While some Republicans like Ben Sasse and Adam Kinzinger are trying to purge Trumpism from the GOP, others have gone in the opposite direction in the hope of political gain. A staunch Trump ally and one of the eight Republican senators who voted against certifying the 2020 election results; Ted Cruz clearly falls in the latter category. Cruz is probably smart enough to know that the election wasn’t stolen and Trump lost fair and square, but he’s shrewd enough to try to take advantage of the Trump base.
Cruz’s presidential ambitions are also obvious. “There isn’t a senator that doesn’t fancy himself as president,” as the old saying goes, and he has already made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2016. But will Ted Cruz be able to ride Trumpism all the way to the White House?
Cruz’s political career started under Trump-like conditions, scoring an upset victory in the 2012 Texas GOP Senate primary as an insurgent candidate. Cruz has often espoused populist and anti-elite rhetoric, railing against special interests in spite of his own past and present ties to those same special interests (sound familiar?). And just like Trump, Cruz has a tendency to say inflammatory things. For example, Cruz promised to “carpet bomb” ISIS and “find out if sand can glow in the dark” back in 2015 while running for president.
Cruz had Trumpy qualities even before the rise of Donald Trump and has only gotten Trumpier since then. Polls indicate that the majority of the GOP supports him and his favorability among Republicans nationwide actually improved after the January 6th Insurrection, even though his Texas numbers declined. So he may seem like a logical choice to take on Trump’s mantle in 2024 or beyond.
However, there are reasons to doubt that Cruz’s decision to go all-in on Trumpism will pan out. Efforts to replicate Trump have met with missed success so far, it worked for Florida Governor Ron Desantis in 2018 but failed for Arizona Senator Martha McSally (twice). And while Cruz may have been able to harness Trumpism to secure reelection in 2018, winning the presidency will be another animal altogether.
One reason to doubt whether Cruz can assume the MAGA mantle is his history of opposing Trump during his previous presidential campaign. Cruz and Trump were bitter rivals in the 2016 Republican primaries, with Cruz saying things like Trump might nuke Denmark if elected. Even after he conceded, Cruz refused to endorse Trump at the Republican National Convention. In MAGA-world, criticizing the dear leader is not taken kindly. Other Republicans who don’t have a history of saying such things may use 2016 against Cruz in the primaries.
That said, 2016 was a long time ago and by 2024 eight years will have passed. Ted Cruz now sings Trump’s praises and Trump has gone from “Lyin’ Ted” to “Beautiful Ted.” If Trump is willing to let Cruz’s previous rhetoric slide, perhaps his supporters will too.
However, the biggest spoiler for Cruz’s bet on Trumpism may be Trump himself. Trump has not ruled out running again in 2024 and polls show a majority of Republicans want him to do so. While the Senate could bar Trump from elected office after a conviction in the impeachment trial, it is unlikely that they will get the two-thirds supermajority needed to convict.
If Trump does decide to run he would likely crowd out the GOP field. Cruz can’t be the next Trump if there is no next Trump. Cruz could wait until 2028 or later although it’s hardly a sure thing that Trumpism will retain its appeal that far in the future. Ironically, Cruz’s refusal to hold Trump accountable for the January 6th Insurrection may be what thwarts his 2024 presidential ambitions.
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