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The 2016 presidential campaign officially began Monday morning in Lynchburg, Virginia, where Sen. Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination.
“I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America,” Cruz told a crowd at Liberty University. “And that is why today I am announcing that I am running for president of the United States.”
The announcement was not unexpected. The Texas Republican has been flirting with a run for president since being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012. But his decision to formally announce his candidacy before any other Republican or Democrat allows Cruz to garner headlines and, at least for the time being, exert power over the tone and conversation of the campaign until other candidates jump into the ring.
During his 30-minute speech at Liberty University, which was founded by Jerry Falwell, Cruz indicated what that tone will be. He will not seek to appeal to moderates as some previous Republican candidates have, but will double-down on his conservative bonafides in an attempt to appeal to grassroots conservatives who have become disengaged with the political process. Evangelicals are staying at hime and not voting, Cruz said. “Imagine instead millions of people of faith across America coming out to the polls and voting our values,” he continued.
As has been the case in previous speeches, Cruz dismissed shifting public opinion and reinforced his opposition to same-sex marriage. “Instead of a federal government that works to undermine our values, imagine a federal government that works to defend the sanctity of human life and to uphold the sacrament of marriage,” Cruz said.
Cruz has been positioning himself as 2016’s social warrior for months. Citing the “real danger to our liberty” posed by court rulings legalizing same-sex marriage, Cruz vowed earlier this month to introduce a constitutional amendment later this year that would only allow state legislatures to define marriage.
“If the courts were following the Constitution, we shouldn’t need a new amendment,” Cruz told Iowa talk radio host Jan Mickelson on Monday, according to audio posted by Right Wing Watch. “But they are … making it up right now, and it’s a real danger to our liberty.” The Texas Republican’s remarks came the same day he told a crowd of about 200 evangelical Christians in Iowa that the overwhelming number of state and federal judges who have struck down bans on same-sex marriage are “ignoring their oaths, ignoring the Constitution and legislating from the bench.” According to The Des Moines Register, Cruz described the embrace of marriage equality as an “unrelenting assault on traditional marriage.” Cruz argued before the Supreme Court nine times as solicitor general of Texas, more times than any other member of Congress.
Cruz first vowed to introduce such an amendment last October, when he lashed out at the Supreme Court for “abdicating its duty to uphold the Constitution” by allowing rulings striking down same-sex marriage bans in five states to stand, thus legalizing marriage equality in all states covered by the 4th Circuit, 7th Circuit and 10th Circuit Courts of Appeals. He has also reintroduced in Congress the State Marriage Defense Act, which would require the federal government to defer to the marriage laws of the state where a couple resides to determine if the couple is eligible for federal benefits, in effect invalidating for federal purposes the marriages of same-sex families living in the remaining 13 states that do not recognize same-sex marriage. He has also introduced a resolution to overturn a D.C. law requiring religiously-affiliated educational institutions to prohibit LGBT discrimination.
Cruz faces long odds at securing the Republican presidential nomination. He does not have the support of party elders and is disliked by many in his party. There have been countless stories written about his tense relationship with fellow Senate Republicans, with perhaps the most famous incident being when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called Cruz a “wacko bird.”
That doesn’t mean his insurgent candidacy won’t make for tense moments during the GOP primary debates as Republicans like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has softened his tone on marriage equality, is confronted with Cruz’s brash style.
And it seems likely Cruz will face competition from other social conservatives who may jump into the race, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Two of those men have scored primary victories before, with Santorum winning the Iowa Republican caucuses in 2012 and Huckabee winning the same caucuses in 2008. By declaring early, Cruz no doubt hopes to shore up support before the first primary elections early next year.
“I think the biggest takeaway is that between the venue, strident opposition to marriage equality, and his first-out-of-the-gate strategy, Senator Cruz is trying to stake out a space in the 2016 race as the social issues warrior in a GOP field that could well be crowded with social issues warriors,” Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said in an email. “Anyone who’s going to win targeting that voter demo is going to have their work cut out for them shoring up a fractured sub-electorate that puts social issues first and foremost.”
With the U.S. Supreme Court set to rule on nationwide marriage equality later this year, Republican presidential candidates are unlikely to have much choice in addressing same-sex marriage. And even should the nation’s highest court remove marriage equality from the debate by striking down the remaining state bans — a move some Republicans would no doubt appreciate — candidates like Cruz do not seem inclined to let the issue go quietly. That too could prove detrimental to wooing the general electorate. According to a recent YouGov/Huffington Post poll, supporting same-sex marriage is more likely to help than hurt a presidential candidate. Thirty-two percent of respondents said they would be more inclined to vote for a candidate who supports same-sex marriage, with 33 percent responding a candidates views on the issue do not matter. Only 24 percent were more likely to support a presidential candidate opposed to same-sex marriage.
According to Angelo, it is doubtful Cruz will get much support from his organization. “For someone who holds himself up as a champion of the constitution, Senator Cruz should know better than to conflate civil marriage with the sacrament of Holy Matrimony,” he said. “The incorrect intertwining the two is the primary reason we continue to have battles over marriage equality at all in this country.”
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