What Ted Cruz’s speech accomplished

September 25, 2013

Twenty-one hours and 19 minutes after he began speaking on the ills of Obamacare, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz yielded the floor at noon Wednesday.

We watched much -- though far from all -- of Cruz's speech (filibuster or not). And while Cruz didn't accomplish his goal of blocking debate over legislation that strips out the defunding of Obamacare, which was his stated goal, he did accomplish several other things. Here are four.

* Cruz rounded himself out -- in a good way. For the vast majority of people -- up to and including much of the GOP base -- Cruz was a figure of interest that they really didn't know all that much about. Over the course of his 21-hour marathon, Cruz talked lovingly of his father, read bedtime stories to his daughters, talked about his love for White Castle burgers, did a Darth Vader impression and generally came across as a normal person. Yes, if you went into the speech already not liking Cruz, all of the things mentioned above probably annoyed you rather than endeared him to you. But, if you went into the speech not knowing much about Cruz -- and iffy about Obamacare -- you probably came out of it liking him more. That's a win for Cruz.

* Cruz proved he was more than just buzz. Democrats -- and some Republicans -- have taken to comparing Cruz to Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachman, a politician able to generate massive amounts of buzz but who ultimately won't able to translate buzz into votes because there wasn't all that much there there. Cruz's talkathon revealed that there was substance behind the sizzle that he represents to the Republican base. He spent the vast majority of the 21 hours he held the floor discoursing at length about the problems with Obamacare (and the Republican Party). In so doing, he laid out a comprehensive -- and largely consistent -- worldview about how policy and politics inside and outside of Washington should work. That's more than many of the people Cruz will face off against if he runs in 2016 have done.

* Cruz isn't just a lonely warrior.  The storyline in the run-up to Cruz's speech was that his GOP colleagues hated him. And, to be sure, he isn't the most popular member of the Republican conference. (Yes, John McCain quite clearly loathes him.) But, over the course of the 21 hours, Cruz demonstrated that he isn't an island unto himself. Aside from the usual suspects -- Rand Paul and Mike Lee -- a number of other Republican senators came to the floor to lend support to and ask questions of Cruz. That group included: Jeff Sessions (Ala.), David Vitter (La.), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Jim Inhofe (Okla.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.). Obviously that's not a majority of Republican senators but it's enough to show that Cruz isn't a one-man gang. Mission accomplished.

* Cruz can talk: Like him or hate him, Cruz demonstrated a remarkable ability to not only talk but also, occasionally, debate during his 21-hour speech. (He got into a back and forth with Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.) Imagine the rhetorical and debating skills that Cruz showcased over the past 24 hours ported onto a debate stage in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina in 2016. His oratorical skills coupled with a message that is perfectly in line with a not-insignificant portion of the GOP base make him a potentially formidable candidate in a GOP presidential primary fight.

The latest updates on the battle over Obamacare

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan · September 25, 2013