Ted Cruz book contract: Is he worth that much cash?

Ted Cruz book contract, reported to be $1.5 million, is a big advance to give a political figure who does not have much name recognition – not yet, anyway. Here's why the publisher's gamble may pay off.

Cliff Owen/AP
Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, here leaving a Senate policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, is reportedly about to sign a $1.5 million book deal – a typical rite of passage for a presidential contender.

Ted Cruz has landed a big book deal. According to Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner, the freshman US senator and possible (OK, probable) 2016 presidential candidate has inked a $1.5 million contract with HarperCollins for a personal memoir that will also contain a vision for fixing the mess in Washington.

That’s a lot of money for a political figure who is not universally famous. Last October, a Gallup poll showed that 23 percent of respondents had never heard of Senator Cruz, despite all the news coverage surrounding his leading role in the government shutdown.

In fact, it’s Sarah Palin money. It’s more than Sarah Palin money: She got a bit less for her memoir, “Going Rogue,” after she shot to fame in 2008 as John McCain’s running mate.

Is Cruz worth that much? After all, the conservative book market has been trending downward, according to a recent lengthy piece in BuzzFeed by McKay Coppins. There have been too many titles and too many conservative publishers competing for the same tea party, constitutional conservative readers.

Well, the book business is fickle. But given Cruz’s current position in the conservative firmament, we’d say that advance is worth the gamble. Palin is a good comparison: “Going Rogue” sold more than 3 million copies in hardback, and the former Alaska governor ended up earning much, much more from the book than her $1.25 million advance. That means co-publishers Harper and Zondervan ended up making beaucoup bucks, too.

As we’ve written before, Cruz is the new Palin, a tough-talking and media-friendly figure who perhaps occupies the amorphous post of president of conservative America. While Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky is also a tea party favorite, his libertarianism limits his appeal, and, in any case, Senator Paul appears to be reaching out to the GOP establishment ahead of a possible presidential bid.

Not so for Cruz. When it comes to the Texan's relationship with the Republican powers-that-be, he has crossed the Rubicon over bridges he has burned. He has infuriated Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, Senator McCain (who has called him a “wacko bird”), and other Republican colleagues with his obstructionist maneuverings in the Senate itself.

The tea party/populist/cast-iron conservative base is enthusiastic about this. They distrust Washington Republicans, whom they feel have given them nothing but moderate presidential candidates who lost, while allowing government spending to continue to rise. Consider Palin’s critique of the GOP budget released by Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin on Tuesday: She called it a “joke” because it would balance the federal budget over a decade, instead of immediately.

Plus, Cruz has an interesting personal story to tell. His father escaped Fidel Castro’s Cuba and earned a college degree while working as a dishwasher; today, dad is a garrulous fixture on the conservative talk circuit. Cruz himself went to Harvard and then Princeton Law School and was a top debater before knocking off a heavily favored establishment Republican on the way to his victory in a 2012 Senate campaign in Texas.

A presidential bid would obviously boost book sales, so this contract may be a harbinger of things to come. The problem for Cruz (and his likely ghost-writer) will be to avoid the leaden dullness of policy prescriptions, which so often turns presidential candidate campaign books into clunkers.

An interesting question is whether it is the book, or the presidential bid, that is most important to Cruz’s future. He stands at a junction similar to the one Palin faced prior to 2012. Actual candidacy is one road, leading to a continued effort to engage directly in US politics. The other road leads to Fox News contracts, reality shows, and the money of what might be called politainment.

Which road will Cruz choose?

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