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Conservatives: Cruz Candidacy Puts Key Issues on Table

Cruz speaks during the International Association of Fire Fighters Presidential Forum. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 8:55 p.m. |  What seemed inevitable is now, almost, official: Ted Cruz is running for president. Because of course he is.  

The Texas senator's expected announcement Monday is being greeted enthusiastically by a specific brand of GOP conservative — a group that includes many of the House lawmakers who've made a habit recently of semi-secret meetings with Cruz .  

For those members, a Cruz candidacy likely means a higher profile for the values and legislative solutions they hold dear.  

"Ted Cruz has all the makings of another Ronald Reagan," Alabama Republican Mo Brooks told CQ Roll Call Sunday. "Cruz understands the principles that make America the greatest nation in world history."  

Brooks, a frequent guest at Cruz's meetings with House conservatives, went on to say via text message that, "like Ronald Reagan," Cruz has the backbone to do what's right and the "oratorical skills needed to help inspire the American people to continued greatness."  

Rep. Louie Gohmert also compared his fellow Texan to the former president. "Ted Cruz can effectively and consistently articulate House conservatives' message to the larger public and, like Reagan, make the election a referendum on what will save our nation," he told CQ Roll Call.  

Rep. Marlin Stutzman told CQ Roll Call that Cruz running would give the GOP the opportunity to have a "full spectrum conversation" about the federal government. With an $18 trillion debt, failed health care policies and an increasingly dangerous world, the Indiana Republican said, "Cruz's participation in our Republican nomination will create lively discussion about what America faces and push strong conservative leadership to the top."

Iowa's Steve King, whose endorsement could actually mean something in his state's first-in-the-nation caucuses, called Cruz a "full spectrum constitutional conservative" who can "restore the soul of America."

If it sounds like some House conservatives are happy to see Cruz jump in the race, that's because they are.  

But not every House Republican is swept away with Cruz. Many, privately, over the course of his stay in Congress, have expressed frustration with the first-term senator.  

Cruz has been divisive in Congress  — a troublemaker, even.  

During the Oct. 2013 government shutdown, he infamously met with a collection of the most conservative House members in the basement of Tortilla Coast , plotting strategies for keeping the fight to defund Obamacare — and the shutdown — going.  

Since then, he's met with House members on a semi-regular basis , opting for the privacy of his office and the fare of We, The Pizza. (Sometimes the most you can get from members attending the meeting is their pizza analysis .)  

But the legislative solutions concocted around the conference table in Cruz's Dirksen office — or around the Tortilla Coast tables in the Rio Room — have typically been rejected by leadership. Often, conservatives will emerge from the meetings on the same page. The Tortilla Coast Caucus, as some Democrats have derisively taken to calling them, came out of a Sept. 2014 confab saying they wanted a continuing resolution to go to March 1. That way, they said, they could fight the president's executive action on immigration with the threat of a government shutdown. But GOP leadership, as they often do, went in a different direction. (On the CR battle, Republicans went with a short-term measure into December before going with the "Cromnibus.")  

Still, that's not to say Cruz hasn't had an impact in the House. He's certainly steered the proverbial conversation in a more conservative direction, and, before the House Freedom Caucus ever came into existence, his meetings were key for getting conservatives on the same page.  

Now that he's running for president, however, he'll hardly have enough time to be a senator, let alone play the part of coordinator for House conservatives. But that doesn't mean he can't be valuable to conservatives.  

Certainly, his positions can drag the political discussion to the right (especially if he begins to gain traction in Iowa). And, as the crowded Republican primary plays out, he'll have a unique perch from which to expound on all the problems in Congress. If he trashes a budget deal between the House and the Senate because it doesn't defund Obamacare, suddenly other Republican candidates, some of whom will almost certainly be serving in Congress, might have to take that position.  

It could put GOP leaders in a tough spot. Every move they make will be questioned and analyzed. And without a chamber controlled by Democrats, it's tough to blame their counterparts for a lack of action — even if Republicans don't have 60 votes in the Senate, and even if Barack Obama is president.  

Should Cruz fail — he is consistently polling at around 4 percent at this early stage — there probably won't be much damage to his conservative brand or to House conservatives. It was a crowded field, everyone will note. A tough race for anyone to win, they'll say. At least he tried.  

But if Cruz were able to pull out the improbable victory, if he did find himself in the Oval Office, maybe House conservatives, on a random Tuesday night years from now, with pizza and Skittles and Starbursts and Shiner Bock beer nearby, maybe they'll find themselves in that Oval Office too.  

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