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Getting in Early to Find a Niche

For several months now we've been in that awkward part of the presidential campaign where it's pretty clear that several prominent candidates will be running but yet no one wants to make that first move of declaring their candidacy.  Leave it to the brash and bold junior senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, to shake things up by becoming the first major candidate to announce their candidacy in either party.  From the early looks of things, it certainly seems like the race for the Republican nomination is going to end up very crowded.  The ideologically diverse GOP electorate seems uninterested in a Jeb Bush coronation, and various factions have their own dream candidates: social conservatives are rooting for Huckabee and Santorum, hawks want Lindsey Graham, libertarian-leaning voters favor Rand Paul, and many of those nebulous "mainstream Republicans" think Rubio, Walker, or Jindal would be preferable to yet another Bush.  Because the race is going to be so crowded and competitive, I think announcing early and grabbing a lot of press attention was a very wise thing to do on Ted Cruz's part.  The challenge that Senator Cruz faces is explaining who he is and why he should be preferred above all those other guys.  That's going to be a tough task, but Cruz might just be unique, savvy, and idiosyncratic enough to pull it off.

I thought Cruz did a fine job overall in his announcement speech at Liberty University.  Judging from that speech, I think Cruz will run a different campaign than he was expected to run.  For starters, he clearly wants to compete for the religious and social conservative vote -- choosing to announce at Liberty University, the Christian university founded by Jerry Falwell, is a good indication of that, as was his speech which emphasized the importance of faith in his life and his opposition to gay marriage and abortion.  This was a shot against the bow of Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum...I wonder if Cruz is hoping that a social conservative tilt early in his campaign might dissuade one or the both of them from running.  Choosing to kick off a presidential campaign at a institution called "Liberty" has interesting connotations as well.  In particular, Cruz mentioned his opposition to government surveillance of US citizens in his announcement speech.  As a senator, Cruz supported the USA Freedom Act that would have reformed the NSA and limited its ability to conduct certain kinds of mass surveillance.  I would not call Cruz libertarian-leaning, really, when you consider his whole range of policies, but he has the potential to be a leader on this one issue.  Apart from Rand Paul, I'm not so sure any other candidate from either party will even talk about mass surveillance during this campaign.  Another notable thing about Cruz's Liberty University speech was his presentation of himself.  He told his personal life story in a compelling way and it's actually a great American story: the son of a Cuban immigrant fleeing a dictator (Batista, not Castro) and a pioneering female computer programmer makes good, becomes a senator, and is now running for president.  

Still, finding a niche isn't going to be easy for Ted Cruz.  It's just very difficult to bridge the hostile, competing camps that currently occupy the Republican Party.  For instance, the good will Cruz might generate among the liberty wing of the party by his support for reforming the NSA can easily be offset by his opposition to gay marriage and abortion and support for stricter immigration policies.  On the other hand, Cruz's mix of policies could enable him to thrive as a second choice candidate.  By that I mean he might not be the ideal candidate preferred by any particular wing, but he could be the candidate a lot of voters from different wings might settle for.  For instance, voters who might prefer Rand Paul when it comes to civil liberties but are more hawkish than the Kentucky senator could find themselves attracted to Candidate Cruz because his opposition to the surveillance state is combined with support for a robust foreign policy.  His greatest strength of all is probably his purity and sheer bloody-mindedness: he has only been a senator for a couple of years and his time in office has been marked by steadfast and total opposition to the policies endorsed by President Obama.  For someone with limited political experience, he's been remarkably adept at grabbing headlines both with legislation and theatrics; he's shown he is quite willing to battle Obamacare, Common Core, and amnesty until the end of time, largely regardless of consequences.  He scares some because of that unwillingness to compromise -- it's probably safe to say that his administration would be no more successful at achieving bipartisan understanding than the less firebrand Obama.  Thus, if there is a genuine hunger for political compromise in the country, Cruz's candidacy is doomed for sure, but there is also something appealing about knowing who a candidate is and where he or she stands.                   



This post first appeared on Learning Politics, please read the originial post: here

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Getting in Early to Find a Niche

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