Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ted Cruz has to deal with the Texas Curse

This is, unfortunately, going to be a variant of the famous "X's biggest blessing is also his/her biggest curse" trope.

So get your trope gear on, because Texas turns out to be Cruz's biggest blessing and curse, and will play a huge role in how and what Cruz 2016 looks like.

1. The Texas blessing -- ideological freedom and center of GOP power.

The Texas blessing is two-fold.

First, despite chatter about its inevitable march toward purple, as of now, the state remains one of the most conservative in the nation.

In the 2012 election, Mitt Romney did better in Texas (16% victory) than he did in Louisiana, Indiana, South Carolina, Missouri, Arizona, Georgia, and Mississippi.

Meanwhile, there are twice as many Republican congressional representatives as Democratic members in the state, and a Democrat hasn't been elected, state-wide, since 1994.

What does that mean?

It means Ted Cruz can do or say pretty much whatever he wants.

He can be a Rick Perry Republican, a John Cornyn Republican, or a Kay Bailey Hutchison Republican. Each of those is an entirely different breed, and throughout history, each has been enormously successful in the state.

That gives him a huge runway for political self-actualization, and unlike his purple and blue state 2016 brethren, he doesn't have to worry about collapsing support at home or the delicate balance of maintaining the support of 51% of diverse constituents.

Almost every '16 GOP candidate comes from a state Obama won

Think about the geography of his 2016 foes.

Chris Christie, New Jersey = Blue state that Obama won in 2008 and 2012.

Marco Rubio, Florida = Purple state that Obama won in 2008 and 2012.

Paul Ryan, Wisconsin = Blue state that Obama won in 2008 and 2012.

Scott Walker, Wisconsin = Blue state that Obama won in 2008 and 2012.

Susana Martinez, New Mexico = Blue state that Obama won in 2008 and 2012.

Brian Sandoval, Nevada = Blue state that Obama won in 2008 and 2012.

John Kasich, Ohio = Purple state that Obama won in 2008 and 2012.

Bob McDonnell, Virginia = Purple state that Obama won in 2008 and 2012.

Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire = Blue state that Obama won in 2008 and 2012.

Pretty incredible, no?

That means nine Republicans in the 2016 sweepstakes come from states Barack Obama won.

In fact, the only top-tier Cruz competitor from a Romney sttate is Rand Paul. That's it. Only one! (My use of an exclamation mark betrays the fact that I never thought about those numbers until this moment).

That means Ted's competitors all have a much tighter range for political self-actualization, and it means they can't be quite as conservative as Cruz in quite the same way.

That's a huge competitive advantage for Cruz in the primary.

The other blessing is that Texas is the only red state in the country that serves as a major source of donors and power brokers. Rick Perry couldn't have launched his late bid in 2012 if he were a governor from Alabama, but Texas gave him the connections and $.

Simply put, it's great to be a conservative from Texas in a GOP primary.

So to recap, Cruz can be who he wants to be, and right now, he's positioning himself as the most electorally viable tea party presidential candidate since forever.

2. The Texas Curse -- Ideological freedom and general election positioning.

Kant famously said that there were many things he believed that he wouldn't say, but he wouldn't say anything he didn't believe.

Well, thanks to Texas' current hue, Ted Cruz can get away with saying everything he believes.

But given enough string, people usually hang themselves. The same goes with politicians who have overwhelmingly blue or red constituencies.

A Texas conservative and Massachusetts liberal are a stereotyped breed

That's why you don't see too many black or Hispanic Democratic candidates at the statewide or national level. They often hail from overwhelmingly liberal districts where they rack up disastrous general election paper trails.

Likewise, the top GOP candidates rarely come from the reddest states.

Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Paul Ryan -- all those guys have to answer to a split electorate, and consequently, they're somewhat more measured than the Jim DeMint's of the world.

Well, since we already established that Cruz can do whatever he wants in Texas and get reelected, there's no natural check on him.

As a disclaimer, I don't think Cruz is a wacko or anything approaching a McCarthyite. He's a brilliant guy who rubs Washington the wrong way for many of the right reasons, but politicians are largely reflections of their constituencies, and for as powerful as the tea party is in primaries, they proved weak in the 2012 general election.

In short, there are better bases to have in a general election.

Then there's this final Texas curse besetting Cruz.

He fits the stereotype of the Texas Teapartier to a, well, T.

He's outspoken, colloquial, wears boots, and -- despite his last name -- is hawkish on immigration and gun-friendly.

Nominating him would be like Democrats nominating someone from Massachusetts (e.g. Elizabeth Warren, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry).

The truth is that it's never good to nominate a candidate who fits the stereotype of a heavily partisan state.

Democrats from Massachusetts will always get branded as shameless tax and spenders; likewise, Republicans from Texas will always get branded as Alamo people.

In a general election that's increasingly waged among a diverse people, neither is terribly electable, and Cruz is very Texas at a moment when its sway is reduced.

Maybe the 2014 midterms and their inevitably lower turnout will help the tea party and its candidates, but, nationwide, tea party identification is declining (down to just 8%) and 2012 suggested the movement peaked in 2010.