Ted Cruz in 2020? Assessing the Texas Senator’s Chances

Ted Cruz, speaking at the RNC. (Twitter)

Ted Cruz, speaking at the RNC. (Twitter)

Texas Senator Ted Cruz made a gamble – a calculated one – when he decided not to endorse Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, during his Republican National Convention speech. Cruz only mentioned Trump’s name once, CNN said.

Cruz implored the audience to “vote your conscience, for candidates you believe will be faithful to the Constitution” and his non-endorsement was met with a chorus of boos from the audience. His lone mention of Trump, says Time Magazine, came when he said: “I want to congratulate Donald Trump on winning the nomination last night.” One Time Magazine reporter said that Trump’s team had whipped the crowd into a booing lather:

The scene was so agitated that Cruz’s wife, Heidi, was escorted off the stage for her own safety:

The question remained: Inside convention hall, Trump presumably had control over many delegates. However, outside of it, and with critical power brokers such as donors, how was Cruz’s speech perceived? The Texas Senator was playing a “long game” but was it effective or self sabotage? Presumably, that “long game” is the 2020 presidential election, which Cruz is widely reported to be eyeing. (In contrast, other primary candidates, such as Scott Walker, supported Trump on the convention floor).

The conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer called Cruz’s speech the “kickoff” to his 2020 presidential run. Time Magazine called Cruz’s speech a “dramatic wager.”

What are Cruz’s chances in 2020? Did his convention appearance help or hurt them? Here are the key factors to consider when it comes to a Ted Cruz 2020 presidential run:


Cruz Is Considering Running Against Trump Even if He Wins the Presidency but Is Counting on Him Losing

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Sen. Ted Cruz did not endorse Trump before his RNC primetime speech. (Getty)

As Vince Lombardi is famously attributed as saying, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” If Donald Trump loses in 2016 (and polls indicate there’s a good chance he might, although the race is tightening in some), then Cruz’s convention speech is prescient. Unlike other Republican politicians with national stature (say, Paul Ryan, Walker, or Chris Christie), he hasn’t hooked his boat to the Trump ship. So, this theory goes, if the Trump ship goes down, Cruz doesn’t go with it.

Instead, he emerges as the leader of the Republican Party’s rebuilding efforts post Trump because he can’t be blamed for the loss. Had Cruz endorsed Trump, he would have to carry whatever baggage the Trump presidential bid brings with it (including being tagged with some responsibility for any alienating, incendiary comments Trump makes or has made). Of course, this also means that Cruz’s presidential future is staked somewhat on what he can’t control: Whether Trump, in fact, loses.

The Atlantic said that many of the party establishment – donors, elected officials, and lobbyists – are already assuming that Trump will lose, in part due to demographic shifts and his alienation of the Latino voting base, and are focusing on the aftermath: Who will rebuild the party. The Atlantic says no one is better positioned to do that than Cruz (a position Cruz would have seriously undercut by endorsing Trump).

However, National Review says that Cruz is likely to run in 2020 whether Trump wins or not. Said the conservative news site, “He’s up for reelection in 2018, but his 2020 plans are likely to move forward no matter who wins the White House this fall: Challenging a Republican incumbent would suit Cruz’s style and message.”

Indeed, Yahoo news says, “Cruz is already laying the groundwork for another run for president in 2020, but a top RNC official told Yahoo News that they expect him to run even if Donald Trump becomes president this fall.” Yahoo notes that you have to go back to Ted Kennedy running against Jimmy Carter in 1980 to find another “major challenge of an incumbent president from inside his own party.”

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However, if Cruz is going to position himself to make such a historic stand, he needed to keep himself separated from Trump. The conservative site Hot Air was among those floating a Ted Cruz 2020 primary against “President Trump” as a real possibility. The site quoted an RNC official as saying to Yahoo News: “If Trump wins, you better bet your ass Cruz is going to primary him.” To some degree, it’s personal: After all, Trump insulted his wife and father.


It Depends Whether the Anti-Cruz Sentiment on the Convention Floor Has Legs & Others Are Positioning for 2020 Too

Nevada votes 1 for Kasich, 6 for Cruz, 7 for Rubio, and 16 for Trump.  New Hampshire voted 2 for Rubio, 3 for Bush, 3 for Cruz, 4 for Kasich, and 11 for "my friend and the next president, Donald J. Trump."  New Jersey voted all 51 for Trump. Chris Christie's son announced those votes.  New Mexico voted 24 votes for Trump. At this point, New York passed its vote. They were likely waiting to vote out of order so they could cast the vote that pushed Trump over the top. (Getty)

The scene from the Republican National Convention floor. (Getty)

There was the report that Trump’s campaign had stoked the booing. And, certainly, Trump, as the nominee, had some control over delegate selection and who was on the convention floor. It’s also true that the scene on the convention floor is not necessarily indicative of the Republican primary voting base at large. Or is it? Time will tell whether most voters see Cruz’s positioning as a heroic stance of conscience or party disloyalty in a party that traditionally values it.

CNN reported that, on the convention floor, people averted their eyes after Cruz’s speech, approached Cruz and insulted him, and ” One state party chairman reacted so angrily that he had to be restrained.” Some of the negativity occurred in the “donor suite level” – donors Cruz would presumably need to stage a 2020 bid for president.

One Republican national committeeman, Jonathan Barnett, from Arkansas, “walked off the floor after Cruz’s speech,” CNN said, quoting him as saying, “He’s self-centered. It’s all about Ted Cruz. All he did is ruin his political career. I think he’s finished.” However, the degree to which a never Trump movement remains outside the hall is another question. Others applauded Cruz for standing by principle, and there are still Republican voters who are “never Trump.”

Of course, Cruz isn’t the only primary candidate who has withheld a Trump endorsement: Jeb Bush and John Kasich are among those who have avoided the convention. The New York Times reports that other Republicans are already positioning for 2020 but just aren’t being as obvious about it as Cruz; they include some of Trump’s other primary opponents (Scott Walker, John Kasich, Marco Rubio), but also new faces like Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, said The Times.

However, the writer Byron York was among those who believed that Cruz would have positioned himself better by supporting Trump, saying: “…After talks with a number of politicos — office holders, strategists and other Republicans gathered here in Cleveland — there is a strong sense that Cruz can position himself for a post-Trump Republican Party and maintain his viability with party regulars only by declaring support for Trump now.” York pointed out that “most of” Cruz’s primary backers are now supporting Trump.


Cruz Is Keeping His Brand Consistent & Counting on the Fact the Majority of Republican Primary Voters Wanted Someone Else

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Ted Cruz appears to be cutting into Donald Trump’s lead. (Getty)

According to National Review, Cruz is keeping his brand consistent. In that light, his Republican National Convention speech is perfectly understandable: He doesn’t want to appear like he is selling out his principles, even for party loyalty. The New York Times pointed out that the convention was no exercise in party unity; rather, discord reigned throughout, including a botched roll call vote and 721 delegates voting for someone else, which the Times said marked more dissent than in any other convention since 1976. Efforts to oppose or support rewriting convention rules were perceived by some conservatives as moves to stop or help Cruz in 2020.

According to National Review, Cruz believes he didn’t do anything wrong in his campaign but, rather, that Trump had a uniquely “meteoric” effect on the primary field that was not foreseen and is unlikely to be repeated. Thus, Cruz doesn’t think he needs to change anything (such as endorsing Trump) to position himself in 2020, said the conservative news site.

In a story correctly predicting that Cruz would not endorse Trump in his speech, National Review noted that the speech was Cruz’s moment to “reintroduce” himself to the millions of primary voters – the majority – who didn’t vote for Trump during the primaries. Those millions of primary voters are presumably the core of a future base for another presidential bid.


Cruz May Be Taking a Page From Ronald Reagan & Is Already Building the Organization for a 2020 Run, Reports Say

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National Review points out that Ronald Reagan solidified his position as the next face of the Republican Party at the 1976 convention. Although Reagan “narrowly lost the nomination to Gerald Ford that year, his speech succeeded in convincing the delegates gathered in Kansas City that they had chosen the wrong man,” said National Review. One difference though, National Review points out: Reeagan endorsed Ford, whereas Cruz pointedly did not endorse Trump.

The Washington Post says that Cruz has “created two political nonprofits that will essentially serve as a campaign-in-waiting should he decide to run and he’s made one of his top 2016 advisers now his top Senate adviser.” That adds up to a likely Cruz’s 2020 run, said The Post, which noted that Cruz has a formidable fundraising network already in place. Texas Standard says Cruz is traveling to key states before the presidential election and adds that he is laying “substantial groundwork” for a 2020 bid.

National Review says Cruz has been presiding over the “vast expansion of his electoral enterprise,” by blending together “the operations of his campaign team — policy, political, financial” to position himself for 2020. The conservative blog, RedState, said Cruz had a closed door meeting before the convention in Cleveland with conservative leaders.


There Would Probably Be a Smaller Primary Field Next Time & Cruz Has Republican History on His Side

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Republican primary candidates at one of the debates. (Getty)

One of the main reasons Trump was able to stage an insurgent takeover of the Republican Party: The fractured nature of the field. In other years, the Party deferred to a party standard bearer who was owed (think Bob Dole). This time around, that might have been Jeb Bush, were it not for general Bush weariness among the American public (including Republican primary voters) and the curveball that was Donald Trump.

The crowded field ensured that the anti-Trump vote remained divided for long enough that Trump was able to finally consolidate enough support to develop the momentum to win. However, in 2020, there’s unlikely to be such a large primary field, said National Review. That could help outsider Cruz, the second-place finisher who “defied expectations” in the primary, said RedState.

The Washington Post points out that the Republican Party has a history of nominating runners-up “from George H.W. Bush to Dole to McCain to Romney.” The Post noted that Cruz “won more than 7.6 million votes, coming in second to Trump” and he presumably learned a lot from the first try.


What a ‘President Trump’ Does Matters

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Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks to the crowd during a rally. (Getty)

Hillary Clinton still is the leader in most national polls. However, let’s say Trump pulls off an upset and defeats her. He’s promised conservatives he’s enough like them that they are supposed to forget a host of contradictory or even “liberal” positions. The Washington Post says Trump was once “a liberal’s liberal.” He would likely have the chance to nominate people to the U.S. Supreme Court, he’d have to face the thorny question, not just of ISIS, but what actually to do about it, and he’d have to lead.

How Trump leads is anyone’s question due to the number of positions he’s taken over the years and lack of a governing record. If Trump gets into office and disappoints conservatives, especially on critical issues like abortion or Supreme Court nominees, and if he fails to deliver a better economy and natural security front, or get any his agenda through the Legislative process, it could open the door for someone positioned with conservatives, like Cruz.


Can Cruz Broaden His Appeal Enough to Win in 2020 & Does He Need to if He Can Convince Voters Only a Conservative Could Win?

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Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Both Cruz and Rubio were once competitors to Trump in the race for the GOP nominee. (Getty)


Cruz’s hardline views are well known, and he’s alienated a number of his colleagues in Washington (“Everybody Hates Ted,” said a New Republic headline; to gain more loyalty, he’s spending money supporting other politicians, Time says). He’s well-liked by Evangelicals (although some peeled away to support Trump) and those who identify as conservative, but can he build enough of a coalition to win a 2020 primary and the presidency (especially if there’s a Republican incumbent)? That’s an open question. Cruz is merging his campaign and legislative operations more; according to National Review, he has hired David Polyansky, a senior advisor on his campaign, to be his chief of staff in The U.S. Senate.

The Atlantic says that, if Trump loses, Cruz is best positioned to make the argument to Republicans that they lost because Trump was too “liberal”: “If Trump fails to win, you can bet he will fit nicely into Cruz’s litany of losers (minus the part where he talks what honorable, decent men they are): Of course, Donald Trump lost. He was a New York City liberal, pro-abortion for years, supported gun control, donated to liberal Democrats, didn’t fight for traditional marriage.”

Time Magazine also notes that “Cruz has made the case for a year that the GOP loses when it nominates insufficiently conservative candidates.” If Trump loses or doesn’t govern conservatively, he could be well positioned to strike.