Remember the Alamo? Ted Cruz does.
Heading into Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary in his home state of Texas, Cruz is recalling the legendary siege in San Antonio where outnumbered defenders vainly fought to hold more than a thousand Mexican troops in 1836.
This time the enemy is Donald Trump. So Cruz recalls the Alamo. Yes, Texans lost, but the spirit of the Alamo helped them eventually to triumph.
“It’ll be the people of Texas who will stand together and say, ‘Enough is enough,’ ’’ he told Houston Republicans at a party dinner this week.
Eleven states hold Republican primaries or caucuses Tuesday, and Texas is the biggest prize with 155 delegates. The day’s results will yield 595 convention delegates, or almost half the 1,237 needed to nominate at the party’s July convention. Trump is currently leading the delegate count, and is ahead in polls in eight Super Tuesday states.
Texas has traditionally taken care of its own and basks in its tradition of picking, or at least suggesting, presidents.
George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush live here.
President Lyndon Johnson’s roots ran deep in the Hill Country.
President Dwight Eisenhower was born in Denison.
Also, former Gov. John Connally and U.S. Sens. Lloyd Bentsen and Phil Gramm all got the bug and made White House bids. The state gave Ronald Reagan his first big White House boost in 1976 when he stunned President Gerald Ford in a 2-to-1 vote.
Cruz entered the 2016 fray with clear advantages. He won his Senate seat easily four years ago. He remains a favorite of Texas party insiders, from Gov. Greg Abbott on down.
Lawsuits are not enough to change a broken Washington, D.C. We need leaders like Ted Cruz. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in Houston
Though he would gain delegates, there’s little emotional upside in a win in his home state. But if he couldn’t win at home, he’d have a hard time continuing.
“That’s a given that he’s got to win Texas,” said George Strake, a Houston businessman and Cruz backer.
But this is a state increasingly hard to predict. The Lone Star State still prides itself on its rugged, frontier heritage and its cherished institutions - the Alamo chief among them - but Texas of the 21st Century is a far cry from the Old West mystique of John Wayne and Hollywood.
Even with a plunge in oil prices, and the accompanying downward pressure on one of the state’s dominant industries, modern-day Texas boasts three of the nation’s 10 largest cities and a heavily urbanized population of nearly 27 million, second largest in the nation.
Hundreds of blue-ribbon companies call Texas home, and Republican politicians, including Cruz, unfailingly cite the state’s stature as one of the nation’s leading job creators. Republicans have been solidly in power for more than two decades.. Texans haven’t elected a Democrat to the governor’s office since Ann Richards in 1990, and haven’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since Bentsen in 1988.
With the approach of his home state’s primary and other Super Tuesday contests, the challenge for Cruz is to figure out just what’s going on in the minds of the state’s Republicans. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is making an all-out effort, including a triumphant post-debate stop Friday, but he has been a distant third in most Texas polls.
Cruz’s problem is that it’s hard to gauge Trump’s strength. Texans may be rough and tough, but they also have good manners, and loudly proclaiming support for the brash New Yorker is not polite.
“People don’t want to say they’re for Trump because of the way he talks. But when they get into the voting booth, they may pull the lever for him,” said Garry Plotkin, a Houston consultant.
Bernadette McLeroy, a Hispanic community activist from Houston, said she deliberately showed up late to the Thursday’s gala Houston GOP dinner because she didn’t want to get into debates about the election.
A Trump backer who has been a Cruz fan, McLeroy complained, “Cruz didn’t do anything except go and run for president.”
Look at all the things he didn’t do. Bernadette McLeroy, explaining why she’s supporting Trump over Cruz
Cruz’s campaign says it understands the frustration. Trump is tapping into an anger shared by rich and poor, old and young, Texans and New Englanders.
“No one ever said, ‘I made the best decisions of my life when I was angry,’ yet people are making decisions from anger,” lamented Cruz backer John Gonzaba, an Austin accounting student. Add to that Trump’s charisma, said Jennifer Ellis, a Houston oil and gas strategist, and people can’t resist.
Cruz fights back by reminding voters why they elected him the first place. He still promises to work for a flat tax, to repeal every word of Obamacare and appoint Supreme Court justices who strictly follow the Constitution.
Cruz is quick to remind voters that he is the only candidate who has beaten Trump, finishing first in Iowa. But he’s also suffered three close third-place finishes elsewhere, including two behind Rubio. The internal problems and momentum-sapping third-place finishes contribute to a storyline that Cruz may be on the ropes.
Cruz comes into Super Tuesday plagued by campaign turmoil following the firing of his communication director amid charges of dirty tricks.
Now comes the ultimate political test. But it’s only a ticket to survive, not to thrive.
“Texas is a life preserver for him if he wins, but the problem with a life preserver is it only keeps your head above water, it doesn’t get you to shore,” said former Texas GOP Chairman Steve Munisteri. “If he wins Texas, he’ll stay alive but that doesn’t mean he’s in good shape.”
Lightman writes for the McClatchy Washington Bureau. Montgomery is a special correspondent for the Star-Telegram.