Ted Cruz announced the start of his presidential campaign this morning at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. He stressed the importance of Christian faith in his own family, he kept returning predictably to the theme of liberty, and urged the assembled students to “imagine” a series of mostly far-fetched scenarios that would somehow be made possible through Cruz’s candidacy. He started the speech very slowly, delivered the lines from memory as he walked around the stage, and gradually worked up to his normal litany of talking points. Listening to the speech felt like hearing a sermon combined with an infomercial.
The student audience responded with a fair amount of enthusiasm. The loudest applause came after Cruz said, “Imagine a president who stands unapologetically with the nation of Israel.” Along with a standard hawkish line about not letting Iran have a nuclear weapon, this was the only foreign policy reference in the speech that I can recall*. It is not surprising, but there was very little to distinguish this speech from anything Cruz has said before at activist meetings and political conferences. Considering how often he called on the audience to imagine this or that, there was nothing very imaginative in the content of the speech. One of his lines about “repealing every word of Common Core” was typically misleading, since there is no relevant law that could be repealed at the federal level.
Notably, the speech didn’t really contain an argument for why Cruz is qualified to be president. Despite going on at some length about his parents and his wife, Cruz had remarkably little to say about his own career, which is usually something that a presidential candidate emphasizes. The entire exercise was aimed at telling conservatives, especially religious conservatives, “I am one of you, so vote accordingly.” As an exercise in pure pandering and blatant identity politics, it seems to have been reasonably successful. If the goal was to persuade skeptical conservatives that he could be a plausible nominee, it didn’t work very well.
* Correction: Cruz also made a boilerplate reference to “defeating radical Islam.” My apologies for the oversight.