Cruz: Happy to be a Pariah

I betcha there is a lot of sniggering going on among Senate staffers and on the GOP presidential campaign trail about Mark Salter’s going-medieval column at RealClearPolitics today about Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Salter, retired from the Senate staff but long the alter ego of John McCain, uses the refusal of any Senator to second a Cruz motion (noted earlier this week by our own Martin Longman as a virtually unprecedented insult) as an excuse to lay out in considerable detail how loathsome he thinks the man really is. After a rather laborious windup sarcastically congratulating Cruz for finding a way to unite a deeply divided Senate in bipartisan opprobrium towards him, Salter limbers up:

I can’t recall any senator who was as nearly universally loathed by his colleagues as Cruz. There have been others who weren’t likeable. There were plenty who were self-interested and who preened and blustered as often as Cruz does—and who routinely elicited senatorial smirks and rolled eyes. There have been senators who frequently forced their colleagues to cast difficult and unpopular votes. And, of course, there is a long list of senators who ran for president and treated the Senate floor as a campaign stop. (And for some of them it worked). But no senator in my memory did all that with such abandon and was disliked with as much intensity as is Ted Cruz.

I won’t bother to quote the whole thing. But aside from the usual high-minded defensiveness about the Senate when challenged by a cynical guttersnipe like the Junior Senator from Texas, Salter also thinks Cruz is playing conservatives as suckers:

He deliberately sets up conservatives to fail by goading them into empty gestures and self-defeating stunts like shutting down government, which make it harder to persuade more Americans to embrace conservative policies. They can’t even be described accurately as Pyrrhic victories. They’re just abject failures.

And Cruz bets on them to fail. He stokes the anger of grassroots conservatives in the hope that it devours everyone but him. He offers false hope and misinformation as a plan, stands defiantly in the imaginary breach, and scurries to blame others for his singular lack of success.

Yeah, that’s all pretty accurate, but it’s worth noting that congressional Republicans make empty gestures all the time, so where exactly is the bright line that makes everybody but Cruz courageous men and women of principle and only him a scoundrel? I mean, it’s not like the entire GOP conference except for Cruz has been engaged in serious bipartisan legislative activity day-in and day-out, is it?

I can’t definitively answer these questions, but one thing I am pretty sure about is that Ted Cruz and his people won’t lose a moment’s sleep over the hatred he’s aroused and that Salter makes explicit and extensive. From the moment he arrived, his only purpose as a Senator has been to excoriate the GOP leadership of that body and depict himself as a lone tree standing in the RINO desert. This has, lucky for him, positioned him about as ideally as one can imagine given the poisonous atmosphere emanating from the GOP base. And for that, Salter can thank said base and its activists for vaulting Cruz past a party stalwart into a safe Senate seat–one that he can probably occupy as long as he likes–in the first place. Nobody made them vote for Cruz, and best I can tell, the one thing he’s never lied about his intention to become exactly the nasty demagogue that Salter and so many others deplore.

I don’t expect Cruz to win the presidential nomination next year, but if he somehow does, it will be a lot of fun watching Senate Republicans dutifully line up to support him.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.