Presidential nominations should not be Lifetime Achievement Awards. When Republicans forget that, they lose. Examples: Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain in 2008. Democrats make mistakes too, but typically they head toward central casting. Examples: John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama.
The ideal GOP candidate would be intelligent, articulate, and debate-tested. The candidate, preferably with experience as a governor and not just as a legislative orator, would be able to unite social and fiscal conservatives and use wit and warmth to disarm media twits.
Will Republicans have such a candidate for 2012? Maybe. Mike Huckabee comes closest, yet fiscal conservatives trash his economic views. Congressional elections a year from now may signal a GOP comeback and bring new faces to the fore.
But you can be the first on your block to know the name of a strong candidate for 2020. He fits the specifications and, as frosting on the cake, has the last name of Cruz, a big plus for a political party that needs to capture the Hispanic vote to offset the Democrats' lock on African-Americans.
Meet Ted Cruz, the Republican Obama.
His Cuban father, Rafael, fought alongside Castro as a teenager for three years until the forces of dictator Fulgencio Batista captured, beat, tortured, and almost killed him. A bribe from Rafael's dad freed him. Rafael made it to America and in 1957 entered the University of Texas. He spoke no English and had $100 that his mom had sewn into his underwear.
Rafael learned English and was soon giving pro-Castro fundraising speeches to Austin civic groups. Later, when Castro revealed his Communism, Rafael apologized to the funders for unwittingly misleading them. Ted Cruz's aunt in Cuba fought against Castro until his forces captured and tortured her. Cruz at the dinner table learned of the evils of Marxism.
Cruz went to Faith West Academy in the Houston suburb of Katy and graduated from Second Baptist High School in Houston. He learned about the usefulness of markets at the Free Enterprise Institute and earned scholarship money by giving 70-80 speeches to local civic groups. Like dad, like boy, but the son extolled free market economics, not Castro.
Cruz headed to Princeton and became a champion debater, winning first place at the 1992 U.S. National Debating Championship and the 1992 North American Debate Championships. (He can still bring it: When I interviewed him-see "All together now," Nov. 7, 2009-before a New York college audience, his passionate yet logical responses brought usually laid-back students to their feet with a standing ovation.)
Cruz then graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he was a primary editor of the Harvard Law Review and founding editor of the Latino Law Review. He headed to Washington and worked for William Rehnquist, the first Hispanic to clerk for a chief justice of the United States. Soon Cruz was on lists like Newsweek's "20 Young Hispanic Americans on the Rise" (1999).
After some time advising George W. Bush, Cruz in 2003 became solicitor general of Texas, the youngest in the nation. He authored 70 briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court and argued before it eight times. He won cases defending a Ten Commandments monument on the Texas State Capitol grounds, defending recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, and defending the State of Texas against attempts by the World Court to re-open the convictions of 51 murderers on death row.
In the process he made more lists, such as the National Law Journal's "50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America." His office has a statue of Ronald Reagan and a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. He's a member of Lake Hills Church in Austin. He married a lovely investment banker who had also gone to Harvard and worked for Bush. Ted and Heidi Cruz now have a 1-year-old daughter. His favorite movie is The Princess Bride. (If you haven't seen it, rent it.)
Many hurdles remain for Cruz: the attorney general contest next year, a potential run for governor four years later, plus all the exigencies of life that no one can anticipate. Other good candidates will emerge. But if Republican leaders are smart (and they often are not), they'll be looking not for a living legend but for someone like Cruz.