You could call him the Texas Reagan.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz is announcing today that he is a candidate for president.
The announcement will come in a speech at Liberty University, the famous Virginia school founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. There will be no “exploratory committee,” with Cruz moving straight to an announcement of candidacy. This will make the Texas son of a Cuban immigrant and one-time star of Harvard Law School the first officially declared candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
In a conversation with The American Spectator, Cruz made it plain that he intends to pursue a 21st-century version of the insurgency strategy pioneered by the late Ronald Reagan. Bringing together the Reagan wing of the GOP that is composed of national security, social, pro-growth, and libertarian conservatives. The Reagan coalition broadened the base of the party to bring in everyone from evangelicals to women to union workers to Latinos. Reagan’s nomination battles in both 1976 (when he almost defeated GOP Establishment favorite and sitting president Gerald Ford) and 1980 (when he defeated Establishment favorite George H.W. Bush) summoned a virtual army of supporters who had previously never spent a day in politics.
This would be well in keeping with Cruz’s record in the Senate, where Cruz has stood in decidedly Reagan-style against the Republican Washington Establishment, notably with his bold plan to defund Obamacare in 2013. That line-in-the-sand tactic, something Reagan used repeatedly as candidate and president to draw a bright red line between Republicans and Democrats, was furiously assaulted by many of Cruz’s Republican Senate colleagues and most of the Establishment GOP, with some GOP senators going out of their way to deliberately sabotage the Cruz effort to defund the highly unpopular mandatory health program.
Cruz was also opposed at the time by other potential GOP presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Chris Christie, as well as the losing 2012 party nominees Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Insisting Cruz was badly damaging the party’s 2014 chances was former Bush 43 top White House aide Karl Rove. In February 2014, when Cruz, in another line-in-the-sand moment insisted on holding Senate Republicans accountable in a vote to raise the debt limit, the Establishment GOP turned on him again. The Wall Street Journal editorialized that Cruz was “The Minority Maker.”
In fact, the 2014 elections brought a tidal wave of support for the Republican Party, giving it the best showing since 1928 with a take-over of the Senate and more seats in its House majority. Republicans even won governorships in the bluest states of Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland.
Thus it is that like Reagan, Ted Cruz has become highly unpopular with Establishment Republicans. Not to mention the foaming furies he ignites from liberals who, in the day, hated Reagan in precisely the same way. Cruz noted with a laugh that liberals always dismiss Republican presidents as “dumb,” with the exception of Nixon who was seen as “evil.” In fact, after our conversation a Cruz talk in New Hampshire was reported as scaring the wits out of a three-year old when he said “the world is on fire.” In fact, the child’s mother later came forward to say that contrary to the evil image of Cruz that was portrayed as scaring her child, the little girl saw Cruz as a hero — the fireman who would put the fire out. It takes no imagination to see where the national media wants to go with Cruz.
Meanwhile the party’s grassroots greet Cruz in his Outside-the-Beltway appearances in a fashion reminiscent of a Reagan himself. In the aftermath of the failed 2013 Cruz-led effort to defund Obamacare, even as the liberal media was filled with stories castigating his efforts and citing the fury of his GOP Senate colleagues The Hill newspaper headlined: “Cruz to get hero’s welcome in Iowa, NH.”
Cruz has even brought back Reagan’s description of the GOP Establishment as “fraternal order” Republicans.
Cruz’s announcement comes as the GOP Establishment is in the middle of a swoon for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Bush, as with his father in the 1980 GOP primaries when then ex-Ambassador George H.W. Bush opposed former California Governor Reagan , is popular with cautious, rich donors and Washington lobbyists who have routinely pushed for moderate GOP nominees. The strategy has failed repeatedly, most recently in the 2012 Romney debacle.
Cruz has told the Spectator that he sees the Establishment GOP and their consultant allies as those who give the advice to be more moderate, then when the advice proves consistently wrong when it comes to winning elections (not to mention in governing) the same people come back the next time and give the same losing advice all over again.
To illustrate the point he recalls the night he won his Senate Republican primary over the heavily favored Establishment candidate — and wealthy — Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. A well-to-do Texas GOP donor dropped by the Cruz victory party to congratulate the upset winner. Looking around the room at the celebrants, the donor remarked that he didn’t know anybody. To which Cruz smilingly pointed out that the Dewhurst party was filled with the well-to-do and well connected while his election brought out a broad, Reaganesque coalition of waitresses and workers who were not part of the GOP elite. Cruz crushed Dewhurst by a fourteen point margin and went on to win his seat in another landslide.
This was Reagan’s view of broadening the Republican Party as well, and Cruz says that he believes expanding the party base is all about attracting voters with conservative principles. Not just holding these principles in theory — but standing up for them when it counts. Reagan’s view was that the GOP should move the center to the right — not, as the GOP Establishment believes, move the right to the center. It was Reagan who brought Jerry Falwell and social conservatives into a broadened GOP — and thus it is no accident that it is Falwell’s Liberty University that Cruz has chosen as the place to launch his campaign.
There is a history here that can be summarized in a couple key snapshots. When Reagan challenged Gerald Ford, Ford’s supporters repeatedly made the point that only a moderate Republican could win a national election. Ford lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter. Four years later Ford was still making the argument, telling the New York Times in March of 1980 as Reagan was on his way to defeating George H.W. Bush in the primaries that Reagan was too “extreme” to win a national election. Reagan defeated Carter in a landslide, a landslide that increased to 49 states four years later. And a look into some statistics from the Reagan-Ford-Carter battles signal just why Ted Cruz believes he has the right strategy.
When one looks at the numbers of the Ford 1976 and Reagan 1980 and 1984 races as supplied by the Roper Center’s Public Opinion Archives, time after time Reagan increased the GOP share of the vote that Ford and his Establishment GOP campaign were completely unable to do.
Hispanics gave Ford a mere 18 percent of the vote in 1976, but four years later gave 37 percent to Reagan — more than double. Likewise with union households, Ford could muster only 38 percent while Reagan came in at 45 percent. Establishment Republicans proclaimed in the day (not to mention now) that moderates attract Democratic votes, but Ford only won 20 percent of Democrats in 1976 while Reagan won 27 percent four years later. As always the “women’s vote” was deemed critical for a GOP victory. In 1976 Ford won 48 percent of the women’s vote, Reagan dropped a mere point to 47 percent in 1980, then increased the GOP share to a whopping 58 percent in 1984 — a full ten points above Ford’s total.
Texas obviously has a full share of the Hispanic vote. Which makes this story from the Houston Chronicle interesting. It says that when Ted Cruz was elected in November of 2012 — at the same time the Establishment GOP’s Mitt Romney was on the presidential ballot — exit polling among Hispanics “showed he outperformed Romney and Republican congressional candidates by 6 percent.”
Again, to be noted, Ted Cruz did not swamp the Establishment GOP’s David Dewhurst or do better than Mitt Romney with Hispanics because he moderated his views. Ted Cruz ran as a flat-out Reaganesque conservative and like Ronald Reagan himself he won in a landslide.
Cruz frequently cites Reagan’s views about the need for a “bold colors” Republican Party — he did so again to The American Spectator — as opposed to what Reagan disdained as an endlessly losing “pale pastel” GOP or, that other Reagan label of moderates, the “fraternal order Republicans.” And as with Reagan, it is Cruz’s actions that have made him a hero to the base and a target of Establishment wrath.
It was and is the actions in office of each man that infuriated Establishment Republicans not to mention enraging liberals on both Capitol Hill and in the media. Reagan was determined to govern by conservative principle, to avoid what his friend Margaret Thatcher called governing by the “socialist ratchet,” defined as a liberal government moving the government left, only to be succeeded by a conservative government that merely managed the changes and acquiesced in the leftward drift. Reagan was determined to move the government in a conservative direction.
He was famous for firing the striking air traffic controllers when all kinds of Washington-types told him it just couldn’t be done. When Reagan delivered his famous speech (penned by speechwriter Tony Dolan) calling the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire,” Reagan biographer Steven Hayward recalls, a moderate ex-Ford staffer now in the Reagan White House — this would be now-CNN commentator David Gergen — called the line “outrageous.” Gergen and others removed the line from the speech. Only to find Reagan himself not only insisted on putting the line in but went on to “toughen” the speech “with some flourishes of his own.” The reaction of liberals to Reagan’s speech recalls the outrage of liberals now directed at Cruz. Reagan, it was fumed, “was contemplating holy war” against the Soviets, was guilty of a “simplistic theology,” and had delivered “the worst presidential speech in American history.” Somewhere Reagan is watching the torrent of criticism that has rained down on Cruz’s head from the GOP Establishment, Democrats, and the media and is nodding his head in recognition.
Across the board Reagan acted on his “bold colors” beliefs. Whether it was vetoing a Clean Water bill (knowing full well his veto would be overridden and that he would be abandoned by terrified Congressional Republicans), sticking by his nomination of Edwin Meese to be attorney general after Democrats held it up for 13 months, supporting the Nicaraguan contras (or “freedom fighters” as Reagan called them), nominating a conservative Rehnquist, Scalia, and Bork for the Supreme Court or declaring to his national security adviser that his goal in the Cold War was “we win, they lose” — Reagan was repeatedly doing then what Ted Cruz does now in the Senate. Reagan was continually amazed at the timid nature of his Establishment critics, privately disdaining them as “rabbits when we needed tigers.”
To borrow the Reagan formulation, Ted Cruz is a tiger, not a rabbit. One Cruz effort after another is pursued in Cruz’s Reaganesque fashion. From the effort to defund Obamacare to demanding financial information from Obama Pentagon nominee Chuck Hagel (in the process illustrating Hagel was decidedly not the best fit for the job — something confirmed when the President later fired Hagel) to fights on the debt limit or defunding Obama’s amnesty, Cruz is utterly unafraid to take bold positions and stand his ground. After making crystal clear in a speech to a group of Middle East Christians calling themselves “In Defense of Christians” that he would “stand” with Israel — and receiving a repeated chorus of boos making it impossible for him to be heard, in utterly Reagan style Cruz said calmly that he would not remain and speak to those who refused to “stand with Israel and the Jews.” With that, borrowing from Reagan’s response to Gorbachev at Reykjavik, Cruz walked out.
The latter point on Israel underlines that Cruz, as he told the Spectator, believes in Reagan’s Cold War-winning “peace through strength” strategy when it comes to national security and foreign policy. Holding up his hands to illustrate the Reaganesque midway-point, he sees himself as midway between Senator Rand Paul (who describes himself as a “realist” not an “isolationist,” a description Paul critics like the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephen’s call “faux Realism” and “unformed”) and the Bush 43-era neoconservatives.
Cruz noted to the Spectator that the only country Reagan ever invaded was Grenada — a country in which there was an active, in-progress Communist coup designed to establish another (after Cuba and Nicaragua) Soviet base in the Western Hemisphere. When it was mentioned that Reagan had sent troops to Lebanon, he nodded in agreement at the point that Reagan had learned the hard way about committing troops abroad with the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. Reagan’s post-Lebanon view that “the United States should not commit its forces to military action overseas unless the cause is vital to our national interest” is along the lines of what Cruz advocates.
One could go on and on here. Ted Cruz is, of course, not Ronald Reagan. As with every other human on the planet, there was only one Reagan. But human qualities — in this case the ability to speak clearly while acting boldly on conservative principle and to be smiling equably while he stands his ground (wife Heidi Cruz says her husband never gets mad, and in fact Cruz makes a Reagan-like point of of never personally attacking his adversaries) — can be shared traits. And in this case, Ted Cruz and Ronald Reagan share these traits in abundance.
The entry of Senator Cruz into the presidential race will without question clarify what has become a furious battle — make that yet another furious battle — between the endlessly losing, always timid GOP Establishment that has shown itself utterly incapable of expanding the party base and the party’s much broader Reaganite base.
Notably, one source in the Cruz Texas camp says that former President George W. Bush is in fact livid at the Cruz candidacy against his brother Jeb. In fact, if so this is only a confirmation of how the GOP found itself in this position in the first place.
It is worth recalling that the base’s growing alienation from the Establishment is inextricably entwined with the experiences of the two Bush presidencies. The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan — an ex-Reagan speechwriter — writes that “…at the end of the day Bushes always break the party.” The first break came after then-Vice President Bush repeatedly pledged his loyalty to conservative principle and then, in a blink, once elected violated his own “read my lips, no new taxes pledge.” Eventually losing after one term and getting a mere 37 percent of the vote against Bill Clinton. The Bush 43 presidency, Noonan notes, broke the GOP over immigration and the two un-won wars, making things even worse by labeling the Reagan base in the immigration debate as “nativist.” He left office with a popularity rating of 22 percent. Both Bush presidents paved the way for Democrat successors — Clinton for Bush 41, Obama for Bush 43.
“History comes and goes,” Reagan observed, “but principles endure and inspire future generations to defend liberty, not as a gift from government, but a blessing from our Creator.” It is a sentiment that is reflected in both Ted Cruz’s words, and his actions.
There is a long, long way to go in the race for the Republican nomination. The race is underway.
Today, Ted Cruz enters the lists declaring his intention to take on the “fraternal order” Republican Establishment in a battle not just for the nomination but for the soul of the Republican Party and the conservative movement that Reagan led to such considerable success.
It is safe to say that as with Reagan, Ted Cruz’s adversaries can’t stand him. Which, in the eyes of his admirers, is more than enough to see the newly declared candidate as the Texas Reagan.
The campaign begins.