The Texan is winning the race to convince conservatives that he is the far-right candidate who can beat the GOP establishment.
Ted Cruz is blanketed in confetti, raining from the rafters of a Cleveland arena. It’s July 2016, and the senator has survived a grueling, 18-way primary to win the Republican nomination thanks to a groundswell once dismissed as fantasy. The surge came from the collective endorsement of national conservative leaders that boosted Cruz organizationally and financially, paving his way to a win in Iowa, a top-three finish in New Hampshire and South Carolina, and a cleanup in the Southern primaries of March. Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Jeb Bush had hung on, stealing votes from one another until each dropped out after it was already too late. The race is over.
Improbable? Yes. Impossible? No. While most Republicans dismiss this scenario, it remains conservatives’ theory of the case for how one of their own can win the White House. And eight months out from the Iowa caucuses, Ted Cruz is closer to proving it can be done. Because after walking into a Tysons Corner hotel in May, the door closing behind him, Cruz delivered something none of his competitors could—a campaign plan that has persuaded some of the most influential conservatives in America that they might defeat the GOP establishment’s candidate for the first time in a generation.
This has been the stuff of dreams and schemes among conservative leaders since George W. Bush left the White House. Convinced that Republicans nominated a “moderate” in the past two presidential elections because the conservative vote was splintered—and certain that John McCain and Mitt Romney lost in November because the GOP base didn’t turn out—this clutch of right-wing activists wants desperately to prevent a third act. In conference calls, email chains, and private meetings across the country, they have plotted to accomplish in 2016 what they could not in 2008 or 2012: uniting behind a single candidate.
So on a Saturday morning last month, when Cruz auditioned at a Ritz-Carlton for the support of a group that most Americans have never heard of, he offered something no other candidate did: a full-throated embrace of the conservative movement’s mission and a devastating dissection of the Republican Party’s strategy. It could well end up being the most important speech of his 2016 campaign.
“This is a room of warriors. This is a room of patriots,” Cruz said as he began his presentation to the Council for National Policy—a shadowy nonprofit populated by the Hill staffers, think-tankers, consultants, donors, and ideological mercenaries who call themselves “movement conservatives.” They meet several times each year around the country to discuss legislative initiatives and political strategy, always in secret and always off the record.