Cruz controlled: On Ted’s CPAC setback

Adam Gabbatt from The Guardian conducted his own presidential preference poll at CPAC

Good morning Austin:

Ice delayed my flying to D.C. last weekend and delayed my return to Austin yesterday. Trying again today.

Adam Gabbatt from The Guardian conducted his own presidential preference poll at CPAC

Adam Gabbatt from The Guardian conducted his own presidential preference poll at CPAC

 

Like the ingenious British journalist pictured above, I was here mostly to cover the Conservative Political Action Conference just outside D.C., which stretched over four days, capped by the announcement of the results of their presidential straw poll. Here are the results.

CPAC presidential straw poll results

CPAC presidential straw poll results

 

And here are the second choice picks.

CPAC presidential straw poll - second choices.

CPAC presidential straw poll – second choices.

If you add first and second choices together, Walker led with 40 percent, followed by Paul with 39 percent and Cruz, in third, with 24 percent. Rick Perry had four percent.

One shouldn’t read too much into the results. CPAC is heavily skewed toward youth. Here are the demographics for the 3,007 people who voted in the straw poll.

Who voted in 2015 Straw Poll

Who voted in 2015 Straw Poll

 

Half were 25 or under.

Straw poll demographics

Straw poll demographics

 

Another indicator of where their heads were at: Of those participating in the straw poll, 41 percent support legalizing marijuana for recreational or medical use, and 26 percent just for medical use, while 27 percent opposed legalization for any use.

In the grand scheme of things, Cruz finishing third is not bad, considering that he’s been on the national scene for scarcely two years. But, then again, the same can be said for Rand Paul – though, as a past two-time winner of the straw poll and the son of CPAC favorite Ron Paul, also a past two-time winner, he had a huge leg up.

But Scott Walker is also a relatively fresh face, and his ascension is a bigger problem for Cruz.

Simply put, Walker has in the last few weeks stolen a march on Cruz, and he used CPAC to consolidate his advantage over Cruz.

In his report card on the prospective candidates who spoke at CPAC, Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin gave Walker an A, Rand Paul an A-minus, and Cruz a B-plus.

On Walker:

Overall: After more than a month in the national spotlight, Walker showed CPAC the self-assuredness and accessibility that has put him towards the top of the top tier. A better balance between talking about presidential issues and bragging on his Wisconsin record than in some past high-profile speeches. Looking more natural every appearance and getting more comfortable with large crowds and national scrutiny, he’s on the trajectory to find the sweet spot between rock star and rock solid.

On Paul:

Overall: The speech cleverly blended libertarian favorites with more mainstream packaging. His frenzied supporters ensured that he received one of the best receptions of the conference no matter what–he could have read the Bowling Green tax assessor’s time sheets. The belle of CPAC, but not enough deviation from type to claim a larger piece of the Republican pie.

On Cruz:

Style: Signature toggle between hushed emotion and rallying shout that surfed the audience energy, punctuated by his “Cruz Stroll” around the stage with a wireless mic. Even as his Beltway tenure as a senator ticks by, he still pushes his anti-Washington, populist message without fear of contradiction or mockery. Biggest flaw: too often veered from happy warrior to angry warrior.

Overall: Nobody in the party today speaks with as much confidence and energy. Showed message discipline on his winning anti-DC schtick, but with so many lines familiar to the audience, some of the enthusiasm drained from the room as he delivered his spiel. He hasn’t worn out his welcome by any means with the CPACers, but he offered up no second act or sense of growth.”

I think this is a problem for Cruz right now. His story-line is stalled.

He presents himself as the Outsider Within Washington.

In his speech, Cruz likened himself to Uber and Lyft, the ride-sharing companies.

“What I am trying to do more than anything else is bring a disruptive app to politics,” Cruz said.

His theme is “Make D.C. Listen.”

But, like it or not, he is associated in the public mind with Washington, which Walker, in his speech, described as “68 square miles surrounded by reality.”

As I wrote in my story Sunday:

(Cruz) challenged Republican rivals to compare war wounds.

“We all know that in a campaign, every candidate comes up and tells you, ‘I’m the most conservative guy that’s ever lived,’ ” Cruz said. “Every one of them will say, ‘You betcha, hoo diddly, I’m as conservative as all get-out.’”

But, Cruz said, “If you’re really a conservative, you will have been in the trenches and you will bear the scars.”

Ed Morrissey, a conservative blogger and radio talk host from Minneapolis, said Walker more than meets that test.

“Ted Cruz said, ‘Show me where you’ve bled for the conservative agenda,’ ” Morrissey said. “Well, Scott Walker bled all over Wisconsin. He had to run for his first term twice because the unions came after him in a big way.”

As Rich Lowry at National Review wrote of Cruz’s CPAC appearance:

Oddly, the quotient of applause lines to applause seemed off. His jokes were clunky and he was a little shouty. But there is no doubt that people still love him for his role in the last government shutdown. One problem for his candidacy is that his show-me-what-you’ve done riff is a better setup for Scott Walker than for himself. It is a bit odd for a senator to say “Talk is cheap” when, unless they are master legislators, pretty much all that senators do is talk.

I think Halperin is also right that Cruz has to worry about coming across as an “angry warrior.”

“There is an edge to him, but maybe that will round out as the takes the campaign nationally,” Morrissey said.

Morrissey noted that both Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, another contender who finished well back in the pack at CPAC, have, as a central part of each of their personal narratives, the fact that in Cruz’s case, his father, and in Rubio’s case, both his parents, came to America from Cuba, albeit under different circumstances.

But the way they tell their stories is different – and telling

“Marco Rubio has a type of charisma where people really like him. He speaks with the heart of a son of immigrants about America, as does Ted Cruz, but Ted Cruz is tougher to like, he’s passionate, but in a kind of different way,” Morrissey said.

Of course, Cruz way outpaced Rubio at CPAC, but there is, in Rubio, something sunnier and more Reaganesque that may wear better over the long haul, and before a broader audience. Rubio is cool and Cruz is hot.

Here, for example, the opening from my Sunday story:

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz roused the hundreds of young people who packed the “Big Government Sucks” reception Thursday night at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference with a typically provocative appeal.

“Each of you has an ability to spread a fire; I am asking you to be an arsonist,” Cruz said. “I encourage you to light fire of liberty in other young people, so it burns and rages and spreads from one young person to another. That is how we turn the country around.”

Big Government Sucks

Big Government Sucks

“Now listen,” Cruz said to his young audience, explaining of his choice of imagery. “This may be a particular predilection because I am the son of a Cuban guerrilla.”

“My dad grew up in Cuba,” said Cruz. “When my dad was 14-years old he began fighting in the Cuban revolution, he began fighting alongside Fidel Castro. Now, he didn’t know Castro was a communist. None of the kids knew.”

But,  he said, what they did know was that Batista, the Cuban dictator who Castro was seeking to overthrow, was cruel, oppressive and corrupt, and so, at 14, Cruz’s father “began throwing Molotov cocktails.”

At the Big Government Sucks rally, I also met Deb Leticia Gordils, who was there with her daughter.

Deb Leticia Gordils, a CPAC regular who is state chairwoman of the Illinois National Republican Assembly and publisher of El Sueño Americano, a conservative Spanish-language paper, met Cruz at a small Chicago fundraiser when he was running against Dewhurst.

“I said to him — on my bucket list, one day I hope to work for the first Latino president of the United States in Washington, D.C. — so I looked right at him and I said, ‘I believe someday you might be that guy.’ He looked back at me and he chuckled, ‘I wasn’t born in America … I was born in Canada.’ We laughed about it.”

But asked about his eligibility after his CPAC speech in a Q&A with Fox host Sean Hannity, Cruz said, “I was born in Calgary, my mother was an American citizen by birth, under federal law that made me an American citizen by birth. The Constitution requires that you be a natural-born citizen.”

This was interesting to me, because it suggests that not all that long ago, when he was running for the Senate but before he could have imagined that he would so soon become a plausible candidate for president, Cruz apparently did not consider himself Constitutionally eligible.

Of course, it could be a sign of mental health that Cruz was not already so driven by ambition, and that he was simply not seriously thinking about whether or not he met the Constitution’s requirement that a president be a “natural-born citizen.”

But for a Constitutional strict constructionist like Cruz, who, as solicitor general of the state of Texas argued nine cases before the Supreme Court, and who has been steeped in politics for much of his life, it seems odd that he would not have clearly sorted out the question of his own Constitutional eligibility to be president, even just as an intellectual exercise. And, his friendly encounter with Gordils suggests that he had concluded he wasn’t.

I had, to this point, been inclined to think that Cruz would pass Constitutional muster on this question and that, while some people would raise is as an issue, it would not amount to much.

As Jeffrey Toobin noted parenthetically in his profile of Cruz last year in the New Yorker, The Absolutist:

(Ted’s birth in Canada, with dual American and Canadian citizenship, has raised the question of whether he is a “native born” citizen and thus eligible, under the Constitution, to be President. The answer is not completely clear, but it seems likely that the Constitution does not bar a Cruz Presidency. Recently, Ted Cruz formally gave up his Canadian citizenship.)

But my conversation with Gordils made me wonder if no less a Constitutional authority than Ted Cruz had doubts on the question, and looking back at his answer to Hannity, the wording seemed a bit lawyerly:

I was born in Calgary, my mother was an American citizen by birth, under federal law that made me an American citizen by birth. The Constitution requires that you be a natural born citizen.

This kind of begs the question, because the issue – if there is one – is whether “an American citizen by birth” is necessarily also a “natural born citizen.”

I looked back at the statement that Cruz spokesman Sean Rushton issued on the matter when it first surfaced in 2013:

Ted is a U.S. citizen by birth, having been born in Calgary to an American-born mother.

A few months later, when Cruz learned he was still also a citizen of Canada, his office issued this statement:

Given the raft of stories today about my birth certificate, it must be a slow news day. The facts of my birth are straightforward: I was born in 1970 in Calgary, Canada. Because my mother was a U.S. citizen, born in Delaware, I was a U.S. citizen by birth. When I was a kid, my Mom told me that I could choose to claim Canadian citizenship if I wanted. I got my U.S. passport in high school.

Because I was a U.S. citizen at birth, because I left Calgary when I was 4 and have lived my entire life since then in the U.S., and because I have never taken affirmative steps to claim Canadian citizenship, I assumed that was the end of the matter. Now the Dallas Morning News says that I may technically have dual citizenship. Assuming that is true, then sure, I will renounce any Canadian citizenship. Nothing against Canada, but I’m an American by birth and as a U.S. Senator, I believe I should be only an American.

Again, none of this gets into the nitty gritty of defining “natural born citizen.”

Then, last week, there was this, from Doyle McManus at the Los Angeles Times:

Sen. Ted Cruz is getting close to announcing his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. The Texan is spending almost as much time in Iowa and New Hampshire as he does on Fox News; he’s hired a staff and collected a long list of fiercely conservative supporters.

There’s at least one hitch: Ted Cruz was born in Calgary, in the Canadian province of Alberta. His mother was a U.S. citizen, born in Delaware; his father, a Cuban refugee working in Canada’s oil fields. Thanks to his mother, Cruz was a U.S. citizen at birth.

But that doesn’t clear up a legal muddle that’s as old as the Constitution: Is a U.S. citizen born abroad qualified to serve as president?

Is a U.S. citizen born abroad qualified to serve as president?

xxxxxx

At this point I should confess a personal stake: My oldest daughter was born in Toronto. Like Ted Cruz, she inherited U.S. citizenship through one of her parents. But we assured her that she could grow up to be president of the United States. (Proud of her dual citizenship, she says she’d like to serve as prime minister of Canada too.)

But, McManus write:

Surprisingly, some legal scholars agree — not that Cruz is unqualified, but that the question isn’t a slam-dunk. The Constitution says only a “natural born citizen” can serve as president, but it isn’t clear whether the Founding Fathers intended that to include U.S. citizens born abroad.

“The consensus [among constitutional lawyers] is that it means citizens at birth,” said Gabriel Chin, a professor at UC Davis. “But people are not 1000% confident.”

“In my view, it does merit a test,” agreed Sarah Helene Duggin, a professor at the Catholic University of America. Indeed, she argued, if Cruz were to win the Republican nomination, it would be in the nation’s interest to get the question settled early.

“If we ever get to the point where we have a presidential candidate with this issue, we will need a clarification,” she said. “If the candidate were elected and then disqualified, that would be a serious constitutional crisis.”

xxxxx

One of Cruz’s competitors in the race could sue, but that might not play well as a campaign issue. That leaves the matter in Cruz’s hands. As an “originalist” who believes in the literal meaning of the Constitution, he ought to be the first to want that murky phrase in Article II cleared up.

“The Constitution matters — all of the Constitution,” Cruz said in 2013. “It’s not pick and choose. It’s not take what part you like and get rid of the parts you don’t like.”

If Cruz runs, he should ask a friendly state official to challenge his candidacy. Most legal scholars think he’d win, or at least not lose. (The courts might leave it to the voters to decide.) Win or lose, he would have the satisfaction of making constitutional history. Besides, my daughter wants to know if she can start thinking about 2024.

Then there’s this, from the aforementioned Professor Duggin, writing in 2013 at Constitution Daily:

The Constitution does not define the term natural born citizen. Even so, Governor Schwarzenegger is clearly out of the running. Given that he was born in Austria to Austrian parents, there is no basis for arguing that he is a natural-born citizen of the United States.

For Senator Cruz—who was born in Calgary, Alberta, to an American mother and a Cuban father—the question is more complicated. There is a strong argument that anyone who acquires United States citizenship at birth, whether by virtue of the 14th Amendment or by operation of federal statute, qualifies as natural born. The Supreme Court, however, has never ruled on the meaning of the natural-born citizenship requirement. In the absence of a definitive Supreme Court ruling—or a constitutional amendment—the parameters of the clause remain uncertain.

xxxxxxx

Although subsequent naturalization acts dropped the natural born language, members of later Congresses proposed many bills and resolutions designed to clarify, limit, or eliminate the Natural Born Citizenship Clause; none succeeded. In April 2008, however, amid challenges to Senator McCain’s eligibility to serve as president, the Senate passed a resolution declaring that “John Sidney McCain, III, is a ‘natural born Citizen” under Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution of the United States.”

The resolution—co-sponsored by a number of McCain’s Senate colleagues, including rival presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—undoubtedly offered Senator McCain some comfort, but it had no real constitutional significance.

Challenges to presidential qualifications are not new. In 1964, for example, questions arose as to the natural-born credentials of Republican nominee Senator Barry Goldwater, because he was born in Arizona prior to statehood. In 1968, legal actions were threatened against former Michigan Governor George Romney, who was born to American parents in Mexico, when he sought the Republican nomination.

Despite the shadow that lawsuits may cast over a presidential bid, the obstacles to successful litigation of natural-born citizenship challenges are formidable. These matters raise a wide array of justiciability concerns. Standing issues led to the dismissal of lawsuits filed in federal courts in New Hampshire and California challenging Senator McCain’s natural-born status in 2008 (Hollander v. McCain, Robinson v. Bowen), as well as to the dismissal of claims brought by a Guyana-born naturalized citizen who argued that the Fifth and 14th Amendments effectively repealed the natural born citizenship clause (Hassan v. Federal Election Committee).

Standing is not the only obstacle to adjudication of natural-born citizenship issues. Claims that a candidate lacks the requisite natural-born citizenship credentials are unlikely to ripen until a nominee is chosen, or perhaps even elected, and federal courts may be reluctant to delve into the merits of challenges to a candidate’s natural-born citizenship status on political question grounds.

What can we expect if Senator Cruz or another similarly situated candidate runs for president in 2016? Undoubtedly, the controversy will continue with passionate advocates on both sides of the issue. A scholarly consensus is emerging, however, that anyone who acquires citizenship at birth is natural born for purposes of Article II.

Arianna Ruiz, 16, on a Fieldston School trip to CPAC, to study the "rise of the right," interviews man identifying himself as George Washington

Arianna Ruiz, 16, of the Bronx, on a Fieldston School trip to CPAC, to study the “rise of the right,” interviews man identifying himself as George Washington

Perry Also Ran

Bloomberg’s Halperin gave Perry a B-minus for his CPAC appearance:

Overall: Wants to be the Reagan candidate who leads with national security and champions the middle class, but, somewhat surprisingly, seems behind Walker, Cruz, Rubio, and others in having a fluid stump speech that plays to his strength. In presentation, came across as too much like the failed version from ’12, rather than Rick Perry 2.0, which is a bar he has to clear before he will have any chance to make the finals, in Iowa or over the long run.

The former governor’s PAC used a snippet of the speech to cap a new video, which focused on his travel to Iowa, New Hampshire and now CPAC, and making sure people knew things about him that maybe he failed to communicate last time out – like the fact that he grew up without running water, and that, of the currently likely GOP field, “There’s only one individual that’s ever had the uniform of this country on, and that’s me. And that matters.”

A woman in the ad also notes that Perry “looks presidential.”

He does.

And he does great meet-and-greet, and state of the art entourage.

 

 

After taking this photo of Timmy Teepell and Perry, Teepell asked me to send him a copy so he could send it to his wife.

“My wife loves Rick Perry,” Teepell said.

Later, when I talked to the blogger Ed Morrissey, he recalled the time he and his wife met Perry at a small reception. When Perry realized that Morrissey’s wife was blind, the governor took her aside and had a one-on-one conversation with her for about a half hour. He wouldn’t allow himself to be interrupted by anyone else.

“My wife loves Rick Perry,” Morrissey said.

In his CPAC speech, Perry presented himself as an unremitting hawk in a dangerous world, a theme he pressed on an appearance Sunday with Dana Bash on CNN’s State of the Union.

BASH: Let’s talk about ISIS. Would you propose U.S. boots on the ground to try to stop the threat of ISIS?

PERRY: We need to look back and you see the opportunities that we missed, funding and giving weapons to the Syrian rebels could have stopped ISIS before they ever got out of Syria. Then as they moved into Iraq we had the opportunity with the Peshmerga to fund them and to give them heavy weaponry and we failed at that. So the options we have left are not the best ones, but having a coalition with the Jordanians, with the Saudis, with the other Middle Eastern countries —

BASH: Which is what the Obama administration is doing.

PERRY: But they’re the lesser of options. I’ll also suggest to you, we are going to have to have our military actively engaged with those special operators from those other countries to eliminate the ISIS threat and this administration —

BASH: Does that — does that mean boots on the ground?

PERRY: That’s exactly what it means. I mean, there’s no — I’m not trying to parse the words. That’s exactly what we should have.

BASH: How many?

PERRY: I think the idea of sending a message to anybody, here’s how many troops we’re going to put on the ground, I’ve written too many letters to moms, dads, spouses, next of kin for almost a decade of people we’ve lost in Texas during this war on terror, and to be sending information to the enemy, whether it’s through the media or any other source I will suggest to you is irresponsible.

BASH: There might be people watching this saying, “OK, here is a Texas governor who wants to be in the White House who wants to send U.S. troops to the Middle East. We’ve seen this movie before.” What would you say?

PERRY: I would suggest to them that I have the background and the ability to make decisions on my own. And I think if American and Western values are in jeopardy and U.S. troops working with a coalition force is how you stop ISIS. I think the bulk of the American people are going to say, thank you, Mr. President, for standing up for our values. Thank you for stopping this face of evil.

Bash also asked Perry a question about Hillary Clinton – who, as much as President Obama – was the target of attack from the CPAC stage:

BASH: You have talked about some questionable donations to the Clinton foundation. What exactly do you think is wrong with these donations? Why does it raise questions for you?

PERRY: I think most Americans realize that a phone call at 3:00 in the morning to the president of the United States about an issue that deals with a foreign country that is given maybe tens of millions of dollars to the foundation that she oversees is not right. And it’s not only the appearance of impropriety, it’s also the ethical side of this that I think most Americans really have a problem with. And I’m really concerned about not just going forward but what has been received at the Clinton foundation over the course of years and how that affects this individual’s judgment.

BASH: She was secretary of state so you could argue that she sort of, you know — that they’re going from the pool that she’s familiar with, if that makes sense.

PERRY: You can argue that, but I think it falls flat in the face of the American people when it comes to arguing are you going to trust an individual who has taken that much money from a foreign source where is their loyalty.

Last night, I happened to watch an old episode of the Sopranos from 2001 – 14 years ago – in which Carmela is having lunch with Rosalie Aprile, Angie Bonpensiero and Gabriella Dante, and the subject of Hillary Clinton comes up. Carmela is at first harshly judgmental, suggesting that she had allowed herself to be humiliated by her husband. But when Dante (Syl’s wife), notes that Hillary took that negativity and “spun it into gold – you got to give her credit,” Carmela says, “It’s true, she’s a role model for all of us.”

With a little editing for language, the scene could be turned into a great 60-second ad.

Would Bill object? Maybe, but, as this 2007 video homage by the Clintons to the very last scene of The Sopranos suggests, they harbored no ill feelings toward the show. Anything but.