Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). (Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press)

Well, if Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) can go from hiring the “Southern Avenger,” a neo-Confederate, to decrying the Confederate flag as “inescapably a symbol of human bondage and slavery, and particularly when people use it obviously for murder and to justify hatred so vicious that you would kill somebody,” we should rank Sen. Ted Cruz’s flip-flop on trade less harshly. Still, in the space of a week he voted for fast-track authority, heard cries from the far right and then reversed himself — and still had the nerve to denounce GOP leaders with whom he voted the first time around. Politico explains:

The Texas firebrand and Republican 2016 presidential hopeful had been a vocal supporter of trade legislation, even co-authoring a Wall Street Journal op-ed in April saying that the fast-track bill, known as Trade Promotion Authority, is a “fair deal” for the American worker. In May, he voted to advance the TPA bill, which also included a worker aid package favored by Democrats.

But just hours before a decisive Tuesday vote, Cruz [changed] his tune. . . . Cruz, who has long aligned himself with the tea party wing of the party, has taken some flak from the right for backing the trade bill initially — so voting “no” now could insulate himself from some of that criticism. Yet it could further alienate himself from big business and deep-pocketed donors who are staunch proponents of expanded markets.

Now, even before this latest jaw-dropper, Cruz was in no danger of getting mainstream support. There are not too many non-tea partyers who appreciate him after orchestrating the shutdown, going whole-hog on anti-immigration reform, whipping up support for an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment and advancing a frankly incoherent worldview (yes on destroying the Islamic state, no on the NSA and on anymore troops). He’s in single digits in most state and national polls, overshadowed at this stage by the likes of Ben Carson and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee — whose supporters he appears to be chasing after.

Cruz likes to fancy himself as the only principled man inside the Beltway, but with stunts like the trade flip-flop he makes crystal clear that his only deeply held belief is self-promotion. Coverage in Texas media of his about-face was stinging, painting him as a political coward. (“For months, Sen. Ted Cruz backed a critical part of President Barack Obama’s trade agenda. But after weeks of taking heat from conservatives, Cruz abandoned his support for Trade Promotion Authority on Tuesday.”) And the  Wall Street Journal editorial board observed, “Much of the opposition [on the far right] has been pure opportunism, an attempt to parlay distrust of all-things-Obama into talk-show rating points or Internet clicks. The hucksters make up false accusations and spread them like Elizabeth Warren. Top prize for such opportunism goes to Ted Cruz, who turned against the trade bill at the last minute.”

In his spinelessness (and oddly on both trade and the Islamic State, not to mention Syria, where both celebrated the refusal to enforce the red line) he most closely resembles Hillary Clinton. She too never met a position she was not willing to modify or discard (opposition to gay marriage, support for the Iraq war, free trade) to keep pace with the base of her party.

The winner of the GOP primary will be the candidate who can dominate one or more segments of the primary electorate, and then bring the others over. That means being responsible enough not to scare moderates, businesspeople and big donors who think a primary responsibility of governing is to keep the government open and who recoil when candidates plunge into trade protectionism, anti-immigration reform rhetoric, anti-government extremism and vociferous opposition to gay marriage. That also means embracing a tough, consistent foreign policy and advancing a credible pro-growth agenda. As for the far right, Cruz simply has too much competition, some from fresher faces than his.

Maybe Cruz has figured out that he isn’t viable as a presidential candidate and is now seeking Sarah Palin-like status. He could want to be a celebrity of the far right who does not really govern or move issues but is completely simpatico with a dogged but small sliver of the electorate, and with talk radio. In that regard his biggest competition may be Carson — or Donald Trump.