Quotes of the day

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has come in first in the Values Voter Summit presidential straw poll for the second year running. Receiving 25 percent of the votes cast, down from 42 percent in 2013, Cruz was the favorite for the 2016 Republican president nomination among the 2,000 social conservatives activists at the conference…

Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council Action which sponsored the annual conference, said that values voters are looking for leaders who “say what they mean and mean what they say.”

“They are looking for leaders who will take clear, unequivocal stands on the challenges facing our nation, not nuanced politically correct speeches. This is evidenced by those who finished top of this year’s straw poll,” he said in a statement.

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Ted Cruz is continuing to send signals that he’s running for president.

The Texas senator’s chief of staff, Chip Roy, a former top hand to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, is leaving his role as chief of staff and will play a larger role in Cruz’s political office, according to an aide with knowledge of the changes. He will gradually transition from the congressional office to serve as a senior political adviser for Cruz…

The move follows several recent additions to the conservative firebrand’s political operation and his growing campaign trail presence as he stumps for tea party-inspired Republican lawmakers who he hopes to add to the GOP’s right flank on Capitol Hill.

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Conservatives see an opening in the disarray in the GOP establishment, which has yet to settle on its preferred candidate amid former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s indecision about running and the troubles of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has seen his administration embroiled by a scandal over last year’s politically motivated closure of traffic lanes near the George Washington Bridge.

There is a brewing sense on the right that if a well-financed establishment Republican isn’t surging ahead, conservative Republicans could capture the nomination, with a consensus candidate eventually toppling whoever emerges weakened as the favorite of GOP financiers and party officials.

Seeking a charismatic, youthful and unrepentant champion who also holds traditional GOP views on foreign and economic policy, many leading figures in the conservative movement have begun to coalesce around Cruz, 43, as their best shot at elevating a fellow hard-liner.

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“Our values are who we are,” [Cruz] said. “Our values are why we’re here. And our values are fundamentally American. This country remains a center-right country. This country remains a country built on Judeo-Christian values.”

Though Paul hasn’t suggested that the GOP abandon these views, the libertarian-leaning senator from Kentucky hasn’t taken firm stances on key conservative issues. Earlier this year, he said that while he is against abortion, he wouldn’t push to overturn Roe v. Wade because the country is too divided on the issue. And he’s said that he thinks his party will “evolve” on gay marriage to become “a bigger place where there’s a mixture of opinions.”

That lack of orthodoxy won’t fly with Values Voter Summit attendees, and Friday, Cruz capitalized on his own decisiveness.

“How do we turn this country around?” he asked. “We don’t paint in pale pastels. We paint in bold colors.”

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Like George W. Bush before them, McCain and Graham are militaristic optimists. They want America to bomb and arm its way toward a free, pro-American Middle East. Cruz is a militaristic pessimist. He mocks the Obama administration’s effort to foster reconciliation “between Sunnis and Shiites in Baghdad” because “the Sunnis and Shiites have been engaged in a sectarian civil war since 632.” Notably absent from his rhetoric is the Bush-like claim that Muslims harbor the same desire for liberty as everyone else. Instead of mentioning that most of ISIS’s victims have been fellow Muslims, Cruz frames America’s conflict in the language of religious war. “ISIS right now is the face of evil. They’re crucifying Christians, they’re persecuting Christians,” he told Hannity.

Notice the difference. When Sunnis kills Shiites, Cruz shrugs because there’s been a sectarian divide within Islam since 632. But when Muslims kills Christians—another conflict with a long history—Cruz readies the F-16s.

With his combination of military interventionism and diplomatic isolationism, Cruz probably better reflects the views of GOP voters than any of his potential 2016 rivals.

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The following assertion may not seem immediately intuitive, but I believe it to be true: Ted Cruz is the current front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

First, I would implore all readers to watch a full Ted Cruz speech if he or she has not already. The man is simply a performative marvel. He manages to strike some sort of preternatural balance between fiery Southern Baptist sermon and stand-up comedy routine, invariably bringing crowds to their feet. In the era of the tweet-sized soundbite, Ted Cruz’s mastery of the one-liner and the pun are not trivial; they are integral to his success…

In the post-Citizens United landscape, traditional donor class support is becoming less and less important. Multi-billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson was able to bankroll Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential bid as nothing more than a personal vanity project. Gingrich went onto win the South Carolina primary. That unpredictable dynamic will only have been heightened by 2016. Ted Cruz may be disliked by elements of the GOP elite, but he doesn’t have to rely on their support to prevail, as likely would have been the case in years past.

Instead, Cruz can lean on what I’ll term the “para-establishment”—a constellation of advocacy groups, media entities, individual mega-donors, and others who have long ago thrown their lot in with Cruz.

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“I appreciate the liberty things that Cruz does, but he’s too polarizing sometimes. He’s become the whipping boy for the left,” said Jason Amatucci, a [Liberty Political Action Conference attendee] from Virginia. “I also think he’s hypocritical on his marijuana stance. I don’t see how you can sit there and say everybody should have guns but draw the line on the drug war. I think that’s just ridiculous.”

In fact, Cruz’s overt partisan criticism of the Obama administration, as opposed to substantive policy critiques, was repeatedly cited as a reason why he’ll have trouble expanding his support with libertarians, who are often skeptical of party politics.

“Rand is attacking government policy, not particularly any administration. Cruz seems to be, even though I’m a full supporter of him, a lot more blatant attacking the administration,” said Dennis Wade. “It’s easier to win people over to liberty when you are not attacking someone personally … When you are talking about the administration, you can lose some listeners in that battle.”

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The biggest reason Cruz’s nomination bid would be unlikely to succeed is that Republican party actors mostly identify him with the October 2013 government shutdown, which, apart from a small number of radicals, is perceived as a hugely damaging unforced error. Remember, not only were Republicans widely blamed for the shutdown, it also had the side effect of distracting the press from the disastrous first weeks of the Obamacare exchange rollout.

Even party actors who are itching to nominate a real conservative after suffering through Mitt Romney and John McCain (and in many cases having decided that George W. Bush was no conservative after all) are unlikely to choose a candidate whose strategic judgment has proved to be suicidal for the movement. And, fortunately for them, there are lots of perfectly conservative alternatives … even if Bobby Jindal, Mike Pence or Mike Huckabee can’t quite stir them the way Tail Gunner Ted can.

Anyone with any pragmatic tendencies is likely to oppose basing the party’s hopes on Cruz. And there shouldn’t be any shortage of candidates who can appeal to both pragmatic and idealistic conservatives. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cruz makes a lot of noise in 2015 and even in the primaries and caucuses in 2016. But that’s about it. Lots of candidates win primaries without really having a solid shot at the nomination, as Newt Gingrich could tell you.

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Cruz may be thinking to himself, “If Obama could do it, why can’t I?”

Though running for president in 2016 represents an opportunity for Cruz, it also represents a potentially huge risk, because a run could undermine his long-term effectiveness as a Senator. Cruz is a focal point of the effort to make sure there’s a critical mass of conservatives in the Senate pushing the agenda to the right. If a Republican is elected president in 2016, conservatives will still need strong conservative leadership from within Congress.

If Cruz runs and his candidacy flames out, it could hinder this goal. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is an example of somebody whose profile shrank substantially due to an unsuccessful presidential run. Right now, a lot of Cruz’s power rests in the fact that he has the ability to rally masses of conservative activists around his cause. But if he runs for the GOP presidential nomination and does poorly, his Republican establishment adversaries could conclude that his support is a mile deep but an inch wide, thus he can be easily ignored. That would deal a greater blow to his ability to advance a conservative agenda than if he declined to run and instead exerted influence from the outside.

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