The Road to 2016: Time to Talk About Ted
Note: Original GovMatt.com profile was here.
The Official Race for the White House in 2016 started on March 23, 2015 with the announcement by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas (at Liberty University) that he would be seeking the nation’s top job. To most folks who watch politics, this announcement does not come as much of a surprise as Cruz has been seriously considering a run for a few years.
Let’s answer a few questions:
Why did Cruz announce so early?
First, all-things-considered, this is not a very early announcement for seeking the Presidency. But, you might respond, we are still over forty weeks out of Iowa and nearly ninety weeks from the actual election! You’re absolutely right. It’s a long time. However, we’ve generally known that Cruz, along with several other Senators, Governors, and businesspeople are looking strongly at getting into the race. It’s not a surprise that the race (which has been going on since before the 2014 midterm elections) has had its official start in March of 2015. For comparison, the race in 2008 started in January of 2007.
While there is a significant risk of fatigue among voters, making the race official is little more than a formality when the American public was already being bombarded with the potential race whether you had declared your candidacy officially or not.
There is also a practical reason that Senator Cruz announced this early (and the reason Senator Paul looks to be announcing on April 7): the Senate calendar. When the Senate convenes, it is particularly difficult for sitting Senators to get away and campaign for the White House without looking like they are shirking their duties on Capitol Hill. Moreover, announcing while the Senate is in session does not lend itself to a rollout tour to capitalize on favorable press.
The next window for Senatorial candidates to declare would be the Memorial Day holiday. This is already breaking into the summer and there’s significantly less of an audience sticking around talking about politics on Memorial Day.
The First Step Towards Nomination
For whatever your opinion is about Ted Cruz’s politics, the man is an exceptional speaker who is able to galvanize similarly-minded individuals and has become a beacon for Tea Party purists. Cruz has repeatedly doubled-down on his anti-Obamacare rhetoric after having gained national prominence with his speaking filibuster in an ultimately futile attempt to defund the unpopular program.
A strict hawk who has been repeatedly (see: announcing at Liberty University) been making overtures to the strident Christian right, Cruz has effectively defined the way he intends to run his campaign: appeal to the hard right and be unapologetic about it. His calculation here is to effectively cut the knees out from under any other hard-right conservatives entering the race and ensure a voting bloc that has a tremendous amount of power in the Republican primary.
Cruz’s biggest day-one rivals are the myriad of small-time players who are looking to define themselves as “the conservative alternative” to establishment candidates like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. Names like Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson are the most prominent on the early list. Likewise, the ultra-fringe niche “candidates” like Donald Trump and former UN Ambassador John Bolton are in this group. While the fringe folks like Trump may not declare for the White House, Cruz needs to make sure that he is the one defining the Tea Party message going forward. It’s critical that Cruz not get drowned out in the cacophony of little voices and the fractious nature of the hard-right wing of the Republican Party.
The Rest of the Path to the Nomination
It’s too early to tell what type of money Cruz is able to bring to bear in this race. If he is able to muscle-out other conservatives, there is a deep well of cash in the evangelical wing of the Party. However, if the likes of Huckabee, or any of the other niche Christian-conservatives, jump into the race, Cruz could find himself coming up short on cash after only a few early states.
Cruz needs a decent finish in Iowa. At least at this very early stage, Cruz doesn’t look to have the ground game in the first-in-the-nation caucuses to pull out the top-spot. While his doctrinal rigidity will play well with the hardcore conservatives, Cruz’s real power doesn’t come until the primary season swings into the south (note, there’s really no play for Cruz in New Hampshire).
Cruz will have to bank on getting a lot of play in South Carolina and other early southern primaries in advance of Super Tuesday. Cruz, by that point, will likely be hurting for cash and a win in the South means that he will be able to finance the campaign going into the delegate-rich mid-game contests.
While all of this is contingent on the electoral landscape staying the same over the next year, Cruz’s path to the nomination means consolidating the conservative base and then hoping that there are enough establishment candidates in the race to divide that bloc.
Cruz’s best scenario is going up against Bush, Christie, Rubio and Kasich. Senator Rand Paul is an outlier for Cruz. Cruz would benefit from being an ally of Paul to the extent that it shows he can cooperate with the libertarian-minded base, but Paul, who has few allies in the hawkish-Christian-conservative bloc (the same ones who booed Paul’s father at a debate in South Carolina when the elder Paul advocated for a foreign policy governed by the “Golden Rule”), will not likely bring in any new support for a Cruz campaign.
And Against the Democrats?
If Ted Cruz got the nomination, he’d have a very difficult time beating a moderate Democratic nominee. The predictable Hillary Clinton nomination means that Clinton will have run as a centrist Democrat who is not above making some concessions on healthcare reform and maybe even sounding hawkish on national security.
Cruz has yet to show much appeal to the middle-of-the-road “swing” voters. Especially in an election where Republican control of the Senate is up for grabs, Cruz’s hard-line conservatism, while galvanizing to a segment of the base, may not translate into national victory.
Still, at the moment it is too early to predict what a national Cruz campaign will look like if it progresses to that extent.
If Cruz can keep other evangelical conservatives out of the race, he could stay in deep into the primary contests next year. However, smart money would say that Cruz will be one of several prominent conservative in the race and will likely drop out after finishing in the middle of the pack in South Carolina.