If the Senate were high school and there was a superlative for "least popular member," Ted Cruz would win in a walk.
Cruz ultimately forced a "point of order" vote as to whether it was constitutional for Obama to take executive action on immigration. It failed -- as, of course, Cruz knew it would. And, in the wake of that failure, he faced withering criticism not just from Democrats but also from many Republicans who dismissed his maneuvering as a stunt that allowed Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to advance a number of judicial nominations before Democrats hand over their majority in January.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) was particularly pointed. "While the president’s executive actions on immigration are reprehensible and deserve a strong response, I value the oath I took to support and defend the Constitution too much to exploit it for political expediency,” he said in the wake of the Cruz vote.
The Cruz forces were unbowed. Cruz's communications director Amanda Carpenter tweeted:
This is far from the only episode of Cruz not playing nice with his Republican Senate colleagues. From his willingness to shut down the government to protest the Affordable Care Act last year to his work to force a vote on a clean debt ceiling increase in February, he has shown an absolute contempt for the niceties of the Senate.
And there's a reason for that: Ted Cruz doesn't care if Bob Corker or soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) like him. In fact, he revels in the fact that they don't.
Cruz paints his opposition to the "way things have always worked" in the Senate as in keeping with his oath to his constituents and to the Constitution. Sure. But Cruz also is getting ready to run for president in 2016, and seems to have been getting ready to do so almost since he came to the chamber. (In that, he has something in common with the current occupant of the White House.)
If you want to show activists in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina that you really aren't part of the problem in Washington, what better way to do it than have people like McConnell and Corker be openly hostile to you? You can almost hear Cruz in Sioux City in the summer of 2015: "I'm not going to win any Mr. Popularity awards back in Washington. But that's because I, unlike so many Republicans, am willing to stand on principle."
Cruz has already seen the potency of that message. At any sort of conservative gathering, he is regularly the star attraction -- the one person (in the eyes of his admirers) willing to stay true to his convictions in Washington. Need evidence? He won the straw poll at the
2014 CPAC conference Values Voters Summit.
Cruz's positioning -- as an outsider even to his own party in Washington -- is similar to how Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) sought to portray herself during her 2012 presidential bid. Even while longtime GOP establishment types in Washington rolled their eyes at the idea of her as a serious presidential candidate -- she has never passed a bill, they cried! -- Bachmann smartly used her lack of accomplishments in Washington as evidence that she was willing to stand against the compromisers and say "no."
The question for Cruz is whether he can do more with that message than Bachmann can. Yes, she won the Ames Straw Poll in 2013. But that wound up being the high point of her campaign as she faded badly as the actual Iowa caucus vote approached. (She wound up finishing sixth.) Cruz is a more naturally able candidate than Bachmann and he is starting the 2016 race significantly better known nationally than she did in 2012.
But, just as the establishment stood ready to do whatever it took to keep Bachmann from the nomination in 2012 (it never came to that), you can bet that if Cruz starts looking like the 2016 nominee, that same establishment -- the men and women he has used as tackling dummies as he positions himself for the coming race -- will do absolutely everything in their power to keep him from the prize.
Cruz is gambling that if it comes to that, the establishment won't be able to stop him. The establishment doesn't really want to find out if he's right.