Cruz's steps into spotlight earn him backlash

It’s been a rough few days for Ted Cruz, the unflinchingly conservative senator from Texas with designs on the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. 

Among the setbacks: the charge led by Cruz and a handful of other Senate Republicans to link funding the government past this fall to defunding Obamacare appears to be quickly losing steam. His college days at Princeton were recast in unflattering terms in a piece published Monday by the Daily Beast. And last – but not least – the Dallas Morning News published a copy of Cruz’s Canadian birth certificate, injecting fresh life into questions as to whether the Texas senator is even constitutionally eligible to serve as president. 

“Calgary Sun will need to get a primer on Iowa Caucus math,” joked David Plouffe, President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, on Twitter

More seriously, as 2016’s battle for control of the White House takes shape at this remarkably early stage, the guffaws surrounding Cruz do little to help the Texas senator – just seven months on the job now – force himself into the top tier of contenders for the Republican nomination in the next election. 

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) speaks during the family leadership summit in Ames, Iowa Saturday Aug. 10, 2013. Justin Hayworth / AP

Most substantively, a growing coterie of Republican lawmakers have begun to distance themselves from the strategy in this autumn’s fiscal battles favored by Cruz and Sens. Mike Lee, Utah, and Marco Rubio, Fla. Those lawmakers have demanded that their colleagues pledge to not vote to continue government funding – and thereby, risk a politically risky government shutdown – unless Obama’s signature health care law is defunded, or, at least, delayed. 

“The problem is the bill that would shut down the government wouldn't shut down Obamacare,” Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, Ky., said of that strategy last week

Still, the Texas senator will fan out across the country – including stops in some politically important primary states – for a bus tour with the conservative group Heritage Action promoting the strategy. Following a trip earlier this month to Iowa, Cruz will also stop next week in New Hampshire, which typically holds the second presidential nominating contest, following the Hawkeye State’s traditional caucuses. 

And while Cruz might receive a warm welcome from the GOP’s conservative faithful, his willingness to venture so forcefully into the public spotlight has also won him more scrutiny. 

The Daily Beast’s story about Cruz’s days as an undergraduate student at Princeton was a particularly instructive example of how harsh media coverage can be for a rising political star in either party. The revelation – confirmed in the story by a Cruz spokeswoman – that a young Ted Cruz lost some $1,800 in poker games during his freshman year was one of the least damning details of the story. 

The story also casts a young Cruz as no less ideologically uncompromising as he is now. The story recounts the awkwardness of Cruz’s interactions with female classmates while wearing a paisley bathrobe, and his more modest success with the women who populated the competitive debate circuit, which Cruz dominated as a student. One particularly critical former classmate of Cruz’s suggested he would prefer to pick a name at random from the phone book than see the Texas senator win the presidency. 

That wasn’t the only story about Cruz to make waves this weekend, though. 

The Texas Republican’s office released a copy of his birth certificate in the Canadian city of Calgary, Alberta to the Dallas Morning News, which published a copy on Sunday evening. Cruz has long explained that his mother’s American citizenship meant that he was a natural-born American citizen, and a spokeswoman for Cruz told the Dallas paper that the senator never had to go through a naturalization process, or has he ever held Canadian citizenship. 

But experts quoted by the Dallas Morning News suggested that Cruz might be eligible for dual-citizenship if he were to ever pursue it. And he might have to take steps to officially relinquish any claim to his Canadian citizenship were he to run for president. 

The spectacle of having to do that would be politically damaging enough on its own. Democrats’ glee to see a Republican get his comeuppance after years of conservative conspiracy theories about Obama’s place of birth only stands to make matters worse.