Super Tuesday: Ted Cruz woos Texas with tales of the Alamo as the battle for the South begins

Republican presidential hopeful knows another loss to Donald Trump next week could be fatal

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The Independent US

The frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump, rarely misses a chance to declare himself “smart”. Ted Cruz, one of the men looking to catch him, doesn’t bother. As a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, a one-time professor of law at the University of Texas and then the state’s Solicitor General, his intelligence is rarely in question.

He has his reference texts, the Bible and the US Constitution mainly. But at a rowdy Republican county dinner in Houston, Mr Cruz turned to the “Victory or Death” letter written by William Barret Travis, the defender of the Alamo against Mexican troops – a letter every child in the state is supposed to know by heart.

“Today, just like the brave heroes of the Alamo,” Mr Cruz, 45, said as supporters dined, “we are besieged by a government that is undermining our basic constitutional rights. And I believe now, just as in 1836, it will be the people of Texas who stand together and say: Enough is enough!”

But where will they turn for salvation? Mr Cruz hopes it is his campaign, which has faltered since its victory in Iowa on 1 February. He has posited its very survival on bagging several, if not all, the southern states that are among the 11 that will vote on Super Tuesday next week. Among those is Texas.

Mr Cruz certainly knows how to play such a crowd, having been raised in Texas, and he has been a favourite son of his party since winning a US Senate seat in 2012. 

Possibly the only Republican more popular than Mr Cruz in Texas is its Governor, Greg Abbott, who ahead of the dinner event on Wednesday gave him his endorsement. It is his most important to date. Texas matters, moreover, because of its size, with a huge pot of 155 delegates for the taking on Tuesday.

“He’s a native-son candidate,” Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist in Austin, remarked. “Support for him is very strong.” But is it? Mr Cruz has placed third in every contest since Iowa, each time denied second by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. The two men continue to split what remains of the vote that is not going to Donald Trump, to the latter’s great benefit – and to the chagrin of party elders.

A loss to Mr Trump in Texas, let alone another third-place result, could be fatal to Mr Cruz. A poll from an ABC News station in Dallas this week showed the two men tied at 32 per cent each. There was better news in a Monmouth University poll that put him 15 points ahead.

“I believe we are poised to have a very good night on Tuesday,” Mr Cruz averred in a press conference announcing the Governor’s endorsement. Showing irritation when asked if he would fold if he didn’t win all 155 of the Texas delegates, he said it was “curious how many reporters ask Marco Rubio, ‘After losing four states in a row, when do you drop out?’”

“After eight years of relentless attacks on our values from this White House, it’s our duty as Texas conservatives to support a leader we can trust to restore our values and move this country forward,” Mr Abbott said in an endorsement video. His support was hardly unexpected. He was attorney general in Texas when he appointed the fast-rising Mr Cruz as his Solicitor General.

It was in that post that Mr Cruz built his support base among hard-core conservatives nationally, seizing on a series of hot-button issues and arguing no fewer than nine cases before the Supreme Court. He successfully defended the right of states to display the 10 Commandments in public places and attempted – but failed – to expand the death penalty in Texas to child rapists. 

Best remembered was a case that pitted him against the White House of George W Bush, for whom he had been a domestic policy advisor during the 2000 election race against Al Gore. Washington had taken the side of Mexico arguing that a Mexican national on Texas’ death row, José Medellin, should be spared the death penalty because he had not been given access to his national consulate at trial by the Texas judiciary. The Supreme Court sided with Mr Cruz; Medellin was executed.

That record of non-compromising conservativism has secured him the support of a quarter of all Texas members of the US House of Representatives and a welter of state Republicans elsewhere where there will be voting on Tuesday, including Arkansas, Tennessee and Georgia. He has also built an unmatched grassroots machinery, boasting 27,000 volunteers canvassing from him in his own state alone.

Yet Mr Cruz knows, like Lieutenant Colonel Travis did, that his victory-or-death moment is nigh.