AUSTIN, Texas.- Ted Cruz ran a surprisingly effective presidential campaign in 2016. It sometimes sounds like he still is. The Texan is seeking reelection to the U.S. Senate by pledging to repeal Barack Obama’s signature health care law, abolish the IRS and beat back federal overreach — even though the Trump administration has already diluted the health law, delivered sweeping tax cuts and code revisions and controls Washington along with a Republican-led Congress.
Unmentioned — almost as if he hadn’t noticed — is that the political world has been turned upside down around him. Indeed, Cruz, virtually alone among candidates here, barely refers to President Donald Trump and his paradigm shifting repercussions since the election.
While other Texas political hopefuls want to tap into Trump’s strong popularity with the Republican base, Cruz is sticking to his greatest policy hits, calculating that he has the stature to remain above the fray and can stick to the playbook that carried him from GOP primary also-ran to second place finisher in his first run for the White House. It’s an agenda that would transition smoothly to another possible presidential run after 2020.
“Freedom doesn’t defend itself,” Cruz declared, drawing applause from a crowd of 200-plus inside an automatic mailing firm’s headquarters in Austin, one of 12 cities where Cruz recently staged reelection kickoff rallies over three days. The aloof approach especially suits Cruz, a strident tea party hero who delighted in infuriating both parties’ congressional powerbrokers before Trump arrived to unhinge them even more.
He bitterly opposed Trump at the end of the 2016 presidential campaign, was booed for refusing to endorse him at the Republican National Convention but eventually fell in line. While Trump has careened away from some traditional GOP beliefs by supporting free market-busting tariffs, racking up federal debt and shrugging off family values and morality standards, Cruz can claim to have been an unflinching conservative all along.
“Steering clear of Trump allows him to be more about Cruz,” said GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser, a former national tea party organizar who directed the 2014 reelection campaign of Texas’ senior senator, John Cornyn.