the conservative agenda.
Cruz is doing what he should be doing:
This is not only an old idea in conservative politics – it is the foundational idea of the conservative movement. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Republican Party had largely made its peace with the new role of government created by the New Deal. Conservatives were merely one faction within the GOP, frustrated by their powerlessness to influence its agenda. The conservative movement, which was identified intellectually with National Review and politically with Barry Goldwater, wanted their party to launch a full-throated counterattack on big government. They had an ideological program that differed sharply from the reigning ideology of Eisenhower and Nixon: a straightforward attack on big government as socialism.
Their substantive policies were complemented by a unique political analysis. The conservative believes that – in contrast to Republican leaders who cautioned that moderation was required in order to compete for mainstream votes – moving to the right in this way offered the party its greatest chance to win a national majority.
And they’re still mad that didn’t work out for them:
Conservatives believed they had been thwarted by feckless or even traitorous leaders. Conservative activists identified as their primary enemy the eastern Establishment, led by the hated Nelson Rockefeller, who supported what Goldwater dismissed as a “dime-store New Deal” – a pathetic capitulation to big government. “A Choice Not an Echo,” Phyllis Schlafly’s wildly successful campaign tract on Goldwater’s behalf, charged, “In each of their losing presidential years, a small group of secret kingmakers, using hidden persuaders and psychological warfare techniques, manipulated the Republican National Convention to nominate candidates who would sidestep or suppress the key issues.”
When Schlafly wrote this, the conservative movement was in a state of open mutiny against the Republican Party leadership. In the years since, conservatives have slowly won control of the party apparatus. There is no longer any serious intellectual resistance to conservatism among Republicans. Everybody within the party accepts its fundamental precepts (markets good, government bad), reveres the teachings of Ronald Reagan (himself a key force in the Goldwater movement), and draws ideological support from institutions aligned with conservatism.
The Phyllis Schlafly crowd took over the party, and Cruz knows it, so he thinks he’ll do just fine, maybe:
Goldwater had both a substantive program and a political theory that distinguished him from his party’s leaders. Cruz has only a political theory. Because he agrees with the policy goals of figures like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, all he can do to distinguish himself from them is stoke the suspicions of the base that those goals have been undermined from within. His shutdowns, his filibusters, his wild personal attacks – they all reinforce Cruz’s story. He is the one Republican too brave and pure to submit to the Obama agenda. If his tactics fall short, it merely serves to dramatize his colleague’s fecklessness.
All this is why so many Republicans despise Cruz, and it will make it difficult for him to win the nomination. But the loathing between Cruz and his party is not some failing of etiquette. It is his entire plan.
Will that work? Scott Lemieux, the professor of political science at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, who focused on the Supreme Court and constitutional law, does wonder about that:
The left will enjoy beating up on Ted Cruz. Will the right rally behind him? Cruz is a long shot to win the nomination, but he is a canny politician with enough of a base of support to act as an ideological enforcer during the primaries. And one of the most important orthodoxies he will be policing is total, uncompromising opposition to what will invariably be referred to as “Obamacare.”
Another notable aspect of Cruz’s announcement was the date: Monday was the fifth anniversary of President Obama signing the Affordable Care Act. The significance of this was swiftly grasped. Republican power broker William Kristol explained the symbolic importance of the date to his Twitter followers, and added that if “he makes zeal for repeal AND real plan to replace a centerpiece of his run, has a shot.”
Somehow I doubt that Cruz will propose that replacement. Cruz isn’t methodical; he’s all zeal and no plan, as evidenced by his unusual, quick burst announcement that he’s running for president. But before he burns out he’ll provide plenty of amusement for the left, and plenty of trouble for his more cautious colleagues on the right.
He was always formidable, as John Cassidy notes:
At Princeton, Cruz was a national debating champion (and was, according to a roommate, known to carry a book entitled, “Was Karl Marx a Satanist?”). At Harvard Law School, from which he graduated in 1995, he was also known as a formidable public speaker. “He had brilliant insights and he was clearly among the top students, as revealed by his class responses,” the Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz told the Daily Caller last year.
Those were the days, and Josh Marshall, back in September, 2013, was surprised when the woman who is now his wife reminded him that they both knew Cruz back at Princeton:
Ted and I went to college together. And not just we happened to be at the same place at the same time. We were both at a pretty small part of a relatively small university. We both went to Princeton. I was one year ahead of him. But we were both in the same residential college, which basically meant a small cluster of dorms of freshmen and sophomores numbering four or five hundred students who all ate in the same dining hall.
My wife meanwhile was also in the same residential college and she was actually Ted’s year – Class of 92. She totally remembered Ted and basically as a conceited and fairly nerdy jerk.
But the weird thing was I didn’t remember him. And the context here is that I have a really good memory. If we meet after twenty years, I’m far more likely to remember you than vice versa and I’ll probably remember little details about you too. I don’t forget a lot of stuff, especially people. But I didn’t remember the name or the guy I was seeing on TV.
As it turned out, though, almost everyone I knew well in college remembered him really well – vividly. And I knew a number of his friends. But for whatever reason I just didn’t remember him. When I saw college pictures of him, I thought okay, yeah, I remember that guy but sort of in the way where you’re not 100% sure you’re not manufacturing the recollection.
Marshall was curious about that:
Was this just my wife who tends to be a get-along and go-along kind of person? So I started getting in touch with a lot of old friends and asking whether they remembered Ted. It was an experience really unlike I’ve ever had. Everybody I talked to – men and women, cool kids and nerds, conservative and liberal – started the conversation pretty much the same.
“Ted? Oh yeah, immense asshole.” Sometimes “total raging asshole.” Sometimes other variations on the theme. But you get the idea. … But that wasn’t all. Before retelling this or that anecdote, there was one other thing that everybody said, “A really, really smart dude.”
Not much changed, and there’s this:
But there’s more to the story – because my wife didn’t just go to college with Ted. She also went to law school with him. They were both in the same class at Harvard Law School. And it was actually from Harvard where she seemed to have the strongest and most negative memories of him. So I started asking Harvard classmates about him too. Same stories:
One of the best was one I heard early this year from a number of people. Here’s the version I heard from an email back in February:
“My friend [redacted] went to Harvard Law with Ted. [He] says that Ted shocked people when during the first week, he announced that he was creating a study group and only people with high GPAs from the Big Three Ivies could apply for admission. In short, Ted managed to come off as a pompous asshole at Harvard Law.”
As my correspondent notes, Ted managed to distinguish himself as an arrogant asshole at Harvard Law School, which is an amazing accomplishment since the competition there for that description is intense. …
At each stage, Ted did seem to collect a quite small but core group of friends/followers, mainly people who were deeply in tune with his politics (he was as rightwing on day one at college as he is today) and who took what most found to be his assholery as a form of take-no-prisoners conservative badassdom. Indeed, if you think this is an issue of whom I talked to, just like-minded people maybe, consider this: It perfectly mirrors what’s happened over the last year in the Senate. Cruz has a small handful of followers in the Senate; but basically everyone else in his Republican caucus despises him.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Ted was a big, big deal in the hyper-competitive and – c’mon – somewhat ridiculous world of college debate. So again … let’s not even belabor it.
There you have it:
This is why I’ve been saying since Ted Cruz replaced Michele Bachmann as the King of the Tea Partiers, that the reaction to Cruz in the Senate is simply the reaction Ted’s gotten at least at every stage of his life since he arrived at college in 1988 – an incredibly bright guy who’s an arrogant jerk who basically everybody ends up hating.
And now he’s running for president. He’s off, way off, and running – and Democrats could not be happier. A good chunk of the modern Republican Party will be pulling for an arrogant jerk that everybody eventually ends up hating. The rest of the Republican Party will be dismayed at that, and try to talk them into someone less maddening. The base will have none of that. Nominate a squish and they’ll stay home on Election Day. And so it goes. There’s no more to be said.