Are you ready for President Ted Cruz?

I’m betting that you are.

Politico teased this possibility two weeks ago in a piece about the budding Cruz/Rubio rivalry, quoting one Texas Republican in the know as saying, “The worst secret in D.C. is Cruz is going to run for president, and he’s going to lean in hard against immigration to separate himself from all other 2016-ers.” NRO’s Robert Costa poked around and determined, yep, that’s increasingly plausible:

“If you don’t think this is real, then you’re not paying attention,” says a Republican insider. “Cruz already has grassroots on his side, and in this climate, that’s all he may need.”

“There’s not a lot of hesitation there,” adds a Cruz donor who has known the Texan for decades. “He’s fearless.”…

Cruz’s allies whisper that the 42-year-old attorney, who holds degrees from Harvard Law and Princeton, doesn’t take the groundswell of enthusiasm lightly. Besides talking with conservative grandees, he has called his peers in the legal community and raised the prospect.

“We all see a path, and he does, too,” says a former Cruz colleague. “This isn’t someone who needs to be told the obvious. He didn’t run for the Senate to get cozy, so no one who knows him is surprised that he’s at least looking at it.”

A conservative consultant calls him “the purest of the young conservative senators,” which might as well be Cruz’s campaign slogan given his appeal to the base. What about money, though? Per Costa, Cruz is buds with billionaire Peter Thiel, who’s donated big bucks to his campaigns before, and is reportedly “as good at wooing financiers as he is at wooing the Tea Party.” There’s no shortage of opportunities for wooing either, according to GOP consultant Rick Wilson:

Random thoughts:

1. Love Cruz or loathe him, if you’re a border hawk then this is all to the good as a way to keep Rubio and Paul honest on immigration in the next few months. Until now, the pro-reform Republicans could afford to cheat to the center on the theory that no one formidable would emerge on the right in 2016 to steal conservative votes from them. Yeah, granted, Santorum or someone like him might run and take a hardline anti-amnesty position to charm the base, but no one thinks Santorum’s going to upset Rubio or Paul. Cruz is a more legitimate threat, especially as a Latino superstar at odds with Rubio on his showcase bill, so now Rubio might be forced to tilt back to the right. Which, maybe, explains this.

2. If Cruz jumps in, we could end up with a 2016 field of him, Rubio, Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, and Chris Christie. Not one of those guys will have served more than a single term of elected federal office. The oldest of them, Christie, is currently just 50 years old. Whether that’s good or bad, and whether it would have been possible had Obama not won in 2008 as a 47-year-old with not quite four years of Senate experience, I leave to you to decide.

3. Per the second point, if all of them run, we could end up with a primary where the first few crucial states are won with less than 30 percent of the vote. If Christie jumps in, his path is clear: Woo the centrists and hope that the conservatives split. Cruz’s path is the opposite but just as clear: Woo the conservatives and tea partiers and let the others fight over the center-right. The other four are all left with headaches. Rand Paul will clean up with libertarians, but he’s counting on no one running to his right so that he can pile up votes from mainstream conservatives who find Rubio too squishy. Cruz would complicate that. Rubio, of course, would see his brand as the young, charismatic, tea-party-elected Latino star suddenly watered down, which risks reducing his identity to “guy who supported the immigration bill that lots of conservatives hate.” I don’t know what happens to Walker and Jindal, who’ll now be competing against four bigger names with no obvious constituency among Republican voters except as a none-of-the-above choice vis-a-vis the other four. Not impossible to win that way, but given all the ink spilled on the others, it’d be hard.

4. Some of this will depend on whether Hillary runs in 2016. An older Republican who realistically won’t have an opportunity to run in 2020 might feel obliged to try three years from now, no matter how formidable Hillary seems, but none of the guys mentioned above are old. The risk in waiting is that some other Republican might end up running and beating Hillary next time, which means other GOP aspirants won’t be able to run in 2020 either, but that’s okay. Every one of the big six can afford to wait 10 years or more, provided they figure out how to hold office/keep themselves politically relevant during that time. Worst-case scenario: You’re shut out until 2024, when you’re still in your mid-50s but with lots more government experience to tout to voters. Best-case scenario (for you, not for the party or the country): Hillary wins as expected in 2016, and then has to somehow figure out a way to win a fourth consecutive Democratic term in 2020 even though neither party has pulled that off since FDR/Truman. That’s when you pounce. Cruz, Rubio, and Jindal are each so young that not one of them will be 50 on election day 2020.

5. Purely as spectacle, a Cruz run would be nothing but fun. He’s replaced Palin as the media’s chief conservative hate object, so the coverage will be even more acidic than it is for the average righty candidate. (That’ll help him consolidate support among the base in the primaries, needless to say.) If you think the sputtering about Cruz as a neo-McCarthy is intense now, wait until he starts talking openly about running. The fact that he was born in Canada will bring out some Birther stupidity too. And watching him spar with Rubio and Paul will be a treat, partly because it’s not clear yet where he differs with them on various forms of policy. Obviously he’ll go after them on immigration, but he and Paul have been joined at the hip on everything else during Cruz’s time in the Senate thus far. Are there considerable other differences, or will a voter’s preference for one or the other come down to whether you think Rand’s a bit too Ron-like to be a safe choice? And if Cruz does choose to make immigration his main line of attack, how excited do you think establishment Republicans will be after all the post-2012 wooing of Latino voters to see the primaries turn into a referendum on whether the party betrayed conservatism by supporting a path to citizenship?

Exit question: If Cruz does run, how soon will it be before Beltway GOPers start whispering about unifying the party behind one center-right candidate in 2016 in order to stop him? And which candidate will it be? Rand Paul’s going to run no matter what, so even if the rest of the 2016 hopefuls play ball, you’re looking at a three-man field at a minimum.

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