Why you should care
This is how you build an insurgent campaign for president. Cruz in 2016, anyone?
Jude Barry is the founder of Catapult Strategies, a political consulting firm.
Ted Cruz is running for president. That’s why he’s leading the fight against Obamacare. I get it. What I didn’t get until I took a closer look was how Cruz thinks he can organize a national campaign against better-known national figures.
He is, after all, a first-term senator — in his very first year. Sure, Barack Obama made the leap from Senate to White House in his first term. But Cruz makes Obama’s ascension to the national stage look tortoise-like. Obama took a couple of years to become a once-in-a-lifetime media celebrity and best-selling author before he started running for president. Cruz was Texas’s solicitor general just a year ago. Who knew Texas even had a solicitor general?
His campaign playbook in 2012 — and his likely 2016 presidential run — was not borrowed from Obama in 2008 but from Howard Dean in 2004.
Lately, of course, he’s been front and center, leading the campaign that resulted in a government shutdown, including a 21-hour faux filibuster. Even as the country teetered towards a historic debt default yesterday, there was speculation he might try to stop the deal. For better or for worse, he’s the politician of the moment.
To gauge Cruz’s ability to put together a national campaign, I studied his 2012 Senate run. His playbook for that campaign — and his likely 2016 presidential run — was not borrowed from Obama in 2008 but from Howard Dean in 2004.
The Language of Political Insurgency
|Howard Dean, 2003||Ted Cruz, 2013|
|”At every turn when there has been an imbalance of power, the truth questioned, or our beliefs and values distorted, the change required to restore our nation has always come from the bottom up, from our people.”||“We are witnessing a great awakening. Millions of Texans, millions of Americans are rising up to reclaim our country, to defend liberty and to restore the Constitution.”|
|“But today, we stand with more than 5,000 people in Burlington, Vermont and tens of thousands of people all across America, standing with us right now in every single state in the nation…And we stand today in common purpose to take our country back.”||“Millions of Americans are standing up and saying, ‘We want our country back!’ Republicans, Democrats, Independents, will not go down the path of Greece, we will not go quietly into the night.”|
|“What I want to know is why the Democrats in Congress aren’t standing up for us, joining every other industrialized country on the face of the Earth in providing health insurance for every man, woman and child in America.”||“The Republicans in this body, sadly more than a few of them, say: We will take lots and lots of symbolic votes against ObamaCare, but there is nothing we can do.”|
In 2002, I began working with then-Vermont governor Dean and was named his California state director during the presidential campaign. I worked closely with Joe Trippi, a longtime friend and mentor, who became the campaign’s manager and Internet visionary.
We started unimpressively with about $100,000 in the bank and 1,000 names in the database. But because of Dean’s opposition to the Iraq War, the latent antiwar movement rallied around him. Democratic activists who felt abandoned by party elders capitulating to a Republican president saw Dean as their courageous opposition leader. In speech after speech, Dean’s most popular line was: “I’m here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” It worked magically.
By the third quarter of 2003, Dean led his better-known opponents in money, raising an astounding $15 million in one quarter, shattering the record for Democrats. The average contribution was under $80, demonstrating Dean’s broad grassroots support. That national network was built by Dean’s ability to connect with Democratic activists and Trippi’s brilliant use of blogs and the campaign’s website.
Similar tactics were employed in Texas in 2012. Cruz entered the U.S. Senate race against heavily favored Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the Republican establishment candidate. But Cruz masterfully used social media to defeat one of the state’s most powerful Republicans in the GOP primary before winning the general election.
Cruz announced his campaign on a conference call with bloggers. During the campaign, he gave regular access to a network of conservative bloggers, many of whom put “Bloggers for Cruz” on their sites. The Dean campaign was similarly the first to cultivate bloggers like DailyKos, and many of them helped fuel our early success with the liberal Democratic base.
Cruz started his social media efforts way back in 2009, building for the 2012 campaign. “The campaign led with digital, it was baked into all aspects of the campaign from communications to political fieldwork to polling,” claimed Cruz’s digital strategist Vince Harris. Today, Cruz has over 365,000 Facebook likes and 153,000 Twitter followers. In the Dean campaign, it took us almost a year to achieve numbers that high in our database. (Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist back then.) Most impressively, Cruz’s anti-Obamacare Don’t Fund It Petition has over 2 million signers.
But perhaps the greatest similarity between Cruz now and Dean in 2004 is that both understand that if you want to lead the opposition, you have to oppose things. Dean did that with the war, the Bush tax cuts and No Child Left Behind — issues that were red meat for Democratic activists. Cruz opposes Obamacare, raising the debt ceiling and immigration reform — policies that his conservative supporters consider apocalyptic.
Perhaps the greatest similarity between Cruz now and Dean in 2004 is that both understand that if you want to lead the opposition, you have to oppose things.
In the process, Cruz is thoroughly pissing off his colleagues. Senator John McCain calls Cruz and his colleagues “wacko birds.” Peter King laments that there’s now a “Ted Cruz wing” of the party.
Dean attracted the same enmity in 2004 from congressional Democrats. I remember turning to Trippi at a rally in San Jose, California, after Dean delivered an anti-Beltway line and telling him that Capitol Hill leaders weren’t going to be happy. Trippi shrugged and said the “bat will go up,” referring to our iconic website image of a baseball bat that filled as supporters contributed money. And he was absolutely right. The bat did go up and Dean’s support continued to grow. That’s how you build an insurgent campaign.
And you can bet that Cruz knows this better than anyone. Which is why even after the Obamacare/debt battle comes to an end, it will not take him long to reassert himself as the face of the opposition for a new issue, whether it be immigration or Obama’s next Supreme Court nomination. But ultimately, as with Dean, the establishment always fights back. Combined with our own failings, Dean lost the nomination. Cruz may suffer the same fate. In the meantime, watch his numbers go up. His party’s base believes that Cruz, more than anyone, represents the Republican wing of the Republican party.