A Cruz nomination would also pay a different, more abstract and longer-term dividend. It is an article of faith in the conservative movement (and to the senator himself) that Republicans only win elections when they nominate “true conservatives” as opposed to consensus candidates like John McCain and Mitt Romney. This analysis is flawed and self-serving, but it festers at the center of the Republican Party’s civil war.

For that war to end, the analysis will have to be tested one way or another. Either a Jeb Bush-like candidate will have to win the presidency, or a Cruz-like candidate will have to win the nomination as an existential roll of the dice for the right. If Cruz were to win the presidency, the reactionary wing of the Republican Party would become even more empowered than it already is. If he were to lose, the party’s governing faction would be able to make a convincing case that practicing strident, procedurally extreme politics is a loser for a national party (just as John Boehner won temporary breathing room to cut legislative deals after Cruz’s shutdown ended in political disaster).

This isn’t to say old patterns would never re-emerge. Conservatives would presumably chalk Cruz’s defeat up to the fact that the party apparatus had attacked him publicly for so many years; Republican operatives will attribute any defeat in 2016 to the pall Donald Trump has cast over the party. And if Cruz were to become president, he’d quickly discover the limits of governing as a tribalist—that is, as the representative not even of a party, but of a faction of a party.

No matter the outcome, though, Cruz’s candidacy would provide desperately needed clarity—not just to his own party, but to the broader electorate.

Where someone like Marco Rubio hopes to run a campaign that conceals a right-wing agenda behind a compelling personal narrative and small-bore heterodoxies, Cruz’s platform is more right-wing still and uncloaked in the language of compassion Republicans discover every four years when the presidency is on the line. Where Rubio touts the fact that he wounded Obamacare, and proposes to transform it into a less generous coverage scheme, Cruz insists on repealing the law with barely a trifle to replace it. Where Rubio proposes to conceal a historically massive tax cut for the affluent behind promises to direct modest tax benefits to working-class families, Cruz pledges to throw out the entire tax code and replace it with an unapologetically regressive combination of value-added and flat income taxes.

Cruz wants to return to the gold standard. He is hewing ever closer to Trump’s maximally restrictive position on immigration. In Rubio’s stump speech, he appeals to voters outside the Republican Party base. By contrast, Cruz, in his announcement speech, asked the Christian conservatives of Liberty University to “imagine millions of courageous conservatives, all across America, rising up together to say in unison ‘we demand our liberty’ [and] millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values.”

Since its inception, the conservative movement has been a revanchist one, bent on rescinding the ill-gotten benefits of liberalism and returning them from “other people” to their rightful owners. Republicans generally do a much better job hiding the movement’s essential nature in presidential election years than in the intervening three—which is politically wise, but also denies voters a clear sense of how vastly the aims of conservatism and liberalism differ. As a creature of the movement, Cruz would present the conservative agenda to the public in a much more unvarnished way, and the public would render its verdict.


The danger of a Cruz nomination is that an exogenous shock to the political system—a recession, say, or a international crisis—could hand him the presidency even as the steady-state preferences of the electorate suggest he would lose quite badly.

But then, such a shock would probably hand the presidency to any Republican nominee, who would begin dutifully signing legislation passed by the Mitch McConnell-Paul Ryan Congress. The incremental risk of a Cruz candidacy is dwarfed by the salutary effect it would have on the political system, both within the Republican Party and without. Everyone should learn to stop worrying and love Ted Cruz.