Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's Texas. Texas Senator Ted Cruz won the Texas GOP straw poll. But what is striking is that he did so with 42% of the vote. Rand Paul and Ben Carson were tied for second place, and arguable we could throw Rick Perry in there too. All three were clustered around 12%.
This is Texas. It is Cruz Country, as the Politico calls it. But there are a few things to note.
First, he trounced the sitting Governor of Texas who remains popular in the state.
Second, this is happening outside of Texas as well.
Third, Cruz, despite all the popularity with the grassroots, has largely refused to play the endorsement game that so many others have.
Rand Paul went all in for Greg Brannon in North Carolina to no avail. Cruz has endorsed T.W. Shannon in Oklahoma, who isn't a sure thing yet, and Ben Sasse in Nebraska. Cruz could arguably be decisive in helping Chris McDaniel win in Mississippi, but has not chosen to go there.
Despite all the hell he gets from incumbent Republican senators, Cruz has been less engaged than Jim DeMint in picking them off in primaries, either publicly or behind the scenes. But where he does get involved, he has a huge impact. In Texas, every candidate Cruz endorsed won their elections. A few he did not endorse directly, like Ken Paxton, used Cruz constantly in their imaging to win.
Conservatives want a fighter. They have found one in Cruz. He is smart. He is articulate. He is not prone to misstep. And he shows he is willing to throw punches — sometimes at his own side — in order to make DC listen. That mantra, making DC listen, is serving him well.
I have been dismissive of Cruz running in 2016 for President. But I suspect, at this point, the grassroots will pick him up and throw him into that fight if he doesn't do it himself. The grassroots want someone to fight. And they see Washington Republicans more concerned about corporate interests instead of citizen interests. Right now, Cruz fights on a wider portfolio of issues than even Rand Paul. So the base is gravitating to Cruz.
A serious question remains — when the siren call of moderating his image comes ahead of 2016, will the base still stand with Cruz if he decides, wrongly I think, that he must moderate?