Cruz Could Ride ‘Unlikeability’ All the Way to the White House
Policy + Politics

Cruz Could Ride ‘Unlikeability’ All the Way to the White House

In an era of rampant anti-Washington sentiment among voters, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) wears his reputation as a conservative iconoclast and one of the least popular members of the Senate as a badge of honor.

Days after becoming the first politician to announce his candidacy for the 2016 presidential election, Cruz dismissed suggestions he’s too unlikeable and disdainful of the government process in Washington to win the White House.

Related: What Ted Cruz’s Announcement Reveals About His 2016 Campaign

“There’s an almost inverse relationship between being liked and appreciated in Washington, D.C., and reviled back home, and being reviled in Washington and appreciated back home,” Cruz told CNN’s Dana Bash on State of the Union Sunday.

Cruz cited the hero’s welcome he received at a state convention of the Texas Federation of Republican Women after he helped engineer a 16-day partial government shutdown in 2013 over defunding Obamacare. Cruz also railed against what he called “the Washington establishment” — people from both political parties who he says are afraid of grassroots movements.

When Bash said that hardly qualifies him to be president and that the White House isn’t in Texas, Cruz replied, “That’s part of the problem.”

Importantly, Cruz also drew a distinction between himself and President Obama, who, like him, ran for the presidency during a first Senate term. But Cruz said he’s had far more influence in the Senate than Obama did and called the president a “back-bencher” during his time in the upper chamber.

Related: Ted Cruz: 20 Things You Didn’t Know About Him

“He had not been leading on issues of any significance,” Cruz said. “In my time in the Senate, you can accuse me of being a lot of things,” he added with a smile, “but a back-bencher is not one of them.”

Cruz also articulated his credentials before coming to Washington, noting how they differed with Obama’s early background as a community organizer. “I spent five and a half years as the solicitor-general of Texas, the chief lawyer for the state of Texas in front of the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Cruz. “I supervised and led every appeal for the state of Texas in a 4,000 person agency with over 700 lawyers and over the course of five and a half years, over and over again, Texas led the nation defending conservative principles and winning.”

Many analysts believe a governor or former governor such as Jeb Bush of Florida, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, or Chris Christie of N.J. stand a better chance of snaring the presidential nomination next year than sitting senators like Cruz, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, given voter disdain for Congress.

While much has been made of the 44-year-old Cruz’s relative inexperience to run for president, the one-time Federal Trade Commission planning director has more experience in government than Rand Paul, a former ophthalmologist, and nearly as much as Marco Rubio, the former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

Related: GOP 2016: Scott Walker Has the Lead, Jeb Bush Has the Money

What sets Cruz apart is his disdain for Washington’s rules and customs and his focus on conservative principles. As an enemy of his party’s elites, Cruz won the GOP nomination for Senate by defeating David Dewhurst, the sitting lieutenant governor of Texas and an establishment favorite.  Shortly after arriving in Washington in January 2013, the Princeton and Harvard Law School graduate wasted little time in making enemies by lecturing senior members on the finer points of constitutional law.

Foreign Policy magazine in April 2013 dubbed Cruz “The Most Hated Man in the Senate,” while Jonathan Karl of ABC News quipped in 2014 that Cruz was so hated by GOP colleagues after the government shutdown, he would “need a food taster” at their weekly policy lunches.

In announcing his run for the White House, Cruz dismissed earlier GOP candidates like Mitt Romney and John McCain who were chosen by the “mush middle” of the party. He vowed to lead a crusade of evangelicals, Tea Party members and libertarians to victory next year. And he pledged to repeal “every word of Obamacare” and dismantle the IRS.

Related: GOP Political Aspirants Clash Over the Budget

“It is a time to reclaim the Constitution of the United States,” Cruz said in a passionate speech last week to students at Liberty University, the private Christian college in Virginia founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Cruz then took a two-day swing through New Hampshire on the first leg of his longshot effort, to rally “courageous conservatives” to help him.  

The likeability issue didn’t seem much of a concern to Cruz on Sunday.  “In my time in the Senate, there have been a more than a few rocks tossed in my direction, from Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “I haven’t reciprocated. You have never heard me speak ill of any senator, Republican or Democrat. I don’t intend to start now.”

Top Reads from The Fiscal Times: