The man who can save US from Trump
Marketing himself as 'Trump-lite', Ted Cruz's populist campaign can win back right-wing hearts, writes Ruth Sherlock
Published 24/12/2015 | 02:30
Donald Trump may have dominated the Republican presidential race, but as the party heads towards its first actual vote, he risks being eclipsed by another contender for America's right-wing heart.
The Republican establishment has been praying for the emergence of a candidate who is popular but still accepts its core values - including those that win the presidency.
But Ted Cruz, the Texas senator whose brand of puritan conservatism has seen him leading the polls for the first contest, the Iowa caucus, is marketing himself as "Trump-lite" - an only mildly less extreme version of the belligerent frontrunner.
He hopes that by doing so he will steal away the legions of mostly white, disaffected "angry voters" that Mr Trump's surge has brought to the forefront of the political debate.
In Iowa, his strategy has made him the only presidential candidate to lead Mr Trump in the polls in any of the first four key voting states.
Nationally too, he has crept up in the polls, taking up the mantle as primary challenger to the real-estate billionaire when Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, dropped away.
Mr Cruz has established a successful populist campaign despite his background as a lawyer and graduate of both Harvard and Princeton, two Ivy League universities.
Both he and Mr Trump campaign on a platform of restoring the American Dream. Mr Trump asserts he will "Make America Great Again". Mr Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, invokes memories of his father sailing towards the "promise of America".
Mr Cruz also uses similar bombastic language to Mr Trump: where the Republican frontrunner says he would "bomb the s*** out of" the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), the Texas senator says he will "carpet-bomb them into oblivion".
Mr Cruz is a member of the political elite, but on the campaign trail he relishes in dismissing his colleagues in congress as "the Washington cartel".
When in congress, Mr Cruz has, as Rick Wilson - an adviser to super PAC funding group aligned with Marco Rubio, another Republican presidential candidate and senator - said "played the role of comic-book villain".
He revels in not playing ball. He has refused to compromise with Democrats or even his own Republican party on legislation that requires bipartisanship to pass - even when its failure would have dangerous consequences.
In 2013, he famously played a large part in causing a government shutdown by speaking for 21 hours on the floor of the senate, in a classic filibuster, to prevent the passing of funding for president Barack Obama's healthcare reforms.
At one point during the oration he read Dr Seuss's 'Green Eggs and Ham' as a bedtime story to his two young daughters watching in Houston, who were supposedly watching their father on a live television feed.
Just like Mr Trump, the Texas senator cuts a divisive figure. His views - he would abolish federal institutions like the department of education, is an ardent supporter of the death penalty, and takes a literal reading of the constitution - have excited the party base, but are alienating for the majority of the Republican mainstream.
In Washington, his antics have earned him the hatred of his colleagues, who openly refer to him as "wacko bird" or more simply, "jerk".
In elections past, Mr Cruz's lack of a broad appeal would most probably have secured his demise on election day.
"Usually there is an establishment candidate and an evangelical candidate," said Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth Public Policy Institute. "But in this election there are Trump's anti-establishment voters that go beyond the evangelical base. And those, along with the evangelicals, are commanding a majority of the vote."
Mr Cruz's rise in Iowa is in part due to his support from the evangelical Republican wing, who make up over 50pc of conservative voters.
They appreciate an absolutist approach is in part rooted in religious beliefs instilled in his childhood by his evangelical pastor father.
David Panton, a close friend, room-mate and debate partner, said Mr Cruz was avid in his religiosity.
"Since Ted was a kid, he has spent hours reading and studying the Bible," he said. "We spent many hours talking about the Bible and the role of personal faith".
Mr Cruz announced his candidacy for president from Liberty University, America's biggest evangelical institution, which denies evolution and teaches that the earth is only 6,000 years old.
On the campaign trail, he frequently speaks in churches. When dealing with matters he is passionate about, such as his opposition to the Supreme Court's decision to legalise gay marriage, he invites his audience to "pray".
Mr Cruz's campaign has ranged from the quirky to the beyond quirky. In a recent interview with a local US media outlet, he acted out - with voice impersonations - his favourite part of the movie 'The Princess Bride'.
Mr Panton, his college roommate, said he had learned this skill during their university days where the two of them would "host Princess Bride parties" where friends would come and watch the movie and recite parts of it.
In another video, intended to show Mr Cruz's support for guns, the candidate is seen cooking bacon by wrapping a slice around the barrel of a gun, and firing the weapon until the heat of the weapon cooks it.
Mr Wilson, the Rubio supporter, said Mr Cruz had "taken a big gamble" in hoping that not attacking Mr Trump would win him support.
"It's like feeding an alligator in the hope that it eats you last," he said.
Mr Cruz will be helped by the fact that many of the 12 states that vote for their nominees on the most important day of primary voting, 'Super Tuesday', are located in the religious conservative south.
"The question is whether he will have succeeded in convincing less religious anti-establishment voters to see him as an alternative to Trump," said Mr Murray. "Some may see the title senator and be turned off. But if any current politician has the potential to take away Trump voters, it is him." (© Daily Telegraph, London)