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Ted Cruz wants to be president, save American liberty (not in that order) (+video)

Sen. Ted Cruz will officially announce his candidacy for the 2016 presidential election Monday. Where he plans to do it points to what kind of candidate he might be.

Subtlety, perhaps, is not for presidential campaigns.

It was apparently not what Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas had in mind when deciding where he would announce that he is running for president in 2016. 

That speech will come Monday at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., making Senator Cruz the first official Republican entrant in the race. Liberty describes itself as the largest Christian university in the world, and it also conveniently happens to be named Liberty University.

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Last month, Cruz told the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland to be "entrepreneurs for liberty."

Last year, at Liberty University, he told the crowd that "religious liberty, the very first liberty in the Bill of Rights, the very first protection we have, has never been more in peril than it is right now."

Needless to say, we already have a good idea what word will be on the Cruz 2016 bumper stickers and campaign buttons. But it's a pretty good word for these political times.

For an America weary of war and worried about economic collapse, "hope" did the trick in 2008. But for the sorts of folks that Cruz will be trying to get off their duffs in 2016, "liberty" is about as good as it gets.

Forget Cruz's polling numbers, which are bad. Or the fact that he has a negative 7 percentage point favorability rating. Both have room to improve (or worsen). 

What Cruz has going for him is that he is, at the moment, on the right side of the conservative movement, both literally and figuratively.

Liberty is not a word that's likely to define establishment favorite Jeb Bush, and that can be a plus. Liberty has a musket-in-hand feel to it – a yes-I-have-my-personal-copy-of-the-Constitution-here-in-my-breast-pocket sort of air.

The tea party revolution of 2010 already suggested a shift in conservative politics toward more libertarian, small-government ideals. But recent years have, in some ways, only accelerated it. For conservatives, the battlefield is between liberty and order, argues Steve Chapman of Reason magazine.

"Many on the right instinctively side with police, intelligence agencies and corrections officers when their conduct comes under fire," writes Mr. Chapman. "But another strand of conservative thinking preaches the need to protect citizens against government overreaching and abuse."

While libertarian threads have long run through conservative politics, from Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan to Ron Paul, the order side has most often held sway. But some of those threads are now connecting in more politically meaningful ways.

For one, the Millennial generation – now the largest in the United States – appears to embrace the ideals of libertarianism.

Moreover, the political right has begun to move at least somewhat toward the ideas of "liberty" over "order" as Christianity is seen as coming increasingly under attack, Chapman argues.

"Conservatives soon realized that, in a society where Christianity has lost ground, laws that could burden minority religions could also burden their own," he says.

Curiously, these trends are not complementary. At least part of the reason Christianity seems to be under increasing attack is Millennials' skepticism toward organized religion.

It is Cruz's job to bestride that gap, as he has done in telling 20-somethings at CPAC to be "entrepreneurs for liberty" and Christians at Liberty University to stand for religious liberty.

None of this makes Cruz a favorite for 2016. He enters the race with a porter's-load of baggage. He has made enemies across the Republican establishment and has gleefully cast himself as the figurehead of a tea party movement supported by less than 20 percent of the country. Oh, and there is the small matter of the government shutdown that he orchestrated.

He will also likely have a presidential challenger for the mantle of Conservative Protector of American Liberty in Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky.

But the political shift that has given Cruz a name and notoriety in Washington could give him that same influence on the campaign trail.

Not every candidate for president can be a favorite. Some are there to stir things up. On that score, few could doubt Cruz's credentials.

As the American electorate changes, perhaps they should not be quick to dismiss his underlying message, either.

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