Four reasons the Iowa caucuses will be a rude awakening for Ted Cruz

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas officially launched his presidential campaign this morning. Click here to watch his speech at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University or here to read the transcript.

As an outsider candidate, Cruz will need a strong showing in the Iowa caucuses to have any hope of becoming the last man standing against the establishment favorite for the GOP nomination. I don’t see that happening.  

Cruz released an online video overnight announcing his candidacy. My transcript:

Cruz’s voice over stock video: It’s a time for truth. A time to rise to the challenge, just as Americans have always done. I believe in America and her people, and I believe we can stand up and restore our promise. It’s going to take a new generation of courageous conservatives to help make America great again, and I’m ready to stand with you [pause] to lead the fight.

Delivering variations of this “courageous conservative” message, Cruz has been well-received by Republican audiences at several Iowa events, most recently at the Iowa Freedom Summit in January and the Iowa Agriculture Summit earlier this month.  

Theodore Schleifer previewed the Cruz primary campaign strategy in an article for the Houston Chronicle:

Over the course of the primary campaign, Cruz will aim to raise between $40 million and $50 million, according to advisers, and dominate with the same tea party voters who supported his underdog Senate campaign in 2012. But the key to victory, Cruz advisers believe, is to be the second choice of enough voters in the party’s libertarian and social conservative wings to cobble together a coalition to defeat the chosen candidate of the Republican establishment. […]

Senior advisers say Cruz will run as an unabashed conservative eager to mobilize like-minded voters who cannot stomach the choice of the “mushy middle” that he has ridiculed on the stump over the past two months in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. […]

Forty percent of the electorate may vote for the establishment candidate, the advisers predict, but Cruz will “crush” with the 25 percent of voters who come from the tea party bracket. He will then peel some second-choice support from the 10 percent who consider themselves libertarians and from the rest of the voters who identify as social conservatives.

Advisers to Cruz, the son of a pastor, believe he can make a special argument to these religious voters like the thousands of students he is expected to address at a basketball arena Monday at Liberty, a school founded by leader of the religious right Jerry Falwell. About half of the voters in the Iowa caucus this year are expected to be evangelical Christians.

The prospect of Cruz raising $40 million sounds like a pipe dream to me, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume he can compete in the money race on that level.

The strategy laid out by his advisers will likely fail in Iowa for several reasons.

1. Cruz won’t dominate any niche in a crowded presidential field.

The Iowa caucus campaign will be nothing like Cruz’s 2012 primary for U.S. Senate, where he was the tea party’s David again one establishment Goliath.

Some twenty Republicans are seriously thinking about running for president. Half of them will probably take the plunge, and most of those will compete in Iowa, for lack of better avenues.

Several candidates will be vying for tea party support, including some establishment types like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Texas Governor Rick Perry. Senator Marco Rubio can also boast of upsetting a heavily favored, less conservative candidate in a GOP primary.

Dr. Ben Carson can appeal to conservatives looking for a fresh face and Washington outsider.

Senator Rand Paul most likely has Iowa GOP’s libertarian wing locked up. Although Cruz took the bold step of opposing the Renewable Fuels Standard at the Iowa Agriculture Summit, he falls short on some other issues of importance to “Liberty” voters. For instance, he has been more willing to accept some Patriot Act provisions that Paul opposes.

Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and others have solid social conservative credentials and have spent years building relationships in Iowa. I’ve noticed lately that Iowa activists backing Santorum are spreading the word on social media that Cruz believes states have the right to legalize same-sex marriage (or in the preferred conservative parlance, “believes 10th amendment trumps Natural Law”). The Texas senator was singing a different tune at a recent “Pastors and Pews” event in Des Moines, but rivals will be highlighting any inconsistency or sign of heresy as the campaign heats up.

Peeling off “second-choice” support is a non-starter. In the Iowa Democratic caucuses, a candidate who is the second choice of many can benefit caucus-goers realign to candidates who have cleared the 15 percent threshold in each precinct. Nothing like that happens at Iowa GOP caucuses, where attendees write their first choice for president on a piece of paper. End of story.

Being the second choice for tea party, social conservative, or libertarian activists could help Cruz in later primaries, if he makes it to the short list of contenders after Iowa and New Hampshire. But I doubt that will happen, because

2. Cruz can’t win the presidency, and everyone knows it.

In today’s speech, Cruz implied that a strong religious conservative would be best positioned to win the next election: “roughly half of born again Christians aren’t voting. They’re staying home. Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values.”

The data I’ve seen do not support Cruz’s claims about evangelical turnout. But even if that were a real path to a Republican victory, Cruz doesn’t project an electable image.  

As far as I can tell, Iowa conservatives like what they hear from Cruz. They like lots of people. Iowa polls from 2011 showed the lead cycling through four or five different candidates during the six months before the caucuses. Representative Michele Bachmann placed sixth on caucus night with 5 percent of the vote–not because Iowa Republicans disliked her rhetoric, but because they gravitated toward more credible alternatives after coming to view her as non-viable.

I don’t know how this year’s race will develop. Maybe Cruz will spend some time in the top tier of GOP candidates, maybe not. My hunch is that most of the Iowans who respond to his message will end up caucusing for a different alternative to the right of Jeb Bush.

Incidentally, I don’t buy the speculation that Representative Steve King will be a “secret weapon” for Cruz. King stayed above the fray in 2012, and my money’s on no endorsement before next year’s caucuses either. His heart may be with Congressional insurgents, but he also has a good relationship with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, hated by many on the right. My hunch is that King would endorse early only if he believed that doing so was the last chance to derail a speeding establishment train. In that scenario, others seem better suited than Cruz for the role of the “stop Bush” candidate.

3. Cruz has nothing to show for his work in the Senate.

Cruz told the Iowa Freedom Summit audience in January,

“In a Republican primary every candidate’s going to come in front of you and say, ‘I’m the most conservative guy that ever lived. Gosh darn it, hoodiddly I’m conservative,'” Cruz said. “Well, you know what? Talk is cheap. The word tells us, ‘You shall know them by their fruit,’ and one of the most important roles of the men and women in this room, the men and women of Iowa will play is to look each candidate in the eye and say: ‘Don’t talk. Show me.'”

Cruz offered his own check-list for conservatives, calling for the end of ObamaCare, reigning [sic] in the EPA and adopting a simple “flat” income tax. He joked that by closing the Internal Revenue Service, all of the agency’s employees could be redeployed to provide security along the southern border.

Cruz postures as a conservative hero, but what has he accomplished? He announced his presidential candidacy on the fifth anniversary of Congress passing the 2010 health care reform law, but he hasn’t managed to repeal or defund that law, let alone propose a viable alternative. His 21-hour filibuster in September 2013 didn’t block funding for Obamacare, and the federal government shutdown the following month was a short-term political disaster for Republicans. It’s no surprise that Cruz didn’t mention his filibuster or the government shutdown in today’s speech at Liberty University.

The constitutional point of order Cruz raised late last year didn’t help overturn President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration. Last month, he failed to stop Congress from approving a “clean” Homeland Security spending bill, stripped of language on immigration policy.

The whole federal government is now funded through September 30, the end of the current fiscal year. This summer and early fall, as the next continuing spending resolutions are drafted, Cruz will have opportunities to draw attention to himself as he pushes the Senate toward a hard line on spending. But when the dust settles, Cruz and his tea party allies will likely be empty-handed, as they were in October 2013. Congressional GOP leaders do not appear to have the appetite for another government shutdown.

Several other GOP presidential candidates can run on their records as governor. They can point to concrete achievements such as laws restricting access to abortion or undermining labor unions or spending less on safety net programs, rather than pie in the sky talk about a flat tax or abolishing the IRS. If I were writing the governors’ stump speeches or preparing them for debates, I would encourage them to borrow Cruz’s line: “Don’t talk. Show me.”

4. Retail politicking in Iowa will reveal Cruz’s unpleasant personality.

Cruz has crafted a public image that appeals to aggrieved right-wingers, but I expect him to have trouble maintaining this shtick during the long slog of Iowa meet and greets, barbecues, and county fairs.  

Phony narcissists are hardly rare on the presidential campaign trail. Truth be told, I’ve caucused for one myself. But Cruz is unusual for being so intensely disliked by so many people who have known him. As Jason Zengerle wrote in 2013, it took this guy less than a year to become “the most despised man in the U.S. Senate.”

Josh Marshall wrote the definitive post on this subject for Talking Points Memo a year and a half ago. The consensus view of acquaintances from Princeton University, Harvard Law School, and the college debate circuit: Cruz is a really smart guy who is also an “Unbelievable A#*hole,” “immense a*#hole,” or “total raging a#%hole.” Also, the self-styled warrior against elites was so pretentious as a first-year Harvard Law student that he announced plans to form a study group only for “people with high GPAs from the Big Three Ivies” (Harvard, Yale, Princeton).

I don’t believe Cruz can schmooze thousands of Iowans in living rooms, coffee shops and Pizza Ranches without letting that arrogance show. Ask Bruce Braley what happens when one careless comment is caught on camera and uploaded to YouTube.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. For those who believe in Cruz as a viable presidential candidate, please tell me why I’m wrong.

P.S.- For your irony files: Liberty University requires students to attend assemblies (including today’s speech) three times a week, or else face disciplinary action. Ah, the sweet smell of freedom!

Also, students at that ostensibly conservative school collectively receive more federal financial aid than the student body of any other college in Virginia.

UPDATE: Social conservative talk radio host Steve Deace is high on Cruz, declaring him “winner of the week” in his latest blog post. Deace believes Cruz “articulated a bold but broad vision that contrasted greatly with President Obama’s destructive agenda (Commandment #7), and could also be sold in a general election by a credible candidate.” Furthermore, Deace loved the fact that

Team Cruz plans to eschew the hiring of expensive GOP consultants and strategists, and will instead target activists on the ground for campaign staffing positions instead. While not all GOP consultants/strategists are bad people, and several of them are even my friends, the culture of this industry is quite rotten as a whole.

We like to say “personnel is policy” around these parts, so by Cruz choosing to surround himself with everyday American patriots, that is the first tell-tale sign he doesn’t plan on abandoning his base (Commandment #6).

Deace predicted that a number of “Liberty” activists in Iowa will defect from Rand Paul to Cruz.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Jacobs reported for the Des Moines Register that Cruz plans to sign up for health insurance through the federal exchange he wants to abolish.

“We will presumably go on the exchange and sign up for health care and we’re in the process of transitioning over to do that,” Cruz, a Republican candidate for president, told The Des Moines Register Tuesday.

Cruz’s wife, Heidi, is going on an unpaid leave of up absence from her job at Goldman Sachs to join Cruz full time on the campaign trail, Cruz told the Register.

The Affordable Care Act has plenty of flaws, but at least people who lose employer-provided health insurance can now buy a policy without being turned away because of a pre-existing health condition.

  • Here's how to describe Ted Cruz...

    In a language he can understand: “All hat, no cattle.”

  • Cruz

    I still think Huckabee can win the Iowa caucuses.  The media then shifts and puts a ton of weight on New Hampshire, Huckabee tanks in New Hampshire and then South Carolina looks for another candidate.

    For an elite debating expert, did anyone ever notice that Cruz never debated the legislative specifics of the ACA?  John Barrasso at least gave it a shot.  Mr. Cruz just made himself look like a pain.    

  • Fill in the blank

    DMDem, I’m still hopeful we can take your #4 and apply it to Christie and most of the rest of the likely list of Republicans!

    “Retail politicking in Iowa will reveal _______’s unpleasant personality”

    Maybe you can just set up a macro?  🙂  

  • "It's a time for truth."

    On Meet the Press on Sunday, there was a clip of Cruz telling a bald-faced lie about climate change.

    Debates on this should follow science and should follow data. And many of the alarmists on global warming, they got a problem because the science doesn’t back them up.

    Fortunately, Gov. Jerry Brown was there to respond:

    What he said is absolutely false. … That man betokens such a level of ignorance and a direct falsification of the existing scientific data. It’s shocking and I think that man has rendered himself absolutely unfit to be running for office.

    I think any climate change denier is unfit to hold public office.

  • rude awakening?

    dmdem probably is correct about Cruz getting a rude awakening in Iowa. Who knows, almost a year out? I do know there’s a possibility another candidate might get a rude awakening in Iowa and it won’t be the first time for her. It’s plain to this outsider that Iowa Democrats crave the opportunity to debate, be energized and have the opportunity to caucus for somebody else. Anybody else.

    • the "anybody but Hillary" sentiment

      was way more prevalent in 2007 than it is now.

      She gets 70 percent in the caucuses easily.

      • Hillary

        I hate to play identity politics, but I think if there was a charismatic, young Hispanic or Latino (either male or female) with a solid, progressive voting record out there Hillary would have a stiff challenge.  That person is not out there.  

        If Elizabeth Warren had spent more time in electoral politics (say two terms in the U.S. Senate) she would probably seriously consider a bid against Hillary.  I think Warren feels like Hillary has been in more battles than she has for different groups over the years, and doesn’t really want to throw another obstacle in her way.  

        • no Harvard professor from Massachusetts

          will ever be elected president in my lifetime.

          We need Warren’s voice in the Senate, so I am happy to see her stay where she is.

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