Could Ted ‘Cruz’ to the GOP Nomination?

His principles and fearlessness inspire the conservative base, but may not translate pragmatically into getting elected.

By Rachel Alexander Published on April 11, 2015

Last month, Texas Senator Ted Cruz became the first major Republican candidate to formally announce his run for president. A favorite of the conservative base, he deliberately chose to make his announcement at Liberty University, opening with, “I am thrilled to join you today at the largest Christian university in the world.” If there was any doubt which candidate was going to court Christians the strongest, Cruz tried to remove it with this speech and venue. In his speech, Cruz, a Southern Baptist, told the story of how his father, a pastor, became a Christian.

Cruz recited a long list of Obama policies he opposes, in the passionate, bold style he is known for. He peppered his speech with lines like, “Imagine a president who says, ‘I will honor the Constitution and under no circumstances will Iran be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.’” Unlike some of the GOP candidates who take more moderate positions on illegal immigration, Cruz firmly denounced Obama’s “lawlessness and the President’s unconstitutional amnesty.” He defended religious liberty, specifically mentioning the federal government’s attack on Hobby Lobby and the sanctity of marriage.

The Pulse 2016, a new site monitoring the 2016 presidential candidates, rated Cruz an A- on handling the Indiana religious freedom bill controversy. Cruz initially came out strong, defending Governor Mike Pence for signing the bill and defending Christian businesses’ right to freedom of conscience, but he hasn’t said much about it since. Other potential candidates who scored worse than Cruz were Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham. Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal and Jeb Bush scored higher than him.

Cruz became a U.S. Senator in 2013, but the conservative base first really warmed to him in September 2013 when he gave a marathon speech protesting the funding of Obamacare,  lasting over 21 hours. The American Conservative Union rates his votes as Senator 100%. He has championed conservative principles since at least as young as age 13, when he  participated in a group called the Free Market Education Foundation, learning about free-market economic thinkers such as Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Frédéric Bastiat and Ludwig von Mises.

On foreign policy, Cruz has said he is “somewhere in between” Rand Paul’s “basically … isolationist” position and John McCain’s active interventionism. He has long championed abolishing the IRS and replacing it with a flat tax, declaring, “imagine abolishing the IRS.” He is strongly pro-life, allowing an exception only for danger to the mother’s life.

Cruz has always shrugged off the establishment, able to raise money without cozying up to the powerful, more moderate business interests that can make or break candidates. This makes him a credible threat to Jeb Bush, who is widely considered the establishment candidate and has those interests backing him. By jumping in first, Cruz snagged several big donors first. Super PACs backing him raised $31 million in a single week shortly after his announcement, “one of the biggest fundraising surges in modern presidential-race history.”

Is this conservative favorite electable?

What are Cruz’s chances at winning the GOP nomination? He is attracting both Christian evangelicals and the Tea Party, important wings of the conservative base. The evangelical vote is crucial in the early primary states of Iowa and South Carolina. However, potential candidates who might take away a substantial portion of Cruz’s evangelical vote are Mike Huckabee (a former pastor) and Rick Santorum (a devout Catholic). Huckabee dropped his TV show in December, a signal he was considering the race, and Santorum was spotted in Iowa earlier this month. And Cruz probably won’t have a wrap on the Tea Party, since a significant portion prefers Rand Paul.

The late William F. Buckley, Jr., once said the best candidate to support is “the most right, viable candidate who could win.” While Cruz has stellar conservative credentials, how would he fare in the general election against the Democrat, considering moderates and independents generally decide who wins general elections? His principles and fearlessness inspire the conservative base, but may not translate pragmatically into getting elected. His style of speaking is quite bold, and some worry he is unwilling to compromise to get things done, a quality that could alienate moderates. But if he tones down his message, he risks becoming too vanilla, boring people and fading into the background.

Also, Cruz is 44 years old, which would be fairly young for a president. Many believe Obama was promoted beyond his ability and experience, entering presidential office at age 47. Those voters may now put a premium on years and experience. On the other hand, Cruz’s impressive educational record at Princeton and Harvard law, his standout debate performances, his impressive legal career, including a clerkship under U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, and his out-sized impact on the national scene as a first-term senator suggest for many a wisdom and gravitas beyond his years.

Then there is his personal background. He is the son of a Cuban-born father, meaning Cruz might attract much-needed Latino votes in the general election, adding to his appeal. As Cruz likes to say about his nontraditional persona, tying together his Christian roots with his Latino roots, “I’m Cuban, Irish, and Italian, and yet somehow I ended up Southern Baptist.” His father, Rafael Cruz, is a pastor who has been actively helping Cruz reach out to the Christian community.

Cruz has significant hurdles to overcome to take the nomination, but if he can recreate a modern day Ronald Reagan, that has cross appeal to both evangelicals in the early primary states and the ethnic minority wing of the party, he might be able to pull it off.

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