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Monday, 30 March 2015

US Presidential Race, GOP corner: Heeeerreee comes Ted Cruz, the right wing champion!

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It is easy to think of the US presidential race as starting sometime in September 2016 when the official fight between two major parties finally begins in earnest. But, the respective jockeying for the nomination in the two parties starts long before that. This year, Republican Senator from Texas Ted Cruz has already put his cards on the table. J. BROOKS SPECTOR takes a look.
Put your small, easy-to-frighten, sensitive children in a quiet, secure place of safety. Hide the family silver; change all your electronic passwords, and tie the garden furniture firmly to the ground, because the US presidential campaign is now officially – sort of – beginning.
On Monday, 23 March 2015, in defiance of the usual pattern, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz chose Liberty University in the small city of Lynchburg, Virginia – a Bible thumping college friendly to social conservatives and hard-line right wingers in the Republican Party since its creation by the late televangelist Jerry Falwell – to make a speech fleshing out his campaign announcement. His formal announcement, by Twitter, had actually come out a bit earlier, and that read simply: “I'm running for president and I hope to earn your support!”
Watch: Ted Cruz Presidential Announcement Full Speech (C-SPAN)
In the usual course of these things, right about now, those interested in considering a run for the nomination, or even those who think the supreme deity has been calling them to do so, usually have some eager friends set up an exploratory committee rather than a formal announcement. The exploratory committee tries to hustle up some money, to recruit likely senior staffers and supporters, and to test the waters in an effort to figure out who the competition is likely to be. That is what people like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Mike Pence, and Bobby Jindal are all poised to do right about now. The reason is simple: Once a person declares formally that they are a candidate, stricter fundraising rules come into effect, making it more complicated to haul in the cash as well as more restrictive in ensuring it is all carefully recorded and reported to the Federal Elections Commission.
In terms of those complexities of campaign funding, as the AP explained it, “By announcing what has long been obvious, Cruz triggers a host of accounting and reporting requirements about money he is raising and how he is spending it. To this point, he had operated his political organisation through a non-presidential committee that worked under different rules. By officially joining the race, he now operates under a more stringent set of rules, including being able to accept fewer dollars from each supporter.”
Ted Cruz clearly is not worried about all this standard issue campaigning. Rather, he is hoping his announcement, effectively a dash to the right of the Republican Party, will snare the attention (and maybe the support) of all the social conservatives, economic conservatives, fundamentalist-evangelical-born-again-Christians, the neo-conservative foreign policy types, and all those other miscellaneous Obama-haters (Republicans will be running hard against Obama, even though he won’t be on the ballot, come 2016). Thus the Cruz plan is likely to be an effort to box in everyone else – even before the game fairly begins. And that, in turn, is designed to start the harvest of declared candidate contributions (the clock starts again on contributions once the party’s nomination is won), even before the other campaigns are up and running.
As for those Obama haters, to get a flavour of things, Cruz had memorably said during his run for the Senate in 2012, “I think President Obama is the most radical president this nation’s ever seen… And in particular, I think he is a true believer in government control of the economy and of our everyday lives. In my judgment, we are facing what I consider to be the epic battle of our generation, quite literally the battle over whether we remain a free market nation.”
As the AP explained his early announcement, “Cruz was hoping to claim ownership of the influential and highly vocal corner of the Republican Party for whom cultural issues are supreme. It was [also] a move at crowding out figures such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor, and former Sen. Rick Santorum, who has made his Catholic faith a cornerstone of his political identity.”
In his actual campaign kick-off speech, Cruz promised to devote himself to “reigniting the promise of America.” And in setting out his broader vision, Cruz spoke of his religious beliefs, his father’s Cuban roots and his unwavering conservative credentials, saying, for example, that “for so many Americans the promise of America seems more and more distant.” (One can also imagine a Democrat saying that as well, of course, although there, the surrounding language would be couched in terms of improving equality in shares of the economic pie. Now, if Cruz’s formulation becomes a Republican message, it is going to be a rather interesting campaign.) Much of the rest of his speech was given over to standard dog whistles for the right, such as telling his enthusiastic Liberty University crowd that in Ted Cruz they should “imagine a president that finally, finally secures the borders” and “imagine a simple flat tax. Imagine abolishing the IRS.” That latter, of course, is the nirvana of Republican government haters throughout the nation.
Cruz, of course, is the senator who engaged in that modified filibuster in the Senate for nearly 24 hours in order to denounce (and hopefully defund) the Affordable Care Act, or as it more commonly called, Obamacare. His effort cheered the tea party constituency immensely and helped cement his ties with them – but it enraged much of the rest of his party who saw in him a grandstander and someone who would not work and play well with the party’s leadership. On that occasion, Cruz had memorably described fellow Republicans who would relinquish his fight to defund Obamacare by saying’: “Look, we saw in Britain, Neville Chamberlain, who told the British people, ‘Accept the Nazis. Yes, they’ll dominate the continent of Europe, but that’s not our problem. Let’s appease them. Why? Because it can’t be done. We can’t possibly stand against them.’ ” That sounds friendly to one’s fellow Republicans.
And, of course, characteristically, in his speech, Cruz wrapped himself in both flag and Bible, more or less simultaneously, telling the cheering students, “God's blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation and I believe that God isn't done with Americans. I believe in you. I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America. And that is that is why, today, I am announcing that I am running for president of the United States of America.”
Beyond the early start for his run for his party’s nomination, he also went about it differently than the usual style - neither announcing in his home state nor choosing a spot in Iowa or New Hampshire for the formal announcement. Iowa hosts the first caucus vote and New Hampshire has pride of place as the first primary election – and both are the twin epitome of retail politics where the campaigner gains supporters from long talks over coffee in private homes or at small “rubber chicken” dinners in places like church halls.
Cruz is the child of a Cuban-born father and an American-born mother who met in Canada during an oil boom, and he will doubtless try to position his candidacy as one where he is the first real Hispanic-American candidate for the presidency (although Marco Rubio may choose to argue that particular point). Although he was born in Canada, he has the benefit of a recent Harvard Law Review article, co-authored by attorneys who have represented both Democratic and Republican presidents before the US Supreme Court, that his citizenship as a “natural born” citizen per a constitutional requirement is not in doubt.
In explaining the ins and outs of Ted Cruz, back in 2012, the Washington Post’s introduction of him to its readers explained, “At Princeton he was a champion debater. From there he went to Harvard Law School. “Cruz was off-the-charts brilliant,” Prof. Alan Dershowitz told the National Review. Cruz was a founding editor of the Harvard Latino Law Review. After law school, Cruz clerked for Judge J. Michael Luttig on the Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. In 1996, he became Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist’s first Hispanic clerk.
“After a few years in private practice, Cruz met Josh Bolten, George W. Bush’s campaign policy director and another Princeton alum. He became a domestic policy adviser to Bush during the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign. There he met his wife, Heidi Nelson Cruz, another policy adviser. She now works for Goldman Sachs. When the election ended in a recount, they both went to Florida to work for Bush’s team, and the experience helped them both get jobs in government. Cruz served as assistant attorney general in the Justice Department and director of policy planning at the Federal Trade Commission.
“In 2003, Cruz was appointed solicitor general and returned to Texas. In his five years in the post, he wrote 70 briefs to the Supreme Court and argued before the court nine times. He was involved in numerous high-profile cases, including defending the Ten Commandments monument on the Texas State Capitol grounds, the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools and the 2003 Texas redistricting plan.” Thereafter his political ambitions blossomed further, leading to his successful run for the Senate in 2012.
Meanwhile, of course, eventually, Cruz will not be the only contender for the Republican nomination. And his early announcement may well flush out some of the others to advance their own planning calendars to dates in the month of April.
Now that former candidate Mitt Romney has decided not to run again, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a veritable crown prince of the party (although some feel the Bush dynastic texture may be too much baggage to carry into a general election), has relatively unfettered access to big contributors across the nation. And watch for him to make use of his own Hispanic connection in the person of his Mexican-born wife, Columba.
Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul from Kentucky also have obvious intentions of running as well. Rubio, like Cruz, will be trumpeting his Hispanic (Cuban) roots, although his relatively moderate stance on immigration reform may well sit badly with many right wing Republicans. Paul, on the other hand, has potential stumbling blocks in the form of his own modified version of his father’s neo-isolationist foreign policy positions. Dad is, of course, former congressman and presidential nomination contender Ron Paul.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is trying to advance his cause by arguing his street cred as a kind of conservative technocrat and as an ethnically South Indian son of immigrants who embodies the traditional promise of America. Indiana Governor Mike Pence continues to be mentioned by inside-the-Beltway political strategists as a man who has made state government work. But the governor with the most traction so far within Republican circles is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Walker has stumbled a bit in trying to burnish his foreign policy knowledge, awkwardly avoiding questions about international affairs during a trip to the UK and then in trying to argue his experiences in facing down public sector unions over collective bargaining rights was a good analogue for his dealing with the Islamic State, the Taliban, Boko Haram, or who knows who else who may come along on the terror front. (Cue the guffawing among the political cognoscenti right about now, along with their frowns when he couldn’t quite figure out if the incumbent president “loves America”.)
Rounding out the even vaguely plausible field are two former contenders for the nomination, angling to capture the faith-based voters. These are former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Huckabee is a preacher and television commentator who famously explained he was so poor while attending college that he sometimes ate fried squirrel cooked in a popcorn popper. Santorum, meanwhile, made his ritual wearing of sleeveless jerseys something of a fetish for his doomed campaign, as a sign of his being a man of the people.
All of these would-be candidates will – going forward – move even more forcefully to test out ideas, themes, pull quotes, and attention grabbers in their set, stock speeches, even as a growing army of pollsters and advisors try to measure how well these work with Republican primary and caucus voters – and campaign contributors, big and small. Moreover, the wannabe candidates are going to be refining messages that mesh – but stay carefully separate – from the advocacy messages of a rash of superPACs that will also collect money from donors - money that will stay legally distinct from the various campaigns of contenders.
In all of this, one thing is certain, with Cruz’s leap forward ahead of everyone else on the formal announcement front, the whole rest of the pack will be advancing their respective timetables so as to position themselves as credible candidates – running against each other, against Hillary Rodham Clinton – and, of course, the soon-to-be-political-ghost of one very-much-still-around Barack Obama. DM
Photo: A file photograph showing US Republican Senator from Texas Ted Cruz exits the floor of the Senate after speaking for more than 21 hours in opposition to the Affordable Care Act in Washington, DC USA, 25 September 2013. EPA/JIM LO SCALZO

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