The problem for Cruz and other would-be conservative heroes is that there are no more liberal, and hardly any moderate, Republicans left for them to differentiate themselves from. For decades, conservatives could blame Eastern Establishment Republicans such as Tom Dewey and Nelson Rockefeller for betraying them. But that branch of the party has been extinct for decades now. But running against the liberals was such a success that conservatives didn’t want to give it up, so when the liberal Republicans were gone, they just used the same rhetoric against moderate conservatives such as Arlen Specter and Pete Wilson. But now those moderates are mostly gone, too, and with them any policy differences between “conservatives” such as Cruz and the “establishment” types such as Mitch McConnell and John Boehner.
So one result is that these conservatives scrounge around for positions too wacky for mainstream conservatives to support (such as, say, repealing the direct election of senators). But the safer course is to simply charge those “establishment” types of being weaklings who are constantly caving to Democrats instead of standing up for principle. It’s foolproof, because no matter what the rest of the party does Cruz and other tea partyers can always claim that they could have done more if only they were true believers.
And to top it off, if (as in Cruz’s current story) it’s all cloaked in Senate procedure, even better: No one really understands that stuff, so it’s easy to invent a difference with McConnell over tactics and portray it as deepest principle.
Granted, if you invent the “facts,” as Cruz seems to have done, you risk the possibility that a reporter will point that out, as Weigel did. But that’s a feature, not a bug! It’s just more of the liberal media (never mind, you can use that even if it’s National Review) conspiring with RINOs. Granted, too, that you might get most Republican senators angry with you: again, another feature!
The point is that all of this has to do with trying to differentiate within a party in which most politicians are determined never to allow any policy differences to emerge. Cruz is good at it. And as long as rank-and-file voters keep falling for it, expect him to continue.