Ted Cruz is running for president.
No, he hasn't announced it yet. But if you can tell a man by his actions, then expect to see Cruz in Iowa a LOT more over the next year or two. (Cruz will be in the Hawkeye State on Saturday to headline a dinner thrown by Bruce Rastetter, a major GOP fundraiser. And he's going back next week, too!)
The latest example — outside of the constant Iowa trips — came Wednesday, when WaPo's Bob Costa reported that Cruz was actively encouraging conservative House Republicans to oppose the spending bill pushed by Boehner aimed at addressing the crisis of undocumented children crossing at the southern border. Here's Costa:
Cruz’s huddle is the latest example of the combative freshman senator wading into House affairs and serving as an informal whip against the leadership’s immigration position. It is also a direct shot at Boehner’s effort to pass his legislative package, hours before the bill is scheduled to come to the House floor Thursday.
Boehnerworld didn't comment to Costa on Cruz's move — but you can imagine that they were less than pleased. California Rep. Jeff Denham, however, was slightly more vocal about Cruz's involvement in an interview with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC on Thursday. "Ted Cruz can work on a solution in the body that he's elected to represent," said Denham. "We look forward to his solutions in the Senate. That's something he's going to have to work through."
As Costa notes above, this is hardly the first time that Cruz has intentionally stuck his finger in the eye of the Republican leadership in the House and Senate. Earlier this year, Cruz forced Republican leaders to collect 60 votes to limit debate on a debt ceiling increase — forcing a handful of GOPers who would have preferred not to be on the record in support of such a measure (or at least the procedural vote that allowed such a measure to pass) to do just that. As far back as late 2013 — amid the government shutdown showdown — Cruz was acting as a sort of de facto ring leader of the tea party conference in the House.
The key point to remember in all of this is that Ted Cruz wants to be hated by congressional Republicans, or, at the very least, he doesn't mind knowing that they hate him. Cruz has his eye not on climbing the leadership ladder in Congress but on running for president. (If by some surprise he doesn't run for president in 2016, it's hard to imagine him sticking around the world's greatest deliberative body much longer than when his term ends in 2018.)
Given that, the best thing he can do for his personal politics is to pick high-profile fights with people like Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Boehner over what he casts as matters of principle. If you are planning to run as a political outsider even while sitting in the Senate — and that's what Cruz is planning — then what better way to prove your bona fides than to fight like hell to make the lives of your congressional leaders that much tougher?
Cruz knows he is never going to be the establishment pick of the party, and so he is making sure that he doesn't have to own any of the less-than-conservative things that the GOP establishment does while he is serving in Congress with them.
There is some danger in Cruz's strategy, however. Antagonizing people like McConnell and Boehner might not cost him votes in Iowa (and almost certainly would win him votes there). But if it looks like he might have a real chance at the nomination, you can be certain that the party leaders — who have very long memories — will work privately (and maybe even publicly) to keep him from the prize. It's of course possible that Cruz has built such a groundswell of grass-roots support by that point that no amount of work by party leaders could keep him from the nomination. But it's also possible that any momentum he does build could be slowed or even stopped by those same leaders.
Cruz knows exactly what he is doing. He's a savvy operator who is putting all of his political eggs in being the most conservative, most outsider-y candidate in the 2016 presidential field. Getting Boehner to hate him? That's just par for the course.