I thought this was a useful take. Peggy Noonan does manage to nail Ted Cruz with faint praise in this Wall St. Journal op-ed:
A person with intimate knowledge of Mr. Cruz’s thinking told me last week that the senator sees the GOP base in terms of bracketology. A sizable portion of the base is composed of moderates, another of conservative/tea party activists. Then there are evangelicals, then libertarians. Mr. Cruz’s plan is to nail down his own bracket, conservative/tea party. At the same time he is going for evangelicals, big time, which is why he announced at Jerry Falwell’s university and not in Texas. Mike Huckabee is strong with evangelicals, but Mr. Cruz figures that while he can take some of that bracket, Mr. Huckabee won’t be able to get any of the tea party because of his spending record as governor of Arkansas.
Mr. Cruz believes he’s the only candidate who can compete with Rand Paul in the libertarian bracket. He sees a sweet spot with those who are economically libertarian but have doubts about Mr. Paul’s foreign policy.
The moderate bracket is crowded. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, others—a fight in a phone booth.
Mr. Cruz knows either Mr. Rubio or Mr. Walker could fight him in his brackets. But he thinks they’ll mostly compete in the moderate bracket, where Mr. Bush will get roughed up. Mr. Cruz won’t win moderates, but that underscores his point: A moderate GOP nominee won’t win the general election because parts of the Republican base won’t come out.
Mr. Cruz knows his reputation as the angry, surly face of the dark side of conservatism. He’s the government-shutdown artist, the living answer to the question “What if Joe McCarthy went to Harvard Law?” He says it’s a caricature.
He once noted to me in conversation that when people on TV call him angry and snarling, they never show video to illustrate the point. He says there is no angry, snarling video because he isn’t angry and doesn’t snarl. He never throws mud, he says, and won’t. He sees himself as a happy warrior.
I don’t think the snarling image thing is his main problem. He has two others.
One is much remarked upon. He is 44 and a first-term senator. He entered the national stage less than three years ago, though it seems like longer because he made himself so famous so fast. He talks about Reagan, but Reagan in 1980 had been a union president, two-term governor of a huge state, candidate for the GOP nomination in 1976, and longtime leader of modern conservatism. He had been an executive; he had run things; his accomplishments could be measured.
Mr. Cruz here is not like Reagan. He’s like a first-term senator named Barack Obama, 45 when he announced.
This prompts a major 2016 question: Did Mr. Obama permanently lower the bar? Did his winning and holding the presidency with such limited experience, and his governing in many eyes so unsuccessfully, leave a whole generation of politicians thinking “I can do that!” and “Even I can do better than that!” Or, after Mr. Obama, will there be among Republican voters a hunger for deeper biography? Is the country in the mood for more on-the-job presidential training?
Mr. Cruz’s second problem has to do with words like sincerity, earnestness, ingenuousness. His conservatism is serious—fully thought through, studied, internalized. But who is he? I think of the comment of one of his fellow conservative senators: “He’s a complete charlatan, you know.” He did the shutdown, said that senator, not because it might work or help but because it served his breakout plan: be the guy who convinces the base he’s the only one they can trust. The senator’s implication: It’s a game to this guy.
It is not hard to notice that every Cruz conversation, every interview, seems to be the rote performance of a speech. In public, and often in private, he moves his hands and face and modulates his voice like a TV pro. Politicians have to be actors, but the trick is to be an actor without being a phony.
Slickness is not a virtue in a politician, and obvious oiliness is a drawback. Mr. Cruz needs some awkward lessons. Maybe he can call Rick Perry.