As Ted Cruz took the stage at Liberty University to announce that he’s running for president as the One True Conservative, it suddenly occurred to me that he actually has a chance to pull it off.
The smart money dismisses the idea, and with good reason. The party establishment can’t stand him. His fellow senators can’t abide him. If you look at the early polls weighing the crowded Republican field of would-be candidates, voters don’t seem particularly enthralled, either.
And then, of course, there’s the Cruz unlikeability quotient, which has to be the highest since Nixon. Meanwhile, according to fivethirtyeight.com, which has done the numbers, Cruz is the most conservative presidential candidate in recent memory, even if your memory bank includes Michele Bachmann. There’s conservative (see: Scott Walker) and there’s conservative (see: Ted Cruz). Candidates as far out of the mainstream as Cruz just don’t win. You could look it up.
[pullquote]He can talk the angry, liberty-deprived, Obamacare-oppressed, amnesty-obsessed, climate-change-denying wing of the Republican Party into the idea that he’s the candidate they’ve already talked themselves into voting for.[/pullquote]
So, how could he do it? Let’s call it the mirror test. Cruz is betting that he can talk the angry, liberty-deprived, Obamacare-oppressed, amnesty-obsessed, climate-change-denying wing of the Republican Party into the idea that he’s the candidate they have already talked themselves into voting for.
You know his bonafides, and they have nothing to do with Harvard Law School. Running as a longshot outsider, he won a Senate seat in 2012, by which time Republicans had long since dedicated themselves to opposing all things Obama. And yet, somehow, inside of a year, he had become the ultimate anti-Obama figure, who proudly cites his role in the anti-Obamacare government shutdown. John McCain may have called him a wacko bird, but that’s just how you become an anti-establishment Tea Party favorite.
Every four years, Republicans threaten to nominate someone like Cruz. And Cruz, who has been running for president since he got to the Senate, thinks the time is now.
He has made the case often enough that compromise is the real danger for Republicans. Here’s what he told the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin: “It is amazing that the wisdom of the chattering class to the Republicans is always, always, always ‘Surrender your principles and agree with the Democrats.’
“That’s been true for my entire lifetime. The chattering classes have consistently said, ‘You crazy Republicans have to give up on what you believe and become more like Democrats.’ And, I would note, every time Republicans do that we lose.”
In Cruz’s version of history, conservatives win — Reagan, the first Bush’s first run, George W. Bush — and moderates lose — the first Bush’s second run, Dole, McCain, Romney. You can guess where he puts the latest Bush. And despite the conventional wisdom – that he’d be destroyed in a general election – you can guess where he puts himself.
In Cruz’s announcement speech, which he delivered without notes, he called for Tea Partiers and Evangelicals to unite behind him. He told them how his father — a Cuban refugee who had moved to Canada, battled a drinking problem and left him and his mother — had found Jesus, reunited with his family and changed their world. Cruz called upon the Liberty students, who were, uh, mandated to be there, to imagine a world that sounds something like a right-wing fever dream. If you trust the applause, the students were dreaming along with him.
Cruz used “imagine” in the John Lennon sense — if you can imagine Lennon as a Tea Partier — maybe three dozen times. Fortunately Cruz didn’t sing, but you can pick up the tune, from which he imagined a world without Obamacare, without the IRS, with a flat tax, with every word of Common Core repealed, with a president who stands by Israel, with a president who respects the Second Amendment, with a president who respects marriage (not including the same-sex kind), with a president who protects the borders (presumably from child invaders), with a president who calls radical Islamic terrorism by its name. And on. And on.
My favorite part of the speech came when Cruz took a historical tour to show how Americans overcome all odds. He began with Patrick Henry in 1775 giving his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech, moved on to the signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, to George Washington in 1777 with his troops in the freezing cold, jumping to FDR (in a bipartisan turn) in 1933 telling frightened Americans the only thing to fear is fear itself, to, finally, Ronald Reagan himself.
Here’s the part on Reagan: “Imagine it’s 1979 and you and I were listening to Ronald Reagan and he was telling us that we would cut the top marginal tax rate from 70 percent all the way down to 28 percent. That we would go from crushing stagnation to booming economic growth to millions being lifted out of poverty and into prosperity and abundance. That the very day he was sworn in, our hostages who were languishing in Iran would be released and that within a decade we would win the Cold War and tear the Berlin Wall to the ground. That would have seemed unimaginable, and yet with the grace of God, that’s exactly what happened.”
It’s unimaginable to me that Cruz would have included cutting top marginal tax rates among the courageous moments that have marked American history. One day it’s a tax cut, the next it’s the end of the Cold War.
That may not be the way you were taught the story. But it’s the way that Ted Cruz, champion Princeton debater, can tell it. You know he sees himself in the Patrick Henry role. Now imagine if enough Republicans actually agreed.
[ Photo: Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz at 2011 Values Voter Summit by Gage Skidmore.]