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The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election

Ted Cruz Just Released the First Presidential Campaign Ad of 2020

In a new video, Ted Cruz got emotional about his "regret-free campaign" and all but announced that he's going to run for president again as soon as he possibly can.

by Harry Cheadle
17 May 2016, 12:00am
In case you were wondering what Texas Senator Ted Cruz is going to do now that he's not running to be president in 2016, it appears we have the answer: He's running for president in 2020.

That's the only possible explanation for the smarmy, self-congratulatory five-minute video his dead (or undead) campaign released this weekend, featuring a Cruz staffer musing to an unseen audience about the nature of loss, regret, and the nobility of failing to stop a candidate whose angry nativism and fearmongering was only a shade darker than Cruz's. "Ted Cruz didn't lose, our campaign for president lost," the staffer intones, which I guess is technically true—but still, Cruz definitely didn't win.

Then Cruz himself appears and calls his losing campaign's staff "the finest team in politics I've ever seen, and I suspect has ever come together" and tells them, "Everyone here has poured your hearts into this journey... We left everything on the field." This is accompanied by footage of white people, presumably Cruz supporters, smiling, talking, or just sort of standing around—a montage that manages to be actually pretty dang uplifting and cathartic thanks to some Explosions in the Sky–sounding music that could turn eating pancakes into an emotional climax. The final shot is Cruz's campaign bus driving through a white-light-drenched landscape, followed by the words "TO BE CONTINUED..."

No one ever accused the Canadian-born Texan of lacking chutzpah, and it certainly takes balls to reframe his campaign as a noble, hard-fought crusade on par with the charge of the light brigade. Cruz's political career has been based on naked demagoguery—he's notoriously disliked by his own Senate colleagues, and his main legislative "accomplishment" to date has been helping to shut down the government to force the Democrats to defund Obamacare, a plan that everyone thought would fail, and did.

You'd think that would be a pretty thin résumé for a presidential candidate, but hey, the presumptive GOP nominee is famous mostly for building ugly buildings, going bankrupt, cheating on his wife, and being mean to people on television. In this odd universe, Cruz wound up being the "Establishment" candidate once everyone from Marco Rubio to Jeb Bush had flamed out pitifully—not that that designation helped him beat Donald Trump.

So what, if anything, did Cruz gain from his run for the White House? Normally, a candidate who performed as well as he did among the party's base would be in line for at least some kind of cabinet position if his side won. (For instance, despite the rancor of the 2008 primaries, Barack Obama made Hillary Clinton his first secretary of state.) And Cruz is supposedly on Trump's vice presidential "short list," along with some fellow 2016 candidates and, swear to God, Sarah Palin. But Cruz has carefully refused to even endorse Trump so far. Instead, he's been talking up the importance of the conservative movement in general—that "will be the remnant, will be the core" that can pull "this country back from the abyss," he said on Saturday.

From those comments and the video it seems as if Cruz is shifting back into a familiar role: the outsider thrown into the wilderness by a party that hasn't yet realized that his noble principles are the only thing that will save the GOP, and the entire country, from social justice warriors who want to take your guns and make you go to the bathroom in front of women, or whatever. It's a pretty good spot to be in, if you're Cruz. The fact that the rest of Congress hates you proves your purity, and your every loss is not a setback but a prelude to an inevitable victory.

It's hard not to think of Cruz's little video tribute to himself as anything but a way of reminding people of this narrative. He has no regrets, no doubt, and he's going to be waiting to pick up the pieces when Trump's Republican Party flames out in November. Come 2020, he'll have another four years in the Senate under his belt, another hundred or so chances for publicity stunts that will confirm his conservative bona fides, and the ability to boast that he didn't follow Trump all the way off the cliff like some people he could name. And he'll still be sticking to his number-one principle, which is that he really, really, really wants to be president.

Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.