There’s no question that Ted Cruz is going to run for the Republican nomination for president in 2016. Hell, he’s been running from the moment he was elected to the Senate. But I think Jonathan Bernstein is correct when he says that Cruz has little chance of winning the nomination.
I continue to believe, however, that it’s extremely unlikely that Cruz will become the Republican nominee. He fits my formula for a viable nomination, though with little to spare: As a first term senator, he would have four years in elected statewide office by the time he was sworn in president, and he’s within the Republican mainstream on public policy issues (though he would claim that others who appear to hold similar positions are practically liberals).
Yet, of all the viable candidates, I give Cruz the longest odds. Not just because he’s an irresponsible demagogue, or because he’s made enemies in the Senate. And not just because he’s almost certainly a weaker general election candidate given that he’s by far the one most likely to be perceived by voters as an ideological extremist.1
The biggest reason Cruz’s nomination bid would be unlikely to succeed is that Republican party actors mostly identify him with the October 2013 government shutdown, which, apart from a small number of radicals, is perceived as a hugely damaging unforced error. Remember, not only were Republicans widely blamed for the shutdown, it also had the side effect of distracting the press from the disastrous first weeks of the Obamacare exchange rollout.Even party actors who are itching to nominate a real conservative after suffering through Mitt Romney and John McCain (and in many cases having decided that George W. Bush was no conservative after all) are unlikely to choose a candidate whose strategic judgment has proved to be suicidal for the movement.
And it’s important to note just how deeply unpopular Cruz is within the Republican caucus in the Senate, where he is viewed as reckless and more focused on his own agenda than on the party’s. If the Republican party does nominate Cruz, it will make the Democrats very happy. The campaign ads practically write themselves. Remember that opposition to the government shutdown ran around 80%, with even a majority of Republicans opposing it. And that’s the single biggest thing Cruz is known for.