Eventually, even the most gleeful child learns that there is such a thing as too much ice cream when the carton is empty and all that’s left is the toothache. Might conservative Iowa Republicans, a demographic that plays an outsize role in the presidential nominating process, ever feel the same way about Ted Cruz?
The Texas senator has been in office for less than a year and has already become a national figure and a frontrunner not just in the 2016 Iowa caucuses but eventually to receive the GOP nomination as well. Indeed, according to prominent Iowa conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats, Cruz would win the Iowa caucuses “going away” if they were held today. His problem is that they still are two years away, plenty of time for even those conservatives most excited by Cruz to tire of the Texas senator.
Cruz’s 21-hour anti-Obamacare speech on the Senate floor on the eve of October’s government shutdown established him as a national figure, but his star had been rising before that. It was Cruz’s performance in the 2012 Texas Senate primary, when he won as an underdog Tea Party candidate, that gained him prominence in the Republican Party. Cruz combined Hispanic heritage (his father was born in Cuba) with unimpeachable conservative credentials and a sterling legal record as Texas’s solicitor general, arguing nine cases before the Supreme Court and drawing comparisons to a fellow Harvard Law graduate, Barack Obama.
The Obama comparisons ended once Cruz took office. As a junior senator, Cruz has aggressively courted national media coverage to promote his causes, a strategy counter to the one President Obama used when he first entered Congress. According to Tommy Vietor, a former Obama Senate press aide who later worked for Obama both on his 2008 campaign and in the White House, the then-Illinois senator “basically declined every national press interview for nine months once he took office.” It was the same approach taken by Hillary Clinton when she was elected in 2000: “Keep your head down, focus on your work, and don’t look like you’re a show horse.”
In Vietor’s opinion, “when you’re an elected official and out doing every possible interview and on cable news, it diminishes you and makes people wonder why you aren’t spending more time doing your actual job.” As senator, Obama also took pains to avoid the appearance of even considering a presidential campaign and only visited Iowa twice before beginning his presidential campaign, both times while campaigning for fellow Democrats in the runup to the 2006 midterm elections.
By contrast, some grassroots Iowa Republicans say Cruz has hit just the right notes. Jamie Johnson, a member of the Republican Party of Iowa’s state central committee, said Cruz’s approach to the Hawkeye State has been “just right.” He noted that the Texas senator has made three trips to Iowa, each for a high-profile event, and that he likely won’t be back in the Midwest until next spring. Craig Robinson, a former party operative and editor of the Iowa Republican, voiced a bit more skepticism. While he acknowledged that Cruz has been in the state “a lot,” his criticism is not so much that the Texas senator is spending too much time in Iowa but that he has been concentrating on the wrong parts of the state. Cruz has been “been Des Moines-focused,” Robinson said. “It would be a bigger deal to me if he went to Dubuque or Davenport. That would be more interesting, rather than repeating” his trips to metro Des Moines.
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