Yes, the legislation involved was a symbolic “border bill” not expected to survive the Senate, and yes, the House leadership couldn’t seem to find their butts with both hands. But still, the ease with which, once again, the junior senator from Texas worked his will on the House GOP this week has been amazing, as evidenced by a long Robert Costa piece for WaPo that recapitulates with amazement every step taken by Ted Cruz to cause a pre-recess train wreck.

You get the sense Cruz is barely having to break a sweat:

Careful not to be viewed as orchestrating action in the House, even though he holds regular “fellowship” meetings with members, Cruz listened quietly and nodded along as his guests laid out their concerns and discussed possible demands for Boehner.

He agreed that Boehner was distracted and said they should stick to their principles. The freshman senator also reminded them to be skeptical of promises from House leaders, particularly of “show votes” — legislative action designed to placate conservatives that carry little, if any, weight.

That quiet assurance was enough to persuade the conservatives to effectively topple Boehner’s plan, at least on Thursday, by balking when he said he would hold a largely symbolic standalone vote on Obama’s program.

So in Costa’s account, Cruz isn’t so much bullying his way into House GOP Conference decision-making as occupying a vaccuum and playing an essential role in a prescripted play:

A first-term senator wielding such influence in the House is both unusual and a testament to the ongoing tumult within the Republican Party. Sensing a desire by many in the House to follow an unyielding conservative, Cruz has gladly taken on that role, bolstering his national profile ahead of a potential 2016 presidential campaign.

In effect, Cruz is a stand-in for the Speaker the wingnuts aren’t quite strong enough to actually elect. Nice work if you can get it, and as Costa suggests, very helpful in building a national political organization.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.