Marco Rubio may not be the only Cuban-American thinking about the 2016 Republican presidential contest. Ted Cruz is weeks away from being sworn into the U.S. Senate seat he won last month, but the Texas Tea Party favorite is already starting to fuel speculation that he is thinking about the White House. Politico’s coverage of a Cruz speech this week in Washington takes the position that the incoming freshman senator from Texas’s bold assertion of conservative principles may mean that he’s got bigger things on his mind than getting acclimated to the upper chamber.
To say that he may be getting ahead of himself is fairly obvious. Cruz has yet to demonstrate that he can be a force on the national stage. And even if he does become a leading voice for conservatives, he’ll have plenty of competition with names like Rubio, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush, just to name the most prominent possible nominees. However, no one should be laughing at Cruz’s pretensions if indeed he really is already thinking big. As a landslide winner in the nation’s most important red state, the affection of the party’s conservative base and a Hispanic identity, a Cruz candidacy must almost by definition be considered a likely first-tier candidate in GOP primaries. But even if Cruz still has a long way to go before he can think about an elite status, Republicans ought to think about what such a development would mean for their party.
As Rick Perry’s abortive presidential candidacy showed, the reality of Republican politics in our era means that any prominent Texas Republican is always going to have a leg up. Perry was great at raising money and could have cruised to the nomination on the strength of strong support from Tea Partiers and religious conservatives had he not proved himself to be over his head in the debates.
Cruz appears to be far more articulate than Perry and could fit into an important niche as being far closer to the Tea Party base than any of the more prominent GOP names that are being mentioned for 2016. As the son of a Cuban immigrant, he also satisfies the perceived Republican need to appeal to Hispanics.
As for his lack of experience, it’s not clear that will be much of an advantage. Though Republicans tend to look at this subject more than Democrats, in 2016 Cruz would have as much time in federal office as Barack Obama had in 2008.
Though it’s not easy for any freshman senator to make a splash, the fiscal cliff negotiations could give him an opening if he winds up being one of the leaders of a Tea Party insurgency against a budget deal. That would not endear him to party leaders, but it could earn him a national reputation and solidify his status as one of the leading conservative voices in Congress.
Nevertheless, any craze for Cruz is premature. Unlike Obama, who had a star turn at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, all of Cruz’s triumphs have been in Texas, which leaves him open to skeptics who wonder if he is as unready for prime time as Perry was.
It should also be pointed out that unlike Rubio and most of the other major GOP contenders, Cruz’s stands on foreign and defense issues have been closer to that of isolationist Rand Paul than the Republican mainstream.
One interesting note about Cruz is that if he does run, his Cuban ancestry isn’t the only thing he’ll have in common with Rubio. Since Cruz was born in Canada it could feed the conspiracy theorists that have developed some original, if absurd ideas about who is eligible for the presidency. Like George Romney and John McCain, Cruz was not born in the United States. But since his mother was an American, he must still be considered a natural born citizen. But expect some who have questioned Rubio’s eligibility (although the Florida senator was born in the United States, his parents were not yet citizens) to probably play the same with Cruz.
To talk of Cruz as a presidential contender right now is a little silly. A lot can change in the next three years and we have no idea what issues or candidates will come to the fore by then. But the interest in the Texan should remind observers that any notion that the field for 2016 is already set is nonsense.