It’s an audacious gambit, opening a presidential campaign after merely a brief stop in the U.S. Senate. But if it worked for a freshman senator from Illinois, could it work for one from Texas?
Barack Obama and Ted Cruz both have Ivy League credentials, with degrees from Harvard Law School. They both have two young daughters. They both served in the Senate for only two years before defying conventional wisdom and declaring their lofty White House ambitions.
The similarities may well stop there for Obama and Cruz, who at 44 is just one year younger than Obama when he launched his improbable presidential bid eight years ago. But the success of Obama – at the ballot box, at least, in 2008 and 2012 – is helping to fuel the aspirations of Cruz and other Republican hopefuls in the opening chapter of this campaign.
If Obama could overtake the mighty Hillary Clinton back then, could Cruz compete with the powerful establishment behind Jeb Bush’s anticipated candidacy?
As Cruz swept onto the stage here Monday, smiling and waving before an audience of 10,000 students at Liberty University, the scene carried the feeling of a rally from those early Obama days. He made his announcement inside the Vines Center, an arena where the Liberty Flames play basketball, in a setting made for television (not to mention future television commercials.)
“Today, I am announcing that I am running for president of the United States,” Cruz said, making his intentions clear near the end of a speech rich in biography and ideology. “It is a time for truth. It is a time for liberty. It is a time to reclaim the Constitution of the United States.”
Whether or not Cruz becomes the 45th president of the United States, much less wins the Republican nomination, is hardly the only point worth considering about his candidacy. With those words, and with his point-by-point call for conservative purity, Cruz illustrated perhaps his greatest influence on the race: He is the candidate who can pull the debate to the right, to remind party activists they have no obligation to follow history and go the establishment route.
That, of course, is where the comparisons to Obama and Cruz end.
In the beginning, at least, Obama spoke of bridging the partisan divide. Cruz did not mention the word compromise, but rather how he intended to build a campaign that encouraged evangelicals to come to the polls with as much force as sporadic-voting Democrats and moderates did in 2008.
The road to moderation, he said, was a road to defeat for the Republican Party.
“I want to ask each of you to imagine, imagine millions of courageous conservatives across America rising up together to say in unison, we demand our liberty,” Cruz said, adding that he believes about half of born-again Christians don’t routinely vote. “Imagine millions of people of faith all across American coming out to the polls and voting our values?
For nearly 30 minutes on Monday, as he delivered his remarks without notes or a Teleprompter as he slowly circled the stage, Cruz showed that he, too, has a gift of oratory. He held the attention of most Liberty University students, who were required to attend their weekly convocation, or be fined $10.
The biggest applause lines came when Cruz offered a sharp critique of Obama, particularly health care on the fifth anniversary of the President signing the bill into law.
Left unspoken, though, was perhaps the biggest way Obama’s presence will influence Cruz and other senators poised to jump into the 2016 presidential race.
Will the country send another first-term senator to the White House? Or is there a reason why voters have tended to elect senators only every generation or so?