Freshman senator Ted Cruz is considering a presidential run, according to his friends and confidants.
Cruz won’t talk about it publicly, and even privately he’s cagey about revealing too much of his thought process or intentions. But his interest is undeniable.
“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.”
For the moment, Cruz’s inner circle is small: mostly aides from his Senate campaign; his father, Rafael; and his wife, Heidi. They didn’t plan on having these presidential conversations so early in his first term. Yet Cruz’s rapid ascent and a flurry of entreaties from conservative leaders have stoked their interest — and Cruz’s.
“Ted won’t be opening an Iowa office anytime soon, but he’s listening,” says a longtime Cruz associate. “This is all in the early stages; nothing is official. It’s just building on its own.”
Behind the scenes, there is a palpable fear on the right that the GOP will nominate a moderate Republican in 2016. There’s also growing unease with the field of likely contenders.
Enter Cruz. His supporters argue that he’d be a Barry Goldwater type — a nominee who would rattle the Republican establishment and reconnect the party with its base — but with better electoral results.
Republican power brokers from the early-primary states have noticed. They tell me that the Cruz factor is a frequent topic of discussion among state-based strategists.
“You bet, he’s on my radar,” says Chad Connelly, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. “Conservatives think he’s a rock star. I hear about him from everybody.”
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.”
Cruz isn’t worried that his birth certificate will be a problem. Though he was born in Canada, he and his advisers are confident that they could win any legal battle over his eligibility. Cruz’s mother was a U.S. citizen when he was born, and he considers himself to be a natural-born citizen.
As Cruz considers a run, his staff keeps adding new speaking appearances to his calendar. This week, he’ll headline the South Carolina GOP’s Silver Elephant dinner; in late May, he’ll speak to Wall Street heavies at the New York GOP’s annual dinner.
Earlier this year, Cruz gave the keynote speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he was greeted with a raucous reception and praised by Sarah Palin. She touted Cruz as a conservative who “chews barbed wire and spits out rust.”
The debates over gun control, immigration, and President Obama’s appointees have fueled his rise. He has been out front on each issue, brashly battling Democrats and, if need be, his fellow Republicans. “He’s the purest of the young conservative senators — that’s how we see him,” says a consultant who works for a leading conservative group.
That ideological purity and Cruz’s presidential maneuvers make aides close to other Republican contenders nervous. The backroom Republican consensus is that a Cruz insurgency would hardly be a quixotic publicity stunt. He’d outflank almost all of the other candidates on the right, and his debating skills, which once won him national awards, would be formidable. It doesn’t hurt that much of the media already hates him with a passion.
He’s also tighter with Republican donors than most people realize. Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal, is a close friend — one of many donors with Cruz ties. Four years ago, Thiel poured more than $250,000 into Cruz’s aborted race for Texas attorney general, and he has recently donated millions to groups supporting Cruz, such as the Club for Growth. Sources close to other top Republican donors tell me that the senator is as good at wooing financiers as he is at wooing the Tea Party.
Cruz is obviously only one of several Senate conservatives gunning for the nomination. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, among others, have been busy traveling to the early states and slowly building up their political staffs. So have GOP governors such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal.
For now, Cruz is running behind in terms of organization. But sources say that doesn’t deter him in the slightest. “If he thinks this country needs bold leadership, he’s not going to shy away,” the former colleague says. “He is one of the most confident people I know, and he’d run to win.”
— Robert Costa is National Review’s Washington editor.