Ted Cruz’s big moment – Politico

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If he’s ever going to break out of the GOP pack, the showdown over Planned Parenthood and the budget will be what does it.

If Ted Cruz is ever going to break through in the Republican presidential primary, the time is now.

Cruz has been the workmanlike conservative of the GOP field: a strong fundraiser but no Jeb Bush, well-liked by the activist right yet unable, so far, to generate the kind of breakout moments that have vaulted his anti-establishment rivals out of the single-digit doldrums.

But Cruz’s supporters see the showdown in Congress over Planned Parenthood and the budget — which kicks into high gear this week and could stretch into the winter, on the cusp of voting in early states — as a critical opening for the first-term lawmaker. With the spotlight focused on Congress, they say, it will allow Cruz to make a sustained case to tea party and evangelical voters that he’s the one candidate doing battle in the trenches for their causes, just as many of them are picking a horse in the race. The goal, he and allies stop just short of saying, is to expose his chief competitors for the outsider mantle as pretenders by comparison.

“Every election we see campaign conservatives who talk a good game on the campaign trail, and yet haven’t walked the walk,” Cruz told POLITICO in an interview last week. “The clearest distinction is that, of the Republican candidates running, I am the only consistent conservative who on issue after issue after issue has been the same yesterday, today, tomorrow.”

“The fight is in Washington,” said Steve Deace, an influential conservative Iowa radio host who has endorsed Cruz. “You can be great in debates, you can be great on Fox News … but really, ultimately, are you great where the battle is the hottest?”

Other Republicans, however, warn that the fiscal fights this fall could define Cruz — whose time in Congress is best known for the two-week government shutdown he helped instigate in 2013, and the routine ire he draws from his Senate colleagues — as too doctrinaire and too much of a pariah within his own party to win a general election. Flirting with a second government shutdown in as many years is a risky play for a candidate with any hope of being more than just a favorite of the far right.

“For the short term, it sets him apart, but in the long term, it could come back on him,” said Kim Reem, head of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women, who is not endorsing a candidate. “The people more to the middle that he’d need to win the presidency may very well say, ‘Well, I’m not likely to support you that way because I don’t like how you handled [this].’”

Still, with strong grass-roots fundraising, a steady stream of media coverage and a slash-and-burn legislative playbook, there’s perhaps no one better positioned than Cruz to gain from any slip by Donald Trump, Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina, the party’s top-tier candidates of the moment who have surged largely on the backs of voters Cruz once counted as his loyalists.

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