Ted Cruz at CPAC 2014: 'How we win.'

“There are a lot of DC consultants who say there’s a choice for Republicans to make.  We can either choose to keep our head down, to not rock the boat, to not stand for anything… or we can stand for principle.  They say if you stand on principle, you lose elections,” said Senator Ted Cruz at CPAC 2014, a conference at which a few other speakers would go on to say exactly that.  “The way to do it – the smart way, the Washington way – is: don’t stand against ObamaCare.  Don’t stand against the debt ceiling.  Don’t stand against nothing.  I want to tell you something: that is a false dichotomy.”

“If you want to lose elections, stand for nothing,” Cruz warned, listing congressional and presidential elections where he felt Republicans “stood for nothing… and we got walloped.”  2008 and 2012 were years featured prominently in that list.

The Tea Party wave of 2010 is how Cruz wants to roll.  “We said we stand unequivocally against ObamaCare, against bankrupting the country, and we won a historic tidal wave of an election,” he recalled.

“And then all of us remember President Dole… and President McCain… and President Romney,” he continued, allowing that all of these defeated candidates were good and decent men, but “when you don’t stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don’t stand on principle, Democrats celebrate.”

The contrary view was most directly articulated at CPAC by Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, whose well-received speech included an admonition that Republicans had to win elections first, before they could get anything done.  Cruz has the advantage of recent history to cite, since those oh-so-electable candidates he mentioned didn’t actually get, you know, elected.  Also, the strategy Cruz advocates is more honest with the voters, who have a right to know what they’re voting for, both in terms of immediate policy changes and long-term strategy.

Even if one is inclined to give Democrat-style lying and identity-group pandering a shot, it’s hard to argue that Republicans could ever beat them at those games.  For one thing, the media wouldn’t let them.  No Republican could possibly survive Barack Obama’s Big Lie – one “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan” burst of hyper-mendacity would doom the GOP to a generation of portrayals as the Party of Fraud in news and entertainment culture.

The other 2016 hopefuls who spoke at CPAC discussed principle in mostly general ways, aside from Senator Rand Paul’s obvious desire to visit NSA headquarters on a mission to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and quickly run out of bubble gum.  This far out from the election, generalities are safer than specific policy proposals.

Ted Cruz, on the other hand, dropped a ten-point platform with only two relatively vague imperatives, “stop the lawlessness” and “end the corruption.”  Perhaps the day will come that a politician of either party declares himself uninterested in ending corruption, but today is not that day.

As for “stopping the lawlessness,” that’s a tall order in Washington today, since the entire system is predicated on ignoring checks, balances, equal protection under the law, and lately even the specific wording of laws duly enacted by Congress and signed by the President.  ObamaCare would be instantly annihilated, in its entirety, if the Administration was simply obliged to obey it as passed and signed; repeal would occur in an emergency overnight session of Congress, with virtually no Democrat votes against.

I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t just have a quick daydream of President Cruz rampaging through D.C. and forcing everyone to fully obey every word of the laws they passed.  It was bloodier than “300” and its new sequel combined.

Cruz’ other eight points were exactly the sort of specific proposals a likely presidential aspirant is supposed to avoid, two years out from the election: “Number one, defend the constitution…Number two, we need to abolish the IRS…Number three, we need to expand energy in this country…Number four, we need to expand school choice…Number five, we need to repeal Dodd-Frank…Number six, we need to audit the federal reserve…Number seven, pass a strong balanced budget amendment…Number eight, we need to repeal every single word of ObamaCare.”

As mentioned above, I think his Number Nine, “end the lawlessness,” will pretty much take care of Number Eight.  He’ll have no shortage of supporters for expanding energy, and a powerful ally in Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal for expanding school choice.  Vowing to audit the Fed must have gotten the attention of Paul family supporters in the room.  His subsequent shout-out to Ron Paul as one of the two Republicans in the modern era who energized young people (the other being Reagan – “apparently the key is being named Ronald!”) doubtless helped in that regard as well.  Cruz puts a lot of work into these speeches, folks.  He just makes it look easy by wandering around the stage, cracking jokes, and doing Jay Leno impressions.

I tend to think 2016 will be a good year to talk about balanced budget amendments, after years in which getting the deficit under a trillion dollars was celebrated as a major achievement, the Budget Control Act of 2011 became one of the sickest jokes ever perpetrated on the American public, and some of the Skittle-pooping deficit unicorns chained up in the Treasury basement are going to start keeling over from exhaustion.

We’ll need to hear more specifics about how President Cruz would abolish the IRS.  I think there will be an audience for those specifics.  And would you like to go back to having a free checking account with great benefits?  Then you want to repeal Dodd-Frank.

There’s a lot of populist appeal in Cruz’ proposals, and a lot for young people to consider.  He made a special appeal to the young, and young at heart, by saying every CPAC attendee has a youthful spirit, because they care about the future.  In 2016, more than ever, Democrats will be pushing the idea of burning the future as fuel to keep the present system running a bit longer.  Put Ted Cruz on a stage opposite Hillary Clinton, and imagine which one young voters will find more appealing.

The 2016 Democrat candidate will be taking the stage after eight absolutely brutal years for young people, as Cruz reminded the audience: “If you were to sit down and try to design an agenda to hammer the living daylights out of young people, you couldn’t do better than the Obama economic agenda.  Under President Obama, we’ve had five years of the Great Stagnation.  No economic growth, which means one generation after another coming out of school can’t find jobs.  You know, economists are referring to this generation of young people as a ‘lost generation.’  ObamaCare… one of the easiest ways to understand it?  It’s a massive wealth transfer from young, healthy people to everybody else.  And then our national debt, from $10 trillion to $17 trillion… who the heck do you think is gonna pay for that?”

Cruz noted that Republican presidential candidates haven’t been asking questions like that during the last couple of elections, leaving some of the best cards they have to play with young voters on the table… as though playing those cards would be rude to Democrats, or perhaps too uncomfortable for some debt-friendly Republicans.  He had a great youth-friendly answer to the Democrat push for higher minimum wages, too: why not focus on creating more jobs that pay far more than minimum wage?  The GOP puts some effort into crafting appeals to young voters, but not many of their top candidates can think young the way Ted Cruz does.

Cruz was one of the first CPAC 2014 speakers, but his presentation is perhaps best viewed last, after absorbing what the other 2016 prospects had to say.  Cruz offered a synthesis of their strengths, and unless they were sharing advance copies of their speeches with him, he did it without any particular foreknowledge.  The others will run hard against him, but it also seems clear he could partner up with any of them; he understands the case Rep. Paul Ryan made against deficit spending, the fiery opposition Senator Rand Paul declared against the surveillance state, the devolution of power Governor Rick Perry called for, and the urgent need for competent and accountable administration described by Governor Chris Christie.

And he accomplishes this fusion through his understanding of the issues, not witless pandering.  He didn’t eat anyone’s lunch, but he sat down next to each of the other candidates with a big smile and helped himself to a couple of french fries off their plates.  There’s a lot of ground to cover between now and the first 2016 primaries, but for what it’s worth at this early date, Ted Cruz looks like a front-runner to me.