WASHINGTON — Ted Cruz’s biggest problem involves transcending his hyper-conservative voter base. Rand Paul’s biggest problem is his foreign policy views. Marco Rubio’s biggest problem is his support for immigration reform.
That’s a synopsis of remarks by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), a tea party-aligned freshman who candidly discussed the paths ahead for his three friends and fellow GOP senators who are eying the party’s presidential nomination in 2016.
“It’s a tough thing any time you have three of your coworkers who are all of a sudden running for president at the same time. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me,” Lee quipped to reporters at a breakfast downtown hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, describing the senators as “three of my very closest allies.”
Lee emphasized the strengths of each of the presidential prospects and also spoke about their biggest obstacles on the road to the GOP nomination in 2016.
Cruz, with whom Lee helped instigate the 2013 government shutdown, “has a really strong loyal following,” the Utah senator said.
“Going along with that great strength,” he added, “is a potential challenge that he’s got in demonstrating he can appeal to others within the party and also that he can have enough appeal outside the party to get him a shot at winning in general election.”
Paul’s “biggest challenge,” Lee said, “will be to explain his foreign policy views.” Paul has endorsed a relatively noninterventionist approach to international affairs, and has thus drawn fire from the neoconservative, hawkish wing of the party that is ascendant. Lee called it Paul’s “Achilles heel.”
He added that Paul’s father, Ron Paul, is “both a blessing and a curse” given his passionate base of libertarian-minded voters, whose trust the younger Paul has earned. “There are challenges that go along with that given that Ron Paul had some fairly unique, idiosyncratic views on certain foreign policy issues that make people nervous.”
“So that’s a challenge he’s going to have to overcome,” he said.
Lee said Rubio’s tallest obstacle is his support for immigration reform in 2013, when he and a handful of Republicans teamed up with Democrats to pass a sweeping bill that puts undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship, which is anathema to the conservative base.
“Among conservatives, among the primary election voter base, one of the things that I hear from people across the country is concern with his support for the ‘gang of eight’ legislation,” Lee said, though he added that “whether or not he wins it will not be determined by that alone.”
Lee rode into the Senate on the tea party wave of 2010 with Paul and Rubio. Cruz, arguably his closest ally, was elected in 2012. The Utah senator, who faces reelection in 2016, said he doesn’t intend to endorse any of his friends.
“I hope to be as supportive as I can of all three of them because I really genuinely like all three of them,” he said. “For that reason I’m not inclined to endorse any one of them at this point because I can’t endorse one of them without sort of un-endorsing one or the others.”
(Photo credit: Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor)