One of the worst kept "secrets" in Washington was that Ted Cruz wants to run for president in 2016. But it is a secret no more. National Review Online's Robert Costa officially put Cruz's name into the mix of Republican wannabes with an article announcing that the freshman Texas senator is eyeing the race. I would say that as a liberal Democrat I'm rooting for him, but a Cruz-anyone ticket just seems too implausible to hope for.
It's somewhat ironic, I suppose, because Ted Cruz is an almost perfect distillation of the extremism that has come to dominate the Republican Party. The GOP's biggest problem, as I've written before, is the gap that has grown between the Republican mainstream and that of the voting public in general – and the conservative base's apparent obliviousness or apathy to it. A Cruz candidacy would be perfectly symbolic of that: Someone considered a rock star by the base who holds no appeal at all to swing voters.
To me, this was the most telling paragraph of Costa's piece:
Enter Cruz. His supporters argue that he'd be a Barry Goldwater type – a nominee who would rattle the Republican establishment and reconnect the party with its base – but with better electoral results.
For the record, such a candidate has already come onto the scene. His name was Ronald Reagan (who rattled the establishment before taking it over and actually won his race). It speaks volumes about where the Cruz team and the conservative movement are that they're not even bothering with the obligatory Reagan comparisons and are going straight to Goldwater.
But the comparison is appropriate because the same can be said of Cruz that was once said of Goldwater: In your guts, you know he's nuts. ThinkProgress's Ian Milhiser has a useful guide in that regard today about the five – count 'em, five! – conspiracy theories that Cruz believes. It's a grab bag of lunacy: George Soros wants to abolish golf? Check. Commies, radical Muslims … even one I hadn't heard of about George W. Bush (yes, that George W. Bush) trying to destroy Texas's sovereignty. And he didn't even mention that Cruz is worried that the United Nations is trying to take our guns.
But all of that is substantive. Cruz has an even more basic problem: He utterly lacks charm. It's again instructive that the comparison Team Cruz makes is with Goldwater and not Reagan: The Gipper conveyed his conservatism with a winning smile and charm whereas Goldwater had angry principal.
New York magazine's Dan Amira sums it up perfectly:
Cruz is smug, unlikable, and, as David Brooks recently observed, "off-putting." In his short time in the Senate, he's irritated members of both parties with a take-no-prisoners attitude and tactics that have been compared to those of Joseph McCarthy – one GOP senator told Politico in February "that fellow Republicans were already getting 'annoyed' by Cruz's antics." He's not a bridge-builder, working to solve problems; he's a gotcha-obsessed, far-right partisan enamored with his own intelligence and dedication to his principles.
Yep, sounds like a fairly good candidate for the GOP. Alas, that scenario is almost certainly too good to be true.
Updated 5/1/13: Cruz posted a statement on his Facebook page responding to the 2016 speculation. He writes:
In my short tenure, my focus has been -- and will remain -- on two things: fighting for conservative principles in the Senate, and working to help elect strong conservatives to win a majority in the Senate in 2014. The Senate is the battlefield to defend liberty.
I was elected because thousands of grassroots conservatives came together to protect the Constitution, shrink the federal government, and promote growth and opportunity. It is a continued source of amazement that the simple fact that I am working hard with like-minded Senators to keep my promise is seen as newsworthy and cause for wild speculation. This isn't so much a non-denial denial as a non-response response. I'm amazed people are talking about how awesome I am. If nothing else it is useful for offering up a new nickname for the Senate ("the battlefield to defend liberty" perhaps appropriately evocative of the equally awful "Battlefield Earth") now that knee-jerk filibusterism is ruining the chamber.