Ted Cruz may be angling to snatch up Rand Paul's supporters

James Hohmann at the Washington Post is sketching out an intriguing, behind the scenes theory of what’s going on in the second and third tiers of the GOP primary field this month and it’s not what most of us would call a likely scenario. Texas Senator Ted Cruz may be looking to undercut his Kentucky colleague Rand Paul and scoop up his donors and supporters.

Ted Cruz’s operatives are quietly reaching out to Rand Paul’s early supporters and endorsers, making the case that the Texas senator is their best bet if they want a Republican nominee who is friendly to libertarians.

Saul Anuzis, the former Michigan GOP chair who is working for Cruz, recently traveled to New Hampshire to meet with Paul backers and make that case, my colleague David Weigel scoops for the 202. The key to his pitch: Paul is floundering and Cruz is viable. Other sources tell me that Cruz is poised to roll out a few endorsements from 2012 supporters of Ron Paul who have held off on signing with Rand.

This may sound fairly crazy (and I’ll have more on that in a moment) because the two candidates seem, at first glance, to be in entirely different lanes in terms of our standard definitions of primary contenders. Ted Cruz is the outsider from Texas who represents the very definition of the social and fiscal conservative base, along with being a definite hawk on foreign affairs. Rand Paul is… well, he’s Rand Paul. He’s sort of the icon of the libertarian wing who retains a lot of his father’s baggage with the traditional GOP base. But Hohmann makes some very good points in his analysis.

First, Cruz is on the rise. After the last debate his numbers have moved up enough to be a very high end second tier candidate if not at the lower end of the first tier. His own fundraising and that of the multiple Super PACs behind him dwarf Rand Paul’s and don’t leave him in the nearly disastrous shape that Rick Perry, for example, seems to be falling into. This has some of Paul’s traditional likely supporters getting nervous and they may be looking to find a safer place to invest their funds. Also, Cruz is giving signs of trying to court the libertarian crowd by bringing up the 4th amendment at multiple stops on the trail, and he’s even adopting some Ron Paul speak on the stump.

On Sunday, during a rally in Huntsville, Ala., Cruz pivoted twice to libertarian-leaning answers. First, he bragged about being “an original co-sponsor” of Paul’s “Audit the Fed” bill. “What the Fed is doing is dangerous,” he said. “They are debasing the currency with QE1, QE2, QE infinity!” Then, asked about databases kept by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to track diversity, Cruz touted his unrelated work “to lead the effort to end the federal government’s bulk collection of phone metadata.”

But how much of a libertarian slant can Cruz really pull off? He’s extremely aggressive (in the right way) on both immigration and fighting ISIS. When you get into some of the traditional social conservative areas, Cruz is in a different world than Rand Paul. He’s 100% pro-life as opposed to the more libertarian “keep the government out of the doctor’s office” mantra of the libertarians. Ditto on gay marriage. So there is some overlap between the candidates, but not all that much.

But then I have to ask myself… where else are Rand Paul’s supporters and donors going to go if he continues to tank? Cruz may not be a carbon copy in libertarian terms, but it’s not as if the rest of the folks in actual contention are a much better fit. And Cruz at least has the virtue of being someone else willing to stand up in the well and filibuster till the cows come home in opposition to the leadership. Where else are his supporters going to go? To Jeb Bush? This might not be such a crazy idea after all. And if Ted Cruz can soak up any significant amount of Paul’s support it could easily put him near the front of the line. Personally, I’d love to see it.