The launch of Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzTHE MEMO: Trump takes the fight to Congress Brietbart CEO reveals that Trump donors are part owners At CPAC, Trump lashes out at media MORE’s presidential bid Monday has prompted an outpouring of excitement and delight — from Democrats.
To liberal activists, the firebrand Texan is much too far to the right for the nation at large and too extreme to even win the Republican nomination.
But they want nothing more than for him to run strongly throughout the primary season. The more momentum he develops, they argue, the more likely he is to push the eventual GOP nominee further to the right than that person will want to go.
“Ted Cruz makes a good bogeyman,” said Jamal Simmons, another Democratic strategist who has worked for several presidential campaigns.
It is not just political professionals who are rejoicing over Cruz’s announcement.
“#TedCruz is in!” liberal comedian and TV host Bill Maher tweeted Monday. “Yeah, man — what’s not to love about a guy who acts like Joe McCarthy and sweats like Richard Nixon?”
Cruz’s Republican supporters, naturally, believe he will prove the naysayers wrong. They argue his outsider appeal and fervent conservatism is just what the nation needs.
They also note that the GOP has racked up an unenviable track record in the past two election cycles, choosing presidential nominees — Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in 2008 and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012 — who were deemed electable by Washington insiders yet defeated handily by President Obama.
The Cruz loyalists are also likely to hark back even further, noting how Ronald Reagan was once thought to be too conservative for the nation’s tastes.
A fellow Republican, former President Ford, called Reagan “unelectable” in the spring of 1979, less than two years before Reagan would thump incumbent Democratic former President Carter and usher in a new era of conservative ascendancy.
The Reagan parallel gives even some Democrats food for thought.
“I recall the legend of folks in the Carter White House saying they wanted to run against Ronald Reagan. … So I approach the GOP field with a degree of humility,” Paul Begala, a strategist for President Clinton’s 1992 victorious presidential campaign, said in an email to The Hill.
Begala added that Cruz has “Barack Obama’s education and Sarah Palin’s politics. He could unify the three anti-establishment [GOP] factions: for the Tea Party, he engineered the government shutdown; for the Christian evangelicals, he opposes a woman’s right to choose even in the case of rape and incest; and for the libertarians, he says Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. To paraphrase George W. Bush, I would not misunderestimate Sen. Cruz.”
The longtime pundit’s phrasing, of course, slyly highlighted the reasons many Democrats believe Cruz simply can’t get elected in a nationwide race.
They contend that the traditional conservative rhetoric of his announcement speech — and his choice of Liberty University, the evangelical college founded by the late Jerry Falwell, as the venue — point to Cruz as a kind of anachronism who might have had a better chance if he were running in 1976 rather than in 2016.
“The Republican Party is going … to have to decide whether it wants to win, given the reality of where the American voter is, or do they want to keep tilting at windmills?” Kofinis said. “Cruz is a windmill-tilter. He wants the country to be something it’s not and hasn’t been for 20 or 30 years. It’s more diverse and not as conservative on social issues.”
Democrats are already seeking to portray Cruz as emblematic of the GOP at large.
No sooner had Cruz launched his campaign Monday than the Democratic National Committee blasted out an email to reporters in which DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) labeled the Texan as “the de facto leader of the Republican Party in recent years.”
That phrase also alluded to Cruz’s role in the 2013 government shutdown that was aimed at defunding ObamaCare and was widely seen as a failure for Republicans. Earlier that year, McCain famously referred to Cruz as among his party’s “wacko birds.” On Monday, centrist Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) derided him as a “carnival barker.”
The across-the-board skepticism about Cruz’s chances as a potential national candidate is founded in recent opinion polls.
In three polls conducted since the beginning of February, Cruz fared among the worst possible options for Republicans. The surveys asked about hypothetical presidential contests between various GOP nominees and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton
In the most recent poll, conducted earlier this month by Marist, Cruz’s deficit against Clinton was a full 14 percentage points (39 percent to 53 percent). However, Clinton only led by 7 percentage points against Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and only 4 versus Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Cruz loyalists will point out that such polls are meaningless at this stage, citing the precedent of his underdog victory in the 2012 Texas GOP Senate primary that launched him to conservative stardom. Allies argue he is smarter and far more appealing than his detractors suggest.
But Democratic glee over his candidacy won’t erode anytime soon.
“Go, Ted, go!” exulted strategist Chris Lehane, who worked in Bill Clinton’s White House.