Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ted Cruz could be a problem for Marco Rubio

Ted Cruz could give the conservative base a chance to vote for a Hispanic who's also a hawk on immigration (photo: Ted Cruz campaign)

The Charleston Post and Courier reports (h/t Chris Cillizza) this morning that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is heading to South Carolina this May to headline the GOP's big, annual Silver Elephant dinner.

The dinner always stirs up a strong whiff of presidential speculation (Joe Biden is in the state the same night for a Democratic dinner), and Cruz certainly knows the implications of the visit to the early primary state.

The plain truth is that it wouldn't be surprising to see Cruz run for president in 2016. Deference isn't his thing (as his Senate career has already proven), and he'd relish the spotlight and all the pizzazz/hullabaloo/big cheese stuff that comes with a presidential bid.

But a Cruz bid wouldn't just be about Ted Cruz; it would also -- in a big way -- be about Marco Rubio.

Quite simply, it could severely damage a Rubio bid.

1. Cruz would draw from the same base.

Marco Rubio might be more palatable to the establishment than Ted Cruz, but early polling shows Rubio gets, by far, his most support from those calling themselves "conservative" or "very conservative."

Meanwhile, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush dominate the ranks of self-proclaimed moderate or liberal Republicans.

That means that the race is looking like a duel between Rubio or Conservative Equivalent and Christie -- each as representatives of their base of the GOP party.

The only kink to Rubio's plan to scoop up conservatives lies in his fraternization with the Gang of Eight on immigration, and as many have noted, that could deliver a serious blow to his support with the base.

Having said that, the base would still probably prefer Rubio to Christie in a head-to-head, and the Florida senator would still have a pretty good shot at winning their support and the nomination.

2. The base could see Cruz as Rubio 2.0, but without the immigration baggage.

Conservatives know the GOP is gasping for existential breath, thanks to their bleed with Hispanic voters; hence, their acknowledgment that immigration reform, on some level, is necessary.

Thus, Rubio's ethnicity has serious upside to these voters.

But Ted Cruz is also Hispanic (+ for the base) without the baggage on immigration that Rubio might bring (+ for the base).

In other words, if the base acknowledges that nominating a Hispanic stud is the party's best move, why not pick the Hispanic stud who agrees with them on immigration?

What would sell better at a debate -- Rubio making a desperate plea for the Gang of Eight's proposal or Ted Cruz calling it, as he's already done, "profoundly unfair"?

Thus, the grass roots' thought bubble could go like this: Cruz gives us the best of Rubio (charismatic Hispanic) without the worst of him (fraternization with Schumer, McCain, and Lindsey Graham).

I don't think Cruz is a threat to actually win the nomination, but he could pose a very significant one to Rubio's shot at it.