The Senator They Love to Hate

Katie Zezima and David Weigel have a piece up at the Washington Post on Sen. Ted Cruz and how he relishes and seeks to exploit the animosity he’s created on Capitol Hill.

The piece has the familiar stories. When Cruz filibustered John O. Brennan’s nomination as director of the CIA, fellow Republican Senator John McCain called him “a wacko bird.” Back in August, then-Speaker John Boehner said that he was grateful that Cruz’s presidential ambitions kept “that jackass” out of Washington DC where Cruz is always trying to tell him how to do his job. This past October, President George W. Bush even got into the act, mentioning at a fundraiser for his brother that he just doesn’t like the guy. Zezima and Weigel dutifully assemble quotes from several senators and Senate staffers who all seem to agree that Cruz is not a team-player and that he puts his own ambition over any other consideration.

Back in late-September, I noted that Cruz had become more unpopular with his colleagues than any senator since at least the notorious Joe McCarthy. This is not a recipe for being an effective legislator, but Cruz has never aspired to be the next Lion of the Senate .

Cruz’s plan, insofar as he has one, is to channel what FDR said at the 1936 Democratic National Convention, “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”

Here’s how that looks today:

Cruz does not appear to be bothered. The senator and presidential candidate seems to relish the fact that so many fellow Republicans love to hate him. On the trail, the Texas Republican fondly recounts his skirmishes. His campaign blasts out fundraising e-mails quoting the critical words. When Boehner called Cruz a jackass, his campaign’s solicitation quoted him as saying, “I will wear it as a badge of honor because I refuse to join their club.” A super PAC supporting Cruz released a radio spot Tuesday boasting that Boehner referred to Cruz as a “a pain in the you-know-what.”

In other words, Cruz’s status as persona non grata has become part of his political persona: He uses the enmity of others to paint himself as an outsider, someone whose role taking on Washington prompted an ugly backlash from the establishment that he counts as a point of pride.

It’s not a bad place to position yourself at a time when Republican leadership figures are dropping like flies and their Establishment presidential candidates are floundering in single digits in the polls.

What I found most interesting about this article, however, was Cruz’s assertion that the thing he’s done that aroused the most hostility from his fellow Republicans was to oppose raising the debt ceiling.

Cruz also chronicled his Senate spats in the book, writing that the “driving force” in Washington on both sides of the aisle is “risk aversion.” Government is “corrupt,” he wrote, and telling the truth in Washington is a “radical act.” He recalled a lunch where he said he wouldn’t go forward with a leadership plan on the debt limit.

“In the two years I’ve been in the Senate, nothing I have said or done has engendered more venom and animosity from my fellow Republicans than the simple objection I made that afternoon,” he wrote.

The debt ceiling may be the perfect case study of how irresponsible rhetoric spewed by Republican leaders has turned around and bitten them in the ass when their voters had the temerity to expect them to act on their own alarmism.

In a way, they created the opening for Ted Cruz by falsely claiming he was necessary. Maybe we should reanimate Sigmund Freud to try to figure out what it means that they hate their own creation with such passion.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.