Ted Cruz wants to make the 2014 election a referendum on ‘amnesty’


Ted Cruz. (Alex Wong/GETTY IMAGES)

In a fiery speech over the weekend to an Americans for Prosperity gathering in Texas, Ted Cruz made one thing absolutely clear: He'd love to have the 2014 midterms be decided on the issue of immigration.

"President Obama has made a decision to make this election in 2014 a national referendum on amnesty," Cruz said in reference to an expected executive order on immigration from the White House. "If you support amnesty, vote Democrat. If you oppose amnesty, throw Harry Reid out."

Cruz went on:

And every Democrat in the Senate who stood with Harry Reid blocking legislation to stop the amnesty, every Democrat in the Senate bears responsibility for that amnesty. So for the folks here from Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Colorado, New Mexico, Alaska--there are some Democratic senators we need to introduce to the private sector. There are some Democratic senators who bear the responsibility for President Obama's amnesty and there are some Democratic senators who sorely need to lose their exemption from Obamacare.

(You can watch Cruz's full speech here.)

Cruz allies cast the speech as an example of his willingness to draw bright lines between Republicans and Democrats, a willingness that, they believe, has been lacking among Republican leaders.

Cruz's strong words on the electoral impact of an Obama move on immigration -- a decision that is causing considerable uncertainty in the minds of strategists of both parties -- are part of a broader difference  he has with many of the politicians in his own party, including many of those he may run against for president in 2016.

To his supporters, Cruz's willingness to see the world in black and white terms and to speak out boldly on everything from immigration to Obamacare is a refreshing change from a Republican party that has, for too long, tried to muddle its very real differences with Democrats in hopes of appealing to the broad middle of the country. The Cruz argument, which he will undoubtedly put forward if (when) he runs in 2016, is that if -- and only if -- Republicans make clear where they stand can they hope to win.  The Cruz strategy is premised on the idea that you need to energize the base first -- and the base is VERY much opposed to anything that looks like 'amnesty' -- and worry about the ideological middle later.

To his detractors, Cruz is the political equivalent of a sugar high. Yes, he revs up the base by telling them what they want to hear. And, yes, that sort of approach might work in a midterm election in which the electorate will be older and whiter than it was in 2012 and where President Obama will be unpopular in virtually every key state.  But, Cruz's "amnesty" focus -- as well as his willingness to shut down the government over Obamacare -- is no solution in 2016, many establishment Republicans argue, since the 2012 election proved that the country's demographics are moving away from the GOP, particularly in the Hispanic community.

This is the Cruz conundrum.  If you like him, he is the solution to what ails the Republican party. If you don't, he is what ails the Republican party.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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