Politics

What on Earth is Ted Cruz Thinking?

Evidence mounts that Texas senator badly hurt himself with anti-Trump stance

Not long ago, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was the darling of American conservatives — but the anti-Donald Trump stance that turned off erstwhile supporters nationwide appears to be hurting him, even in his home state.

If he does not get right with Trump — and his supporters — he may find himself out of a job.

“The skirmish with Trump seems to be contributing to an overall weakening of Cruz’s position with Republicans in the state.”

A Public Policy Polling poll released last week suggested that Cruz’s approval rating is now under water — 48 percent of all voters disapprove, while 39 percent approve. Among Republicans surveyed, half said they wanted Cruz to be their nominee for the Senate in 2018, while 43 percent wanted someone else. Faced with actual potential opponents, GOP respondents picked former Gov. Rick Perry over Cruz by a 9-point margin.

“The skirmish with Trump seems to be contributing to an overall weakening of Cruz’s position with Republicans in the state,” the polling company wrote on its website.

The poll offered other clues that Trump has the upper hand over Cruz. Despite Cruz’s convincing win over Trump in March’s GOP primary, Texas Republicans now favor the New York real estate mogul over their own senator — 52 percent to 38 percent.

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Some Texas political observers, however, argue that Cruz is not in dire jeopardy.

“I don’t think it’s as serious as the people who did that poll would have you believe,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

[lz_table title=”Ted Cruz in Trouble?” source=”Public Policy Polling”]Asked of all Texas voters
|
Ted Cruz approval rating
Approve,39%
Disapprove,48%
Not sure,13%
|Asked of Texas Republicans
|
Presidential nominee preference?
Ted Cruz,38%
Donald Trump,52%
Not sure,9%
|
Who should be Senate nominee?
Ted Cruz,50%
Someone else,43%
Not sure,7%
|
Republican Senate primary
Ted Cruz,37%
Rick Perry,46%
Not sure,18%
[/lz_table]

Henson said it is not surprising that Cruz has taken a hit in popularity. The senator upset Trump backers when he delivered a speech at the Republican National Convention urging people to vote their conscience — without endorsing the nominee. But Henson said his own polling indicated that Cruz’s popularity had already declined before the convention. Among Republicans, his approval rating was 71 percent in November but only 55 percent by June 16.

Henson said he thinks the decline is due to two factors — Republicans upset that Cruz is not helping to rally the party around its nominee, and some voters reacting to negative attacks hurled at Cruz during the bruising primary race.

“Both are very much an artifact of the presidential campaign, and when the presidential campaign is over, those things will shift,” he said.

Jon Bond, a political science professor at Texas A&M University, said Cruz may have problems beyond Trump. It is possible, he said, that voters are beginning to tire of a style that has yielded few concrete results — but several enemies — in the Senate.

“I’ve always wondered how Ted Cruz could keep going,” he said. “I’m not surprised that his approval rating is in the toilet.”

Bond added that prominent Texas Republicans might be tempted to jump in the race if Cruz looks vulnerable. Rep. Mike McCaul — whom the poll showed Cruz trouncing in a hypothetical matchup — tweaked Cruz last week, telling reporters the senator spent a great deal of time away from the state during his presidential run. Asked if he’d considering challenging the senator, McCaul told reporters, “Never say never.”

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Bond said Perry, even though he endorsed Cruz for president after dropping his own bid, backed Cruz’s Senate primary opponent in 2012.

“I can’t imagine there’s any love lost between Rick Perry and Ted Cruz,” he said.

Still, Bond added, Cruz is smart and has a long time to repair the damage before he has to stand for re-election in 2018.

“It’s really early,” he said. “That’s a lifetime in politics.”

Senate races in Texas, especially against incumbents, are expensive. And Henson said Cruz remains well-liked by the activist Tea Party base. For those reasons, he said, he doubts Cruz will draw a top-tier primary challenger — particularly if Trump loses in November.

“If Donald Trump does lose, and in fact loses badly, Cruz’s actions are going to be a footnote, and he will be able to say, ‘I told you so,'” he said.

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