The first (serious) candidate declares

nra leadership forumThere are some 200 declared candidates for the 2016 presidential election. One of them matters, and even he will probably not win. There are a dozen or so other serious candidates, mostly on the Republican side, who will declare and a few others who will ultimately decide against it, but most of the 200 are in it for egotistical reasons or to make a point.

 Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, has made official something that no-one has ever doubted: that he is a candidate for president. That he will probably not win is not something your columnist declares not because he is an especially weak candidate, but because there is considerable competition on the Republican side, and that competition only qualifies the winner to play in the final. It certainly doesn’t guarantee victory.

The comparisons are obvious. He is a brilliant constitutional lawyer and a gifted orator with an enthusiastic base of support and a very thin record in public office: zero executive experience and less than half a term in the Senate. He needs to convince primary voters that none of Barack Obama’s failings in office were caused by his identically thin record and all of them by his ideology.

The circumstances of his challenge look very different to Obama’s. In 2008, Obama faced a thin primary field with a prohibitive front-runner and small group of also-rans, followed by a general election in which a backlash against the party in power was all but guaranteed. Cruz faces a wide field including two other first term senators, probably more than one senator of greater experience, plus second term governors of Florida, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, Wisconsin, and New Jersey. There are past candidates with strong evangelical followings from 2008 and 2012 likely to have another go. This may not even be the complete field. 

But Cruz brings one other strength. Attempts to divide the field into “brackets” – secular conservative, religious right, establishment and Tea Party – do not fully accommodate Cruz. He is certainly a Tea Party candidate, and will fight with Rand Paul for this vote, but his strong focus on social and religious issues has appeal with evangelical voters too. None of the candidates competing in this “bracket” is likely to have staying power. Only Mike Huckabee has any talent for communication, and his last campaign was underfunded and disorganized. 

Cruz has the reputation as a conservative absolutist. But there is little in his published policy positions to bear this out. On national security he places himself between Rand Paul and John McCain, a range so wide it probably includes all of the 98 senators not named as the defining edges. He is opposed to gay marriage, but thinks it should be a state issue. This is the exact position on which Barack Obama was elected in 2008. It is more liberal than the policies of Bill Clinton’s administration 

Tthere seems no doubt that there is an angry tone to Cruz’s rhetoric. He has built an image as hardline conservative. But the thinking behind his campaign seems to be more cautious than the image implies. There is a calculated vagueness to his policy ideas that is reminiscent of, well, Barack Obama. Which returns us to lack of executive experience. There is rhetoric, but no answer to the question “what has he actually done?”

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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