The decision of whether to run for president of the United States is unlike any that a human being faces.
And yet Rafael Ted Cruz, the junior U.S. senator from Texas, faces it. Not now. Not even soon. Next year probably. Certainly by Thanksgiving 2014.
Imagine the discussion a candidate and his or her spouse will have. How hard will it be? It is 20 hours a day for two years. Calls with your spouse are scheduled. You will see every fleabag motel in the early states. You’ll freeze, eat terrible food, get sick, miss family events and rarely enjoy any private time.
And then, if you are the one Republican out of 10 who runs the table, lucky enough to become the nominee, you probably will face a 40 percent chance of beating Hillary Clinton (if she runs).
Should you win, you can look forward to eight years that turns you prematurely gray. You can never go grocery shopping alone again. You may have an assassination attempt. Everything you’ve ever done will be viewed in the worst possible light. Your life will be turned upside down.
Why, yes, I think I’ll sign up for that.
Anyone who thinks they should be president has a rare amount of personal confidence. Without that assuredness, success in politics would never have been possible in the first place.
Ted Cruz is certainly confident. And he has reason to be.
He is universally recognized, even by his harshest critics, as brilliant. Take the cream of the crop, put them at Princeton. Then take the cream of that crop, and put them at Harvard Law School. Then take the cream of that crop, and let them clerk for the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He exists in a frighteningly small intellectual universe.
Is that enough to win?
The odds that he wins the presidency in 2016 cannot be much worse than the odds facing him when he ran for the U.S. Senate. He started off below the margin of error in the polls, with no fundraising and little support. He relentlessly worked it — doggedly traveling the state, winning over workhorse activists and volunteers with his passion, his intellect and his ability to convince them that he would fight.
I see nothing that would prevent him from doing that writ large.
In politics, the races you don’t run are perhaps more important than the races you do. Had Hillary Clinton run against President Bush in 2004, she likely would have lost. But she didn’t run, and with her own patience and persistence she may be the first female President in 2017.
Ted Cruz is on a rocket ride right now. We don’t know where this is headed.
But we do know a few things:
• Longevity in the U.S. Senate is more likely to hurt you politically than to help you. Senators accumulate hard-to-explain votes, while catching Potomac Fever. Recent examples are John Kerry and John McCain. Short-timers such as Barack Obama knew this.
• The grass roots is clamoring for an authentic, smart, articulate, conservative fighter. Good men like Mitt Romney, Bob Dole and John McCain were unable to motivate the Republican base, which is job No. 1. Cruz’s ability to motivate the base is unquestioned.
• The political cost for Cruz running in 2016 is minimal. He is a newly elected U.S. Senator, not facing re-election until 2018. Even if he fails, he will grow his support and fundraising while becoming a more well-known national figure. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney all needed to run twice to win the GOP nomination.
I do not subscribe to the view that Ted Cruz is so Machiavellian that he has, eight months into his term in the U.S. Senate, already decided to run for president. I believe that he senses this may be his moment, but it is too early. He will continue to travel the country, and Texas, to sell conservatism to the masses. He will continue to do the work. He will pick his fights. He will not shrink from tough battles.
Obama determined that 2008 was his moment. Had he not run then, he may never have become president.
Increasingly, it appears to me that 2016 is Ted Cruz’s moment. Does he know it?
Matt Mackowiak is a Washington- and Austin-based Republican consultant and president of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC. Matt can be reached at email@example.com.