Ted Cruz is the Ivan Drago of CPAC.
The first term Texas Senator seems genetically engineered by teams of scientists in order to perfectly embody all “three legs of the conservative stool” as a fiscal conservative, social conservative and hawk.
Cruz finished second in the organization’s annual presidential straw poll Saturday behind only Rand Paul, who won in 2013 and whose father had won the previous two competitive straw polls. (Romney won in 2012 when CPAC was held in late March, at a time when the former Massachusetts governor had all but clinched the GOP nomination).
Paul unsurprisingly finished first in a crowd dominated by young people, (46% of voters were under 25) but Cruz stood out nearly tripling his vote total from last year while the vote totals for other conservative rising stars like Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan collapsed. It was a race where Paul was assumed to be the de facto winner but the real competition was for second place, and that’s what Cruz won.
The first-term Texas senator and Harvard Law grad opened CPAC by speaking to an energized, albeit somewhat bleary eyed, room at 9AM on Thursday where he threw down the gauntlet at three of his party’s past four nominees, denouncing Mitt Romney, John McCain and Bob Dole as insufficiently conservative and not drawing a clear distinction between themselves and Democrats.
In the halls around the event Cruz attracted a giant scrum when he was briefly visible. He was comforting with the widow of a soldier who died in Afghanistan, lowering his voice and grabbing her hand to say “Thank you for honoring his memory.” When a Texan came along he was effusive, exclaiming “fantastic” as he posed for picture.
Cruz also took pains to build up his credentials on foreign policy, appearing at anti-CPAC event sponsored by Frank Gaffney. The event sponsored by Breitbart and EMPact, a group which raises awareness of the grave dangers that the United States faces from an electromagnetic pulse attack, was held in protest of the fact that CPAC includes longtime conservative activist Grover Norquist, whom Gaffney believes is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood for very murky reasons. The Texas senator managed to win a bellicose crowd immediately following a panel on “Benghazigate,” by describing his unique foreign policy vision.
As he said “The Republican Party—you can point to two points on the spectrum, where Republicans lie. On one side you have the views of John McCain. The other end of the spectrum, you have the views of Rand Paul. Now, with respect, my views are very much the views of Ronald Reagan, which I would suggest is a third point on the triangle." Cruz went on to contrast how he agreed with Paul on a cautious policy towards Syria but with McCain on taking a hard line against Iran.
Cruz wasn’t satisfied with finishing second though. In the minutes before the straw poll results were announced, the Cruz affiliated Senate Conservative Fund released an online poll among those who couldn’t attend the conference that saw the Texas senator finishing first in their presidential poll.
The conference even ended with Ted Cruz being praised effusively by Sarah Palin, the reality television star and former Alaska governor, whose closing speech praised the Texas senator's 21-hour quasi filibuster in September, 2013. She praised his leadership and bemoaned those Republicans who she thought betrayed the conservative movement during the government shutdown.
Most politicians would be satisfied with finishing second to Rand Paul in beauty contest notoriously dominated by libertarians. But with his determination to salvage a victory, it’s clear that, like Ivan Drago, Cruz is in it “to the end” . . . or at least until 2016.