WASHINGTON — Ted Cruz has been raising his profile on a number of fronts, speaking out to warn the White House on responses to gun violence and the attack on Saudi oil fields, weighing in on a GOP Senate primary race, opposing a circuit court nominee as not conservative enough and even making a splash on social media.
It’s all about presidential politics.
No, not 2020. 2024.
Cruz, R-Texas, who narrowly won reelection less than a year ago after coming in second to Donald Trump in the 2016 GOP presidential primary, has begun to position himself as the conservative choice in 2024.
“Welcome to Ted Cruz 3.0, always recasting himself to make a savvy political move,” said Brandon Rottenhaus, political science professor at the University of Houston. “It’s smart. The Republican Party has been hollowed out and wary Republicans will be looking for a voice in the darkness.”
Cruz would be up for reelection in 2024 but he is a proponent of term limits — two six-year terms for senators and three two-year terms for House members — and is not expected to run for U.S. Senate again.
Cruz gave a preview of his plans this month in his first appearance at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast, a Washington institution popular with politicians as a forum to engage with reporters and make news.
“Look, I hope to run again,” Cruz told the Monitor after the breakfast. “We came very, very close in 2016. And it’s the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.”
There are many signs Cruz will enter the 2024 race, no matter if President Trump is re-elected or a Democrat wins in 2020.
“I don’t think there is any question that Ted Cruz is seriously contemplating a 2024 presidential bid,” said Mark Jones, professor of political science at Rice University. “And, at present, one way to lay the groundwork for a 2024 bid is to differentiate himself from President Trump on issues where Trump has taken a more centrist position than many in the GOP base are comfortable with.”
But there are hazards, too, to the strategy.
Cal Jillson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University said, “It’s smart to start now but he has to do it carefully. Trump does not like people who take away attention from him.”
Cruz has taken a hard line against Trump making an agreement with Senate lawmakers on stricter background checks for gun buyers, warning that Republicans will be turned off from voting in the 2020 election if Congress places more limits on gun purchases — and Trump goes along with it.
“If Republicans abandon the Second Amendment and demoralize millions of Americans who care deeply about Second Amendment rights, that could go a long way to electing a President Elizabeth Warren,” Cruz said at the Monitor breakfast. Trump has not yet announced an agreement.——
Cruz advocates legislation he has authored with U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to beef up the current background check system with more crime data from federal sources and says that the plans touted by Democrats would not have prevented any of the recent massacres.
On foreign policy, Cruz has publicly pushed for more sanctions on Iran after the drone attacks on Saudi oil fields, attributed to Iran by the Trump administration. And he has warned that “deep state forces” in the government were trying to rescue the Iran nuclear deal canceled by Trump — and that they may have been behind the firing of national security adviser John Bolton, a conservative favorite.
“Cruz has made his peace with Trump, but it’s already obvious he’d like to run again in 2024 as the ‘real conservative’ who can bring the GOP back to its more familiar ideology,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
Break with party
In what may be a replay of Trump vs. Cruz in New Hampshire, the junior Texas senator has just endorsed a Senate candidate, Bill O’Brien, who chaired Cruz's 2016 presidential campaign in the Granite State. Trump has been a booster of his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who is considering a run.
And this week, in an unusual break with his party, Cruz is expected to vote against a GOP judicial nomination, District Judge Halil Suleyman “Sul” Ozerden of Mississippi, to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Texas. Ozerden has the strong backing of Mississippi’s two GOP senators.
Ozerden drew conservative criticism when he dismissed a challenge to Obamacare’s contraceptive care mandate by religious groups. Religious liberty was a central issue for the Cruz presidential campaign.
In a statement to Politico, Cruz said that he had “significant concerns” about Ozerden’s record and that “I will oppose his nomination.” Cruz is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee which is scheduled to vote on Ozerden Thursday.
Cruz has made some changes — and not only in his appearance. His beard, which he grew after his razor thin win over former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, seemed to make him more folksy and he’s made an effort to be more approachable, such as by appearing in a Facebook Live meeting with actor activist Alyssa Milano over gun control measures — who hugged him at the conclusion.
“I have noticed one change,” said Sabato. “Cruz is more relaxed on TV, friendlier and less strident. He’s also injecting humor from time to time. I think the close race with Beto, a near-death experience, had some lasting effect on him.”