Presidential Politics—Texas Style

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Ted Cruz is a once, and possibly future, major player in presidential politics.  Had Beto O’Rourke won last month’s senate election he would have guaranteed himself a place on the Democrats’ 2020 presidential ticket, probably as the party’s nominee for vice president.  And even in defeat he is being touted in the media—Fox News, the Washington Post, etc.—as a top-tier candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Right now Beto is commanding more attention than Cruz.  After all, with Trump having already announced his determination to seek re-election, Cruz has no discernable chance to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2020—the earliest he can be expected to run for president again with some hope of success is in the 2024 election.  Of course, given the long lead time frequently required to plan and execute a successful presidential campaign, Cruz would be wise to begin his 2024 planning now, if he’s not already done so.

O’Rourke, should he choose to seek his party’s 2020 presidential nomination, will obviously have no such lead time to cultivate donors, assemble a campaign staff, etc.  But he may not need it.  His attractive personality and the fact that as a Democrat he almost won the senate race in Republican Texas have made him a rising star, for the time being.  The hope among Democratic strategists is that if he could almost win in Texas in 2018, he might be able to help the Democrats do something they haven’t done since 1976—carry Texas in 2020.  Therefore, should Beto run, he may find himself with more than enough money and other resources to mount a presidential campaign in 2020.  Maybe.

But at least two big obstacles stand between Beto and his party’s presidential nomination.  First, there’s the perception among progressives and “democratic socialists’ that Beto may be too centrist.  To be perceived as a moderate or centrist in a general election can be a blessing.  General election voters prefer centrists over those they perceive as either too conservative or too liberal.  But Beto’s problem is that the Democratic presidential primaries will be dominated not by centrist Democrats, but by the sort of progressives and other leftists who will reject him in favor of a more leftist firebrand.

The second big obstacle is the fact that to “almost win” is actually “to lose,’ and when all is said and done, the fact remains that Beto lost his Senate bid.  Those who pony up money and other resources prefer to donate their largesse to winners rather than almost-winners (aka losers).

Neither of these obstacles is insurmountable.  Donald Trump, although the least conservative candidate seeking a conservative party’s nomination in 2016, was able to win partly because the conservative opposition was so badly divided among Cruz, Marco Rubio, and many others.  Beto could conceivably benefit from divisions among more progressive Democrats if they fail to coalesce around a Bernie Sanders, or Corey Booker, or Kamala Harris.

Moreover, Beto could win enough early primaries to calm the fears of Democrats concerned over his 2018 loss.  Such a strategy worked for Richard Nixon in 1968.  He had lost two major elections—for president in 1960 and for governor of California in 1962.  But by winning primaries early in 1968, he was able to defeat other contenders, including Ronald Reagan, for the Republican presidential nomination.  

But there’s another course of action open to Beto as well.  In 2020, rather than run for president, he could run seek Texas’s other Senate seat, currently held by John Cornyn.  Should he lose, his presidential prospects would probably be dead.  But should he win, he could serve with Ted Cruz until 2024,– and then perhaps even square off against him for president.

Should Cruz choose to run in 2024, he will have his own obstacles to overcome, chief of which may be his lack of likeability.  Voters will frequently vote for the more likeable candidate—Kennedy over Nixon, Reagan over Carter, Bush 43 over Gore and Kerry.  Cruz will have to work on his image.

But going for Cruz is a practice frequently followed by Republican voters and leaders—the awarding of the presidential nomination to the first runner-up in a previous race.  Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney all won the Republican presidential nomination after placing second in a previous contest.  In the 2016 Republican primaries, Cruz placed second to Trump.  This may give him a leg up, and set the stage for a Cruz-O’Rourke presidential contest down the road.

Also going for Cruz will be the increasing attractiveness of anyone from Texas in presidential politics.  With the growth and aging of the Hispanic population, Texas may soon grow more purple.  Should that happen, both parties will want Texans on their national tickets.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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