Those who dream of a Cruz-Bush showdown constantly harken back to Cruz's shocking 2012 Senate victory
The Cruz campaign is convinced that the playbook will work once again
Ted Cruz’s team thinks they already beat Jeb Bush – three years ago.
That’s when Cruz, a young lawyer with a thin resume but political talent, elbowed his way through a crowded field with just enough cash and just enough endorsements to topple an establishment hero with more money than a candidate could ever hope for.
The Cruz foe then was David Dewhurst, and he continues to cast his shadow. If he could be beaten then, say Cruz’s truest believers, Cruz can’t be beaten now.
“They’re all Bushes,” said Morgan McComb, an online activist who proudly chose to wear one of the original 50 “Ted Cruz for U.S. Senate” shirts as she waited in line Thursday for Cruz to sign her Cruz-tattooed, custom-made Converses.
Advisers, allies and donors who dream of a Cruz-Bush showdown constantly harken back to the 2012 come-from-behind shocker that the Texas Republican scraped together.
That psychology of bravado was never more obvious than here on Thursday, when Cruz returned to the same tea party rallies and grassroots gatherings that were “ground zero” of his insurgent victory.
He’s now working to defend his home state from presidential rivals, and nearly every surrogate who spoke at Cruz’s three events shared memories of 2012 and expressed little worry this campaign will turn out differently than that one.
“Y’all saw what we did in the Senate race,” Cruz told a standing-room only crowd here in the Fort Worth Stockyards. “Let me tell you something: The same thing is happening right now.”
Critics: Cruz falsely optimistic
But critics of Cruz argue that the political neophyte is falsely optimistic, overly projecting one race onto a very different one.
Running for President nationwide against what is seen as one of the most talented fields in modern history is far different than running for Senate in a ruby-red state against a stiff David Dewhurst.
And of course, Cruz has only run a race once, so his method is hardly ironclad.
“Ted Cruz is a tough, relentless campaigner,” said Jim Bognet, a senior adviser to the Dewhurst campaign who has also worked on presidential races. “However, to make a Texas analogy, Cruz won a big upset in the Big 12 championship game. But now he is in the NFL, and those guys are fast, big and smart, and they hit really hard.”
Cruz, the state’s high-profile solicitor general, had never run for elected office before.
Dewhurst, the lieutenant governor, had invested $25 million of his own money and had the support of nearly all of the state’s Republican elite, including Gov. Rick Perry.
But Cruz outraised the other anti-Dewhurst hopefuls, won national favor from conservative groups like the Club for Growth, and peaked just soon enough to keep Dewhurst under the 50% threshold needed to advance free of a runoff.
The Cruz strategy
That’s very much the Cruz strategy in 2016: Raise enough money to go the distance, court the fans of other conservative candidates who inevitably drop out, and emerge in the spring as the clear conservative alternative to an establishment favorite like Bush.
“I’ve seen this play out before,” said John Drogin, the campaign manager of Cruz’s Senate run who is now running an outside group to back him in 2016. (Much of the 2012 staff is now working out of Cruz’s Houston-based headquarters.)
“A lot of the conservative primary voters are thinking, or even saying: Finally, we have a consistent conservative who can raise money and wage an effective campaign. And I think that’s what they felt in the 2012 race too.”
The Cruz campaign is convinced that the playbook will work once again, and the candidate himself projected confidence across the Lone Star State on Thursday, all but taunting his Republican rivals to try and encroach on his “political base” in the state.
“They may discover a difficult path but I welcome every one of them to the state of Texas,” he told reporters.
“We’re going to win the state of Texas,” he later told a tea party crowd outside of Houston.
At a muggy mid-day rally in Tyler in East Texas, Cruz and his most prominent backers looked to convince them of that very fact.
“Many of you sitting in this room mobilized, made calls and knocked on doors and rose up and allowed Ted Cruz became Senator Ted Cruz,” said Congressman John Ratcliffe, who represents this area. “And now we need you to rise up to make sure Senator Ted Cruz is President Ted Cruz.”