Ted Cruz Is Tying His Campaign To The Speaker Shake-Up And Conservative Voters Are Loving It

Kira Lerner

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

As Washington continued to deal with a leadership crisis in the House of Representatives last week, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz took a campaign swing through Iowa, riding a wave of support he has received as a result of the mess in Congress.

Cruz’s Iowa campaign tour came three weeks after House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced he’d be resigning and less than a week after Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the assumed successor, said he would not run for the job. The shake-up may soon be resolved as an election is scheduled for next week and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) said Tuesday he would run for the position given that certain conditions are met, but the underlying divisions in the party are not going away.

Those divisions and the leadership crisis in Congress are a direct result of demands made by the House Freedom Caucus, a group of ultra-conservatives that, after pressure from Cruz, dethroned Boehner, destroyed McCarthy’s candidacy, and may fight Ryan’s election. Cruz meets monthly with the 40 or so hardliners in the 10-month-old caucus and has encouraged them to drive his agenda in the lower chamber.

But hundreds of miles away from the mess and from the growing frustrations over the Texas senator’s inability to compromise or stand down from a government shutdown, Cruz highlighted his record of “standing up to Washington” and obstructing government to voters in Iowa. “On that, my record is markedly different from every other candidate,” he said.

Cruz does stand out among the Republican candidates — he is the only one who fought tirelessly for the 2013 government shutdown, which hurt the economy and cost the federal government billions of dollars. He also was the strongest opponent of Obama’s executive action to protect roughly 5 million immigrants from deportation, and he is leading the fight in the Senate against Planned Parenthood, one of the largest providers of women’s health care in the country.

While he has been a central figure involved in the leadership fight in Washington, he maintained on the campaign trail that he was not getting involved in choosing the new House leader. In response to a question about whether Ryan would make a good speaker, Cruz told ThinkProgress that he’s “consistently stayed out of that question” and trusts the House Republican conference to select someone who is “deeply committed to honoring the promises to the men and women who elected us.”

Then on Meet the Press on Sunday, Cruz refused to defend Ryan’s conservatism, highlighting his unofficial but influential role in the House Freedom Caucus. “Speaker Cruz,” as Hill Democrats have called him for his influence on the lower chamber, is tying his campaign to the shake-up and the general unhappiness of the party base, reflected in the turmoil over choosing a new speaker.

Cruz is attempting to appeal to conservatives who are displeased with government and the Republican Party establishment. Voters in Iowa told ThinkProgress they admire Cruz’s willingness to fight back against the Washington elite.

“He’s fought a lot against Congress when they were wrong,” Keokuk resident Joyce Schevers told ThinkProgress. “He had the guts to get up and fight.”

Schevers said she’s “very disgusted” with most Congressional Republicans who have lost their conservative values and voted with Democrats. “I’m glad that Boehner stepped down because he voted with Obama a lot and he didn’t even fight,” Shevers, who identifies as a member of the Tea Party, continued. “That’s what’s so frustrating. The Republicans won by promising this and that, and they didn’t fight.”

Fort Madison, Iowa resident Tom Schulz, who said that he has “nothing in common with the establishment Republican Party,” called Cruz “potentially the next Ronald Reagan.”

“The Republican establishment absolutely despised Ronald Reagan,” he told ThinkProgress. “Very much the same dynamic you see today. I think it’s a repeat, although I think Cruz is maybe a little deeper than Reagan in his understanding of how the Washington machine works.”

Sen. Ted Cruz speaks with voters at a campaign stop in Keokuk, Iowa.

CREDIT: Kira Lerner

The latest Monmouth University poll puts Ted Cruz in third place with ten percent of Republicans saying they’d support him for the GOP nomination, leading all of the 11 other “establishment” candidates who together hold just 25 percent support. The only candidates currently leading Cruz — Donald Trump and Ben Carson — have never held political office.

That same poll showed that Tea Party supporters, many of whom make up Cruz’s base, have a much more negative view of the party than other Republicans. Fifty-nine percent of Tea Party supporters say the party is doing a bad job.

The Republican Party’s dissatisfaction with Washington is a direct reflection of Congress’ inability to follow through on its commitments, Cruz said. While other members of Congress will campaign on the promise they will do something — like defund Planned Parenthood or repeal Obamacare — they quickly give up their demands to compromise with the party establishment and with Democrats in Congress.

On the campaign trail, Cruz is tirelessly repeating the point that he stands up for what he believes in and follows through on promises. In Kalona, Iowa, he said that Trump’s candidacy has been “immensely beneficial for our campaign” because he has “helped frame the central question of this primary as: who will stand up to Washington?”

“Well if that’s the central question, the natural next question is who actually has stood up to Washington?” he said, to cheers from the crowd. “I can’t think of a better question for the Republican Party to be decided on than that one.”

Cruz’s ability to tout his record of standing up to Washington has helped him on the campaign trail and has put him in a good position to await Trump and Carson’s fade. “At the same time the Trump shine is starting to fade, Cruz could be positioned to become the candidate vehicle that the most conservative voters rally behind,” GOP pundit Kevin Madden told the Wall Street Journal.

The budget drama and the threat of another government shutdown in December will again put the spotlight on Cruz, who is more than willing to shutter the government to get what he wants — and to prove to the American people that he’s the candidate who will “stand up to Washington.”


This has been reposted from Think Progress.

Kira Lerner is a Political Reporter for ThinkProgress. She previously worked as a reporter covering litigation and policy for the legal newswire Law360. She has also worked as an investigative journalist with the Chicago Innocence Project where she helped develop evidence that led to the exoneration of a wrongfully convicted man from Illinois prison. A native of the Washington, D.C. area, Kira earned her bachelor's degree at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.