Two words defined Ted Cruz’ 26 minute announcement of his presidential candidacy today at Liberty University: “liberty” and “imagine.” The first because of his frequent invocation of that principle of our founding; the second because of his invitation to envision the possibility of an American future substantially different from our present.
There is no presidential candidate better on the stump than Ted Cruz, and through his bold performance today, Cruz laid claim to several mantles:
- Americans generally – and Republicans in particular – are looking for a reform agenda. Sixty-two percent of Americans overall are dissatisfied with how things are going in the country today. With his sweeping agenda announced today, nobody is going to out-change Ted Cruz.
- Cruz left no space for a candidate in the Republican primaries to run to his right.
- Pro-liberty. Cruz’ appeal among libertarians is limited to those who are faith-friendly, socially-conservative, and non-pot-smoking, but his constant invocation of liberty may succeed in eating into a portion of Rand Paul’s natural constituency.
- Overtly faithful. Only Mike Huckabee, if he chooses to do so, will be able to equal Cruz at God-speak.
Senator Cruz wasted very little time speaking of his biography. There was more said about his parents than there was about his qualifications. He means to get elected on the basis of what he will do rather than who he is, taking a page from the Reagan playbook.
Here is the world of President Cruz:
- Booming economic growth; flourishing small businesses; graduates from college with 4, 5, 6 job offers (we are left to presume this is achieved through tax reform, but he didn’t explicitly make the connection between economic growth and his flat tax, see below);
- Technological innovation, spurred by reining-in regulators;
- Energy self-sufficiency;
- Repeal of every word of Obamacare;
- Health care reform providing portability and affordability (interesting that he acknowledges a need for substitute health care legislation);
- Secure borders;
- Legal immigration that welcomes and celebrates those who come to achieve the American dream;
- A flat tax; tax returns filed on a post card; abolition of the IRS;
- Defense of first amendment rights;
- Defense of the sanctity of human life;
- Upholding the Sacrament of marriage;
- Protection the right to keep and bear arms;
- Protection of the privacy rights of every American;
- Repeal of every word of Common Core;
- School choice as the civil rights issue of the next generation;
- Unapologetic support for the nation of Israel (probably the biggest applause line of the speech);
- No nuclear weapons for Iran, under any circumstances;
- Defeat of radical Islamic terrorism.
What’s a conservative not to love? If he left anything out, it was the absence of a specific identification with the economically-suffering middle class, and their experience of rising prices and concerns about economic inequity. Neither did Cruz mention the Federal Reserve, which is coming into more attention for its role in causing recent economic stagnation.
If there is a defect in Cruz’s program, it is that there is not one single big idea. Individual planks get lost in the litany. Does he indeed intend liberty to be his big idea? Will there be anti-liberty candidates on Republican primary ballots? Will voters embrace the lack of liberty as an explanation for why the country is underperforming economically and socially?
There is no element of incrementalism in Cruz’ agenda, and one ought always to admire the sensitivity of his political antennae. There will be Republican candidates who underestimate the depth of desire for fundamental change within the Party, and likely they will be encouraged by the monied elite and the professional consulting class. Cruz has not made this mistake. Expect within the Republican Party a “change primary,” with the winner determined by who emerges as the most effective instrument of change but also the most prudent – not the one with the longest agenda.
Steve Wagner is the founder and president of QEV Analytics, a Washington DC -based public opinion research firm.