Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, became the first big name to officially enter the 2016 presidential race Monday morning, announcing his candidacy at Liberty University, a Christian college in Lynchburg, Virginia.
In the megachurch-like setting of Liberty University’s convocation stage, Cruz paced like a televangelist in the mold of the school’s founder, Jerry Falwell. Cruz appealed to the thousands of students gathered for the mandatory weekly convocation, trying to mobilize the young social conservatives his campaign hopes will propel him to victory.
“I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America,” he said. “That is why today I am announcing that I am running for the president of the United States.”
In 2012, tea party support catapulted Cruz to an upset victory over an establishment candidate, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Cruz’s only experience in public office had been as a solicitor general, appointed by the governor.
He rose to national prominence for heading the unsuccessful GOP strategy to shut down the government unless the White House agreed to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act and mounting a 21-hour faux filibuster on the Senate floor decrying the law.
Cruz primarily distinguished himself during his four years in the Senate as a thorn in the side of the Republican establishment. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., once even called Cruz “a wacko bird” — a term Cruz embraced as a badge of honor.
McCain, however, softened his tone this weekend, saying on CNN Sunday that Cruz “is a very viable candidate” and could beat Hillary Clinton, a likely Democratic candidate, in the general election.
In his speech at Liberty, Cruz branded himself an unapologetic conservative in his bid for the White House, ticking off a conservative’s fantasy list of agenda items: repealing “Obamacare,” abolishing the IRS, enacting a flat tax, rolling back the president’s executive actions on immigration and getting rid of the education standards known as Common Core. Cruz also said that as president, he would prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and mend the relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Cruz nevertheless has a deficit to fill with likely Republican voters. In a March CNN/ORC poll, only 4 percent said they would support him for the Republican nomination. Many Republican strategists say Cruz is too conservative for the general election and has work to do to establish himself among mainstream voters.
"Until he can show both the organizational and financial might that will make him a force, Sen. Cruz's real impact may be felt only on the debate stage," GOP strategist Joe Bretell told The Houston Chronicle.
Still, Cruz may pull the crowded field of expected GOP contenders to the right by staking out the most conservative position on a number of key issues. He has expressed skepticism on climate science, has touted his opposition to same-sex marriage and has used heated rhetoric on foreign policy, calling Obama an “apologist for radical Islamic terrorists.”