It’s no secret that Ted Cruz has become the public face of the split between the Tea Party and the Republican party. The Fix’s Chris Cillizza sums up the difficult dynamic: “In short, what the government shutdown has proved is that what’s good for Cruz is not good for the Republican Party nationally.”(1) This brings up an interesting dynamic going into the 2016 presidential race. Can Ted Cruz be elected president if the Republican Party is not behind him? And (perhaps a more appropriate question), can he secure the Republican nomination? Last week’s Values Voter Summit straw poll seemed to definitively answer that question. Cruz crushed his competition by earning 42 percent of the vote while the next closest competitor, neurosurgeon Ben Carson and PA Senator Rick Santorum, won 13 percent. Even more surprisingly, 2016 favorites Marco Rubio and Rand Paul only won 5 and 6 percent of the vote, respectively (2). This, however, is not surprising. The Family Research Council Action contest is seen as a good indicator of how candidates will fare in primary elections. But as we now, research shows that primary voters are usually those who strongly identify with a party. (3) Ted Cruz clearly has the Tea Party vote, but is that enough? The article states, “Family Research Council Action president Tony Perkins said in a statement that the results show conservative activists are looking for someone willing to challenge President Obama and the Democratic Party.” However, are these Tea Partiers looking for someone to challenge the Republican Party as well? The government shutdown has exposed the deep fissures in the Republican Party that not even the 2012 election fully revealed. Some have even speculated that this is the beginning of a split between the groups. CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Berger believes that the party will split in order to survive; traditional Republicans have to isolate Tea Partiers in order to appeal to moderates. (4)
Many are questioning whether Ted Cruz’s technique will be successful. Chris Cillizza has an interesting theory on the matter. He says Ted Cruz doesn’t care about the 2016 general election, and he’s correct in doing so. The first task of a 2016 GOP hopeful is to secure the Republican nomination. As the Values Voter Summit straw poll showed, he’s on the right track for that. Cillizza says that the tactics of Rubio, Paul and Christie, who seem to be shying from taking such an extreme conservative stance, are putting the cart in front of the horse so to speak. Those ideologically fervent Tea Partiers are the ones who will show up to vote on primary day. But I wonder what Alexander would say about this? Presidential candidates leaning to the far left or right in primary season followed by a move to center is common, but can a presidential candidate who outwardly criticized his party, lead the charge for a government shutdown and threatened a second? Especially if that candidate has alienated his own party?
The spectacle is reminiscent of Barry Goldwater’s candidacy in 1964. The people who backed Goldwater were not unlike those who support Cruz, they strongly identify as conservative and they are openly critical of the GOP. (5) Goldwater ultimately failed, as did the Republican party in this case. However, years later Reagan was elected. His election was seen as a success for this new conservative movement that was not unlike the Tea Party. So while Ted Cruz’s fate in 2016 is still up in the air, the Tea Party could be the beginning of a powerful shift and power grab in DC.
(3) Turnout and Representation in Presidential Primary Elections by Austin Ranney