Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas on Monday became the first to officially declare his candidacy for the 2016 presidential election. Here is a look at what he will need to do if he hopes to win.
To win the Republican nomination, Cruz will have to bring together the party’s anti-establishment wing, which is made of separate but overlapping voter blocs, including Christian conservatives, libertarians, and Tea Party voters angry with the leadership of both parties. His ultimate goal is to get into a one-on-one campaign against whoever emerges as the favorite of establishment Republicans. To do this, he must find a way to stand out in a crowded lane of conservative hopefuls. In a general election, Cruz would not attempt to win over centrist voters as much as he would try to galvanize conservatives who did not vote in recent elections because they were dissatisfied with the choices.
Cruz’s primary prospects depend on a strong performance in Iowa or South Carolina, both of which include substantial numbers of Christian conservatives. If he is unable to win one of those early states, or at least be one of the top conservatives in the states that begin the nominating process, he will have a difficult time surviving into next March, when there is likely to be a rapid succession of contests. Against a Democrat, Cruz, a Southern Baptist, would look to perform better than Mitt Romney in some of the Midwestern states among so-called Reagan Democrats — the heavily Catholic bloc of blue-collar voters who left their ancestral party to back Ronald Reagan — and evangelical voters.
Cruz will seek the Republican nomination by running not just as the most conservative candidate, but as the boldest one in the field. He will emphasize his hard-line stances against President Barack Obama, particularly his attempt to defund the health care law, which made him a deeply unpopular figure among his party’s leaders. He argues that in recent political history, Republicans have won only when they run as conservatives. Cruz’s message will be that he represents the most emphatic turn away from Obama and liberalism.
Why he could win
The presidencies of George W. Bush and Obama have pushed many Republicans toward a more doctrinaire brand of conservatism and away from the tradition of nominating candidates aligned with the establishment. By virtue of his strong speaking skills, biographical appeal, and uncompromising conservatism, Cruz is the most logical nominee in a party that has turned sharply to the right. In a general election, fatigue from the Obama years and the difficulty any party has in holding the White House for three consecutive terms could vault him to victory.
Why he could lose
Cruz is hardly the only conservative seeking the Republican nomination, and he could be overmatched by rivals able to raise more money, to enjoy crossover support from more moderate Republicans, or both. Should he find himself the torchbearer for the right, he would still find it difficult to defeat a better-funded Republican who had the backing of the party establishment. In a general election, Cruz would most likely struggle to appeal to centrist voters, and at the same time he could find himself unable to rouse the portion of the electorate that aligns with him ideologically, but does not vote.