After forty-one fruitless attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Senator Ted Cruz’ crusade has many in the media discussing and dissecting what his endgame is. Without any chance of passing a bill through the Senate – let alone the President’s desk- that would defund Obamacare, Senator Cruz seems to have demonstrated a unique talent for angering everyone in Washington – including quite a few members of his own party.
The Senator’s quixotic attempts to repeal Obamacare and anger everyone in Washington are hardly a conventional approach for anyone considering a run for the Presidency in 2016. And unlike Senator Marco Rubio – who has backed off his own crusade against Obamacare despite the gratuitous rhetoric – Senator Ted Cruz seems to believe what he is saying.
But there are good reasons for Senator Cruz to take this approach.
First, Senator Cruz is taking an unconventional approach because he is an unconventional candidate. He ran for Senate in Texas as an outsider and toppled the institutional candidate, David Dewhurst, who had almost all the important support within the Republican Party.
As Lt. Governor of Texas, Dewhurst was saddled by the practicalities of governing; something that Ted Cruz never had to, nor perhaps ever will, have to worry about. In doing so, Dewhurst had lost credibility as a true conservative among the Tea Party base Ted Cruz relied on for his successful grass roots campaign.
In the Tea Party world, governing ranks third below ideological purity and winning elections. In many ways, he doesn’t have much use for the Republican Party beyond the pockets of loyal support he will garner from his crusade, and will instead rely on the copious funds he will be able to raise through the Tea Party organizations.
Second, the conventional wisdom among GOP candidates is that Republican primaries are an obstacle to victory in general elections because the country is more moderate than the GOP hard-core voters. This creates the familiar ideological shift for Republican candidates during primaries from extremely conservative positions to more moderate stances once the primaries are over.
Each candidate who has made this familiar ideological shift to accommodate the conception of conservative and moderate voters, from Bob Dole on to Mitt Romney, have been saddled by this “pivot” during the general election. By doing so, GOP candidates have done not much more than feed the media with a campaign storyline of hypocrisy.
There is a long-standing belief among conservatives that the Republicans continue to lose national elections not because they aren’t moderate enough, but because they did not remain committed to conservative values. Ted Cruz seems to have decided, at least for now, that he is going to pitch his tent firmly in the conservative camp without much concern for moderation.
If he is to have a chance at the Presidency, a laughable thought for most, his best chances are at gathering a storm of ideologues behind him and leaving the GOP with no choice but to support him once the primaries are over. It’s an outside chance for an outside candidate, but it’s the only one he’s got.
Stephen A. Nuño, Ph.D., NBC Latino contributor and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. He is currently writing a book on Republican outreach into the Latino Community.