February 15, 2013

Sen. Ted Cruz’s debut on “Meet The Press” on Jan. 20 was memorable to me not for what the Texas Republican said but for what the tea party darling did at the very end of his appearance with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Moderator David Gregory tried to end a series of pointed questions to Schumer on Chuck Hagel’s nomination for defense secretary by noting that the senator would be spending the next day with Beyonce and Kelly Clarkson at the Inauguration. What happened next would serve as an omen of things to come.

David Gregory: All right, we will leave it there. You spent your morning with Cruz and then you get to hang out with Beyonce as chair of the Inaugural Committee.

Chuck Schumer: Oh, wow, and Kelly Clarkson. I love Kelly Clarkson. Whoa.

Ted Cruz: And, David, let me point out, every one of those issues Chuck just mentioned for Hagel? He disagreed in his record with Chuck Schumer on Israel, on Iran, on Hezbollah. Hagel’s record is directly contrary. And I’m always skeptical of confirmation-day conversions.  I understand it is difficult to oppose a president of your own party. Chuck Schumer has been a terrific defender of the U.S.-Israeli relationship but I think this Hagel nomination is very concerning.

Did you notice the wink? In that 40-second clip, Cruz proved himself to be needlessly combative, lecturing and tone-deaf. Traits that were on display this week when Cruz raised concerns that appeared to question Hagel’s patriotism. Traits that The Post’s Ruth Marcus and Politico report are causing consternation just two months into the freshman senator’s six-year term.

Sen. Ted Cruz (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
Sen. Ted Cruz (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

“Behind the scenes, Cruz has rankled even Republican colleagues, who think he lectures too much at private party sessions — “pontificates” is one word used — and listens too little, especially for a newbie,” Marcus wrote. “One Republican senator described Cruz to me as ‘Jim De­Mint without the charm.’ ” DeMint was the South Carolina senator who resigned last month to head the conservative Heritage Foundation.

“I think he’s got unlimited potential,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Manu Raju of Politico. “But the one thing I will say to any new senator — you’re going to be respected if you can throw a punch but you also have to prove you can do a deal.”

Sure, the people of Texas sent Cruz to Washington to shake things up. But once here, the need to govern (read, putting what’s right for the nation ahead of what’s right for one’s image back home) ought to trump all other considerations. Great senators are the ones whose influence reaches far beyond their home states because they (usually) put country above party, ideology and politics when it is needed most. Looks like it’s going to take a while for Cruz to learn this, assuming that’s possible.

Follow Jonathan Capehart on Twitter.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.