Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) announced early Monday morning on Twitter that he is entering the fray officially as 2016's first presidential candidate, ahead of a speech later Monday morning at Liberty University.
The venue symbolizes his efforts to reach out to non-traditional Republican Party voters — college students. But it also highlights his party’s potential limitations — he will be speaking at a school whose student body is at least half white, according to Forbes, and whose founder is the late evangelical pastor Jerry Falwell.
And in a twist, if nominated, Cruz’s divisive policy prescriptions could come back to haunt Republicans looking to make inroads with two groups of voters with whom the GOP is desperate for — young people and Latinos.
His hard-line stances on issues like immigration, the Affordable Care Act, and others have made him a darling among the conservative grassroots crowd. But Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, nevertheless could make things worse for his party with those groups.
“His nomination would solidify the cynicism that Latinos and millennials currently have toward the Republican Party,” said Weston Wamp, a former Republican congressional candidate from Tennessee.
“Sen. Cruz is the poster child for Republican intolerance and incendiary rhetoric on issues like immigration where we need to be inclusive, not exclusive as a party," Wamp said. "He has pandered to the furthest extremes of the base since he was elected, spending more time trying to find ways to get attention than actually legislating.”
Take immigration, for example, an issue especially important to both young and Latino voters. Cruz could end up driving the conversation in the party even further right on the issue, as it has turned decidedly partisan in Washington. Cruz played a starring role late last year and early this year in the Republican fight against Obama’s executive steps designed to shield many undocumented immigrants from deportation.
And during the immigration debate in the Senate in 2013, he said the emphasis should be placed on border security, while introducing an amendment to strip language about a path to citizenship. He said during his 2012 Senate campaign that he wanted to “triple” the size of border patrol along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Here are a few points that display his problem with the Latino demographic, according to polling from the firm Latino Decisions:
- In October 2014, only 24 percent of Latinos polled said they would consider voting for Cruz, compared with 73 percent who said it was unlikely.
- If Cruz were the Republican vice presidential nominee, it would reduce favorability of the ticket by 18 points among Latinos.
- Cruz’s unfavorable rating among Latino voters rose by a whopping 19 points from 2013 to 2014.
Young people and Latinos also place a greater emphasis on making a path to citizenship part of the equation in any overhaul of the immigration system, according to a poll last year from the Pew Research Center.
“Ted Cruz has taken such a hardline stance against immigration reform that he is likely to push the GOP towards more problems with Latinos, not fewer,” said Matt Barreto, the co-founder of Latino Decisions.
“He has been unwilling to compromise at all, and unwilling to show any compassion for immigrants who came to this country in search of a better life for their family, just like his family did. It is not just his opposition to immigration reform, but his brash style, his desire to shut down the government, and his inability to offer any policy solutions that will cause him problems," Barreto said.
Neither has Cruz also polled particularly well with young voters on his road to an announcement. In Fusion’s Massive Millennial Poll released last month, which surveyed 1,000 people aged 18-34, Cruz garnered just 8 percent of support among self-identified Republicans in the poll.
That put him tied for fifth place with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and behind prospective candidates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (16 percent), Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (14 percent), U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (14 percent), and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (12 percent). He also only got 4 percent of the vote among Republican Latinos, which placed him sixth of seven candidates tested in the poll.
“He embodies what millennials despise about some Republican politicians: an unbending, ideologically charged perspective on all issues,” Wamp said. “He is arguably the most partisan actor in Washington. All polling has shown millennials voters to favor pragmatism and a willingness to work together. Senator Cruz has demonstrated an inability to work constructively with members of the other party.”
Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.