So, Ted has cruised to victory. The senator from Texas has proved the pollsters and many pundits wrong by comfortably winning the Republican caucus in Iowa. It is a victory for both his firebrand politics and his decision to run a conventional campaign — his rival Donald Trump, who came a distant second place, eschewed campaigning wisdom and did things his own way. The results speak for themselves.

Mr Cruz’s victory is a sign that his pure brand of conservatism has an appeal among Republican supporters. Emerging out of the Tea Party movement, he is a controversial figure among colleagues, thanks to his guerrilla tactics and uncompromising nature. The Republican establishment will certainly be scratching their heads about how to react to this victory.

Oddly enough, the party would be facing similar questions if Mr Trump had been victorious — the pair are not too dissimilar. Both want to build a wall across the Mexican border in order to restrict immigration, and both have promised to take on the political establishment. But their greatest similarity is their forceful personalities — both have had a profound effect on the 2016 presidential race by the sheer force of their characters.

The one area where Mr Trump and Mr Cruz differ significantly is religion. Whereas Mr Trump has a laissez faire relationship with Christianity, it informs and dictates everything his opponent does.

At his victory rally in Des Moines late on Monday evening, Mr Cruz opened his speech “to God be all the glory” and closed it with another message with biblical connotations. “Iowa has made it clear to the world,” he said. “Morning is coming”.

Many of his supporters feel the same: one said she had prayed for the victory and another cited religious liberty as the chief reason for caucusing for Cruz.

The question now is whether Mr Trump can regain his momentum in the New Hampshire primary next week, or whether the Republican party will have to learn to stop worrying and embrace Mr Cruz. Whether it is borders, repealing “Obamacare” or defending the constitution, his fellow Republicans can be sure that Mr Cruz’s direction and purpose will not change.

His supporters are counting on it — an enthusiastic 17-year-old Kai Newell, summed up his appeal: “he’s the strong principled, constitutional conservative that we all know and stand by. He tells the truth and people can see that.”

While Mr Trump’s outrageous statements have made himself an easy target for critics, Mr Cruz has stealthily emerged as a far more dangerous candidate; his conservatism is not as brash but it is just as disruptive. Both candidates want to reshape the Republican party in their image and Mr Cruz has the advantage in that quest — for now.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article