(Reuters/Joe Mitchell)

How Ted Cruz is reshaping the Texas GOP

The senator may be unpopular among his Senate colleagues, but back in Texas, he's a conquering hero


Elias Isquith
October 24, 2013 5:25PM (UTC)

According to a report in the Washington Post, Ted Cruz, a freshman senator who had never run for office prior to 2012, is already changing the character of his home state's GOP.

"Just about every [Texas] GOP candidate with aspirations to statewide office in 2014 seems to be styling himself or herself after Cruz," the Post reports, finding that politicians throughout the state are maneuvering to the right, seeking the next big issue to distinguish themselves as adherents to Cruz's unapologetically far-right worldview. Popular rallying points include "secession, rolling back the state’s liberal immigration laws, impeaching President Obama, amending the Constitution to end the direct election of U.S. senators."

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The Post finds Cruz's influence even extends to low-level, local races. "Some people call me the Ted Cruz of the city council,” said one Houston-area politician, who, the Post notes, has recommended the city default on its pension obligations as a way to remedy its fiscal issues.

Cruz, meanwhile, welcomes the change he's seeing in his home state's party, describing it to the Post as "a tremendously healthy development."

But not everyone in Republican circles is quite so optimistic.

John Weaver, a GOP consultant who has made a name for himself by working for relatively moderate candidates, like 2012 presidential aspirant Jon Huntsman, calls Cruz's style "the new model" but warns that "it will lead us right into the demographic changes that are occurring and will not serve us well as Texas becomes a purple state."

Another critic, a state lawmaker who asked for anonymity, said, "There’s no way that playing to the angry crowd is a sustainable path," and warned that the failure of Cruz and company "will hand it to the Democrats.”

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Next year promises to be a particularly turbulent one in Texas politics. As Perry retires after the longest tenure of any Texas governor, many Republicans are positioning themselves to move up the escalator to higher office. And on the Democratic side, state Sen. Wendy Davis will bring star power and the national following she gained after staging a filibuster that temporarily delayed passage of the state’s new antiabortion law in June.

Stamina at talking, in fact, is a badge of honor among Texas politicians of both parties. Cruz’s 21-hour speech against the new health-care law on the Senate floor, while not technically a filibuster, was a sensation back home.

To tea party activists, the fact that Cruz’s action didn’t achieve anything is almost beside the point.

“We now know what it looks like to go to the mats," said Catherine Engelbrecht, head of the King Street Patriots.

When Cruz jumped into the 2012 Senate race as the longest of long shots, the Texas GOP establishment barely acknowledged his existence, as it fell into line behind one of its own, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

But after Cruz and the tea party came seemingly out of nowhere to crush Dewhurst in the GOP primary, the lesson every Texas Republican apparently learned was to not let anyone get to his or her right.


Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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