Ted Cruz 2016: Is He a Pretender or Contender?

Senator Cruz’s rise into the national spotlight has been nothing less than supersonic. A skilled orator for the conservative cause, grass-roots activists and Tea Party groups welcome him with open arms. But the question on everyone’s mind is: Will Senator Cruz make a bid for president in 2016?

It is no secret that Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has my heart already for 2016. But, I would be foolish if I did not acknowledge that Cruz will give him and all the other 2016 hopefuls a run for their money. The freshman senator has become one of the most prominent and eloquent voices of the Republican Party. We witnessed Cruz’s rhetorical prowess during the Chuck Hagel nomination hearings (watch video here). You only need to get about 3 minutes into that video to see that Cruz practices a fearless, relentless, take-no-prisoners form of conservatism. That unbending commitment to principle is exactly what appeals to so many Republicans about Cruz. After watching the train wreck failure of the party in the 2012 presidential race, Republicans are looking for a candidate whose principles are unquestioned.

Lack of coherent messaging and minority outreach were the two largest problems identified in the RNC’s Growth and Opportunity Project. Senator Cruz has an enormous potential to make a difference in both of these areas. He has already proven that he can rile up the Republican base with his oratory, but could he reach over party lines in 2016? It is too soon to give a definitive answer. Having only held the senatorial office for less than six months, Cruz has a few years to grow and develop a more independent political voice. Right now though, he has what I call the "Sarah Palin problem." His articulation of the conservative message resonates well with his base but no one outside the party is listening.

Perhaps that will change for Cruz as it did with Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) when he began to take on legislative crusades of his own à la immigration reform. For the time being though, Cruz’s main legislative issue has been fighting against gun control, and, while admirable, it does little to broaden his base of support. Depending on how his career plays out in the next couple years, Cruz may not need to focus too heavily on broadening his base for one simple reason: he isn’t an old white guy. A February Gallup poll showed that Latino voters who identify as Democrats outnumber Latino Republicans 2 to 1. The fact that out of the deep bench of Republicans vying for the GOP nomination in 2016, two are Latino will surely have significant impact among Latino voters. If nothing else, it will give Cruz and Rubio a slight advantage over other 2016 candidates.

The question with Senator Cruz isn’t will he or won’t he; rather, it’s a question of how formidable a contender will he really be in 2016? If the primaries were held tomorrow, he probably wouldn’t make it very far. He simply has not had enough time in the Senate to accomplish much of anything in the way of legislative action or to develop a unique voice outside of the standard conservative talking points. Only time will tell over the next couple years what Senator Cruz’s fate will be in the party, but he’s definitely going to be a fun one to watch.