— Katie Zezima (@katiezez) February 26, 2015
Ted Cruz is nothing if not conservative. It's kind of his thing.
And so far, the Republican senator from Texas has run a very conservative presidential campaign -- not just in his policies, but in his steady/not flashy approach.
On the latter count, though, things have begun to change.
With his poll numbers rising nationally and in the key early state of Iowa (where he's now basically tied for the lead), the quiet version of Cruz has taken a back seat to a much more outspoken Cruz -- a Cruz who will riff (in an almost Trumpian way) on condoms and a mass shooter.
To wit, over the last few days, Cruz has:
1) Mused that the Planned Parenthood shooter in Colorado Springs, Colo., might in fact be a "transgendered leftist activist."
2) Recalled the prevalence of and easy access to condoms when he was in college while discussing contraception. "Last I checked we don’t have a rubber shortage in America. When I was in college we had a machine in the bathroom, you put 50 cents in and voila! So, yes, anyone who wants contraceptives can access them, but it’s an utterly made-up nonsense issue.”
3) Said the "overwhelming majority" of violent criminals are Democrats.
4) Called Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) a "neo-con" on foreign policy, in a party where support for an interventionist approach to the Islamic State is increasingly popular but some like Trump are pitching a hands-off approach.
To be fair to Cruz, he has never really been a boring politician. He's quite comfortable going outside the box -- including that one time he donned a fake Winston Churchill tattoo (in reference to the image above). And of course there was the Churchill impression, the JFK impression and his frequent "Simpsons"-related efforts to connect with regular people.
But these are all pretty substance-free bits of fun, while the things numbered above are inherently political and a departure from the kind of campaign Cruz has been running. It's his offering of offbeat red meat to a GOP base that has been feasting on Trump's offerings for months now.
They suggest a candidate ready for his close-up and to compete with Trump. And in order to compete with Trump, it seems, you have to be willing to say some Trump-y things. (Nos. 1 and 3, in particular, are dubious claims and suggestions that fact-checkers will eat up and that will be chewed over quite a bit for that reason. Once again: Very Trump.)
Cruz has served notice that he's willing to step forward. We've argued before that his path to the GOP nomination is undersold. And we're about to find out how well he handles it. So far, Trump's impact on that path is quite evident.