Cruzin’ for a Bruisin’
On Monday, Texas senator, Ted Cruz, becomes the first Republican to formally announce his candidacy for president in 2016. The controversial first term senator enters the fray without having first conducted an exploratory commission. Cruz begins with the lowest prior year polling numbers than anyone since Bill Clinton, a factoid that Mr. Cruz probably welcomes given Clinton’s electoral success. Cruz also takes pride in his status as a right-wing firebrand, a badge of honor among hardline Republicans who see the key to victory in confronting the left and purging the Party of so-called “RINOs” (Republicans in name only). Cruz’ reputation similarly elicits cringing, facepalming and groaning from Republicans who see victory in appealing to a broader base of voters. Count me in the latter camp.
Betsy Woodruff, writing at Salon.com, quotes a Republican aide giving his thoughts on Cruz:
“Cruz is going to have to stop undermining conservative victories for the sake of getting more press…We had made a lot of progress and he just undid it all for something he knew was not going to be possible.”
At first read, it may appear as if the aide’s words referred to Cruz’ unilateral plan to force Congress (sans, at that time, the huge Republican majorities that exist today) to send a bill to the president defunding the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in the midst of a budget battle that Republicans were winning. Republican Senate leadership cried foul as Cruz’ tactic derailed their aims in the showdown with President Barack Obama. Nonetheless, Cruz’ efforts, consisting of an hours long filibuster in which he read Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham,” culminated in a partial government shutdown and the lowest favorability numbers the GOP has ever recorded (28%).
Instead, though, the aide was referring to another of Cruz’ tactics–a ruse to block funding for President Obama’s immigration moves. Cruz (along with Utah Senator Mike Lee) precluded Harry Reid (then, Majority Leader) from adjourning the Senate before a weekend break at the end of the Senate’s lame duck session. Just as in the defunding Obamacare fight, Cruz and his short list of allies lacked the votes needed to claim ultimate victory. With his typical flamboyant self-serving, bombast, he brought a point of order to a vote that called Obama’s actions unconstitutional. The measure lost 22-74.
Senator Kelly Ayotte called Cruz’ move “ridiculous.” Senator Jeff Flake called Cruz’ move “counterproductive.” Maine Senator, Susan Collins, said to Cruz that he was “going to make everybody miserable.” Each of them was right except for Senator Collins: Harry Reid was not miserable. Cruz’ tactic allowed Reid to confirm more than 10 Obama nominees (many of them federal judges with lifetime appointments) that otherwise may not have passed, as Democrats were expected to go home after voting for the Cromnibus bill.
Cruz’ alienation of fellow Republicans ends not just with elected members of Congress. It extends, even, to other presumed presidential contenders, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. When asked whether he thought Bush is a conservative, Cruz refused to answer (which he intended to be the answer).
Matthew Boyle at Breitbart posits that Democrats might seriously fear a Cruz nomination. Given Cruz’ penchant for dividing conservatives, the most reliable voting bloc for Republican candidates, nothing could be further from the truth. Quoting a DNC mass email, Boyle writes that Cruz’ candidacy “sent shivers down” Democrats’ spines. I understand that sentiment. Boyle need only consider the second part of the sentence in the DNC mailer that says that Cruz’ candidacy also elicits “a pretty serious roll of the eyes.” I relate to that too.
As it happens, Cruz’ campaign announcement is welcome news to conservatives who fail to understand why Republicans have struggled electorally in recent years. These are my brothers and sisters in the movement who erroneously believe (against all available data) that conservatives sat out the 2008 and 2012 election because the Republican candidates were too moderate. The reality is, many conservative ideas are popular, but the Republican brand is unpopular.
The negative stereotype about Republicans is not that we are too mushy, but rather, that we are too abrasive. That we are self-serving. That we are obstructionists. That we put politics ahead of practicality. That we don’t “care about people like me.” Ted Cruz’ candidacy embodies everything about Republicans that everybody hates. Mr. Cruz will likely not survive the nomination process. Hopefully, he resists the urge to further harm the Republican brand by reinforcing these negative stereotypes as the novelty of this tryst flames out.