The Washington Post proposed Monday that one of the central questions surrounding a potential Ted Cruz presidential candidacy is whether the Texan’s bid would be more like Michele Bachmann’s or Mike Huckabee’s.
Bachmann was Cruz before Cruz — the tea party-backed outsider who fought the fights more “pragmatic” politicians in Washington, D.C., weren’t willing to take on. And, like Cruz, that approach made Bachmann a rock star in the state of Iowa.
Huckabee’s “aw shucks” personality, sense of humor and charisma ensured that he was more than just a one-hit Ames wonder. He emerged as the “heart” candidate for many Iowa Republicans . . .
I’d posit that, at this early stage, Cruz’s profile is more congruent with another insurgent presidential contender . . . Newt Gingrich.
Yes, Bachmann was a tea party rockstar who loved tweaking the establishment, but to compare her with Cruz would be a slight to the freshman senator. While Cruz certainly knows how to serve up red-meat rhetoric, his propensity to make a Bachmann-sized gaffe on the stump is significantly less. Fair or not, Bachmann was also perceived among the press and her colleagues as flighty and unserious. Cruz may not be well-liked, but even his opponents respect his intellect and political acumen.
Huckabee, on the other hand, was an extremely likeable figure who captivated voters (and the press) with sheer personality. He was fun and attempted to be hip — he was in a band and Chuck Norris campaigned for him in Iowa! — two attributes Cruz cannot claim. Huckabee was the guy you wanted to grab a beer with, or at least a latte. Cruz is someone who can light up a room with his bombastic rhetoric and self-assured demeanor, but he doesn’t exactly exude back-slapping warmth.
At this very early vantage point, Cruz offers more heft than Bachmann yet less charisma than Huckabee.
That is, in part, what led me to the Gingrich comparison.
Cruz and Gingrich are both intellects with Washington-roots yet lament the Beltway establishment; they are both smart and savvy debaters and both men’s leadership styles have rubbed members of their own party the wrong way, creating a healthy amount of enemies.
A passage in Dan Balz’s book, Collision 2012, also prompted me to contemplate the parallel to Gingrich.
You could imagine Cruz gaining early steam in a 2016 GOP primary bid — winning Iowa, perhaps — only to be quashed by nervous establishment forces later. That is essentially what happened to Gingrich after his victory over Mitt Romney in South Carolina.
Establishment forces — who previously remained silent yet felt aggrieved toward Gingrich — came out of the woodwork to target Newt.
The history of Gingrich’s ultimate Achilles’ Heel, captured by Balz ahead of the Florida 2012 primary, could easily haunt Cruz:
Bob Dole said Gingrich would threaten the election of Republican candidates up and down the ballot. ”Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him,” Dole said in a statement issued through the Romney campaign, “and that speaks for itself. He was a one-man band who rarely took advice. It was his way or the highway.”
The establishment message that Gingrich represented a threat to the party was not new, but the intensity with which it was now being delivered certainly was. That he might become the nominee had touched off near panic in the ranks ahead of Tuesday’s vote. Party establishments, to the degree they exist, have only limited power to direct the course of events. But to the extent they have power, they were exercising it with a vengeance, ganging upon the Speaker with evident enthusiasm. Former House majority leader Tom DeLay, who had served as House whip under Gingrich, called him erratic. National Review attacked him, as did the American Spectator. Ann Coulter issued a warning: ”Reelect Obama. Vote Newt.” In a matter of weeks, what had been talk of whether a stop-Romney movement would materialize on the right became the reality of a stop-Gingrich movement coming from the party establishment.
A threat to candidates up and down the ballot? Someone who went his own way, defiant and shunning advice? A candidate with bad relations in Congress? And someone who freaks out the establishment sliver of the party?
Like Gingrich, these are all descriptions that one could see being applied to Ted Cruz.
Gingrich’s response to the comparison? Cruz is in a better position.
“He has a much bigger financial base. He has an explicit cause that moves a large part of the GOP base,” the former Speaker emailed The RUN.
This post has been updated to include Gingrich’s response.