There’s no official Sen. Ted Cruz presidential team — yet. But the Texas Republican is already surrounding himself with key strategists and advisers that could make his transparent White House ambitions a reality.
The tea party firebrand relies on a small circle of advisers to inform his views and amplify his ultraconservative message. The inner circle breaks down into two groups: his chief advisers in the Senate office, and the chiefs of his nationally-focused political operation, which he beefed up in the summer of 2014 by hiring a crop of seasoned Republican campaign operatives.
These are the key players that could shape Cruz’s presidential ambitions.
Paul Teller, chief of staff (Senate)
Cruz’s chief of staff, Teller was hired in January 2014, just weeks after he was fired as longtime executive director of the Republican Study Committee, a House group that seeks to steer policy to the right. Teller not only runs Cruz’s Senate office, he serves as de facto liaison to the “hell no” caucus of House conservatives, the Texas senator’s strongest allies, with whom he has long and deep relationships. He currently has few Senate allies and many adversaries.
Cruz has called Teller “an ardent activist for the conservative movement and a strong motivator of people to take bold actions for liberty.” (Photo via LinkedIn)
Nick Muzin, senior adviser and deputy chief of staff (Senate)
Cruz named Muzin senior adviser and deputy chief of staff in July 2014. He previously served as a top aide for the House Republican conference, and before that he worked for Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC), who’s now a senator. Muzin is reportedly transitioning into Cruz’s political operation to work on outreach and coalition building.
Muzin’s ultraconservative instincts landed in hot water last month after he tweeted what he later confessed was a “bad joke” — that there hadn’t been a confirmed case of Ebola in the U.S. before Obamacare. He deleted the tweet and said his “sarcasm did not translate well online.” (Photo via Twitter)
Amanda Carpenter, communications director (Senate)
A former reporter for the Washington Times, Carpenter served as an aide to former Sen. Jim DeMint, then as a speechwriter for Cruz, and now as his communications chief. She writes the first draft of Cruz statements, floor speeches and helps with his social media postings — sometimes published by staff without pre-clearing it with him — all known to rouse conservatives and occasionally rankle Republican leaders. Having amassed a Twitter following of over 50,000, and often using her account to advance Cruz’s message, she is the singular buffer between the senator and the press. (Photo via Twitter)
Josh Perry, new media director (Senate)
Perry was the digital guru of Cruz’s 2012 campaign, which was heralded for its innovative use of social media to help a little-known Texas lawyer harness the power of the right-wing base to leapfrog the lieutenant governor for a coveted Senate seat two years ago. The Washington Post heralded Cruz’s primary victory as “the biggest upset of 2012.”
Formerly of Austin-based strategy firm Harris Media and the Texas GOP, he is now Digital Director in Cruz’s Senate office. It’s plausible that Cruz will want Perry to take his craft to the next level on the 2016 campaign trail. (Photo via LinkedIn)
Victoria Coates, national security adviser (Senate)
Like many presidential hopefuls, Cruz wants to elevate his profile on national security issues, aiming to carve out a niche between the ultra-hawkish wing led by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and the non-interventionist wing led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), another likely presidential contender. As Cruz’s national security adviser, Coates has been vital to this operation, influencing his outlook on the world and helping make important security and foreign policy decisions.
Coates, a former adjunct fellow at the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has advised Texas Gov. Rick Perry during his 2012 presidential campaign and previously worked for Donald Rumsfeld. An interesting factoid: she requires interns to read a 1979 essay by former Reagan adviser Jeane Kirkpatrick, called “Dictatorships And Double Standards,” according to The Daily Beast. The essay scolds Jimmy Carter for ostensibly putting human rights ahead of U.S. interests. (Photo via LinkedIn)
Jason Johnson, chief strategist (Political)
A chief strategist and general consultant for Cruz since his 2012 Senate campaign, Johnson, the owner of the Austin-based J2 Strategies, is the kingpin of the Texas wing of the senator’s political operation. Johnson has previously worked as campaign manager then chief of staff for Texas Attorney General (and Gov.-elect) Greg Abbott, and before that an aide to State Sen. Todd Staples, a rising star in Texas Republican politics. If past is prologue, he could play a significant role in a potential Cruz presidential campaign. (Photo via Twitter)
Jason Miller, digital and communications adviser (Political)
Miller worked for Rudy Giuliani’s ill-fated presidential campaign in 2008. A partner and executive vice president at Jamestown Associates, he also touts his work on the winning campaigns of former Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC), Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), ex-Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). He has also worked as an aide in the House and Senate. (Photo via JamestownAssociates.com)
Jeff Roe, organizational strategist (Political)
Roe is steeped in presidential politics, having worked for Mike Huckabee’s 2008 campaign and consulted for Rick Perry’s 2012 run. The founder of the Kansas City-based Axiom Strategies, his long list of former GOP employers include the campaigns of right-wing favorites Allen West and Richard Mourdock. (Photo via AxiomStrategies.com)
Lauren Lofstrom, fundraising consultant (Political)
Lofstrom handled fundraising for Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign, and previously served as recruitment director for the Republican Governors Association. If she stays on for a Cruz 2016 bid, she would have the challenging task of convincing big-money Republican donors that the Texas senator is worth their money and won’t tank the GOP’s hopes of taking back the White House. (Photo via Twitter)