How, if you are Ted Cruz, do you win the Republican nomination for president? You follow the same path that you used to win an upset nomination for the Senate. Cruz can’t really go to the right; there are essentially no issue differences that he can open up between himself and the bulk of the Republican field. Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, to name but a few, will match Cruz and each other step-by-step as they compete for who is the real conservative in the race.
No, it’s not going to be substance. Instead, Cruz will use the tried-and-true strategy of calling the rest of the party weaklings and wimps. And so today he blasted Republicans for refusing to sign on to the insane plan to shut down the government until Barack Obama and the Democrats surrender and eliminate the Affordable Care Act.
Insane? Well, as a tactic to actually get anything done, sure. After all, Republicans were unable to get Obama to concede on Obamacare two years ago, when Republicans had more seats in the House, more seats in the Senate, a recent landslide victory, and a weak president who was no sure thing for reelection. Some Republicans even remember the fiasco of 1995-1996, when Republicans were in an even better position — with majorities in both Houses of Congress — and still couldn’t force Bill Clinton to surrender.
Remember, what this basically comes down to is a threat by a handful of Republicans — who, again, lost the last elections — to hold their noses until they turn blue, and to take the country down with them, until everyone just gives them what they want. It’s a tactic that rarely works in the playground; it’s not going to work in Washington, if “works” means policy victories.
As a way to separate himself from the pack at the expense of his fellow Republicans, however, Cruz’s tactics are hardly insane. They’re irresponsible, but if Cruz doesn’t have the willingness to demagogue, then he’s just a brand new Republican Senator with nothing to show for his first six months in office, and no plans to add anything substantive to his record before his already-begun presidential run. So expect plenty more of this in the months to come. After all, it may be hurtful for the nation and destructive for his party, but it’s a lot easier than actually doing real (conservative) policy work.