An influential political action group in Washington, Heritage Action for America, all but endorsed the presidential candidacy of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on Monday, with the release of an analysis of the platforms of the top 12 candidates for the Republican nomination.
Cruz has been consistently in the middle of the pack in early polling, typically gathering only a fraction of the support currently being lavished on frontrunners Donald Trump and Ben Carson. However, with backing from well-funded Super PACs, the Texas senator has the ability to assert himself in the race in the event that one or both of the frontrunners flame out before primary voters go to the polls.
The Heritage Action analysis renders judgment on candidates’ positions across six different areas: growth, opportunity, civil society, limited government, favoritism, and national security. It contains significant criticism of every one of the 12 candidates it considered, except for Cruz.
(While some of the criteria seem self-explanatory, others may not. The civil society assessment, for example, is dependent on whether a candidate is in line with Heritage on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, among other things. Favoritism encompasses subjects as wide as reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank and immigration policy.)
This is very good news for the Cruz campaign. Heritage Action is the political arm of the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation think tank. It wields considerable power and influence in Congress, keeping a scorecard of votes meant to embarrass conservatives who stray from what the organization considers the ideal. But Heritage Action’s reach extends beyond Washington, feeding into the grassroots conservative support system that any eventual GOP will need to rely on in 2016.
Heritage Action was careful not to give the impression of delivering an explicit endorsement in its 50-page analysis of the individual candidates’ positions. In a report that virtually cries out for an overarching graphic presentation of its findings or at least an executive summary, there is nothing beyond a table of contents directing readers to each candidate’s results. The candidate sections are equally businesslike, offering no introduction or conclusion, just an assessment of the candidate on the six listed criteria.
However, the results are plain: Ted Cruz is clearly the favorite, earning positive assessments in all categories. “Cruz places a high priority on fighting the expansion of government,” the study finds, and “Cruz has been willing to pay a political price for taking on government favoritism.”
Other candidates, particularly the current frontrunners, don’t fare nearly so well.
The authors of the report were plainly unimpressed by Ben Carson, noting that in several categories like growth and national security he has offered little or nothing in the way of actual proposals.
On other issues, like limited government and favoritism, Carson comes in for criticism. “Carson undermines his limited government rhetoric with his reluctance to tackle entitlement reform,” it reads, and adds, “Carson has the advantage of being a Washington outsider but has provided no evidence he will tackle corporate welfare and has expressed openness to amnesty.”
If the authors have doubts about Carson, they seem practically contemptuous of the race’s other frontrunner, Donald Trump.
On the question of growth, they argue that the “massive tariffs” he would impose would damage the economy. On the question of civil society, they write, “Despite his rhetoric, Trump’s history suggests a reluctance to engage in debates over protecting civil society from the imposition of left-wing values.”
On national defense, they write, “Trump has suggested that he would project American strength abroad, but his unconventional foreign policy prescriptions raise more questions of significant consequence than they answer.”
In a press release accompanying the study, Heritage Action CEO Michael A. Needham said, “Americans are looking for a president who can speak to the real anxieties they’re facing, not simply manage the status quo in Washington. They want someone that will fight the well-connected special interests and advance policies that work for everyone. Fortunately, conservatives have a deep and visionary field to choose from in this Opportunity for All, Favoritism to None primary.”
Reading the report, though, it’s clear that Heritage sees an obvious choice within that “deep and visionary field.”