Thanks, in part, to the 24/7 media environment, a politician can quickly wear out his welcome. A pol’s constant presence in social, online and old media provides endless opportunities to repeat empty sound bites — and to quickly bore audiences. Shrill condemnation of every and any perceived outrage only makes it worse, tiring out an audience, which quickly learns that anger and outrage are a pol’s default emotions. There are few politicians — California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is one — who remain interesting over a long period of time because they generate fresh ideas or at least express their ideas in fresh and intriguing ways.
The self-proclaimed upstarts of the newly invigorated right wing already seem to be wearing thin even among their base. The shutdown squad’s nose-dive in the polls confirms a limited appeal with a wider electorate (even in Utah). Maggie Haberman reports that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) delivered a “stem winder” in Iowa. And yet, “Cruz received a good response from the crowd, but he wasn’t cheered wildly. And his speech, lengthy and meandering, began to lose some of the people in the audience as it went on.” Cruz’s spiel is now familiar, if not shopworn. He’s been betrayed by the “establishment.” He is fighting for America. Liberalism, if unchecked by Cruz and his followers, will destroy America. It’s all delivered at a fevered pitch in a tone vacillating between disdain and melodrama. If you’ve heard it a few times, you don’t need to listen again. He exhausts even those who haven’t heard it before after the first or second time he repeats the same tropes.
There are three other problems that some of his cohorts must realize as they move onto more attainable goals or more positive themes.
First, a lot of what he says is just wrong. He wasn’t done in by Republican senators; his plan was doomed from the start, and he never had Democratic votes to pass a defunding bill. He didn’t make Obamacare the top issue; he distracted from it and the greatest success the party has had has been post-shutdown. (The first time he debates capable people who will decry his fabulist history, you wonder what he’ll do.)
Second, his diatribe in Iowa was entirely devoid of his own positive agenda. Yes he told us what he is against (the “establishment,” violations of the First and Fourth Amendment, Obamacare) but not who and what he is for. If there is a single problem with the right this is it, as American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks wrote: “A strategy of fighting against things — instead of fighting for people — and simply blaming Obama for the current stalemate would lead the GOP into the same trap into which the president has fallen.” Like Barack Obama in 2007, Cruz hasn’t really done anything or given voters anything but platitudes.
Third, whether in Iowa or elsewhere, activists in Iowa realize the party needs a winner, not an aggrieved loser:
One veteran activist in the state was blunt about where Cruz finds himself now, after a 21-hour speech on the Senate floor featuring his reading of Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham.” “The whole national spectacle has endeared him to base activists but also disillusioned more traditional Republicans and money types,” said the activist, noting that some of those donors — not the ones on the two coasts, but GOP bundlers elsewhere in the country — “were actually open to him. So, he has damaged himself with that crowd.” Craig Robinson, a former state party executive director who runs a news website called The Iowa Republican, said Cruz has lost some of his sheen since the shutdown. He’s become “polarizing,” Robinson said, adding that his methods are of concern to pragmatists in the party who want to win.
In 2016 Cruz, not unlike Sarah Palin in 2012, will need to decide if he risks his status and future on a risky presidential run, which would force him to test just how popular he is and exactly what he wants to do, or if he favors — as his comrade in demagoguery Jim DeMint has done — playing the martyr and the gadfly. There are plenty rooting for him to do the former, if only because it would greatly undermine his determination to do the latter.