Smarts don’t always equate to common sense. In the case of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), there is an inverse relationship between the two. I’m told by smart lawyers that he has a sharp legal mind, can think on his feet and has remarkable recall for facts, cases and even page numbers of the briefs. But his political judgment has become distorted by ambition.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Cruz had the following exchange with Candy Crowley:
CROWLEY: Do you agree with the fact that if someone actually does not support defunding Obamacare, if they are Republican that they ought to be replaced?
CRUZ: What I agree with is I think now is the single best time to stop Obamacare, because there’s bipartisan agreement that it’s not working. The wheels are coming off. And because defunding it, if it doesn’t happen now, it’s likely never to happen.
Interestingly, he no longer is touting the line that Republicans unwilling to join the suicide squad “own” Obamacare. Perhaps someone told him that among the obnoxious and untrue things he has said, this ranks at the top and will put him crosswise with a majority of those GOP senatorial candidates running in 2014.
They don’t call it “blind ambition” for nothing. The interview continued:
CROWLEY: The president is never going to sign a bill that defunds Obamacare.
CRUZ: You know, you may be convinced to that.
CROWLEY: You’re not convinced to that?
CRUZ: I am not at all.
CROWLEY: This is his signature. This is what they consider his signature achievement, so far, of his administration in its fifth year.
Crowley was incredulous because no one outside of Cruz and a few cohorts actually believes that. Cruz’s tactic rests on two entirely false premises: Obama will kill his own health-care bill and the public won’t blame Republicans for the shutdown.
How can a smart guy like Cruz misunderstand the political lay of the land this badly? How can he be ignorant of the replete polling on the topic and the recent history of these face-offs?
Well, maybe he understands something else. Perhaps he is as smart as his admirers claim and he is wildly ambitious, hoping to draw attention and fundraising dollars for his windmill-tilting scam. Later in the CNN interview he made it clear he was playing to the base on this one:
We need 41 Republicans in the Senate or we need 218 Republicans in the House. And that will only happen, and you know what, this fight is likely to heat up in the month of September. That’s going to be when the battle is engaged. And I’m convinced there’s a new paragon in politics that actually has Washington very uncomfortable. . . . And I believe if we see a grass-roots tsunami, that is going to cause Republicans and Democrats to listen to the people.
And who better to pull the tsunami to shore than Cruz, right? Send money! Come to his events! Become outraged when the “unprincipled” Republicans won’t support him!
Cruz is emblematic of a group of conservative hucksters peddling outrage and paranoia who contend that the strength of the political resistance they generate is equivalent to their own importance, and that one dramatic, losing standoff after another is the pinnacle of political success. Alas, they confuse their own fame with achievement and divisiveness with progress.
Most important, Cruz has no interest in governance. If he did, he’d be thinking two or three moves ahead and trying to put the monkey on the Democrats’ backs (as the speaker of the House is doing) in the Obamacare fight. If he had an interest in lawmaking he would be, well, trying to make laws — such as a conservative alternative on health care. He’s not in it for that; he is in it for himself. (I have no doubt he’s conflated his own well-being with that of the country’s.)
It is interesting to note that he apparently wants to weigh in on the 2014 elections. (His political “principles,” however, don’t go so far as to prompt his involvement in primarying Republicans, which really might get the donors’ dander up.) Ironically — and obviously — his shutdown stunt is a hindrance to the GOP gaining a Senate majority and a weight around the GOP’s ankles. No matter. Cruz can’t get enough of the spotlight and will gladly help anyone who doesn’t need it (such as Rep. Tom Cotton in Arkansas) or who can’t win no matter what (such as whoever runs against Cory Booker in New Jersey).
A political loner and man of rhetoric, not of action or achievement, he bears a striking resemblance to the current Oval Office resident. Each considers himself the smartest man in any room (inducing annoyance and resentment among his party members) and each fails to understand rhetoric is not effective governance. Cruz, like candidate Barack Obama in 2008, is light on private sector and executive experience (although Cruz has supervised many lawyers).
A Cruz presidential run into 2016 would be interesting, if not downright amusing. An early rebuke in his young career might be a beneficial dose of cold water — or devastating to a pol who, even among senators, is excessively convinced of his own exceptionalism. (His detractors might hope he runs, while his supporters might urge patience, both imagining the air would go out of his bubble at the first encounter with defeat.)
Cruz is not the guy to build the party or a governing majority (which requires moderate Republicans). But he is just the person to build up Ted Cruz. In fact, he is masterful.