By Peter Grier
WASHINGTON — Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas are
both favorites of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. If both
run for president in 2016, as seems likely at the moment, they’d vie
for the same conservative voters as a base upon which to build a
winning GOP primary coalition.
Given that potential White House candidates are jockeying right now
for support from key donors and party figures, it’s not too early to
ask this question: Which of these two men is currently winning the
most Tea Party support?
Despite their similar electoral roots, they are very different
politicians, of course. And they’re taking two different roads to
building name recognition and support in advance of the official White
The libertarian-oriented Senator Paul is emphasizing his vision of a
changed, more inclusive Republican Party. And he’s doing so in a
pretty blunt way. In an interview with Glenn Beck that aired last
week, Paul said the GOP will not win the White House again in his
lifetime absent radical change.
“And it has to be a transformation. Not a little tweaking at the
edges,” Paul told Mr. Beck in a segment aired on TheBlazeTV.
That means some kind of immigration reform, though Paul hasn’t
outlined specifics on this issue beyond opposition to the indefinite
jailing of detainees.
“If you want to work and you want a job and you want to be part of
America, we’ll find a place for you,” Paul said in an interview with
Politico published Tuesday.
Deemphasizing the war on drugs could win support in minority
communities, which have a disproportionate share of their population
jailed on drug charges, according to Paul. When the Kentucky senator
speaks before audiences of young voters, he talks about civil
liberties, not taxes.
Senator Cruz is taking a more confrontational approach. Where Paul has
endorsed majority leader Mitch McConnell against a Tea Party primary
opponent, angering some conservatives, Cruz won’t support Texas
colleague Sen. John Cornyn (R), who also faces a Tea Party primary
Cruz clashed openly with establishment GOP leaders last week when he
forced them to break his filibuster to allow a final vote on a bill to
raise the national debt ceiling. Senator McConnell had hoped the
legislation would pass without Republican fingerprints, avoiding a
messy fight that might spook financial markets.
Afterwards, the Lone Star lawmaker was unrepentant. Lots of GOP
senators misrepresented their intentions to constituents, he said,
vowing they’d fight the debt ceiling when they had no intention of
doing any such thing.
“It’s like they think the American people are just a bunch of rubes,
that we don’t remember what they say,” Cruz told conservative radio
talk host Mark Levin late last week.
Such defiance thrills insurgent-minded conservatives. Slate’s Dave
Weigel notes today that Cruz is so popular in Texas that a number of
Republican candidates now prominently feature photos of themselves
with Cruz on their web sites — even though Cruz hasn’t actually
As for Paul, his endorsement of establishment leader McConnell shows
he’s bailed on bringing big change to Washington, charges Leon Wolf in
the conservative RedState website.
“When it comes to actual accomplishments that have changed the way
things are done in Washington or even within the Senate GOP caucus,
Paul’s cabinet is pretty empty,” writes Mr. Wolf.
But here’s the kicker: Right now Paul leads Cruz in polls of GOP
voters. The RealClearPolitics rolling average of major surveys has
Paul as the presidential nominee choice of 11.2 percent of
Republicans, as opposed to 8.2 percent for Cruz.
Paul appears to have an edge among conservative and Tea Party voters
as well, though the data here is a bit thin. In a January
McClatchy/Marist survey, 10 percent of self-described Tea Party
supporters picked Paul as their presidential choice. Nine percent
picked Cruz. Paul won eight percent of “strong Republicans” in the
McClatchy data; Cruz won six percent, which is within the poll margin
A poll from Democratic-leaning firm PPP released Jan. 29 has similar
results. Among self-described “very conservative” voters, Paul bests
Cruz as a nominee choice by 15 to 11 percent. (Former Arkansas Gov.
Mike Huckabee beats both men in this category with 20 percent of the
“very conservative” respondents.)
PPP finds Paul’s favorability ratings higher than Cruz’s among
conservative voters, as well.
It’s early yet, though, and these results might just reflect the fact
that Rand Paul’s father Ron Paul ran for president last time around
and the family brand remains well-known in GOP circles. It’ll be
interesting to see how the Paul/Cruz matchup develops in months ahead.