Ted Cruz and the Future of the Republican Party

Ted Cruz questions Chuck Hagel at Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Ted Cruz questions Chuck Hagel at Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

The Republican Party has a new star, whether they want him or not. And, despite the Time Magazine cover, the new GOP star is not Florida’s Marco Rubio. It’s brand new Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Ted Cruz is, quite frankly, a real jerk. He knows he’s a jerk, and he appears to like it when people notice. Reuters reported last Tuesday on an appearance by Cruz in Texas:

“Washington has a long tradition of trying to hurl insults to silence those who they don’t like what they’re saying,” Cruz told reporters on a visit to a Texas gun manufacturer. “I have to admit I find it amusing that those in Washington are puzzled when someone actually does what they said they would do.”

Employees at LaRue Tactical near Austin cheered the senator enthusiastically during his appearance.

Cruz, 42, raised eyebrows in Washington by aggressively criticizing former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s nominee for defense secretary, during a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing.

Cruz angered lawmakers in both parties by suggesting, without giving evidence, that Hagel might have taken money from countries such as communist North Korea.

Since his aggressive cross-examination of Hagel at the confirmation hearing, both politicians and jouranlists have been comparing Cruz to the late, disgraced commie-hunter Joseph McCarthy–and Cruz revels in the criticism, regardless of whether it comes from the “liberal media,” Democrats, or moderate Republicans whom he deems cowardly and less than pure in their willingness to defend “conservative principles.”

I’m sure you’ve either read or heard about Jane Mayer’s recent New Yorker feature: Is Ted Cruz Our New McCarthy? Mayer wrote:

Last week, Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s prosecutorial style of questioning Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for Defense Secretary, came so close to innuendo that it raised eyebrows in Congress, even among his Republican colleagues. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, called Cruz’s inquiry into Hagel’s past associations “out of bounds, quite frankly.” The Times reported that Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, rebuked Cruz for insinuating, without evidence, that Hagel may have collected speaking fees from North Korea. Some Democrats went so far as to liken Cruz, who is a newcomer to the Senate, to a darkly divisive predecessor, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, whose anti-Communist crusades devolved into infamous witch hunts. Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, stopped short of invoking McCarthy’s name, but there was no mistaking her allusion when she talked about being reminded of “a different time and place, when you said, ‘I have here in my pocket a speech you made on such-and-such a date,’ and of course there was nothing in the pocket.”

The hubbub triggered a memory for Mayer–a speech by Cruz that she had covered “two and a half years ago.”

Cruz gave a stem-winder of a speech at a Fourth of July weekend political rally in Austin, Texas, in which he accused the Harvard Law School of harboring a dozen Communists on its faculty when he studied there. Cruz attended Harvard Law School from 1992 until 1995. His spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request to discuss the speech.

Cruz made the accusation while speaking to a rapt ballroom audience during a luncheon at a conference called “Defending the American Dream,” sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a non-profit political organization founded and funded in part by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch. Cruz greeted the audience jovially, but soon launched an impassioned attack on President Obama, whom he described as “the most radical” President “ever to occupy the Oval Office.” (I was covering the conference and kept the notes.)

He then went on to assert that Obama, who attended Harvard Law School four years ahead of him, “would have made a perfect president of Harvard Law School.” The reason, said Cruz, was that, “There were fewer declared Republicans in the faculty when we were there than Communists! There was one Republican. But there were twelve who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.”

Mayer then reports on her interviews with people who were at Harvard when Cruz was in law school–all of whom are flummoxed by Cruz’s accusations. Mayer suggests that Cruz may have been referring to

a group of left-leaning law professors who supported what they called Critical Legal Studies, a method of critiquing the political impact of the American legal system. Professor Duncan Kennedy, for instance, a leader of the faction, who declined to comment on Cruz’s accusation, counts himself as influenced by the writings of Karl Marx. But he regards himself as a social democrat, not a Communist, and has never advocated the overthrow of the U.S. government by Communists. Rather, he advocated widening admissions at the law school to under-served populations, hiring more minorities and women on the faculty, and paying all law professors equally.

Mayer’s article set off reactions all over the internet. Rachel Maddow interviewed Mayer last week; here’s the video, in case you missed it.

Cruz responded to Mayer’s piece the next day after it appeared on-line:

Senator Ted Cruz has responded to The New Yorker’s report that he accused Harvard Law School of having had “twelve” Communists who “believed in the overthrow of the U.S. Government” on its faculty when he attended in the early nineties. Cruz doesn’t deny that he said this; instead, through his spokesman, he says he was right: Harvard Law was full of Communists.

His spokeswoman Catherine Frazier told The Blaze website that the “substantive point” in Cruz’s charge, made in a speech in 2010, was “was absolutely correct.”

She went on to explain that “the Harvard Law School faculty included numerous self-described proponents of ‘critical legal studies’—a school of thought explicitly derived from Marxism—and they far outnumbered Republicans.” As my story noted, the Critical Legal Studies group consisted of left-leaning professors like Duncan Kennedy, who is a social democrat, not a Communist, and has never “believed in the overthrow of the U.S. Government.”

Frazier also said she found it “‘curious’ that The New Yorker would cover Cruz’s speech ‘three years’ after he gave it. She didn’t seem to notice the irony that Cruz had demanded detail information from Hagel on speeches he had given as long ago as 2000.

Back home in Texas the reaction to Cruz’s recent behavior has been very different from that of the villagers and the mainstream media generally. From The Austin Statesman:

Six weeks after being sworn in, Ted Cruz returned to Texas a commanding figure, the center of attention in the Senate and the national media, loathed by the Washington establishment and, for that, all the more celebrated by conservatives nationally who found in him a champion both very smart and, it seemed, utterly fearless.

He had emerged from his baptism by fire more powerful for it, not only in national conservative circles but, by leveraging his new-found status, perhaps also in the Capitol he had so unsettled.
And all, Cruz said in an appearance this week at a Leander gun manufacturer, because he had done just what he told Texas voters he was going to do….

“I haven’t seen anyone that good,” said Tripp Baird, director of Senate relations for Heritage Action for America. “The guy literally day one was talking about guns, immigration and literally dismantling Chuck Hagel, all in one day.”

“The movement worked their tails off to get him elected, and I think he has met their expectations big time,” said Baird.

What Cruz understands, said Baird, is that the way to win in Washington is “take the fight to the other side. If you’re not willing to throw a punch, you’re just preparing for a fight you never end up getting in engaged in. What good are you? Go home.”

How will the dramatic emergence of Ted Cruz effect the current internecine struggle for control of the GOP? Will he throw the power back to the ultra-right? Or will be be marginalized by the villagers?

Steve Kornacki calls it “The GOP’s Ted Cruz Problem.”

We’ve seen senators like Ted Cruz before. The historical comparison most commonly invoked involves Joe McCarthy, whose scurrilous red-baiting crusade in the early 1950s shattered the careers of innocent public servants and alienated McCarthy from his fellow senators, but also made him a folk hero on the right. Jesse Helms comes to mind too. The far-right North Carolinian was generally seen as more trouble than he was worth by his party’s establishment (there were those in the Reagan White House who not-so-secretly rooted for his defeat in a close 1984 campaign against Democrat Jim Hunt), but the intense animosity Helms stirred among liberals only enhanced his status among the conservative masses….

For Republicans who believe their party’s post-2008 direction has been self-destructive, Cruz’s rapid rise is a troubling development, because it really has nothing to do with policy and everything to do with the outrage he provokes from Democrats and the media. The thorough beating they took at the polls last fall perhaps should have prompted rethinking on the right. But conservatives’ appetite for Cruz shows that the GOP base’s animating spirit still hasn’t changed: Loud, aggressive and reflexive hostility to President Obama, the Democratic Party and any Republican who would dare contemplate compromise is still how “conservatism” is defined.

What makes Cruz and Cruz-ism a particular problem for his party is the demographic conundrum Republicans now face. Obama’s reelection (and Democrats’ unexpected gains in the Senate) was testament to the rising clout of the “coalition of the ascendant” – African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women (particularly single women), Millennials. As Joan Walsh pointed out last week, Cruz’s Cuban-American background by itself won’t improve his or his party’s standing with Hispanics or other minorities. Instead, he’s appealing to the aging, overwhelmingly white core of the Republican base – voters whose grievances against the government in the 1970s and 1980s turned them against the Democratic Party and attracted them to Ronald Reagan and his ideological descendants.

The Tea Party know-nothings have already pushed formerly “moderate” Senators McCain and Graham further to the right; why should we believe they’ll stand up to Cruz if he gains popular support around the country? Texas senior senator John Cornyn is reportedly already intimidated by Cruz’s popularity. According to Politico’s Mike Allen, Cruz now gets two votes in the Senate–his own and Cornyn’s.

On the other hand, Paul Waldman at The American Prospect thinks Cruz’s career is already dead and that he’s “the next Jim DeMint.”

A year or two ago, if you asked Republicans to list their next generation of stars Ted Cruz’s name would inevitably have come up. Young (he’s only 42), Latino (his father emigrated from Cuba), smart (Princeton, Harvard Law) and articulate (he was a champion debater), he looked like someone with an unlimited future. But then he got to Washington and started acting like the reincarnation of Joe McCarthy, and now, barely a month into his Senate career, we can say with a fair degree of certainty that Ted Cruz is not going to be the national superstar many predicted he’d be. If things go well, he might be the next Jim DeMint—the hard-line leader of the extremist Republicans in the Senate, someone who helps the Tea Party and aids some right-wing candidates win primaries over more mainstream Republicans. But I’m guessing that like DeMint, he won’t ever write a single piece of meaningful legislation and he’ll give the Republican party nothing but headaches as it struggles to look less like a party of haters and nutballs.

I hope Waldman’s right, but Cruz is a hell of a lot more dynamic than DeMint and probably a lot smarter (how many Tea Party candidates have “authored more than 80 United States Supreme Court briefs and presented 43 oral arguments, including nine before the United States Supreme Court”?). Cruz is an experienced debater and has become a very good speaker who can really rile up a right wing crowd, as Jane Mayer noted in her interview (above) with Rachel Maddow.

As Dave Weigel points out, Cruz is loving the condemnation he’s getting from Democrats, the media, and even fellow Republicans.

I doubt very much that Cruz go away quietly with his tail between his legs. The only question is what will he do to the Republican Party?


20 Comments on “Ted Cruz and the Future of the Republican Party”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    I’m working on a second post exploring Cruz’s background and ideology.

    • prolixous says:

      BB, check out Dana Milbank’s experience with him as a young staffer on Dubya’s 2000 campaign — some things just don’t change.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Thanks. I did read that column. I’ve been digging up stuff on Cruz for the past week. Maybe my next post on him will attract more attention than this this one is. Oh well….

    • RalphB says:

      Cruz, being Canadian by birth, won’t be President and locally it’s felt that he was surprised to have won the Senate primary. Most feel his longer term goals are to run for Governor and be a kingmaker after. Who knows?

      From the American-Statesman story:

      Cruz was asked to be on the executive committee of the Senate Republican Steering Committee, the engine of conservative policymaking in the Senate. He was named vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

      He’s definitely movin’ on up in DC.

  2. RalphB says:

    In the meantime, officially announced today…

    Obama Campaign Aides Launch Effort To Turn Texas Blue

    Veterans of President Obama’s re-election bid Tuesday announced a project to use voter registration and engagement to turn Texas into a more Democratic-friendly state. The founders will use successful strategies from Obama’s campaign in the new effort called “Battleground Texas.”

    The Washington Post has more:

    Jeremy Bird, a Democratic strategist who served as Obama’s former national field organizer in 2012, said Texas’s large and growing minority population – an estimated 56 percent of residents are black, Asian, Hispanic or American Indian – makes it ripe for Democratic gains. The problem for the party, he said, was that many of these potential voters are either not registered or have chosen not to participate…

    Jenn Brown, who was the Obama campaign’s Ohio field director, is the organization’s executive director, based in Austin. She and Bird said they will draw on lessons from the Obama campaign, including data mining, voting analytics and person-to-person engagement, to expand voter rolls. They said they also have spoken with Democratic donors about fundraising and hope to raise several million dollars in the next few years.

  3. dakinikat says:

    This would make for some good entertainment if the Republican Party wasn’t so dysfunctional already. He’ll probably make a lot of money stoking the right wing rage machine.

  4. RalphB says:

    Chuck Hagel confirmed 58-41. Now let’s cut.