Ted Cruz is driving Washington crazy

How a man with little interest in actually governing came to practically control the GOP

By Elias Isquith

Published September 23, 2013 3:46PM (EDT)

  (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Ted Cruz is a boorish egomaniac with a tenuous hold on reality and little to no interest in actually governing.

And he's practically running the GOP.

That's the conclusion to be drawn from a recent Jason Zengerle GQ profile of the Senate's most controversial new member, the Tea Party favorite who's ignored many of the unofficial rules of Senate decorum and, in the process, rankled fellow Republican lawmakers, while cheering the conservative grass roots. In fact, Cruz's alignment with the GOP base is such that he's embraced the "wacko bird" epithet hurled his way earlier in the year by Sen. John McCain. He's even got a hat to prove it:

Later on the day I visited him on Capitol Hill, Cruz was engaging in the kind of showing off that even his detractors might forgive: He was giving me a tour of his Senate office. "A couple of things I keep," he said, picking up a red leather rectangle branded with the words IT CAN BE DONE—a replica, he explained, of the sign that sat on President Reagan's desk in the Oval Office. The tchotchke he was most excited to show me, however, was a black baseball cap with a picture of Daffy Duck next to the words WACKO BIRD. Supporters back in Texas made it, Cruz said, grabbing the hat from its prominent perch on his bookshelf. "Isn't it great?"

Despite the cheeky attempt at appropriation, however, Cruz's reputation among those on the Hill remains less than stellar. As a string of digs from both Democrats and Republicans can attest, Cruz is seen by more than a few as a grandstanding opportunist, more interested in using his Princeton and Harvard Law education to curry Tea Party favor, than actually governing:

And yet when it comes to policy, the man hailed as the "Tea Party intellectual" has deployed that powerful intellect only sparingly since arriving in Washington. Cruz's most ambitious proposal to date has been his call to abolish the IRS—something that, as one Cruz admirer lamented to me, "he's smart enough to know is an entirely cynical thing to do." Meanwhile, his effort to shut down the federal government (remember how well that worked out for the GOP the last time they tried it?) unless Obamacare is defunded prompted North Carolina Republican senator Richard Burr to call it "the dumbest idea I've ever heard." In multiple conversations with people who know Cruz well, I kept hearing the same refrain: "He's smart enough to know better."

One explanation Cruz offers for his lack of interest in substantive public policy is no doubt music to anti-government Tea Party ears: "Stopping bad things," he told GQ, "is a significant public service." But while these kind of small government bromides are catnip to the GOP's base, Cruz's propensity to turn his rhetoric up to 11 has got some fellow Republicans feeling anxious, with senators as high up as fellow Texan John Cornyn reportedly worried about Cruz-inspired challenges from their right in upcoming primaries: 

Some Republicans are so spooked about drawing a conservative primary challenger in next year's midterms—or, as it's now called in Texas circles, "being Ted Cruzed"—that they've moved even farther to the right, paralyzing the Senate's GOP leadership. Exhibit A: John Cornyn, Cruz's fellow senator from Texas. "He has Cornyn just frozen on everything," one senior Senate Republican aide grumbled to me. "A member of our leadership just kind of takes his marching orders from this guy who's been here for a day!"

The big picture takeaway from the piece? In many ways, Ted Cruz is controlling his party.

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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D.c. Gq Republican Party Tea Party Ted Cruz Texas The Right U.s. Senate Washington