Ted Cruz surprises the establishment again

When Ted Cruz officially entered the presidential race a few weeks ago, I wrote that the pundit-oddsmakers were undervaluing his prospects for success. As a favorite of the GOP’s large conservative base, it seemed clear to me, as I later suggested in one of our podcasts, that if Cruz isn’t a Tier 1 candidate, he’s no worse than Tier 1A.

Now comes word that, in one week, super PACs backing Cruz have raised $31 million. This vaults him, as the Washington Post says, into the top tier of the money race. Indeed, according to Mark Halperin, there are no known cases in which an operation backing a White House hopeful has collected this much money in less than a week.

I think it also confirms Cruz’s status in the first tier of the actual race. Although Cruz appears to have raised plenty of money from wealthy donors, much of his success is down to small-dollar donations, according to the Post. This is the grass-roots speaking.

I think of Cruz as something like the Howard Dean of this race. In 2007, Dean won the hearts of the Democratic left-wing base. He was able to raise large amounts of money both through wealthy donors and the so-called netroots, and became not only a Tier 1 candidate but, for a while, the front-runner for the nomination.

John Kerry was liked by his party’s base, but struggled for its support because of his vote to go to war with Iraq. This cycle, Marco Rubio is similarly situated — a former favorite of the base whose vociferous support of immigration reform undermined that status.

Scott Walker has become a favorite of the base. However, he seems squishy on immigration reform and not as well-prepared as Cruz, in general, to run for president. Rand Paul appeals only to a subset of the base. Thus, Cruz is well-positioned to make a strong bid for the nomination.

For what it’s worth, Cruz isn’t my preferred candidate. I believe he will be an easy target for Democrats in the general election. In addition, unlike the other major contenders, he is short on what I consider relevant experience. Finally, his signal accomplishment to date — helping to produce the partial government shutdown — showed poor (though hardly catastrophic) judgment, unless it was intended to elevate his profile with the base, in which case it showed irresponsibility and opportunism.

I’m keeping an open mind, though. Let’s see how Cruz does in debates and how he’s performing deep into the campaign season in head-to-head polls against (presumably) Hillary Clinton, compared to other GOP hopefuls.

This assumes that Cruz will have the money and the potential support to make it deep into the campaign season. That assumption looks sound.