Sometimes it’s hard to remember that a little more than a year ago Ted Cruz was just an underdog candidate for a Texas Senate seat that was assumed to be in the pocket of the state’s longtime lieutenant governor David Dewhurst. Fast-forward a year and Cruz not only has a pair of decisive victories in the GOP primary and general election under his belt, but is also the favorite of Tea Partiers nationwide and widely spoken of as a likely presidential candidate for 2016. But Cruz isn’t stopping to appreciate his meteoric rise. He’s taking it all in stride as if it is his due and even acting in ways that make it apparent he is taking the presidential talk seriously.
Cruz’s visits to early-voting states like Iowa are a clear indication of the way he’s sampling the presidential waters after only a few months in the Senate. So, too, is the disproportionate attention he’s generating in the liberal media, as illustrated by the Daily Beast’s piece published yesterday that allowed the senator’s Princeton roommate and others to trash him as a “creepy” and “arrogant” ideologue. That’s the sort of unfair treatment that the mainstream media usually reserves for GOP frontrunners (i.e. last year’s Washington Post scoop about Mitt Romney’s high school pranks), not long shots three years in advance of an election.
But just as significant was the way Cruz handled “birther” questions about his eligibility for the presidency. To say that the discussion is premature is to understate the matter, but Cruz wasn’t taking any chances about the story spreading in the fever swamps of the right where he is quite popular. The senator released his birth certificate, confirming that his mother was a U.S. citizen living in Canada at the time he was born, and renounced any thought of Canadian nationality. That makes him a citizen and unless some judge rules otherwise (presumably after he has already been sworn in, which is the only time anyone would have any standing to take the issue to court), that’s that.
But while this is fascinating material for liberal Cruz-haters who have elevated him to the status of the new Joe McCarthy, the person who should really be worried about the Texan’s rise is not a Democrat: it’s the senator’s libertarian ally Rand Paul.
Paul and Cruz seemed to have adopted a friendly, if somewhat wary relationship as they’ve joined forces on several issues like the push to de-fund ObamaCare and spreading fear about the National Security Agency. But Cruz represents the most potent threat to Paul’s efforts to establish himself as a first-tier presidential candidate in 2016.
Unlike other possible presidential contenders, Paul has not bothered trying to maintain a diffident air about the possibility of trying for the White House. Like the media that covers him, he often speaks as if it is a given that he will run. The assumption is that he has inherited the libertarian fan base of his father Ron, who was a perennial, if marginal, candidate. Paul has taken that faction mainstream and the success of his 13-hour filibuster was a signal that he could not be ignored as a gadfly.
But though Rand appeals to a far wider audience than Ron did, that libertarian and Tea Party base is not so broad as to allow him to survive a viable competitor. If Cruz continues to grow in influence on the right, it won’t bother more moderate conservatives like Chris Christie, outsiders like Scott Walker, or even Marco Rubio, whose stand on immigration now positions him closer to the middle of the spectrum. But it presents a clear and present danger to Paul’s ability to capture the right wing of the party. Libertarians may be a greater force in the GOP than they have ever been before, but it is not so great as to allow both Cruz and Paul to run without essentially torpedoing each other.
The more attention, including from hostile liberals, that Cruz gets on the national stage the more worried Rand Paul should be.