Ted Cruz's '16 blues: Why his strategy to win the White House is badly flawed

Texan wants to win the presidency by rallying conservatives -- and hoping people forget why they dislike him

Published December 16, 2014 7:22PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Jason Reed)
(Reuters/Jason Reed)

Ted Cruz shut down the government; now he wants to preside over it. The junior senator from Texas is apparently moving closer to announcing his presidential candidacy, and National Review’s Eliana Johnson spoke to the people involved in Cruz 2016 who think they’ve figured out a way to propel their boy to the Oval Office: rally the conservative base, ignore independents, and eat into some of the traditionally Democratic constituencies.

It’s a strategy that’s very similar to the one embraced by Michele Bachmann in her ill-fated 2012 presidential campaign. Bachmann presented herself as a Tea Party champion, an uncompromising antagonist to the D.C. “establishment” (both Republican and Democratic), and a crusader for conservative causes. She enjoyed her short-lived frontrunner status, steadily bled support as concerns about her electability mounted, and abandoned the race after a terrible performance in the Iowa caucus.

Would the same fate befall Cruz? Obviously it’s tough to say – Cruz is a better politician than Bachmann ever was, but he inhabits the same space as a right-wing rabble-rouser with appeal that is concentrated among the hardcore conservatives. He also doesn’t have many friends (Cruz sets fire to bridges as they’re being built) and you can make a strong argument that he’s set back the cause of conservative governance by refusing to even entertain the notion of compromise. Bachmann was mocked, whereas Cruz is actively disliked.

But Cruz’s people have a plan: turn out the base and build a pro-Cruz coalition of Jews, Hispanics, and women. As National Review recounts, Cruz has been working to rally Jewish voters to his standard and make clear that “he wants their approval, acceptance, and financial support.” He spoke at a “Commentary” magazine event; he talked to Sheldon Adelson and Mort Zuckerman; he held a fundraiser at a kosher restaurant in Manhattan. Not mentioned by National Review was the speech Cruz gave in September that was so over-the-top in its support for Israel that it actually angered conservatives who felt he had insulted Christian groups in the Middle East.

Every four years we go through the same motions of wondering whether Jewish voters will abandon the Democrats for an especially super-duper pro-Israel Republican, and the answer is always the same: no. The portion of the Jewish electorate that votes based on Israel policy is small – somewhere around 6 percent – and it’s already reliably Republican. The rest of the Jewish electorate is overwhelmingly liberal and has only grown more reliable in its support for Democrats over the decades.

As for Hispanic voters, the notion of Cruz’s appeal rests on “internal polling showing that he won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in Texas when he was elected in 2012.” While there’s much to be said for two-years-stale internal polls, some stuff has happened since then that might color the Hispanic community’s opinion of Cruz. He opposed the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013, and he led House conservatives in undermining John Boehner’s fits-and-starts approach to reform. During the child migrant crisis, Cruz led the hardliners in insisting that any legislation to address the crisis be paired with an effort to defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Obama created to shield younger undocumented immigrants from deportation. To the extent that Cruz has a policy record on immigration, it emphasizes locking down the border and deporting as many people as possible.

On women’s issues, Team Cruz plans to “cite his speeches about the influence of the important women in his life, his support for Democratic senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill that would have removed sexual-assault cases from the military chain of command, and his attempts when he was a college student to confront the problem of date rape.” Speeches are nice, and I have no doubt Cruz was an enthusiastic activist in his college years. And his support for Sen. Gillibrand’s bill to reform the military’s sexual assault adjudication process sets him apart from his Senate colleagues. You know what else distinguished him from the vast majority of senators? His vote against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in early 2013, which he opposed as a state’s rights issue. He also has a habit of saying, wrongly, that emergency contraceptives are abortifacients.

This all gets to the core problem facing a Cruz presidential run in 2016: What political appeal he has is rooted in is his capacity to alienate everyone who disagrees with the absolutist version of conservatism he espouses. Tea Party conservatives love him because he’s not afraid to piss off Democrats and the Republican establishment in order to remain true to conservative orthodoxy, but pissing everyone off all the time tends to leave people with a negative impression. Team Cruz is pursuing a “rally the base/forget independents” strategy not because it’s the best way for them to go; it’s the only way for them to go.

And Team Cruz seems aware of the image problem their would-be candidate has, even if they’re not yet willing to admit it. “The assumption from one Cruz adviser is that it is the filter of the media that has generated the negativity surrounding Cruz and fueled the misperceptions about him,” writes Johnson. “If he runs for president, the idea is that voters will see him unfiltered, and that he will succeed in persuading them.”

This is self-serving nonsense that borders on delusion. There are no “misperceptions” about Cruz – his public image is precisely the one he set out to cultivate when he vowed to reject any and all compromise as a member of the Senate. You can’t spend your Senate career throwing bombs and then complain that the press are only covering the explosions. There's no mystery to why Ted Cruz is surrounded by negativity: he didn’t set out to be loved, and he’s not.

By Simon Maloy

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