"[T]he people who show up at the polls, who elected you and me, and who elected this Republican majority," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said on the Senate floor Monday evening, "far too many of the Republican donors look down on those voters as a bunch of ignorant hicks and rubes."
Blocked from adding an amendment to a government funding bill, Cruz spoke for an hour about the problems within his party until he was eventually refused additional time to press his point.
The point about the disconnect between donors and the base, which was pointed out by CNN's Teddy Schleifer, neatly encapsulates Cruz's tenure in Washington and the value proposition he hopes to offer 2016 voters. Cruz expressed frustration at "show votes" that were intended to raise an issue important to the base but were expected to fail -- blaming the donor class for that strategy.
The crux of that argument is worth quoting in its entirety.
The billionaires who write the giant checks that fund President Obama and Hillary Clinton and the Democrats on that side of the aisle, they don't despise the radical gay rights movement or the radical environmentalist movement or all of the people that knock on doors and get Democrats elected. The simple reality is a very large percentage of the Republican donors actively despise our base, actively despise the men and women who showed up and voted you and me into office. I can tell you when you sit down and talk with a New York billionaire Republican donor -- and I have talked with quite a few New York billionaire Republican donors, California Republican donors, their questions start out as follows. First of all, you've got to come out for gay marriage, you need to be pro-choice, and you need to support amnesty That's where the Republican donors are. You wonder why Republicans won't fight on any of these issues? Because the people writing the checks agree with the Democrats.
There are two questions we need to answer to evaluate Cruz's claim. First, do Republican donors focus on the issues Cruz raised? And, second, do Republicans disagree with them?
The first is hard to answer, given that we're not privy to the conversations between donors and candidates. Earlier this year, Cruz's event at the home of one of those New York donors made headlines after it was revealed that the donor was gay. (The backlash was primarily felt by the donor, not by Cruz.) For the sake of argument, then, let's assume that Cruz's point about the goals of donors is valid, if not universal.
The second question, then, is the extent to which Republicans disagree with those priorities. Recent polling allows us some insight.
Cruz is right that most Republicans oppose same-sex marriage and abortion, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. He is incorrect, though, in assuming that Republicans oppose "amnesty" -- that is, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. (Here's the Gallup survey on that.) There's nuance to the questions and answers here, and it's almost certainly the case that opponents of a pathway to citizenship have been more vocal.
What's more, Cruz's picture of a unified bloc of Republican voters is incorrect. More than one-third of Republicans support abortion in some instances, and more than 30 percent support gay marriage.
But most important to note is one way in which opinions on those issues is split: Income. Gallup has found that wealthier people are more likely to support the right to an abortion -- regardless of party. That holds true with same-sex marriage as well.
In other words, the split in the Republican party might also be between economic groups -- with the wealthier group also being more likely to be the ones giving money.
That doesn't detract from Cruz's point as much as it might help explain it. Cruz is arguing that rank-and-file Republicans largely want their representatives to oppose abortion -- though, that Quinnipiac poll shows, not shut down the government over it -- and to oppose same-sex marriage. But they're not the ones writing the checks, so elected Republicans have been disinclined to take a hard line, particularly given that Democrats in the Senate still have veto power (as does President Obama).
Cruz is being savvy in another way, too. He's almost Trumpian in how he talks about his relationships with donors and how he defies them in support of the Average Joe GOPer. Cruz raises a valid and interesting point, but glosses over some of the specifics.
If there's one thing that all politicians have in common, it's that they're politicians.