Ted Cruz is running for president. Or at least that's officially what's happening, according to his FEC filings. But if you actually listen to him, it seems like he is running for something else.
Cruz's announcement speech at Liberty University was less like a first step toward the Oval Office, than the latest of many steps he has taken to becoming the political leader of the conservative movement. This is distinct from being the nominee of the Grand Old Party, of which that movement is just a devoted part.
There is nothing about Cruz that appeals to people beyond his political sect. The one rhetorical move independents and Democrats may relate to in Cruz's speech was the tribute to his mother as a glass ceiling–smashing computer programmer. But otherwise his mode of speech is much like Mike Huckabee's: sentimental, broadly evangelical, and reliant on personal charisma. Although it isn't easy to pinpoint what about a candidate's personality rubs a larger demographic cohort the wrong way, Huckabee fared terribly among non-rural, non-Evangelical voters in 2008. Cruz may be headed for the same fate.
Consider Cruz's overt sense of personal destiny. He makes Mitt Romney seem positively shy. Cruz's speech implicitly compared Ted Cruz to Patrick Henry, George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan.
Cruz also exhorted his audience to "imagine" many things, an America that is "finally becoming energy self-sufficient," "booming economic growth," "young people coming out of school with four, five, six job offers," and the eradication of the IRS. He implored us to imagine a president that protects the Second Amendment, repeals every word of ObamaCare, ends Common Core, and stands with Israel.
In other words, imagine an America with no Democrats or Independents. Imagine everything you believe in was implemented instantly, without compromise, and the only consequence was incontestable glory for you, the nation, and all posterity. This is grandiosity as stomach-churning as Barack Obama promising to overcome the red-and-blue state divide, and announcing that his victory would be "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal." This isn't a campaign: It's a political fantasy and infomercial. Imagine losing 60 pounds of big government around your waist in just one vote.
Except Cruz is worse than Obama. At least rhetorically, Obama often credited the good faith disagreement of conservatives, and made it seem like their voices counted. Cruz has yet to offer a single policy proposal or rhetorical lifeline to the middle. His entire approach makes sense only if you believe that there is a sectarian conservative majority waiting to materialize the moment a leader decides that there's no reason to compromise, ever. All heft, nothing deft.
Yes, feel free to dismiss this. I'm a confirmed Cruz-hater. Months ago, long before Donny Deutsch did, I called him the new Sarah Palin. I came to see that he's so venal and self-obsessed that he'll use genocide victims as punching bags for a domestic audience.
The distaste is congenital, too. Something about his affect — oleaginous, self-pleased, mega-churchish — sets my teeth aching. Even when he is saying something I believe in, about, say, religious liberty, his voice makes me want to slip into an "I ♥ Sonia Sotomayor" T-shirt and cast a write-in ballot for George McGovern.
Ted Cruz is not a dummy. On some level he must know that he appeals to only a fraction of the Republican coalition, a highly motivated, small-donation, populist part of that party. If he really intends to be president someday, he has to find a way to reach out beyond that group, to signal that the kind of Americans who roll their eyes at the thought of texting the word "CONSTITUTION" to his campaign's phone list are part of the country, too.
Until then, he's not really running for president.