Ted Cruz's revolting power play: Here's what's really behind his nativist nonsense

While much of America may laugh at the Tea Party lunatic, here's how he's secretly setting much of the DC agenda

By Heather Digby Parton


Published July 18, 2014 11:43AM (EDT)

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

In the GOP's ongoing quest to be the 21st century's answer to the Know-Nothing party, two events this week stand out as steps in the right direction. Ted Cruz announced that he was going to push for legislation that would roll back the administration's order to desist in deporting undocumented young people who were brought here by their parents and are now as American as he is. This man has an instinct for the right wing zeitgeist and a knack for riding it right off the cliff.

As Simon Maloy pointed out earlier , this is yet another nail in the GOP's long-term coffin as they solidify their reputation as uncaring xenophobes, once again led by Senator Cruz. He is tacking as far right as possible, undermining his own fellow Texans with a demand that they go much further than is politically wise. That plays well in the far reaches of the right wing, but it's a killer if they want to be anything more than a rump, nativist Party in the future.

But Cruz's very special gift is creating chaos and he works it to his advantage. As Ed Kilgore wryly observed:

You can just see Cruz publicly rallying House conservatives against the “sellout” plan, intimidating Cornyn into discussions of abandoning his own bill, undermining Democratic support for Cuellar, and maybe managing to hold up the August recess, which is a big deal in an election year.

The fact that the very idea of Cruz initiating such destruction is almost enough to make you predict it is a sign of the invisible power he accrued during last year’s government shutdown crisis: as with Dick Butkus in his heyday, you never run a play without figuring out where he is and what he’s doing. It’s often said that with power comes responsibility. But sometimes irresponsibility generates power.

Indeed it does, especially in right-wing movement politics. And as I argued here, that power, if used strategically, can be enough to set the agenda, regardless of whether they are in the minority or the majority. Cruz may be a fringe dweller, but he isn't dumb. There are many ways to advance your cause in our government system that's full of choke points and over the years the Republicans have proved themselves very adept at the one thing they truly care about — stopping what they don't like. (That is after all, the essence of reactionary politics.)

But Cruz's initiative isn't the only game in town. Earlier this week, Breitbart news announced that the Cercei Lannister of of the Tea Party, Laura Ingraham, has a new pet project:

“I’m all in for Joe Carr," Ingraham said on her show. "I think he's, look, he's no nonsense, a citizen legislator he'll be and he'll be someone who will actually listen to the people, politicians at some point do have to listen to the concerns of the people, not just the concerns of one or two, big, fat, interest groups like either LaRaza or the Chamber of Commerce, the people still count, don't they Lamar?"

Ingraham has previously promoted Carr’s candidacy based on his record of opposing amnesty, and Carr even signed the Federation for American Immigration Reform's "no-amnesty pledge" on her radio show.

"Laura Ingraham was one of the very first national voices who felt that our campaign against Lamar Alexander's brazen support of amnesty was credible and viable," Carr said. "After seeing the significant impact Laura had on the Dave Brat-Eric Cantor race, we believe this can be a game-changing moment in this campaign."

Joe Carr is a Tea Party candidate running against incumbent Senator Lamar Alexander in Tennessee and as you can see, the myth of Ingraham's mystical juju has taken on a life of its own, regardless of the truth of it. The polling may have shown that upstart David Brat beat Majority Leader Eric Cantor  for a variety of reasons relating to the district but the narrative that took hold is that he won because of his hostility to big business and "amnesty". Ingraham's personal support is considered to have been key to his victory. (Note that her alleged opposition to business comes in the guise of the Chamber of Commerce solely because of its support for immigration reform. )

So far, this Tea-Party-backed upstart is behind by a substantial margin but polling shows that he's recently started to gain ground. One more come-from-behind victory for Ingraham and we could be seeing the makings of a new Republican kingmaker — a kingmaker who loathes these people she believes are threatening "our way of life and our culture" so intensely that she now endorses a form of selective ethnic cleansing:

“No. 1, first thing you do is start deporting people, not by the hundreds, not by the dozens, by the thousands. That means entire families, not just the father or mother, but we keep families unified by deporting all people who are here illegally.”

(Bill O'Reilly was lauded for his opposition to what she said there, but it should be noted that his objection was based on how it would "look" in the media, not the act itself.)

The upshot is that the right's reaction to this immigration crisis isn't something that's just going to go away when the right-wingers discover they cannot win the presidency. After all, they are operating under the assumption that illegal immigration is a grand Democratic conspiracy to create a huge wave of loyal voters decades from now. (If only the Democrats were that strategic.) And they believe that the nation is under cultural assault from people who are intent upon making all of us Real Americans eat tacos and drink Corona beer against our will. Cruz and Ingraham are both plugged into this collective conservative lizard brain and both feed it and derive their power from it. And as we've seen so many times over the past few years, that power can be leveraged to obstruct change of any kind, even that which seeks to mitigate suffering in a crisis.  (Especially that which seeks to mitigate suffering in a crisis.) Stopping government from functioning is their agenda and getting their base all revved up is as good a way as any to get that done. If Democrats think they'll benefit in the long run, they're fine with that. For right now, the nation's government is basically grinding to a halt — just the way they like it.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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