Ted Cruz, the Republican Texas senator and unofficial leader of the tea party faction, surprised exactly no one when he announced Monday that he would seek his party's 2016 presidential nomination. He may be a first-term lawmaker and he may have been born in the Canadian city of Calgary — an unusual birthplace for a wannabe American president, even if his eligibility is not seriously in question — but his ambitions have long been clear.
The way in which he made the announcement, however, was unorthodox, and hints at the role Cruz is likely to play in the Republican primaries.
Normally, campaigns for presidential nominations follow a familiar ritual. Candidates say that they're forming an exploratory committee and then delay an official announcement as long as possible. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is scaring most potential challengers out of the field without having even created an exploratory committee, serves as an extreme example of the typically protracted process.
Cruz cut to the chase. Rather than hemming and hawing as if he were working up the courage to ask out a high school crush, he announced that he was running, not just exploring, on Twitter at midnight.
Cruz and his aides may have thought that they'd impress millennials by using social media. Yet, as many were quick to mention, Cruz was not even the first candidate to announce on Twitter — Newt Gingrich tried it in 2011 — and four long years later the trick seemed almost old hat.
Liberals pounced. A Ted Cruz Campaign Slogans hashtag circulated with mock suggestions of highly uneven quality, such as “Like Sarah Palin's annoying younger brother” and “Your Racist Uncle's Favorite Candidate.” Some wags, myself included, couldn't resist pointing out that tedcruz.com is hosting a page consisting of nothing but “SUPPORT PRESIDENT OBAMA” and “IMMIGRATION REFORM NOW” against a black background. (Sometimes moving fast causes you to overlook the finer details.)
Immediately it became clear what Cruz would represent for the left wing. He would be the punching bag candidate; the most clownish in the Republican clown car; the one who will try to do something different, something a little new, and get nothing but grief in return.
Several hours later, on Monday afternoon, Cruz made a more traditional announcement at Liberty University, the Christian college in Lynchburg, Va., founded by Jerry Falwell. Once again he seemed to have young people in mind — specifically younger evangelical voters who may be considering alternatives such as Rand Paul.
And once again liberals pounced. Links to negative media coverage of Liberty University were sent around. There was much glee over a story from 2011 noting that Liberty students received roughly $445 million in federal financial aid money, making Liberty the top recipient of such aid in the state of Virginia. This fact was spun, on social media, as terribly damning for Cruz as a right-wing, anti-big-government crusader.
Some people, including students at the university, also questioned the school's decision to make attendance at the speech mandatory, with $10 fines for those who didn't attend. Stripped of context that made Liberty sound strangely strict, even dictatorial. But then the whole truth came out: Mandatory attendance at three convocations a year is a long-standing practice; Liberty wasn't giving Cruz special (or at least unique) treatment.
The left will enjoy beating up on Ted Cruz. Will the right rally behind him? Cruz is a long shot to win the nomination, but he is a canny politician with enough of a base of support to act as an ideological enforcer during the primaries. And one of the most important orthodoxies he will be policing is total, uncompromising opposition to what will invariably be referred to as “Obamacare.”
Another notable aspect of Cruz's announcement was the date: Monday was the fifth anniversary of President Obama signing the Affordable Care Act. The significance of this was swiftly grasped. Republican power broker William Kristol explained the symbolic importance of the date to his Twitter followers, and added that if “he makes zeal for repeal AND real plan to replace a centerpiece of his run, has a shot.”
Somehow I doubt that Cruz will propose that replacement. Cruz isn't methodical; he's all zeal and no plan, as evidenced by his unusual, quick burst announcement that he's running for president. But before he burns out he'll provide plenty of amusement for the left, and plenty of trouble for his more cautious colleagues on the right.
Scott Lemieux is a professor of political science at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y., with a focus on the Supreme Court and constitutional law. He co-founded the blog Lawyers, Guns and Money. Twitter: @LemieuxLGM