January 8, 2016
Ted Cruz is now a serious prospect (or threat, depending on your leanings) to win the GOP nomination. Some of us started taking him seriously a few months ago, but few except his biggest fans saw this coming 12-18 months ago.
We should have known better. Cruz represents Texas in the Senate and Texas represents the GOP nationally. This isn’t a particularly new development. The Lone Star State was one of the first of the Old Confederacy to begin electing Republicans.
John Tower won election to the Senate back in 1960, a time when Republicans just weren’t elected statewide below the Mason-Dixon Line. Congressman George Herbert Walker Bush won election from a district in Houston in 1966.
Powerful ex-Governor and one-time Democrat John Connally changed teams in the early 1970s, joining the Nixon Administration as treasury secretary before running for the GOP nomination in 1980.
He was joined by Bush the Elder, putting two Texans in the 1980 field. From that point forward, the state has produced a top-tier candidate virtually every cycle.
1980: Ex-Governor Connally is the fundraising champion of the GOP field, but flames out, winning 1 delegate for his $10 million investment.
Ex-Representative Bush is an overachiever, finishing second in delegates and becoming the vice presidential nominee.
1984: Texan Bush remains on the ticket.
1988: Bush becomes president. Democrats nominate Senator Lloyd Bentsen, who defeated Bush to win his seat in 1970 for VP. Speaker Jim Wright and Bentsen are the last Texas Democrats to wind up in a national role.
1992: Bush is re-nominated by Republicans before losing to Bill Clinton. Unusually competitive third-party candidate Ross Perot hails from Texas as well.
1996: Senator Phil Gramm (another convert from the Democratic Party back in the early 80s), gives the GOP nomination a shot. He failed. Gramm went into the race as a top-tier contender though.
2000: W. The previous Texans were transitional figures, coming of political age as the state was moving from leaning Democratic to leaning Republican. The future Bush 43 destroyed the final vestiges of the era when he defeated incumbent governor Ann Richards in 1994.
2004: More W.
2008: The only cycle with no Texas involvement. Call it W PTSD.
2012: As we know, Rick Perry couldn’t name all three cabinet departments he wanted to eliminate and quickly faded.
Still, he entered the contest as a legit front runner, with polling numbers exceeding eventual nominee Mitt Romney until enough voters saw him debate.
He’s often lumped in with Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum as a flavor-of-the-month front runner, but Perry’s prospects were for real. He just couldn’t deliver.
2016: Perry tries and fails to dig out from 2012. Cruz ends 2015 in great shape, leading in Iowa and competing almost everywhere. Calling him the most likely nominee isn’t crazy.
As Ohio was to Republicans from 1876 to 1920, when five different GOP Ohioans were elected president, Texas is where it’s at now.
Not only is Texas disproportionately represented at the presidential level among Republicans, but the transition from Bush 41 to Gramm to Bush 43 to Perry to Cruz mirrors the overall migration inside the party.
Back in 1980, Republicans were nowhere near uniformly conservative. Ronald Reagan was, but Bush the Elder was more representative.
Once Reagan finally won the party over, Bush saw the writing on the wall and jumped aboard, pulling some of the establishment with him.
Gramm was an excellent example of 1990s fiscal conservatism. With the Cold War over and Al Qaeda in the future, economic policy was at the forefront.
Reaganomics brought years of low inflation growth, but there was a deficit hangover from combining a defense buildup with plenty of domestic spending.
Gramm first gained national exposure in the 80s as an architect of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit control bills.
While none of this helped him win the 1996 nomination, the end of decade balanced budgets pushed through the GOP House, the same ones John Kasich brags about today, are a direct result of his efforts.
George W. Bush represented Republicans as the majority party. In Texas, he was the Big Tent GOP leader who appealed to most of the electorate. His 1998 re-election was the biggest victory margin of the past 50 years.
In winning, W finished ahead in 240 of 252 counties, and won 27% of the African-American vote and 40% of Latinos. Campaigning for president in 2000, he emphasized his ability to get along with Democrats back home.
After 40 years in the minority, Republicans regained a House majority in 1994 with Newt’s Contract with America. The Senate was reclaimed as well. Though Bill Clinton was ending his second term, Republicans won 5 of 6 presidential elections between 1968 and 1988.
It was reasonable for a Republican primary voter in the winter/spring of 2000 to think the right non-threatening leader could keep things GOP as the new millennium began. Bush broke with his dad, indicating he saw Reagan as more of a model for his presidency.
Old school, moderate Republicanism was dead, but W would usher in conservatism with a human face, trying to appeal to a majority of the public. Once Bush was safely elected and Florida in the rearview mirror, Karl Rove spoke of an enduring Republican majority.
While Bush 43 was dealing with 9/11 and the aftermath, Rick Perry established himself in the governor’s chair. He would go on to spend more than twice as much time in office as his predecessor and did more to define the Texas brand of Republicanism.
Not worried about positioning himself for an imminent presidential run (that was off limits until at least 2008, if not 2012 when he actually ran), Perry didn’t need to worry about outreach to Democrats.
By this time, appealing to GOP voters (even if some were still registered Democrats) was more than enough to win statewide elections. Perry’s focus, one taken up by national Republicans, was economic growth based on limited regulation.
Above all else, this is what made him a 2012 top tier candidate before his debate skills (or lack thereof) undercut him. Texas is more business friendly than the majority of states, way more open than your average blue state.
Texas did very well relative to other states in the first decade of the 2000s, gaining jobs while the rest of the country lost them, experiencing a continuation of the in-migration from other states that began decades before.
While Bush 43 cut taxes and took aggressive action after 9/11, many conservatives did not approve of his prescription drug Medicare benefit. In line with someone trying to build a majority party prior to an election year, it did not match conservative goals.
By 2007, with Iraq a mess and the team of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid leading a revived Democratic congress, the shift from Bush to Perry was complete. What was the point of passing the prescription benefit and running a deficit if you couldn’t hold congress.
After being a “compassionate” conservative, post-Katrina Bush was at 30% in the polls. For those who point to the Tea Party, or reaction to President Obama as the driving force behind current conservative discontent, it started earlier.
While Perry’s Texas was becoming an economic model for Republicans, Solicitor General Ted Cruz, with the support of Attorney General Greg Abbott (now governor) was weighing in on national judicial issues, setting records for filing amicus briefs on Supreme Court cases.
Cruz himself argued in front of the Court eight times, and took on greater stature than one would ever expect from someone normally only responsible for representing his own state.
Besides being a great fit for the ambitious Cruz, once the 2008 election added the presidency and filibuster-proof Senate control to a House majority, the judicial branch was the best place for Republicans to find leverage.
His record of pushing for conservative principles made Cruz a natural fit for Tea Party support and along with Perry and Abbott, he became a link between the state and the movement. All of the above contributed to his 2012 Senate primary upset and general election victory.
Texas Republicans assume a majority, while many national Republicans are seeing congressional majorities aren’t enough. They are looking for true believers and Texas produces them.
In places like Ohio and Florida, governors use things like Common Core to push education reform while working around teacher’s unions. In Texas this isn’t necessary. Even were he a governor instead of a senator, Cruz wouldn’t need to worry about the debt downgrades Christie’s New Jersey experienced.
With a heavy Latino population, Texas Republicans have at least some facility getting votes from minority voters. Much like in national elections, a Republican doesn’t need a majority, but needs a representative share.
Despite his heritage (though there aren’t many Cubans in Texas), Cruz did worse with Latinos than Bush. A winning Republican in 2016 won’t do as well as Reagan in 1984 either. But they will do better than Mitt Romney’s 27% in 2012 and Cruz did win 35% in Texas.
For anyone curious how Cruz is doing so well with solidly conservative Republicans, not just evangelicals, not just Tea Party adherents, anyone wondering how his favorability ratings are higher than Marco Rubio’s among California GOP likely voters, the answer is in Texas.
Deep in the heart of Texas is the soul of the GOP. It’s most recent creation is Ted Cruz. He’s part of an unbroken line stretching back to Bush the Elder. While nowhere near guaranteed to win the nomination, it’s increasingly easy to see why he’s a fit.