Ted Cruz’s “lonely man of principle” act is as tired as it is phony, but give the devil his due. Cruz has given Americans exasperated with Washington gridlock hope that Congress can, when sufficiently motivated, find consensus and act.
In this instance, the consensus is that Ted Cruz is a jackass. The bipartisan action, taken Monday, was to deny him a vote on the Senate floor, and the additional speaking time he desired for another unctuous tribute to himself, courtesies that are routinely granted all senators. But hey, it’s hard to get Democrats and Republicans to agree on anything these days. So, congratulations, Senator Cruz, you trailblazer.
I worked on Capitol Hill for the better part of two decades. There might have been other occasions when a senator couldn’t get a colleague to “second” his amendment, but I can’t recall any. It’s also unusual for senators not to agree to give a member who has exhausted his allotted speaking time a few more minutes to finish his remarks.
Then again, 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. There have been senators who frequently forced their colleagues to cast difficult votes. And, of course, there is a long list of senators who ran for president and treated the Senate floor as a campaign stop. But no senator in my memory did all that with such abandon and was disliked with as much intensity as is Ted Cruz.
The late Minnesota progressive Paul Wellstone took lonely stands on the Senate floor that ended in missed flights and embarrassing votes for his colleagues. Recently retired Sen. Tom Coburn did, too. They often irritated their fellow senators, but that was usually temporary and mitigated by the wide admiration they enjoyed in the Senate on both sides of the aisle. Senators respected them as genuinely principled politicians who had the courage of their convictions.
Wellstone and Coburn risked their positions to advance their political values. Cruz is their opposite. He risks his principals to advance his position. I don’t think any senator really believes Ted Cruz is a conviction politician, save for his conviction that he ought to be president.
I know that Cruz and his minions boast that he wears the establishment’s animosity as a badge of honor. But let me point out that at the heart of colleagues’ contempt for him isn’t their distress at finding themselves confronted by a principled conservative, but their belief that he is an imposter.
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.
Now he’s playing lickspittle to Donald Trump, a candidate without a single conservative or even serious political principle, in the hope of grasping a few crumbs of support from Big Daddy’s table when the notorious Internet troll tires of pretending to run for national office.
Cruz claims allegiance to Ronald Reagan’s famed 11th Commandment about not speaking ill of fellow Republicans, and won’t cock an eyebrow as Trump attacks the rest of the 2016 Republican field with insults that would embarrass a mature sixth-grader and offers decidedly non-conservative policy prescriptions. But Cruz will call Mitch McConnell a liar for not playing along with his latest deception, and he crows and struts when Speaker John Boehner, a man who gave decades of service to his country and party, is obliged to retire.
Many grassroots conservatives believe that Republicans in Washington think they’re better than the people who sent them there. No politician has ever fit that description better than Ted Cruz. He hasn’t done anything for anyone other than himself since he came to town. He thinks if he promises you the impossible, and identifies a few scapegoats, you won’t notice he’s faking it. He thinks you’re that easy to fool.
Mark Salter is the former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain and was a senior adviser to the McCain for President campaign.
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