Today The New York Times posted this video, titled "How Ted Cruz Connects."
There are several things worth noting about this video. First, Cruz is a much better speaker than you probably imagined he is. The video starts with a corny joke, but it's delivered with pretty good timing. After that we see Cruz preaching, and preaching effectively, as if he's learned a lot from his minister father.
Maybe what he's saying leaves you cold. It doesn't appeal to me. But I think it could appeal to a lot of heartland Americans, people -- not all of them conservative by any means -- for whom America is one big small town, mostly white, mostly Christian, where the citizens seek to preserve Norman Rockwell values but are struggling to do so. The country, in other words, where Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush became two-term presidents and, to some people, American heroes.
The Cruz in this video doesn't seem like an angry wingnut nerd who's obsessed with politics. If you were heartlander who heard him talk like this, you'd think he's a devout young man who believes in simple but profound virtues. I can see why he's supplanted Ben Carson as the Christian-right candidate of choice in Iowa (and elsewhere in Republican America).
I'd also like to point out that he's being taken very seriously here by the Times. Much of the mainstream press openly portrays Donald Trump as a buffoon or a dangerous demagogue -- but Cruz is portrayed here as a serious man with serious political skills. Crowds nod thoughtfully as he speaks; titles between segments of the video earnestly explain his rhetoric ("Mr. Cruz describes the political world through a religious narrative about saving a country in crisis"); there are sentimental shots of Cruz connecting with children. (Does the little girl with whom he exchanges a fist bump have Down's syndrome?)
Cruz could go all the way. He has the money. He has enough staff for a good ground game in Iowa and elsewhere, which, as the Times noted over the weekend, isn't true of Trump. I think Trump will survive a loss in Iowa if he runs a relatively close second to Cruz, but if his organization fails to turn out the vote and Cruz beats him badly, and if ground game is a problem for Trump in other states, then I think Cruz will be on his way to the nomination. And he'll seem sane and within-the-pale to a lot of Very Serious political observers. That scares me.