(AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sorry, Houston Chronicle, but Ted Cruz won

To the dismay of the newspaper that endorsed him, Ted Cruz emerges from the shutdown mess a right-wing hero


Alex Pareene
October 16, 2013 11:05PM (UTC)

As the Republicans capitulate on the debt ceiling, preparing to fight budgetary battles on a slightly less apocalyptic stage, some observers have taken to declaring political "winners" and "losers" of the recent manufactured crisis. In the most important sense, everyone is a loser, because we have to live under this decrepit and too-easily sabotaged political system, but according to the who's-up/who's-down rules of political gamesmanship, the Republican party looks to have suffered a major defeat.

But don't mistake the failure of the party for the failure of its "rock stars." It can look a bit like Senator Ted Cruz is diminished and defeated, but that assumes that he cared about using a shutdown and default threat to extract policy concessions. I'm sure he would've been perfectly happy had that happened, but it wasn't ever his goal. The filibuster that kicked this all off wasn't a real filibuster. It was never a real filibuster. It didn't even delay anything, as Dave Weigel (re-)explains today. Cruz is perhaps partly responsible for the warped alternate reality that allowed the shutdown and the flirting with default to take place, but he never actually did anything but go on TV for a long time. It was Boehner and the House Republicans who engineered this entire mess. Cruz encouraged it, but all he ever actually did was talk. And cash checks. So many checks!

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As The Atlantic Wire's Philip Bump points out, Cruz raised $1.9 million from 12,000 donors in the last quarter (July 1 to Sept. 30). That is a lot more than he brought in during the previous quarter. He also won the Values Voters Summit straw poll, but the primary utility of that victory is just raising even more money. Ted Cruz came out of this mess with a larger profile and a very bankable reputation for pissing off liberals and -- much more importantly -- RINOs, best defined as everyone in the Republican Party more concerned with the long-term survival of the party than with short-term purely symbolic victories.

This has been the Ted Cruz M.O. -- talk loudly, accomplish nothing, cash checks -- since he entered the Senate. And none of this behavior, from his flouting of Senate "norms" of respect and deference to his undermining of his own party leadership -- should come as a surprise to anyone. He is the perfect expression of the modern conservative movement. That's why he won the job.

The Houston Chronicle, you may have heard, recently rescinded its endorsement of Senator Cruz, because Cruz is a wholly self-serving political nihilist concerned only with preserving and advancing his stature in the activist conservative movement. Alas, the Chronicle forgot one important thing: No take-backs. It is more than a bit late to un-endorse, now that Cruz is, you know, a sitting senator whose next election won't come until 2018.

The Chronicle's argument is pathetic. They are so disappointed that Cruz turned out to be exactly who he advertised himself as being when he ran, and they endorsed him. He did not turn out to be an entirely different sort of politician than the sort he said he'd be. Why couldn't he be nice old moderate Kay Bailey Hutchison?

When we endorsed Ted Cruz in last November’s general election, we did so with many reservations and at least one specific recommendation – that he follow Hutchison’s example in his conduct as a senator.

Ted Cruz was never going to do that, and that fact was obvious well before this shutdown.

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He won his primary by claiming to be the most conservative possible candidate. Cruz ran, in his 2012 primary, against a candidate who was already to the right of the Hutchison. He ran to the right of that candidate. Cruz never promised to reach across the aisle to do what's best for Texans. He did the opposite of that. He said his opponent probably would reach across the aisle and that's why you can't trust him. In fact, the Chronicle originally endorsed David Dewhurst, Cruz's slightly more pragmatic primary challenger, which just raises the question of why they endorsed this imaginary Cruz in the general election when clearly they would've preferred "generic Democrat" to a "showboating far-right bomb-thrower." The best you can say for the editorial board of the Chronicle is at least they're not to blame for Cruz winning, because newspaper endorsements don't matter at all.

But more importantly, this editorial should serve as a lesson for editorial board-style Republicans everywhere: You're not allowed to be surprised anymore. You can't feign disappointment. This is what the party is. Everyone knows this is what the party is. This is what you get when you endorse a Republican in 2012 -- or 2014. The movement has lost the plot, and the party is in thrall to the movement. If you believe in pragmatism, moderation and bipartisanship, there's only one national political party that values those qualities. It's not Ted Cruz's.


Alex Pareene

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

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