Cruz’s clarity on ObamaCare clouds his presidential ambitions for 2016

Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) 21-hour-plus Senate floor stand against ObamaCare has galvanized the Republican Party’s conservative base, potentially boosting his presidential ambitions among party activists with influence in early-voting states like Iowa and South Carolina.

But Cruz may also have badly damaged a potential 2016 presidential bid by infuriating party elders and many in the GOP’s donor class, with his charge that those who didn’t agree with his tactics were abandoning conservative ideology.

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While Cruz energized right-wing talk radio and the GOP’s Tea Party wing, some strategists say his “with me or against me” rhetoric has so alienated deep-pocketed donors that they may turn their back on the Senate freshman if he comes courting.

“He definitely endeared himself to the grass roots, but presidential candidates need some of the big-money donors, and a lot of them are rolling their eyes,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said.

“He’s certainly created some enemies among the donor class and establishment folks by doing this. If he wants to win the Republican presidential primary, he’s going to have to mend some fences.”

Cruz ended his ObamaCare protest with a call for unity among Republican senators in trying to block Democrats from maintaining ObamaCare funding in a stopgap spending bill to keep the federal government running.

But he also slapped at colleagues who hold “lots of symbolic votes [but have] very little willingness to actually stand up and fight.”

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said Cruz was wrong to suggest other Republicans aren’t battling hard enough against ObamaCare.

“The confusion of principle and tactics is one of the things that makes this effort seem less a heroic, principled stand. One thing it’s not about is principle,” Norquist told The Hill shortly after Cruz took to the Senate floor Tuesday.

Norquist suggested Cruz and his allies raised false hopes among activists that congressional Republicans — first in the House, then the Senate — had the ability to defund ObamaCare by linking it to a government shutdown threat.

“If it doesn’t work … there are a lot of apologies necessary for questioning people’s principles and patriotism,” Norquist said.

If Cruz’s goal was to win favor with an outside-the-Beltway activist audience, he succeeded.

Glenn Beck tweeted, “Ted Cruz for President 16” during Cruz’s quasi-
filibuster.

Erick Erickson, editor of RedState
.com, described Cruz’s strategy as “brilliant” because he has “exposed Republicans who will not fight.”

But others have been scathing.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took to the Senate floor shortly after Cruz finished speaking Wednesday to rip the Texas senator for comparing Republicans who weren’t siding with his tactics to those who appeased the Nazis in the 1940s.

McCain said the “allegation does a great disservice” to the debate.

McCain’s public remarks echo private grumbling from many top Republican strategists.

“From a Republican operative’s perspective it’s kind of ugly. It’s cringe-worthy,” said one GOP operative who has worked on numerous presidential campaigns and is in touch regularly with top party donors.

“With some hardcore members of the base, they will see this as a noble effort, a worthwhile effort. But for a lot of people within the party, it’s head-scratching, quizzical, quixotic. … I’m hard-pressed to find anyone in town who doesn’t find this unhelpful and almost detestable.”

Cruz was never going to be a favorite of establishment donors. His short political career has been aimed squarely at standing in opposition to them. But this push against ObamaCare has likely helped to swell his donor list and raise his stature with activists.

He won his Senate seat in the first place by running hard against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, an establishment GOP favorite in Texas, and he has long relied on small-dollar donations from movement conservatives.

“Some people are overstating the damage he’s done to himself from the type of donors who want to support an establishment-type candidate. He’s not making himself friends within the leadership structure of the House or Senate, but I have real difficulty seeing how that affects a 2016 presidential campaign,” said Texas-based GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak, a contributor to The Hills Pundits Blog who supports Cruz’s efforts.

“I’d much rather have the base than the establishment.”

Cruz also helped himself with the party activists who hold substantial influence in the early-voting states of Iowa and South Carolina, where a Cruz presidential candidacy would likely live or die.

“This is something that conservatives in the state really like and have responded positively to,” said former Iowa Republican Party political director Craig Robinson.

“They like that someone out there gets it, that he understand the frustration we have and are willing to go ahead and fight.”

But time and again, the eventual winner of the Republican nomination isn’t the one favored by the grass roots, or even the one who carries those early states.

The winner has been the candidate with enough support from GOP donors to build the strongest campaign infrastructure and outlast the others.

Both Mitt Romney and McCain lost Iowa — and Romney also lost South Carolina — before winning the nomination.

Cruz is also not the only potential candidate with grassroots conservative appeal.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) have deep ties to different factions of the base, making it harder for Cruz to become the consensus base favorite.

“He strengthened his position in the early states, particularly Iowa and South Carolina, but you need more than just grassroots support to win the presidential primary in 2016,” O’Connell said.