Is Ted Cruz really the most conservative Republican of them all?

On immigration, same-sex marriage and other issues, GOP field marches in step with the party’s first declared candidate

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, onstage with his wife, Heidi Cruz, and their daughters Catherine and Caroline, at Liberty College in Lynchburg, Virginia, to announce his candidacy for president, March 23, 2015.
Chris Keane/Reuters

In the months leading up to the official announcement of his presidential campaign, newly minted GOP contender Ted Cruz cultivated a reputation for being the most brazen conservative in the emerging Republican field and the standard bearer for the right wing of the party.  

That may be true in style. Cruz, after all, rose to national prominence by employing an ultimately unsuccessful strategy in 2013 to shut down the government unless Barack Obama’s administration agreed to repeal its signature health care law. Cruz’s all-night talking tactics seemed so absurd that even leaders of his own party denounced the strategy.

Earlier this year he pushed his fellow Senate Republicans to cut off significant funding for the Department of Homeland Security without a full repeal of the White House’s executive actions on immigration. And Cruz has never been afraid to dial up the heat on his rhetoric, once referring to Obama as “the most radical president this nation’s ever seen.”

But if primary voters drill down to the policy positions of the likely Republican 2016 candidates, they may find that the Republican senator from Texas is not as different from the rest of the field as they might have assumed. A number of his presumed competitors are similarly situated on the ideological spectrum, espousing the same conservative stances as Cruz’s on a wide variety of issues, albeit often with a more nuanced tone.

For starters, Cruz’s crusade to repeal the health care law is hardly novel. Every major 2016 GOP presidential contender has said he would do the same, in addition to nearly every member of the Republican congressional caucus.

Cruz, often labeled a firebrand on climate change, flatly rejects that human activity is leading to a rise in global temperatures and calls advocates of that view “modern-day flat Earther proponents.” He has plenty of company: Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have also questioned the legitimacy of the science and rejected the notion that legislation is needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

On immigration, Cruz has lambasted Obama’s executive actions granting deportation relief to millions of undocumented migrants, calling it “executive amnesty,” and does not support a path to legal status for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. Even as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rubio and Bush have taken softer approaches on the issue — at various points supporting an eventual path to legal status — they too have condemned the Obama’s actions and vowed to block them. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker recently joined the hard-liners, backtracking on past support for a path to citizenship.

On same-sex marriage, Cruz has sought to distinguish himself from his competitors by vowing to keep up the fight, even though many in the GOP have chosen to back away from divisive social issues. He, much like Bush, Paul and Rubio, is on the record saying it’s an issue that should be decided by the states, although he believes marriage should be between one man and one woman. In Congress he has introduced legislation to that effect. "I support the Constitution letting each state decide each marriage law, consistent with the values of their citizens,” Cruz said last year. “If the citizens of California decide they want to allow gay marriage, that’s a decision for them.”

Contrast that with former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who called during his 2012 presidential campaign for a constitutional amendment that would invalidate all existing same-sex marriages.

Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Iowa GOP, said his state’s caucuses, where the Cruz campaign will be making a play for conservative voters, will be no easy pickup. Cruz is hardly the only candidate who can lay claim to the mantle of being consistently conservative.

“The weakness that he’s going to have to deal with is that Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum and a lot of other socially conservative candidates already have their hat in the ring too,” Robinson said. “[Cruz] has to emerge as the consensus conservative candidate, and if he’s going to win Iowa, he’s going to have to knock off two former winners of the Iowa caucuses.”

‘The weakness that [Cruz] is going to have to deal with is that Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum and a lot of other socially conservative candidates already have their hat in the ring too.’

Craig Robinson

former political director, Iowa GOP

Cruz has acknowledged that there are other candidates who will be making their overtures to the party’s base, but he says he is the only competitor who has been willing to defy both Democrats and Republicans for his principles. His loyal adherence to rightward ideology on every issue earned him the fourth most conservative voting record in Congress for 2013, according to an analysis by National Journal. 

“If you have a candidate who’s stood against Democrats, that’s great. When have you been willing to stand up against Republicans?” Cruz asked a gathering of party activists last month. “When have you been willing to stand with the people?”

However, Cruz has a thin legislative record to bolster his claims. While the governors in the race — Walker, Bush and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, among others — have accomplishments to point to, Cruz has only two years in the Senate under his belt. He has sponsored 44 bills, only one of which has passed.

Still, others believe the take-no-prisoners, bombastic persona Cruz has cultivated in the public eye will be an asset to him in the race, despite his similarities to other candidates.

“There’s competition, to be sure, but, you know, I don’t think anyone will go after it as aggressively as he does,” said Bill Miller, a lobbyist based in Austin, Texas. “He’s saying, ‘I’m in it for the long haul, and I’m into changing the world.’ And that’s a bolder claim than you’re going to hear from other candidates.”

Ben Ray, the communications director for the American Bridge, a Democratic opposition firm, said Cruz’s entry into the race simply highlights how much congruity there is between Cruz and the rest of the prospective nominees.

“You see a lot of Republicans that want to be separated from him because they don’t like him, they think he’s a jerk or his tone is off,” he said. “It’s no big secret that his fan club is not huge with the Republican establishment, but when it comes down to the issues, Ted Cruz and his party are in lock step.”

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