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How Tea Party hero Ted Cruz trumped the establishment

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz stands with his wife Heidi as he addresses supporters after winning at the Iowa caucus on February 1, 2016.

Donald Trump's hopes of securing the Republican presidential nomination were dealt a blow Monday night with a surprise defeat in the Iowa caucus to Ted Cruz – the Texas Senator who himself is no stranger to controversial remarks and policies.

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There was a palpable sense of relief, and no little schadenfreude, among many a liberal and mainstream conservative as the results of the Iowa caucus came in Monday night showing the bombastic, provocative and relentless Trump campaign had been stopped in its tracks, or at least temporarily slowed.

The man who described Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and called for all Muslims to be barred from entering the United States was beatable after all.

In normal circumstance Cruz himself would be considered the political outsider: an extreme conservative, religious, anti-abortion, anti-gun control and anti-gay marriage Tea Party candidate whose main support base is firmly on the Republican right.

In Iowa, Cruz was backed by four out of ten voters who described themselves as "very conservative", according to preliminary entrance poll data, along with one in three self-identified evangelical Christians.

"To God be the glory!" was how Cruz' celebrated the win in his victory speech, as he looked to further boost his credentials among Christian conservatives.

Battling the 'Washington cartel'

For the 45-year-old, who only entered the world of politics full time just five years ago after a successful career as a lawyer, it was another big step in a rapid rise through the ranks.

He has already pulled off one election shock, taking the Republican nomination and then the seat itself in the 2013 vote to become Senator of Texas and has since built a reputation as a fierce critic of the "Washington cartel" and President Barack Obama's administration in particular.

He once famously gave a speech lasting 21 hours in an attempt to block a spending bill that would have stopped a crippling government shutdown in a doomed quest to stop Obama's overhaul of US healthcare.

Cruz's anti-establishment stance has made him no shortage of enemies among the Republican mainstream, with Senator John McCain once dismissing Cruz and other Tea Party lawmakers as "wacko birds on the right".

But, as the result in Iowa shows, he has invigorated grass roots support on the party's right with his ultra-conservative policies.

He has advocated rolling back government by scrapping numerous departments, including the education department, the energy department, and even scrapping the Inland Revenue Service and introducing a flat tax.

On energy, he has backed the Keystone XL oil pipeline, fracking and other controversial practices, declaring: “Scientific evidence doesn’t support global warming."

Christian-only refugees

His comments on foreign policy have also often fallen not that far short of Trump's own tough-guy proclamations. He has said he wants to "utterly destroy" the Islamic State group and "carpet-bomb" them into oblivion, while promising to "rip up" the recently agreed deal with Iran over its nuclear programme.

Despite his own cosmopolitan background – he was born in Canada to an Irish-American mother and a Cuban-born father before the family moved to Texas when Cruz was still a child – he is equally hardline on immigration policy.

One of his most controversial remarks of the election campaign to date was when he suggested the US should only take in Christian Syrian refugees, while, like Trump, he has advocated building a wall along the border of Mexico.

Where the men differ is on the way they have conducted their campaigns. Cruz, considered a skilled orator, has just as much ability to fire up a crowd as the billionaire from New York, but has sought to distance himself from the "mudslinging" that has been a significant feature of much of Trump's rhetoric.

He has also countered the razzmatazz of Trump's media-focused, jet-setting campaign with a conventional grass roots drive to drum up support in Iowa, visiting every corner of the state and investing heavily in campaigning on the ground.

It must now be seen whether he can repeat the success in New Hampshire, the next step in the battle for the presidential nomination and where Trump is well ahead in the polls.

 

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