Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, despite good reviews in the debate and yet another immigration issue set up for him to exploit, has a rockier path ahead of the him than he did before the Paris attacks. Like a number of other candidates, he has a path to the nomination, but it is narrower than many imagined. Here are six reasons:
1. The entire GOP is in agreement on stopping or halting the Syrian refugee program. We can debate whether that is good policy (a much more exacting approach would be to closely scrutinize any European who has traveled to Syria), but it is good politics. The House bill to pause the Syrian refugee program will draw near-unanimous support as well as considerable Democratic support. Cruz is pouring gasoline on the issue, but it is not an issue on which he can distinguish himself from the field.
2. His national-security record is highly problematic. Between his alliance with the ACLU in restricting the NSA’s gathering of metadata, declaring repeatedly we had no interest in the Syrian “civil war” (as he incorrectly labeled it) and his opposition to the National Defense Authorization Act (which added funds above the sequester and barred Guantánamo Bay detainees from coming to the homeland), he is going to be slammed from the right. Unlike Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Chris Christie and Jeb Bush — who have all rolled out sophisticated plans to put the United States on offense — Cruz remains obsessed with immigration. For many of those who care deeply about the existential threat to the West, he seems bizarrely off-base.
3. Donald Trump has a better “strong man” persona. Both Trump and Cruz are appealing to voters frustrated with weakness and professional pols. Trump is simply better at reflecting their anger. His presentation is flashier, and his delivery is better. Beyond his fan base, Cruz comes across as agonizingly artificial and condescending. No wonder Trump is going to town with voters who have at most a high-school education. In short, it’s hard to make an erudite appeal to low-information voters — especially when up against Trump. The “Trump isn’t fading” problem is a bigger concern for Cruz than for the “establishment,” which is certain to rally around the final non-Trump candidate.
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4. Rubio has the ability to put Cruz on defense. Cruz has always been the attacker, painting other Republicans as squishes, sellouts and agents of Democrats. That does not work against Rubio (although Cruz is ham-handedly accusing him of being a “moderate”), who has a 93-percent rating from the infamous right-wing Heritage Action, an A rating from the NRA, a 98-percent rating from the American Conservative Union and praise from the Club for Growth. He is a much more formidable opponent for Cruz than Jeb Bush would have been.
5. Cruz has minuscule support outside the tea party. Cruz rode to fame as a divisive figure within the GOP, going out of his way to pick fights with colleagues and position himself as the “real conservative.” If he did not burn every bridge with mainstream Republicans with the shutdown, he has done so during the campaign as he’s tried to whip up his own base and compete with Trump. Converting Paris into another round of anti-immigrant posturing does not win him friends among establishment Republicans. His refusal to expand his appeal relegates him to one quadrant of the party, one in which he must compete with Trump and Ben Carson.
6. Iowa is becoming a must-win for him. If Trump or Carson wins Iowa, Cruz is at risk of becoming an afterthought. New Hampshire is not hospitable terrain for him. So where does he break through? South Carolina becomes his firewall, but there, if Cruz does not win Iowa, he will have to compete against the Iowa winner. Cruz says he has the money and organization to prevail in the so-called SEC primary, but former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani learned the hard way that you cannot lose repeatedly and pin your hopes on later primaries.
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