ABC The Drum

Ted Cruz may never be the US president, but his freshly announced campaign will reveal whether the Tea Party and libertarian factions can be drawn successfully into a wider conservative coalition, writes

Ted Cruz, a 44-year-old senator from Texas has announced he's running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

Polls suggest he will struggle to emerge from a potentially very crowded field, languishing at less than 5 per cent, well behind the likes of Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul.

To have a chance, Cruz will need to build a coalition of Christian and fiscal conservatives and Tea Party libertarians, and also convince the establishment wing of the Republican party that he's electable next November against whomever the Democrats put forward.

That will be easier said than done, but if the 2016 GOP contest follows a similar trajectory to 2012, Republicans will be shopping around for a conservative they can feel passionate about before they are convinced to settle on another uninspiring Romney-esque centrist like Bush.

And in that scenario, if Cruz becomes the alternative to Jeb, he might just have a chance. Less than four years ago, Cruz, a former Texas solicitor general beat out the more fancied establishment candidate Lt. Governor David Dewhurst to win the GOP's Texas senate primary. It was a stunning against-the-odds victory. Cruz did it by successfully wooing the anti-taxation Tea Party movement, which continues to exert considerable influence in state-based party primaries where 50,000 votes can sway or even win a contest.

Ted Cruz is a child of the 1970s and was born in Canada. He is the son of a Cuban-born father and Delaware-born mother. He grew up in Texas and reportedly only discovered that he still held dual US-Canadian citizenship after being elected to the senate. He has since renounced his Canadian dual nationality, and few doubt that he's eligible for the presidency of the United States as his American-born mother would seem to satisfy the constitutional requirement that he be a "natural born citizen".

Cruz has an impressive CV. He was a champion debater in his teens and twenties, and graduated with honours from Princeton and Harvard Law School. As the chief lawyer for Texas in the US Supreme Court, Cruz came to the attention of conservatives and conservative media. He was hailed as one of the best young lawyers in America, and became a hero of Tea Party conservatives and Libertarians, many of whom treat the US constitution as a bible-like instruction manual for life.

As a senator, Cruz has proven to be something of a maverick. He was a key architect of the 2013 government shutdown and also staged a rare filibuster against president Barack Obama's health care reform. Using senate rules that give a senator the floor for as long as the care to speak, Cruz, the former student debater, kept on talking and talking for more than 21 hours.

Such stunts usually involve plenty of farce, as well as a strained bladder. Cruz talked about Obamacare, and some of its unintended consequences, including making it difficult for students to find hamburgers late at night. And if that wasn't bizarre enough, the senator then turned to Dr Seuss, and read from the children's classic, Green Eggs and Ham. Perhaps he was getting hungry.

But both the government shutdown and the filibuster added to perceptions that Cruz was capable of going to the extremes. Too extreme to be elected president?

Announcing his candidacy at the aptly-named Liberty University in Lynchburg Virginia, senator Cruz delivered a speech that could have come from a piece of conservative speech-generating software: "God's blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation, and I believe God isn't done with America yet," Senator Cruz said. "It is time for truth, it is a time for liberty, it is time to reclaim the constitution of the United States."

God. Truth. Liberty. Constitution. The debating champion had his key arguments ready.

He invited his supporters to imagine a Cruz presidency; no more Obamacare, no more Internal Revenue Service, he also signalled his opposition to abortion (except when the mother's life is at risk) and gay marriage (except that it's really a matter for the states).

The crowd of about 10,000 seemed to eat it up, although it was later reported that ironically, students at Liberty were forced to attend.

Cruz may never be president, but his campaign will reveal whether the Tea Party and libertarian factions can be drawn successfully into a wider conservative coalition. That could have an effect that lasts many years longer than any individual campaign.

However, the Cruz candidacy could also cannibalise the support for other candidates eyeing off the Tea Party/libertarian/Christian conservative vote like Rand Paul and Ben Carson, and simply clear the way for a safer alternative.

This post was originally published at ABC The Drum