In the Senate, Ted Cruz stood with Rand Paul. On the campaign trail, he's stomping all over him.
Cruz on Tuesday unveiled a coalition of libertarian supporters that is chock full of activists who backed Paul's father, Ron Paul, in the two previous Republican presidential primaries. Cruz very unsubtly moved to stamp out the competition for this voting bloc with a campaign video that features this group recalling their fondness for Ron Paul and discussing how Cruz embodies his libertarian ethos. Libertarian Republicans were supposed to form the bulwark of Rand Paul's 2016 campaign.
"There are a lot of things that impress me about Ted Cruz in the way he's really picked up the mantle of Ron Paul in a lot of ways," Joel Kurtinitis, a veteran of Ron Paul's 2012 campaign and a founding member of the group Liberty Iowa, says in the video.
The Cruz campaign on Wednesday was planning to introduce another dozen liberty activists who had joined the senator's team in New Hampshire, and three who were signing on in South Carolina, to go along with the nearly a dozen that had already endorsed him in Iowa.
The Paul campaign shrugged off Cruz's incursion into the senator's turf as inconsequential and less than meets the eye. Senior adviser Mike Biundo said Paul is building a strong grassroots network, including a 250-member leadership team in New Hampshire and coalition in Iowa that is led by influential Ron Paul supporters and liberty activists and designed to perform over the long haul.
"The only true liberty candidate in this race is Rand Paul," Biundo said. Cruz, he added, is "trying to be a little bit of everything to everyone."
Paul was the heir apparent to the Republican Party's liberty movement faction that was built by his father, then a Texas congressman, over two presidential campaigns. He won a Kentucky Senate seat in the Tea Party wave of 2010, and parlayed that victory, and the Paul family legacy into national prominence as the most influential libertarian-leaning Republican.
Paul burnished those credentials with two filibuster style speeches on the Senate floor that sought to impact legislation that would reduce the power of the federal government to conduct domestic surveillance. Both times, during his 13-hour grip on the Senate floor in 2013, and a similar, 11-hour effort this past May, Cruz joined with Paul in what the Kentuckian's supporters dubbed on social media platforms: "#StandWithRand."
"I want to take the opportunity to thank the senator from Kentucky for his passionate defense of liberty. His is a voice that this body needs to listen to," Cruz said in May during remarks on the Senate floor. "both his father's voice and the senator from Kentucky's voice has altered the debate in this chamber and has helped refocus the United States congress and the American people on the critical importance of defending our liberty."
In competition for the Republican nomination, Cruz has moved to muscle out Paul and seize the movement left behind by the elder Paul. Indeed, that's been part of Cruz's 2016 strategy from the very beginning.
The Cruz campaign has approached the primary under the rubric that there are four distinct brackets, or factions of voters, to compete in, or for: The establishment wing, the libertarian bloc, the Tea Party and evangelicals. Confident of his credibility with Tea Party voters, Cruz set about courting evangelicals, starting with his campaign launch at Liberty University. Pleased with that his progress on that front, he's now focused on wooing liberty voters.
In an interview, senior Cruz adviser Rick Tyler said the lynchpin of this strategy is money and organization, both of which the senator is claiming in spades.
Tyler said he's excited to announce Cruz's third quarter fundraising haul, which he described as strong although he declined to offer details. Organizationally, he touted 24 states and three U.S. territories where Cruz has teams up and running on the ground, including 186 team leaders from Georgia to Oklahoma, not counting South Carolina and Texas. Tyler hinted that the Cruz campaign no longer views Paul as a threat in the battle for conservative voters.
"If voters are looking for a broad-spectrum conservative who's well funded and articulate, there's no one whose competing in these lanes in any significant way," he said.
Bob Barr was tapped to serve as chairman of Liberty Leaders for Cruz. The former Republican congressman from Georgia who became a libertarian after leaving Washington and was the party's presidential nominee in 2008. Biundo, Paul's political adviser and a veteran of Rick Santorum's 2012 presidential campaign, said Cruz was overhyping his support among Republican-leaning libertarians, noting, correctly, that political activists can migrate to different candidates every four years for all sorts of reasons.
Biundo also dismissed the string of tough headlines Paul has lately endured, including news Tuesday that one of three super PACs supporting his presidential bid was taking a break from fundraising, complaining that the Kentuckian has strayed too far from his libertarian roots. Paul ranks ninth in the Washington Examiner's presidential power rankings (Cruz sits in fifth), and is running tenth, with 2.4 percent, in the RealClearPolitics.com average of national GOP primary polls.
Biundo said Paul's organizational strength in the early states is under-appreciated, and added that the senator is aggressively moving to dominate the several caucus states that vote in March. The expectation has been that Paul could scoop up nominating delegates in states that vote via a caucus, which tends to attract only the most committed GOP primary voters. Those states include Alaska, Minnesota, Wyoming, Kansas, Hawaii and Missouri.
Said Biundo, recalling Santorum's late surge in 2012 that resulted in victory in the Iowa caucuses and a surprise finish as runner-up Republican nominee Mitt Romney: "I feel good about our foundation."