The price of poker just went up — both for Ted Cruz and the field.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz became the first Republican to formally declare for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination, and the spectacle projected with a packed crowd at perhaps the nation’s leading evangelical university will raise the stakes on the future announcements to come. Cruz was surrounded by thousands of mostly young people at Liberty University, the influential college founded by the late Dr. Jerry Falwell. One of the most important evangelical leaders of his era, who was also instrumental in helping to launch the Reagan Revolution.
For a campaign that wants to make the case it can be the one to build the necessary bridge between disparate factions of the conservative movement, announcing at a school with “liberty” as it namesake, also is a bastion of Christian conservative thought and activism, and is in perhaps the most crucial presidential election swing state — this was messaging jackpot.
The speech itself went over well, but for those that have heard Cruz speak previously it was sort of a compilation of his greatest hits on the stump. It was also a compilation of pretty much everything the average conservative activist thinks and believes to one degree or another. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, because unlike other candidates trying to appeal to the conservative base the Cruz phenomenon itself is the conservative base.
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When competing in a crowded field of talented alpha-males, it is best to either go right away and make a big first impression, or wait to build anticipation for the last at-bat. There is no doubt other campaigns will be re-assessing their announcement plans after what transpired at Liberty University today. Your standard speech at your local state capitol surrounded by loyalists won’t cut it after these theatrics. Team Cruz made themselves “topic A” during a busy Monday news cycle, and instantly showed they’re in it to go big or go home.
However, not only are expectations now raised for the candidates that come after Cruz, but for Cruz himself.
By letting it be known they plan to raise about $50 million, Team Cruz better reach those expectations between now and March 1st next year, because the nomination could actually be decided by then. Every Republican that won two of the first three early states — Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina — has gone on to win the nomination. And the Republicans have never nominated someone that didn’t win two of those first three early states, regardless of what happened elsewhere.
By putting together such a spectacle on short notice, there also won’t be any excuses for not building the organizational infrastructure necessary for winning a caucus state like Iowa, let alone a national primary. Building that organization takes more than resources, it also takes rapport. Cruz still needs to prove he can connect with the individual activist/voter the same way he connects with a mass audience on the stage. Those are qualities primary rivals like Mike Huckabee have already proven they’re very capable of doing.
That process begins in Iowa, which has selected the last four general election winners. Not since 1988 has there been a presidential election that didn’t feature at least one major party nominee who had won the Iowa Caucuses to get there. And the GOP has never nominated a candidate that didn’t finish in the top three in Iowa.
To be one of those top three, between now and February 1st of next year Cruz must prove capable of evolving from soldier to general. No small task given his newness on the scene as well as the overall strength of the GOP field.
Nevertheless, whether you plan on supporting Cruz for president or not, if you’re a conservative fed up with the ruling class in Washington you should be ecstatic to see Cruz enter the race. Because he has the courage and conviction to call the system to account, and that provides those of us doing the vetting the moral clarity on where everyone actually stands which we often lack.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.