Ted Cruz, conservative hybrid
If Ted Cruz wins the Texas Senate primary, he will have defeated a Republican with deep ties to the establishment and millions of dollars of personal wealth by running a campaign arguing that he is the most conservative candidate in the race.
Cruz has been lauded by the likes of George Will, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and the Club For Growth, all at once. And he’s often compared to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). But where does Cruz fit in the conservative universe, which contains its own complex subdivisions and separate wings?
The truth is that he is something of a hybrid.
Let’s start with the two members of the current Senate to which Cruz is most often compared: Rubio and DeMint. He’s been likened to the former because of his biography. Like Rubio, Cruz’s father is Cuban, and fled Cuba for a better life in the United States.
The circumstances of Cruz’s campaign are comparable to Rubio’s 2010 effort. When he announced his bid in January of 2011, most observers viewed Cruz as merely an eventual also-ran against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who was regarded as an overwhelming early favorite to win retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat. Similarly, Rubio was once believed to be merely a bump on Charlie Crist’s road to the Senate.
But Cruz is not exactly like Rubio. Unlike Cruz, who aside from his tenure as Texas Solicitor General (basically the state’s lawyer) has spent most of his time in the private sector, Rubio toiled in the trenches of state government for years and cultivated relationships that have prepared him for the Senate.
So if Rubio is not the perfect comparison, what about DeMint? In terms of governing philosophy, the comparison is not a bad one.
The bedrock of Cruz’s campaign is that he is a constitutional conservative whose beacon for governance is the Constitution (he even memorized the constitution was he was a teenager!) DeMint’s limited government, anti-establishment posture isn’t that dissimilar.
But while DeMint has a loyal following, he’s unlikely to ever really expand his support beyond the conservative wing of the party. Part of the reason for that is because some members of Republican congressional leadership view DeMint with skepticism. After all, he helped elevate Christine O’Donnell in Delaware’s 2010 primary. Her nomination essentially cost Republicans a Senate seat last cycle.
But Cruz’s possible plans for the future may mean he would chart a different course. The former state solicitor general is telegenic, well-spoken and young — all ingredients for a potential future run at higher (like, president) office.
Like Rubio, who has been very careful who he buddies around with in Congress (in 2011, Rubio refused to get pigeonholed on the ideological right when he opted against joining the tea party caucus), Cruz will also have to choose his friends wisely if he wants to have any designs on advancing beyond the Senate in his career.
Social issues have not been at the forefront of the campaign between Dewhurst and Cruz. Part of the reason is that both are so socially conservative on almost every issue that conservative voters would be hard pressed to find fault with either. So Cruz shouldn’t be thought of as a social conservative crusader. At least not at this point.
Fiscal conservatism has been driving the race more heavily. Cruz’s profile (the Club For Growth loves him) will endear him to fiscal belt-tighteners in the upper chamber and his legal background will no doubt trigger comparisons to Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). (They both clerked for justices who at the time or in the future served on the Supreme Court.)
And that’s part of the point – Cruz would have friends in many different places in Washington; much like he has friends in many different places in his Senate campaign.
Simple casting a Cruz win tonight as purely right-wing revolt would be a mistake. So would casting him as simply a Rubio-clone or a DeMint-loyalist next year, if he’s a member of the Senate. He’s the first Ted Cruz not the second coming of anyone else.