It’s good to be Ted Cruz.
At a time when most of America, regardless of political persuasion, is beyond fed up with career politicians, it pays to be the new kid in town. In past eras, the idea of a guy being elected president who had no prior executive political experience, or had yet to even serve a full-term in the U.S. Senate, would’ve been laughable. But the culture in Washington, D.C. has become so corrupt, that your value as a politician starts to decline from the moment you’re inaugurated. Just as a brand new car declines in value the minute you drive it off the lot. Voters are looking for fresh faces.
Cruz has already vaulted into a national figurehead position within the conservative movement. He’s become the national political face of the conservative opposition to statism, and a recent poll found he was the third most influential person in the world. He draws rock star crowds just about wherever he goes.
To be sure, Cruz is a talented politician. His combination of fearlessness, intellect, and winsomeness has been lacking in the Republican Party for a generation. The skills he honed as a constitutional attorney arguing cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and his past as an Ivy League debate champion, are on full display every time he’s on camera or on stage. If you’ve ever heard his father Rafael speak then you know where Cruz’s convictions come from.
But his sudden stardom is just as much an indictment of the sorry state of the GOP before his arrival on the scene as much as it’s about him. No matter how gifted he is, Cruz could only step to the forefront so quickly if most of his GOP brethren weren’t already in the fetal position—hiding from both the Left and the mainstream media. Like when Saul’s army would not stand up to Goliath, so it took a youngster named David to slay the giant, Cruz’s meteoric popularity would not be possible without the collective gutlessness of his peers.
But now that Cruz is a known quantity, he will be vetted more thoroughly. The bad news is there’s probably no place for him to go but down when you’re already number one. The good news is he’s probably already made enough deposits in the grassroots’ bank account to withstand a disappointment or two.
In my opinion, as the only potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate who already has equally high standing with the social conservatives at the Family Research Council (where he blew away the field in their recent 2016 straw poll) and the Tea Partiers at Freedom Works, Cruz is best positioned to capture the nomination as it stands today. But the 2016 nomination isn’t decided today, and a lot can happen over the course of the next 27 months.
Here are four things I believe Cruz should be mindful of:
1. Personnel is policy.
When you combine his lack of an extensive political record with people’s already high expectations of him, the opportunity for Cruz to disappoint the grassroots is always there. Nowhere is that more lethal then when it comes to endorsements. The grassroots is as organized as its ever been for the 2014 primary cycle, eager to get rid of several undocumented Democrats masquerading as Republicans. Cruz probably doesn’t have to spend his political capital providing a face to those efforts if he thinks it’s not a worthwhile investment ahead of 2016, but he can’t be saddled with bad endorsements like Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee have already done to themselves, either. The grassroots has come to understand that personnel is policy, and just having a rock-solid party platform is not enough. Without the right champions in place, Republicans can nullify conservatives even better than Democrats can, because they can do so internally. It was the grassroots’ willingness to defy the elites that put Cruz in the U.S. Senate in the first place, so he cannot bite the hand that fed him.
2. Words Mean Things
When you’re new to politics what you say and how you say it matters even more, because voters don’t have much of a record to fall back on when judging you. Case in point, I received several emails from social conservatives who were disappointed by Cruz’s remarks on the marriage issue during a recent appearance on The Tonight Show. Did Cruz punt on the issue, or acknowledge that given the reality of Washington, D.C. we’re more likely to win it at the state level? Cruz needs to remember when you’re a standard-bearer you need to realize the potential ramifications of everything you say.
3. Majority Rules.
Life in the minority when you can take the most principled stands possible isn’t easy, because politics never is, but it is simple. When you know you’re most principled positions aren’t going to see the light of day, you don’t have to consider things like collateral damage and the law of unintended consequences. But when you’re in a majority, as Cruz may find himself after the 2014 midterm elections, pressure quickly mounts to become “a team player.”
Just ask Rick Santorum, who was sort of the Ted Cruz of the 1990s. Santorum was beloved by the grassroots back in the day, until he felt the pressure in a majority position to be “a team player.” During the 2012 primary Santorum spent much of his campaign having to explain bad endorsements and bad votes that came from that time, which ultimately led to him losing his senate seat by a historic margin for an incumbent.
That pressure is even more palpable when you have a scant 51-49 majority, which the Republicans could very well end up with after this year. For example, does Cruz vote for “better” legislation that could pass with his vote, or say no because it’s not necessarily “good” legislation? When you consider the grassroots he represents wants to defeat the Marxist Statists running the Democrat Party and not negotiate with them (they don’t negotiate anyway), that puts Cruz squarely at odds with most of his own caucus. Of course, by now he’s probably used to that.
4. The Palin Factor
We in the grassroots love Sarah Palin, but we cannot deny both the Left and the Republican Party establishment (pardon the redundancy) have at least somewhat effectively marginalized her from being taken seriously as a standard-bearer by other Americans. They would love to do the same to Cruz. Now, Cruz is better prepared for this moment than Palin was coming out of Nowhere, Alaska, but the effort to “Palinize” Cruz will reach a fever pitch by the time we get to 2016.
They will attempt to make Cruz toxic by taking his fearlessness and turning it against him. Make him seem so radical he’s incapable of getting various factions to work together to accomplish anything. Cruz’s depth of worldview can save him from that, as well as his winsomeness. But that alone won’t be enough. He needs something else.
He needs a plan.
Cruz needs something the American people can actually say “yes” to. A plan to reform government by bringing it closer to what the Constitution intends, without so overreaching he can be demagogued. And it needs to be a plan that has depth but is also attainable for voters to easily and quickly understand.
When the conversation is about issues, advantage Cruz. When the conversation is about Cruz, advantage ruling class.
By no means does Cruz have the 2016 nomination wrapped up. But given what he’s already accomplished, and the fact he knows how to raise money, I’d rather have Ted Cruz’s problems than anybody else’s.