Ted Cruz is a very, very conservative guy.

Like, ultra-conservative. Seriously, hyper-conservative. As in, you wouldn’t believe how conservative.

That is the unmistakable message of a New York Times piece that aims to plumb the depths of the senator’s ideology—and, near the top, notes that John McCain called him a “wacko bird.”

I’m all for scrutinizing the candidates and their stands on the issues, even if this story begins with sort of a forehead-slapping tone. We would see more of this coverage of Cruz if the media consensus wasn’t that Donald Trump is still the most likely nominee.

Most of the media attention surrounding Cruz focuses on his trench warfare to lure delegates away from Trump; his response to charges by Trump; and some version of the Time magazine question, “Likable Enough?”

Cruz advisers believe the Texan is softening his testy image by launching a charm offensive. This includes joking around with Jimmy Fallon (in his Trump wig), using his wife Heidi as a surrogate and appearing on CNN with his young daughters. They believe Mitt Romney lost in 2012 because many people didn’t like him, and are trying to avoid that problem.

Cruz is also using more humor, telling “Good Morning America” yesterday that he is the only GOP candidate “who doesn’t eat pizza with a knife and fork.”

In the runup to today’s New York primary, where the Cruz camp is hoping to win a few delegates at best, the senator has been attacking Trump as someone who has supported liberal Democratic causes for 40 years. So he’s hardly hiding the fact that he’s a true-blue conservative.

The Times piece starts out with a laundry list. It says that on immigration Cruz is “to the right of Ronald Reagan,” who backed a liberalization compromise in 1986. Of course, most of the GOP is now to the right of Reagan on this issue.

Cruz “opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest,” and supports an amendment to allow states to avoid performing or recognizing same-sex marriages.

Cruz favors the gold standard, wants to abolish the IRS, and has criticized Trump on deportation policy—full stop—“from the right.”

The larger point, of course, is that Cruz would be a weak candidate, “the  most conservative presidential nominee in at least a half-century, perhaps to the right of Barry Goldwater.” And we all recall what happened to him.

And here’s the sort-of praise: Cruz “anticipated the rightward tilt of the Republican Party of today, grasping its conservatism even as colleagues dismissed him as a fringe figure.”

Cruz told Bill O'Reilly yesterday that "the Times is not exactly a barometer for the mainstream." Asked about his position on abortion, he said it is Hillary Clinton's position on the issue that is "radical."

"I recognize the media loves to focus on issues where they can hit Republicans over and over again," Cruz said, but that his main focus will be jobs.

Now there’s little question that Cruz could have a rough time when he has to defend his positions on abortion, immigration, even his flat-tax plan to a national electorate, not just Republicans.

Even some mainstream Republicans think he would lead the party to defeat, although part of the establishment is reluctantly embracing him as an alternative to Trump.

But in the latest Fox News poll, Cruz is in a virtual tie with Hillary Clinton, trailing by 1 point, while Trump trails by 7 points (and John Kasich leads her by 9). On paper, at least, Cruz and Trump would lose to Bernie Sanders by 12 and 14 points, respectively.

For now, Cruz advisers believe they are beating Trump at the delegate game and that some party regulars are insulted by the billionaire’s attacks on a crooked system. These are the kind of delegates, they say, who would throw their weight behind Cruz on a second ballot.

If the race between the two men becomes more competitive, expect to hear much more from the media about how Cruz is an unapologetic right-winger.

 

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.