The Wall Street Journal editorial board greets the announcement of Ted Cruz’s presidential candidacy by taking the Texas senator to task for, of all things, being too much like President Obama. The Journal notes that both men decided to launch a White House run as a 40-something first-term senator without executive experience and with some background in constitutional law (Cruz as a prominent constitutional lawyer who frequently won cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, Obama as a part-time law school instructor). The larger point of the piece, however, is to question whether Cruz could win or could govern if he did, and the comparison with Obama doesn’t help make the Journal’s case.
On electability, Obama won (twice) — and handily. Indeed, by being elected senator, both men filled one of the five categories of positions (senator, governor, vice president, cabinet secretary, or commanding general) that every future president not named Abraham Lincoln has held. Both wisely decided to run within their 14-year window, the point after which presidential aspirants (such as Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush) seem to exceed their historical expiration dates. And both were bold enough to realize that the time to run was before conventional wisdom said they should run.
On the ability to govern, anyone who thinks the main problem with Obama has been his lack of experience hasn’t been paying attention. The main problem with Obama hasn’t been his inexperience. It’s been that he had accomplished nothing of note in his life (except for getting elected to the Senate) prior to becoming president, knows little, and is wrong on most of what he thinks he knows. None of this applies to Cruz.
But Obama does have one quality that the GOP should be seeking in its nominee — willpower. As Obama has shown, even a president without much political acumen or expertise can go a long way toward “fundamentally transforming the United States of America” merely on the strength of his dogged determination to do so.
Take Obamacare. When Scott Brown won his Senate seat in Massachusetts in early 2010, any normal president would have called off the dogs, recognizing that the American public — even in Massachusetts! — wanted nothing to do with Obamacare. Instead, Obama pushed forward, and he won. Obamacare is law. Sure, the win came at the expense of Democratic control of the House, Democratic control of the Senate, and perhaps — soon — Democratic control of the White House. But none of that will much matter if a subsequent Republican administration and Congress fail to repeal what Obama has wrought.
This brings us back to Cruz. He has undeniably shown himself to be a fighter. Like Obama (and in this case, it’s mostly a compliment), he has shown himself to be more interested in pushing his agenda than in worrying about his popularity. The key test ahead for Cruz will be whether he can convince Republican voters that he isn’t merely the conservative fighter but is the man who can bring about conservative victories.
The most important conservative victory would be the repeal of Obamacare. More than any other candidate in the potential field, Cruz has made clear his opposition to Obama’s namesake. The challenge ahead will be for him to show that he not only has the determination to repeal Obamacare but actually has a viable plan for achieving that nation-defining goal. The number-one thing Republican voters want to undo from the Obama years is Obamacare. Hence, if Cruz can show that he has a Tea Party-friendly alternative to Obamacare that can pave the way to full repeal — if he can show that he won’t merely fight on Obamacare but will win — he may well have the chance to sign repeal legislation into law in early 2017.