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Ted Cruz’s Latest Stunt: A Presidential Campaign

Cruz's campaign makes it more likely that a relative moderate will come away with the win.
Ted Cruz IDC leering

Ted Cruz has been more or less running for president for months already, but later today he will make his candidacy official:

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a champion of the tea party movement who hopes to woo the GOP’s most conservative voters, is due to announce Monday that he is a candidate for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016, Cruz campaign aides say.

Like many other Republican would-be 2016 candidacies, a Cruz presidential bid doesn’t have a realistic chance of succeeding, but then Cruz has already shown during his very brief stint in office that success in achieving tangible results is not what interests him. Cruz likes to present himself as the most committed opponent of Obama’s agenda, and it makes no difference that his stunts and tactics have had absolutely no success in making a dent in that agenda. What counts for him is demonstrating the intensity of his opposition and pandering to voters that care a lot more about affect than they do about policy substance.

Cruz is a skillful demagogue, and he’ll be able to put on quite a show during candidate debates, but that will probably take the form of accusing the other candidates of being sell-outs and attributing views to them that they don’t hold. That is normally how he responds to criticism from within his own party. He also repeatedly misleads his followers about what can be achieved by following his lead, and then denounces people on his side for “failing” to defer to his bad leadership and blames them for the failure he orchestrated. Since he claims to believe that the party must nominate a “real” conservative in order to win, he will be at pains to portray all of his rivals as anything but that. All of this will remind the voters outside of his core supporters why so many people that have dealt with him viscerally dislike him. If his favorability numbers are any indication, Cruz annoys more people than he attracts.

Cruz will probably be able to pull 5-10% of the vote in some early states. That will be enough to bleed support from one of the more competitive movement conservative-type candidates, and in some of those states that could end up being the difference for these other candidates between finishing in the top three and languishing among the also-rans. He may definitely fail the “ought” test Ross Douthat describes here, but for a certain bloc of primary voters that won’t matter. Since the purpose of the campaign is just to raise Cruz’s profile at the expense of his ostensible political goals, it will be like every other Cruz effort of the last two years. I would say that a presidential campaign is self-defeating for Cruz, but it actually serves his own narrow political interests while undermining the interests of conservatives more broadly.

Relative moderates come away with Republican nominations in one cycle after another partly because conservative voters are always split five or six ways and usually don’t get behind a single candidate soon enough. Republicans have the same problem again, but it is even worse than usual because the field promises to be much larger than it has been in previous cycles. Cruz’s new grandstanding as a presidential candidate will mostly work to weaken other conservatives that have a much better chance at the nomination than he does, and his campaign makes it more likely that a relative moderate will come away with the win.