Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.” — Sir Winston Churchill (1874–1965)
Launching his 2016 presidential candidacy, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz asks us to “imagine”—his word—a world without Obamacare, Common Core education standards, gun control, and a president afraid of uttering
the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Okay, I can do that, but that’s not all Ted Cruz has in mind. In Monday’s announcement, the freshman senator from Texas also asked Americans to essentially imagine a world without tax collectors, political moderates, liberals, atheists, gay marriage—and voters old enough to remember John Lennon’s music.
“Imagine there’s no heaven,” Lennon’s classic begins. In the second verse, he really gets going: “Imagine there’s no countries,” he sings. “It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for—and no religion, too. Imagine all the people, living life in peace…”
Peace isn’t exactly what Cruz has in mind. Civil war inside the Republican Party is more like it. Speaking on the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act, Ted Cruz urged his youthful audience at Liberty University to imagine a day in January 2017, when a President Ted Cruz signs legislation “repealing every word of Obamacare.” He said the same thing about Common Core and the Obama administration’s immigration policies, which is de rigueur political rhetoric for conservatives these days.
But with his ultra-thin résumé, Ted Cruz cannot afford to sound like a generic conservative. So then he added this: “Imagine abolishing the IRS.” At the risk of sounding ungenerous, this is just kooky. Cruz didn’t go anywhere with that idea, but where could he go, really? He prefaced his brief tax talk by characterizing the nation’s current tax code as one “that crushes innovation,” which assumes facts not in evidence, before adding: “Imagine a simple flat tax that lets every American fill out his or her taxes on a postcard.”
Not to sound pedantic, but if there’s no Internal Revenue Service, where should I send that post card? To whom do I pay my taxes? And if my neighbor, balking perhaps at President Cruz’s governing priorities, refuses to even pay his “simple flat tax,” which government agency persuades him to pony up? Won’t we need that tax money to fight radical Islamic terrorism?
There were other odd aspects to Cruz’s speech, starting with its untraditional setting. The candidate wasn’t in his home state of Texas, where other GOP officials view him with mistrust and voters must wonder why, after serving only two years as an elected official, Cruz thinks he deserves promotion to the highest office in the land. Instead, Cruz spoke at Liberty University, the famous Virginia Bible college founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
Cruz was introduced there by Falwell’s son and namesake, the current school president, who lauded his guest’s willingness to buck the tide in the Senate. “It is easy to lead the charge when you have an army at your back,” Falwell Jr. said. “Ted Cruz has gone against the tide. Has taken the road less traveled, and has proven himself to be a man of great character.”
But that introduction only underscored another of Cruz’s vulnerabilities: Most of his Republican colleagues in the Senate—and we are talking about a very conservative cohort here—cannot stand the guy.
So if his colleagues detest him, and the Texas GOP establishment is dividing mostly between former Govs. Rick Perry and Jeb Bush of Florida, what is Ted Cruz’s natural constituency? To hear him tell it at Liberty University, it is the “millions of courageous conservatives” out there, especially young people.
This is an interesting gambit. I don’t know what percentage of American voters consider themselves to be courageous, but I do know how many consider themselves conservative. According to the Gallup Poll, it’s 38 percent. Although this is significantly more than self-identified liberals, it is far short of the number needed to elect a president.
In 2012, Mitt Romney was excoriated for his self-defeating claim that “47 percent of the people will vote [Democratic] no matter what.” Ted Cruz makes Romney seem like a populist by contrast. Cruz also turns on its head Jeb Bush’s assurance to Republican donors that he won’t campaign for the primary in a way that makes a general election victory impossible. That’s exactly what Cruz is proposing, whether he realizes it or not.
Here’s one key story line to keep in mind: If you are a conservative or an independent—and independent-mind voters determine the outcome of every close national election—the moral of the Obama presidency is not that experience is unimportant. Quite the opposite, actually. This is a complaint even many loyal Democrats have about the president. But Ted Cruz has even less experience in American public life—considerably less, actually—than Obama did when he started running for president in 2007.
In place of a cogent rationale for his candidacy, or any explanation about his path to the presidency, Cruz offered aspirational rhetoric. That word “imagine”—he used it 38 times Monday. Many of the references came in the biographical description of his family and his family’s faith, and the description of his educational and work journey, all of which comprised the first third of his speech. This part was as evocative an explication of the American Dream as we are likely to hear on the 2016 campaign trail. Too bad he couldn’t have stopped there.