Much of the 2016 political oxygen on the Republican side of the aisle has been sucked up by establishment-leaning figures so far -- Jeb Bush forming his exploratory committee, Mitt Romney heavily weighing launching version 3.0, Chris Christie making telltale moves, etc. On the more conservative end of the spectrum, we have Bobby Jindal almost assuredly running (do read his hard-hitting speech on radical Islamism delivered in London yesterday), Scott Walker staffing up and sounding like a presidential candidate, and Marco Rubio reportedly inching closer to taking the plunge. And then there's Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, John Bolton, just to name a few additional potential entrants. It's enough to make your head spin. Indeed, the only major rumored candidate who's explicitly ruled it out is Paul Ryan, who'll prefer to have his hands on Congress' purse strings for the next few years. Rob Portman might count in this category, too, but that's more of a stretch. Which brings us to one of the more polarizing conservative figures in the country. Ted Cruz is a brilliant attorney and fervent conservative -- beloved by much of the grassroots base, viewed with suspicion and frustration among more moderate members of the party, and covered very heavily by the media. At age 44, some have wondered if Cruz might take measure of the ever-expanding and power-packed 2016 field, recognize his relative youth and red state job security, and keep his power dry for a future Oval Office run. Evidently not. This looks like a man who's running for president (via David Drucker):
Team Ted Cruz is taking shape, and the Senate first-termer's presidential campaign could start before this spring. The Republican senator from Texas tentatively plans to fill senior campaign positions with the triumvirate he signed last summer to expand his political operation. At the top is Jeff Roe, whose organizational title is undefined but who would be the campaign’s chief strategic and logistics decision-maker. Jason Miller would shape and oversee campaign messaging; Lauren Lofstrom would direct fundraising. Cruz is in the process of “feeling out” additional campaign hires and prospective donors in preparation to join the field of 2016 candidates. If the senator decides to run for president, he wants to hit the ground at full speed, a senior Cruz advisor confirmed Monday...Rounding out the team are pollster Chris Perkins, who earned plaudits for being among the few to correctly forecast November’s Georgia Senate race, and Jason Johnson, the senator’s longtime political consigliere. Nick Muzin, Cruz's deputy chief of staff in his Senate office, is steeped in South Carolina politics. He is viewed as someone who might take a leave of absence from Cruz' Senate office to join the campaign...“His early reviews among tea party audiences have been stellar in Iowa,” a Republican insider in the Hawkeye State told the Examiner. “I don't think he can appeal as broadly in the party or in the general electorate as other candidates, but his support will be intense among those voters who have the highest anger score.”
Dan wrote up this week's CBS News poll of Republicans, which contains good news for Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush (quite possibly a product of name recognition at this early stage), and bad news for Chris Christie and Sarah Palin (both of whom generate far more "don't run" responses from members of their party). Several of the other prospective contenders are slightly above water on the run/don't run question -- Huckabee, Rubio, Walker, Carson -- while others are narrowly underwater: Paul, Perry, Jindal, Santorum…and Cruz, at (21/25). I'll leave you with Cruz making his case to a crowd of conservative activists in South Carolina. He decries the GOP's "mushy middle," arguing that nominating another moderate guarantees another loss:
This is a preview of how Cruz will handle questions about "electability." It'll be welcomed by many conservatives, who are convinced that the party needs to be more conservative in order unleash the full power of the base, and win. This line of thinking runs the risk of ignoring a demographically shifting electorate, and it relies on the belief that millions of conservatives sat at home in 2012. The great Sean Trende runs the numbers and determines that it was more a case of millions of white voters staying home, many of whom did not fall easily into the "conservative" column. The GOP's demographic dilemma is real, even if it's exaggerated. Running hard to the right nationally may not reverse the party's fortunes, but Cruz appears poised to run on that advice, hoping that Republican voters will give him the chance to test his proposition.