Born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father who fought both for and against Fidel Castro, freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz wants to be the Republican party’s presidential nominee in 2016.
There is some debate over whether his having been born abroad might render him ineligible for the top job. The constitution requires presidents to be “natural born citizens”. Mr Cruz says it’s enough that his mother is American and that location of birth does not matter. Asked whether he believes President Obama is a “natural born citizen”, Mr Cruz refuses to give a straight answer.
To succeed, he needs to win Republican presidential primaries. He has been making the obligatory piligrimage to Iowa, site of the first presidential nominating heat. His strategy is to get himself nationally known and loved by voters who think Mr Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim Marxist and reviled by what is left of the grown-up Republican establishment. He is doing well on all counts.
In the failed Republican hostage-taking to destroy President Barack Obama’s signature accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare, no one was more flamboyant or intransigent or more bumptiously disrespectful of traditional Washington ways than Mr Cruz. He earned the contempt not only of Democrats and the mainstream media, but of his fellow Republicans in the Senate, and he is revelling in all of it.
To understand why, it helps to get into the heads of the Republican base. Stan Greenberg, whose polling helped Bill Clinton to the presidency in 1992 and who has also advised the ANC, has been probing those heads systematically in recent months. His newly published findings, based on a series of six focus groups, two each with Evangelical Christians, Tea Partisans and moderates, shed light on the gridlock in Washington.
Evangelicals form the largest single bloc in the base, accounting for roughly a third of voters who identify themselves as Republicans, Mr Greenberg says. Tea Party supporters make up another fifth, combining with evangelicals to form a majority. Only a quarter of Republican loyalists consider themselves moderate.
The evangelicals and Tea Partisans don’t see eye to eye on everything. The former, Mr Greenberg says, are driven by “a deep send of cultural and political loss”. They are repelled by gay marrriage. Heavily concentrated in the states of the old southern confederacy, they yearn for a time when society was more “homogeneous”.
Tea Partisans tend to be libertarian on social issues. For them “Obama’s America is an unmitigated evil based on big government, regulations and dependency”. Mr Obama is bankrupting the country, spying on them and wants to take way their guns.
What the evangelicals like about the Tea Party is its utterly uncompromising hostility to Mr Obama, Democrats and Republican RINO’s (Republicans in Name Only), their term for moderates and hensoppers. Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell has become their Louis Botha for compromising with the Mr Obama rather than driving the US into default.
They two groups are joined at the hip in their hatred for Obamacare and immigration reform. The pollster summarizes their shared worldview: “Big government is meant to create rights and dependency and electoral support from mostly minorities who will reward the Democratic Party with their votes…And on the horizon, comprehensive immigration reform and Obamacare. Citizenship for 12 million illegals and tens of millions getting free health care is the end of the road.”
These voters, their fears and prejudices reinforced by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and a stagnant (for them) economy, have been the driving force behind the government shutdown and the threat that US may default on its debt. They see things in apocalyptic nothing-to-lose terms. They have elected like-minded representatives, have deep-pocketed backers like the billionaire indutrialist Koch brothers, and are ready to replace any Republican who goes squishy on them.
The electoral math strongly suggests that the Republican party they increasingly control will retain its majority in the House of Representatives in next year’s elections. Mr Cruz figures they will also decide who becomes the party’s next Presidential nominee.
If he’s right, will that be good news for Hillary Clinton or whoever else the Democrats chose to succeed Mr Obama? Don’t underestimate Mr Cruz, warns Lanny Davis, a shrewd political consultant whose clients have included Bill Clinton. To win in Texas, Mr Cruz had to assemble a coalition that included Hispanic and independent voters. Democrats salivated in 1980 when the GOP nominated a B-movie actor who they figured was far too polarising to be nationally electable. Ronald Reagan won in a landslide.