Ted Cruz’s 2016 Presidential Hopes Take a Hit

Pew is out with a new poll today that confirms that Sen. Ted Cruz’s #DefundObamacare strategy was viewed favorably by the Tea Party and horribly by all other Republicans.

Poll Ted Cruz

Before the shutdown, 47% of the Tea Party viewed him as favorable, compared with just 10% who didn’t. Not surprising, he’s even more popular now. He’s gone from a +37 favorable to a +66. He’s clearly a Tea Party hero, but he already was a Tea Party hero. He didn’t need to choose a futile strategy, shut the government down, piss off the Republican establishment and surrender without accomplishing anything. Ted Cruz failed mightily, but the Tea Party is very happy with him for putting up the fight.

The rest of Republicans? Not so much. His unfavorables nearly doubled and he went from a +10 to -6 in net favorables. That’s really bad.

So, did Cruz help himself or hurt himself for his 2016 chances?

There are two different schools of thought. One is that he first needs to win the primary and that will require Tea Party support. In that regard, his plan was a huge success. The other school of thought is that he will need money and the backing of the Republican establishment as well. Clearly he has failed there.

The reason that this has been such a disaster for him is that he already was a Tea Party favorite. If he hadn’t gone on this wild goose chase, his favorables wouldn’t have improved, but they probably wouldn’t have fallen either. No one else was going to use this strategy. If the Tea Party reacted negatively to congressional Republicans not using the government budget and debt ceiling to fight Obamacare, they would’ve taken it out evenly on all the 2016 GOP candidates (at least those in Congress). The blame would have been shared equally so it wouldn’t have put Cruz at a disadvantage. There wasn’t much of an upside or downside to not using the #Defund strategy.

On the other hand, there wasn’t much of an upside to using the strategy. Cruz became a Tea Party cult hero, but he already was well-regarded. There’s only so much he can improve. However, there was a large downside. The establishment found out who it doesn’t want in 2016. And that’s Ted Cruz. They hated every bit of this and are not going to forget quickly. These are the people who Cruz needs to fund his campaign and support him. They are also the people that he hadn’t convinced to support him in 2016. After the #Defund plan, they are all but certain to find a different candidate. That trumps any gains he made amongst the Tea Party. It’s a big setback for his 2016 presidential ambitions

The Trouble Securing the GOP Nomination for Senate Republicans

Ed Kilgore, Josh Marshall and Kevin Drum each had posts today basically declaring Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) 2016 presidential aspirations dead after immigration reform has stalled in the house. Marshall says so defiantly. Kilgore believes that, after “settling” for candidates that were too moderate in 2008 and 2012, the Republican base will stay away from Rubio in ’16. Drum agrees, but adds that Rubio is young and has potential in 2020 and 2024.

I agree with all of that, but I want to expand the scope of this beyond just Rubio. Every senator with presidential aspirations – from Rubio to Ted Cruz (R-TX) to Rand Paul (R-KY) – is going to face the same critique from the general public: you haven’t done anything.

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Rubio’s 2016 presidential chances are falling.

It’s well known that Americans disapprove of Congress by large numbers. They also blame both sides for the gridlock, although the GOP gets slightly more of the blame in most polls. This presents a big problem for Republican presidential candidates over the next couple of years. How can they continue obstructing the Senate without continuing to seem like they’re the ones to blame? Rubio has seen over the past few weeks what happens when a senator steps across the aisle and tries to accomplish anything. Whatever passes the Senate is unacceptable to House Republicans, who are content to let the legislation die. Now Rubio faces the wrath of the base without anything to show moderates or Hispanics. That’s why Kilgore, Marshall and Drum have dug a grave for his 2016 presidential ambitions.

But Paul and Cruz are going to be expected to do more than shoot down every piece of legislation. Dave Weigel summed up Cruz’s six month in office today and his only accomplishments are disrupting lawmaking:

“That’s the story of Ted Cruz’s strategic acumen in the Senate. The paradox is that the theatrics that completely backfire in D.C. are embraced by activists in the bright world outside.”

We’re only six months into Cruz’s Senate career and it’s easy to rouse the base by refusing to compromise at the beginning. But at some point, most voters are going to want to see Cruz actually try to pass a law. The current Ted Cruz could certainly win the Republican primary, but he wouldn’t have a chance in the general election, because he won’t appeal to independents whatsoever. Three and a half more years of obstruction will just turn them off more.

That’s Republican senators’ problem: anyone in Congress will have trouble winning an election in 2016. It’s a lose-lose proposition for Republican Senators. If you support major legislation, help it get passed with bipartisan support and thus prove to moderates you’re willing to compromise, then the House will kill the bill (preventing you from taking credit), the Tea Party will withdraw their support and you will lose in a Republican primary. If you don’t support any legislation and just spend time arguing against all proposed policies, then independents will see you as an obstructionist who can’t govern. You’ll have Tea Party support, but moderate Republicans will be wary of your electability. If you do survive a primary, the Democratic candidate (likely Hilary Clinton) will beat you in the general election.

Rubio will top the list of 2016 Republican presidential candidates if immigration reform passes, but it’s unlikely it will. He took option one and lost. Cruz and Paul are eventually going to have to make a decision as well. Will they contribute to any policymaking and attempt to endear themselves to independents looking for compromise? Can they find a piece of legislation that is worth risking Tea Party support? Or will they continue to obstruct everything in the Senate, fight for support of the base and worry about pivoting in the future? That’s what makes any Republican congressman’s presidential campaign (pre-campaign in this case) so challenging. Anyone from the Senate faces structural political challenges that are nearly impossible to overcome. Rubio has already been taken down by them. Who will be next?