It is a shopworn technique of hard-line conservatives to declare themselves men and women of principle in contrast to those other Republicans — the ones, you know, who pass legislation and try to represent their constituents. It is both self-serving (presuming principles are of no matter to opponents) and lazy in that it is always easy to say no, ridicule compromise and remain pristine rather than trying to improve legislation or introduce an alternative.
I’m sorry to say Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is too often falling into the reflexive habit of voting no on everything and then mocking his colleagues.
The latest example comes from his talk to the conservative group FreedomWorks in Texas:
We’ve had probably five or six lunches with a bunch of Republican senators standing up and looking at Rand and Mike and me and yelling at the top of their lungs — I mean really . . . And they said: ‘Why did you do this? As a result of what you did, when I go home, my constituents are yelling at me that I’ve got to stand on principle.’ I’m not making that up. I don’t even bother to argue with them. I just sort of let them yell. . . . They said: ‘Listen, before you did this, the politics of it were great. The Democrats were the bad guys. The Republicans were the good guys. Now we all look like a bunch of squishes. Well there is an alternative. You could just not be a bunch of squishes.”
There is being principled, and then there is being a jerk. Putting down your colleagues to boost your own street cred with the base falls into the latter category.
There are many things wrong with Sen. Cruz’s comments, whatever you think of the merits of the gun legislation.
For starters, it’s just not smart to annoy colleagues whose cooperation and support you’ll need in the future. Second, as a conservative he should understand humility and grace are not incompatible with “standing on principle”; the absence of these qualities doesn’t make him more principled or more effective. Third, for a guy who lacks manners (see his condescending questioning of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) he comes across as whiny. They yelled at me! Boo hoo, senator.
There is a deeper problem, I think, with Cruz’s approach to the Senate, which has nothing to do with ideology. The contrast between him and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is telling. Paul is no less conservative than Cruz, but he is polite to a fault, soft spoken and gracious. These qualities serve him well, indeed making some strident positions seem less so. Moreover, Rand Paul is trying to accomplish something. He’s put forth a budget. He’s offered suggestions to amend the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill. He’s suggested reforms to our drug laws.
I don’t necessarily agree with his offerings, but he is trying to work within the Senate to accomplish his aims while being respectful and quite cagey. He is trying to expand the party’s reach. What exactly is Cruz doing affirmatively to aid the country, the conservative movement and the GOP? Yelling at people and voting no don’t qualify.
Cruz’s actions suggest an immaturity and lack of sophistication about conservative governance. He might want to apologize to his colleagues for betraying their confidence and sit down and think what it is he wants to do in the Senate. Obstruction is easy; governance is hard. And if the answer is that only hackneyed gestures (e.g. push for repealing Obamacare with a Dem Senate majority, but offer no alternative) that interest him, then the people of Texas are being shortchanged. Worse, he’s doing nothing to suggest he’s a man of stature and future leader in the party.