Magazine article The American Prospect

Ted Talk

Magazine article The American Prospect

Ted Talk

Article excerpt

Early this spring, when rumors began circulating that freshman Senator Ted Cruz of Texas might run for president in 2016, liberals found the idea just as delightful as their Tea Party counterparts did--though for different reasons. What could do more to hurt the Republicans' comeback chances than a candidate who's so extreme that his own caucus-mate, John McCain, publicly labeled him a "wacko bird"? If Cruz ran and lost in the primaries, he could either become a disruption and embarrass the party or force the eventual nominee to move way to the right. If he somehow won the nomination, he'd surely be the second coming of Barry Goldwater in 1964. Run, Ted, run!

Cruz's rise to national notoriety had been sudden and, for many outside the Tea Party, baffling. Just one year ago, Cruz was a long-shot challenger in the Texas GOP Senate primary, an obscure, second-generation Cuban American and Ivy League-educated solicitor general. He had never run for any office, he displayed no discernible charisma or charm, and he spoke in a style more professorial than rabble-rousing. But his message was pure Tea Party gospel. He swore he would never betray it. This was just what Texas Republicans wanted, apparently, and Cruz pulled off the upset.

Months after arriving in Washington, Cruz had probably made more enemies than most of his senior colleagues collect in decade-long careers. In February, Cruz falsely claimed that the Iranian government had "publicly celebrated" when President Barack Obama nominated former Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican, for defense secretary, then went on to air unsubstantiated allegations that Hagel was doing business with U.S. enemies in North Korea, earning McCain's enmity. In closed-door meetings with Republican colleagues during the gun-control debate, Cruz advised them to stop being "a bunch of squishes," which many did not appreciate. At press conferences on the Hill, Cruz developed a habit of hijacking the proceedings and holding forth while senior Republicans waited their turn.

To most observers--liberals, Democrats, and old-school Republicans alike--Cruz personifies what's sinking the GOP brand. But that's because they don't understand, as Cruz does, what makes the Tea Party tick. In April, the Prospect published findings from the first major political-science survey of Tea Party activists. (The lead author, William and Mary political-science professor Ronald Rapoport, is my father.) The central conclusion: Tea Partiers do not want compromise. Four-fifths of the activists agreed with the statement "When we feel strongly about political issues, we should not be willing to compromise with our political opponents. …

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