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Cruz '16? Texas senator's path might not be so easy


Conservative firebrand Ted Cruz, the Texas senator whose service in office is just four months long, is considering a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, according to a report on Wednesday by National Review.

The Texas Republican has quickly won the fervent support of grassroots conservatives since his election last November by breaking with Senate convention to aggressively challenge Democrats – and some Republicans, too. Citing anonymous sources, the National Review article suggested Cruz might look to quickly capitalize on his newfound fame, and rally conservatives behind his candidacy.

But there are significant barriers to Cruz winning the GOP nod in 2016, let alone winning the White House. Here are a few of them:

Mark Wilson / Getty Images file photo

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas

Cruz would face tough conservative competition
While Cruz has charmed figures ranging from conservative bloggers to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, he could encounter a Republican primary field that would hardly cede the most conservative bloc within the GOP to Cruz. 

It’s easy to conceive of a series of Republican presidential hopefuls – Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (and possibly more) – vying for the same segment of the Republican primary vote as Cruz. Any one of those candidates will almost encounter difficulty in harnessing the political power of the Tea Party, a movement that has never been particularly well-known for acting in concert.

Fantasy vs. reality
If Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s bid for the Republican nomination in 2012 taught political observers anything, it’s that being a potential candidate is always easier to execute than being an actual candidate.

Conservatives, searching for an alternative to the establishment-backed favorite, Mitt Romney, practically begged Perry to make a late entry into the primary. They extolled his conservatism and the positive jobs situation in Texas, arguing that his record, combined with a top-notch team of consultants, would make Perry the new favorite for the GOP nomination.

Of course, things didn’t turn out that way. Perry withered under the national spotlight and the scrutiny of rival Republican candidates. Recent history is littered with examples of similar primary candidates, like Democratic hopeful Wesley Clark in 2004, and former Sen. Fred Thompson’s foray into the GOP primary of 2008. Their candidacies fizzled after having won broad acclaim at their outset.

Cruz would almost certainly face stiff opposition in a Republican primary that could expose any of his flaws as a politician. Wednesday’s National Review article cited Cruz’s experience as an award-winning debater, but his performances in those contests have never been filtered through the prism of rival campaigns or the national media.

The establishment would strike back
Cruz’s path to the GOP nomination would almost certainly rely on an outside strategy in which he courts conservative activists and rails against the party establishment in Washington. But would the D.C. establishment necessarily take that kind of criticism while sitting down?

In 2012, the GOP establishment quickly rallied around Romney, if only after it became apparent that there would be no other serious contenders for the presidency available. And when it seemed as though the more conservative Rick Santorum might emerge to dethrone Romney during the primaries, there were serious rumblings that GOP money men might scramble to find an alternative candidate who they regarded as more formidable versus President Barack Obama in the general election.

Given Cruz’s conservatism, it isn’t tough to imagine the GOP establishment rallying around a candidate perceived as more electable to if a Cruz candidacy  came too close to victory.

It doesn’t help Cruz that he’s forged few alliances during his short time in the nation’s capital. He most recently derided many of his congressional colleagues as “squishes,” and spoke publicly about internal Republican debates that were supposed to remain confidential. Cruz has worked with a few fellow conservatives, but two of them – Paul and Rubio – could end up being rival candidates for the GOP nomination in 2016.

Oh, Canada!
The National Review article acknowledges that Cruz advisers are prepared for a legal challenge to his eligibility to serve as president, reminiscent of the “birther” attacks conservatives had leveled against Obama for much of his first term. 

At issue is Cruz’s birthplace. He was born in Calgary, Canada, the son of a Cuban refugee father and a U.S. citizen mother. Having been born outside the continental U.S., he would have to address questions about whether he is a “natural born” U.S. citizen, which the Constitution requires of a prospective president.

But even if Cruz is able to offer up all the evidence in the world of his eligibility, it’s not tough to imagine Democratic candidates and super PACs relishing in the chance to give a Republican his comeuppance, and turn the “birther” phenomenon back against a GOP hopeful. 

He’s barely a blip in the polls right now
Cruz could certainly raise his national profile in the next few years, but the Texas senator hasn’t yet registered as a contender for the GOP nomination in any credible poll testing the 2016 field.

A Quinnipiac University poll at the beginning of last month found that Rubio was the slight, early favorite among Republican primary voters; 19 percent of them said they would favor the Florida senator as their nominee in 2016. And while other contenders like Paul, Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell all registered some level of support, Cruz did not.

Cruz still faces the challenge of building his reputation outside of conservative, Washington-focused circles. But he still has plenty of upside, too; having been a figure on the national stage for such a short period of time, Cruz’s name ID among primary voters has virtually nowhere to go but up.

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