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Texas Sen. Ted Cruz may be the first major candidate to announce a 2016 presidential campaign, but his path to the Republican nomination is likely blocked because of what made him famous in the first place: his role in the 2013 government shutdown.
Cruz, joined by other strong conservatives in both the House and Senate, refused to back a government funding bill back then unless money to implement the Affordable Care Act was removed. While it was not technically a filibuster, Cruz delivered a 21-hour, 19-minute "talkathon" in opposition to the bill, at one point reading the children's book "Green Eggs and Ham."
He was unsuccessful. Republicans relented after a 16-day partial shutdown, with money for the ACA approved in the final bill.
Conservative activists were delighted with Cruz’s intense opposition to the hated Obamacare. But Republican moderates, particularly his colleagues in the Senate, fumed that Cruz led the party into a political disaster. They privately suggested Cruz had put his personal ambitions ahead of the GOP, as even two years ago it was clear the Texas senator was considering a 2016 presidential run.
Late last year, Cruz again delayed a government spending bill, this time in an attempt to block Obama's executive action on immigration. He quickly yielded on the issue, but again irritated other Senate Republicans.
Now, as he starts his presidential campaign, Cruz finds himself with some support among the party’s grassroots but almost none from Republican Party elected officials and key donors. Those party elites don't trust Cruz personally and worry he is too conservative and ideological to win a general election.
That opposition will make it hard for Cruz to raise money. And key figures in the GOP, such as the party's last two presidential nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney, are almost certain to endorse other candidates over Cruz. That kind of opposition makes it extremely hard to win a party nomination.
Cruz, like his fellow senators and likely 2016 candidates Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, also faces a Republican Party deeply skeptical of nominating a first-term senator. Many Republicans believe President Obama's lack of executive experience before entering office was a major shortcoming, and they would prefer a former or current governor.
How can Cruz win? He starts with many of the right attributes. There are doubts from some Republicans about whether Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin or former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas have the knowledge and policy smarts to be a strong candidate or president.
But even Democrats acknowledge Cruz is very intelligent. His list of accomplishments is impressive: a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law school, clerk to then-U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist and later solicitor general for the state of Texas, where he successfully argued cases in front of the Supreme Court.
And the Cuban-American Cruz is firmly in the mainstream of Republican voters and elites on nearly every issue, unlike some of his fellow candidates. (Jeb Bush supports legalization for undocumented immigrants, unlike many GOP activists. Rand Paul, unlike most Republicans in Congress, supported Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba). Cruz, a Southern Baptist, is also deeply religious, as his father Rafael is a pastor.
Cruz’s path to victory would likely require him successfully courting evangelical Christians in Iowa and winning there. That is not an easy task, with Walker, Perry and Ben Carson all trying to woo that same bloc, as well as Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, who many conservative Christians in Iowa voted for in 2008 and 2012. Cruz is likely too conservative to win in New Hampshire.
So Cruz would then hope to win Tea Party conservatives and evangelicals throughout the South. A group of five southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee) are trying to organize a so-called SEC primary for March 1, which could be a big advantage for a candidate from the region. A one-on-one matchup with Bush in the later stages of the race would be ideal for Cruz, who could campaign as the true conservative.
That said, even in a two-man race, Cruz would face an party establishment that favored Bush and more liberal Republicans in states like California and New York unlikely to back him.