GOP creates Ted Cruz, now thinks he's a jerk

The Tea Party's favorite senator is what happens when you care more about activist love than legislating

Published April 30, 2013 11:46AM (EDT)

Ted Cruz         (AP/David J. Phillip)
Ted Cruz (AP/David J. Phillip)

Here's Sen. Ted Cruz, Ted Cruzing it up, taking practically sole credit for killing gun background checks and trashing all his colleagues:

The New York Times charitably says that "Friday’s speech was not the first time Mr. Cruz may have acted counter to some of the Senate’s norms," before bringing up Cruz's decidedly McCarthyite take on Chuck Hagel.

Cruz is at the FreedomWorks Texas Summit, and the news here is that he calls most of his colleagues "squishes" and gives a (quite self-aggrandizing) account of off-the-record Senate Republican caucus luncheons, which apparently involved a lot of people yelling at Cruz and Rand Paul and the other guy who also promised to filibuster the entire gun deal from start to finish. In this version of events, the three filibustering amigos were responsible for the failure of the entire proposal. As Dave Weigel points out, that's not really how it happened. The bill failed -- and was probably doomed to begin with -- because a lot more than three senators opposed it, and the Cruz/Paul filibuster threat was worse politics for the party than allowing debate to proceed and then watching red-state Democrats cave. Which is what actually happened.

This unbecoming display of narcissism and lack of team spirit led Washington Post blogger and former uncompensated Mitt Romney flack Jennifer Rubin to call Cruz a jerk. Which he undoubtedly is!

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.

Basically all of this analysis is dead wrong. At least it's wrong in the specific case of Ted Cruz, who will not need anyone's "support in the future" because he doesn't care about legislating.

Look at the video: He's in a room of adoring -- swooning -- admirers and he is basking in their adoration. This is why he got into politics. And everyone who gets confused about why this whip-smart attorney is acting like the dumbest Tea Party wingnut imaginable should probably watch this video. He's acting like this because he's smart. It's great politics to be a Republican in Texas who purposefully pisses off his fellow Republican senators with his intransigence and extreme rhetoric. It's sort of like how Susan Collins has to act the sensible moderate (while voting basically as a party-line conservative Republican) because she represents Maine, but in Cruz's case there is no end goal beyond advancing his own career. And legislative victories aren't an important part of becoming a beloved Tea Party favorite. In this case Cruz may be taking credit for a legislative victory he really had little to do with, but it also doesn't matter at all to this crowd that, for example, Cruz failed to stop Chuck Hagel from becoming defense secretary. What matters is that he was a huge dick about it, not whether he won or lost.

There is no way to way to stop or shame or embarrass or cajole a politician like this into following the established "norms" of political behavior. The bigger a controversial firebrand he is, the more he riles up both liberals and Republican Senate leadership, the better he'll look in the eyes of the people who write him checks and made him the nominee for U.S. Senate to begin with. What Rubin (who is not remotely in touch with the actual activist conservative movement base) sees as whiny these people see as, you know, heroic martyrdom. Conservatives love it when their heroes whine about being persecuted!

A healthy disrespect for norms isn't necessarily a bad thing in a legislator. Mitch McConnell doesn't care about tradition and norms either, but he does actually care about winning political (and policy) fights for the Republican Party. But Cruz is explicitly and purely self-serving. Cruz wants to be the guy who never compromises because compromises are incredibly unpopular and exploiting activist conservative disdain for the party and for Washington is a can't-fail maneuver. Jennifer Rubin's opprobrium is going to be even less of an issue for him than John McCain's was.

Just look at this political science survey of FreedomWorks Tea Party activists: They're ultra-conservative Republicans who hate the Republican Party. They also value ideological purity over pragmatism, to the point where winning victories matters less to them than loudly saying the right thing. (Not great on strategy, these guys.) People like Ted Cruz are doing their best to establish their personal brands at the expense of the actual Republican Party and even the conservative movement. And there's no mechanism the party can use to get him back in line, because he doesn't care about results and there's an entire media and activist infrastructure set up to reward him.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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