Here's Ted Cruz waving to a crowd. Look at how much he soaks in that attention. What an asshole. All photos via Flickr user Gage Skidmore
If you’re like me, you think Texas Senator Ted Cruz is a small-minded, power-hungry, casually cruel prick. The Ronald Reagan–worshipping, Canadian-born Tea Party Republican punched his ticket to DC by beating his state’s lieutenant governor in the a primary last year, and since then he’s stayed politically relevant by being to the right of everyone on everything.
In Ted Cruz’s America, if you express concern that making it legal to shoot people on the street is bad, you’re disregarding the Bill of Rights, if you’re pro-choice you literally don’t care about the murder of infants, and legal gay marriage is a threat to the First Amendment. He’s one of those faux libertarians who only hates the government when it's messing with the rights of old, white, gun-owning Christians to impose their worldview on everyone. He’s fond of denouncing food stamps and declaring he wants to abolish the IRS, but is silent on the war on drugs that puts thousands of Americans in cages for buying and selling the wrong kinds of substances. You probably get the idea.
If you’re outraged by his positions, chances are you greeted his recent filibuster with an eye roll and a bunch of muttering. He started talking at 2:41 PM on Tuesday and kept on talking—with occasional pauses when his Senate allies stepped in to relieve him—for 21 hours. The explanation for his act of protest is long and involves a bunch of mucking about with legislative procedure, but the short version is:
1. Republicans hate Obamacare a lot a lot a lot, except they don’t have the votes to overturn it because they didn’t win enough elections.
2. Some of the more hardline Tea Party types decided that one way to stop the evil health care reform would be to vote to continuing funding every government function except for Obamacare.
3. Except the Democrats controlling the Senate would never agree to that (and neither would Obama), so the hardliners are like, “OK, we’ll shut down THE ENTIRE GOVERNMENT then!”
4. If the government did shut down, the public would (rightly) blame the GOP, so some Republican leaders are trying to avoid that by letting Senate Democrats remove the defunding-Obamacare bit from the bill that would let the government keep running. This is actually kinda tricky.
5. Cruz, meanwhile, is like, “Fuck that, we should pass the anti-Obama thing and if the government shuts down, whatevskis.”
There are a whole host of reasons Cruz’s filibuster was a bad idea regardless of the merits of his cause. For one thing, it wasn’t a filibuster because it didn’t actually delay a vote. For another, Cruz’s insistence that he was trying to #MakeDCListen was self-contradicting—people don’t like Obamacare, it’s true, but they like the prospect of a government shutdown even less. On top of that, a shutdown wouldn’t even stop the government bogeyman Cruz hates so much. As Molly Ball at the Atlantic noted, “The money for Obamacare isn't at stake in the continuing resolution currently under consideration. It's ‘mandatory’ spending, akin to Medicare and Social Security, and would require action by Congress to revoke.”
Look at Ted Cruz trying to be a man of the people with his fucking checkered shirt. The dude went to Harvard Law School and argued cases in front of the Supreme Court; you can tell that he thinks that makes him better than everyone.
Cruz is going out on a limb here. Many Republicans who matter in DC hate him, and Matt Lewis, a conservative writer who supports Cruz’s goal of getting rid of Obamacare, called the shutdown plan “absurd.” Rand Paul’s filibuster earlier this year in protest of Obama’s drone policies led to a bunch of people talking about an issue that wasn’t getting much attention; Cruz’s speechifying just seemed to be a vehicle for him to call Republicans who disagreed with his all-or-nothing tactics pussies—my mistake, he just compared them to people who said the Nazis were unbeatable. It probably didn't help that he held a conference call to tell the media that other senators should think of their votes on his unpopular defund-Obamacare strategy as the "most important" thing they'll do all year.
The leaders of his party might hate him for calling them defeatist cowards while preening about his own importance, but the activists who put Cruz in office eat that shit up with a spoon. He tells them that eventually Obama will surrender and agree to dismantle what he regards as his legacy to future generations because, whatever, the Tea Party is righteous and loved by God and can never lose. In doing so he’s giving them false hope, but he’s also positioning himself as “the favorite son of an older, whiter America” who is fed up with a Republican leadership they think is selling them out. If Cruz's efforts fail, it will be because the GOP didn't sufficiently back him, which will give him more ammunition to attack other Republicans, which will make him more unpopular, which will cause his future legislative efforts to fail… etc.
Ted Cruz is one of those guys where the fact that our society has given him authority makes you wonder whether there is something deeply wrong with us.
For Cruz, his strategy almost makes sense, at least from the perspective of the GOP’s wacky civil war. I imagine he’ll run for president in 2016, and to get to the White House the first thing he’ll need is the support of all the conservative activists and Tea Partiers who vote in the early primaries. So he spends 21 hours staking out his position as the right-winger’s right-winger with an eye on Iowa and South Carolina—his Republican colleagues might hate him for it, but they’ll support him in three years when he’s their candidate. Dave Weigel at Slate recently wrote that Cruz’s latest moves are “brilliant from the PR perspective, [but] rubbish at getting the policy he wants.” That’s true, but maybe Cruz figures policy doesn’t matter unless you run the executive branch, where you can actually do stuff. From that angle, a term in Congress is just one long PR ramp-up to the presidency.
The catch is that the Republican donors who would fund his run also see through his transparent grandstanding—no one wants to give money to a guy too fringe-y to win, no matter how successfully he rouses the rabble. If he wants to fulfill his promise as the GOP’s Barack Obama, Cruz pretty much has to play to his base of enraged white people—you got to dance with them what brung you, as the saying goes—and maintain his personal brand of being the wackiest of the wacko birds, but that same brand scares off the millionaires he needs.
Don’t feel too bad for Ted though. If he doesn’t turn into the right’s Obama—smooth-talking, inspiring, an insurgent candidate who takes over the party through populism and charisma—he’ll likely end up like Michele Bachmann, a divisive figure who places highly in early primaries but eventually flames out. But even if he loses his Senate seat or decides to quit electoral politics entirely, a la Bachmann or Sarah Palin, he’ll likely have a lucrative career as a conservative commentator in front of him. Books, radio shows, a gig as a Fox host, a spot with Glenn Beck’s burgeoning media empire if all else fails. Ted Cruz doesn’t need to remake America. In the current state of the country, you can become popular and rich by telling conservatives what they want to hear very loudly and over and over again. And if a good 50 to 60 percent of America thinks you aren’t just wrong but a narcissistic crackpot, that’s OK. They were never going to buy your book anyway.
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