The day before his victory in his home state of Texas, Sen. Ted Cruz invoked the Alamo, the definitive symbol of fierce Texan independence and defiance.
” ‘I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible,’ ” Mr. Cruz said, reciting from a letter by fallen Alamo hero William Barret Travis. “Victory or death.”
It’s a position to which Mr. Cruz is accustomed, given his commitment to principled conservatism in Washington, a town which disdains those values and those who champion them.
Throughout his Senate career, Mr. Cruz has waged so many lonely battles against President Obama, the left, the media and many in his own party — over Obamacare, the debt ceiling, taxes, Mr. Obama’s executive orders, gutting of the military and global retrenchment — that he earned their deep enmity.
They resented how bad his leadership and conviction made them look and his stubborn refusal to bend to their gangsterlike threats to sell out.
That stance has informed his presidential campaign: stick to your guns and play the long game. Early on, Mr. Cruz established something of a strategic alliance with fellow outsider Donald Trump. Mr. Cruz reasonably believed that if Mr. Trump receded, he would have been best positioned to inherit the significant anti-establishment vote.
But Mr. Trump only gained strength and began scoring victories in diverse states, cementing his front-runner status. Given that other unconventional candidates have left the race, Mr. Cruz believes that voters in the upcoming contests will still choose a fighter, but the one who has actually been in the arena.
Time, however, is running short. Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. John Kasich remain in the race, splintering the vote. Some anti-Trump folks hope for further thinning of the field or the formation of strategic alliances to pressure the front-runner.
A challenge for Mr. Cruz, however, is that voters who are attracted to “outsiders” tend to lump Messrs. Trump and Cruz together, even though Mr. Trump is a populist and Mr. Cruz a principled conservative.
But Mr. Cruz has already demonstrated that constitutional conservatism can win. He’s defeated Mr. Trump in seven states, is running fewer than 100 delegates behind him, and is aggressively campaigning in the pivotal home state of Mr. Rubio. After winning three contests over the past week, he can argue that late-deciding voters are breaking for him, establishing a real two-man race. And he is gaining support from some GOP colleagues, such as Carly Fiorina, and others who once denounced him but now find him more palatable than the New York businessman. The worm has turned.
Both Messrs. Trump and Cruz promise to upend the existing order, but while Mr. Trump is running in the Republican Party, he is not of it. Mr. Cruz is an unwavering conservative but is boxed in the party in ways that Mr. Trump is not. Mr. Cruz has rattled GOP orthodoxy, but can he break the grip of the bipartisan ruling class? Until that happens, his principled conservatism will remain housed in a party that will continue to mock, dismiss and kill it.
When I’ve asked him how he would he wage his longstanding fight against the entrenched ruling class differently as president, he replied, “Leadership starts at the top. And once we have a commander in chief who fights for the interests of the people instead of the Washington Cartel — the career politicians in both parties, who are in cahoots with lobbyists and special interests to maintain their own power — we will finally see change in Washington.
“But we will not break the Washington Cartel without a mandate from the people, and a leader willing to follow that mandate. Once that happens, it will be more politically risky for the politicians in Washington to do the wrong thing than to do the right thing.”
There are often deep policy and tactical differences between populists and conservatives, but they share a desire to restore American greatness. The graver enemy is the ruling establishment, now doing everything it can to maintain its power in the face of the threats presented by Messrs. Trump and Cruz.
Mr. Cruz was the original establishment slayer, and he’s got the scars to prove it. Conservatives suspect that Mr. Trump is a closet liberal who will “make deals” with the corrupt bipartisan establishment. They know Mr. Cruz will do no such thing. But many voters also know that unless the Republican establishment is beat into submission, conservative policies don’t stand a chance. Messrs. Kasich and Rubio will not smash that comfy status quo; in fact, they favor big government and open borders policies that will further entrench the establishment and its interests.
Mr. Cruz has proven that he is the most reliable constitutional conservative in the race. He speaks passionately about creating a fairer, flatter tax code, putting an end to stifling regulations that hinder innovation and job creation like Obamacare, rebuilding the military, restoring American influence globally and returning power from Washington back to the people.
In a race that began with 17 candidates, Mr. Cruz is one of the few left standing. Having beaten daunting odds before, he charges ahead with Alamo-esque defiance. As he well knows, in politics as in battle, it’s victory or death — and Texans know a thing or two about comebacks.
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