LIVE FROM CPAC: Ted Cruz's highly dubious '16 pitch: I'm a fighter, not a talker

Ted Cruz wants to position himself as the real fighter in the party. And how has his "fighting" worked out?

Published February 26, 2015 8:05PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

The most warmly received speaker as of mid-afternoon on the first day of CPAC has been Senator Ted Cruz. I mean, do they love this guy, or do they love this guy? Generally the worse you are for Republicans' brand as a responsible governing party that can appeal to broad demographics, the better accepted you are at CPAC, and that's why it's America's greatest conference.

Speaking of the Republican party "brand": Ted Cruz is the face of it -- much to the chagrin of the Republican party -- and he wants to be president, too. And during his CPAC speech we caught a glimpse of his message, the way he separates himself from the rest of the 10,000-man field: other Republicans talk, but Ted Cruz fights.

Cruz noted the obvious: that every presidential hopeful who speaks at CPAC will throw out red meat. They will all say they hate Obamacare and abortion and love Israel and guns the most. Each will anoint him or herself the most conservative human of all time -- maybe tied with Reagan, if they're being modest. They will promise to crush the skulls of all Democrats and their urbane, fairy ways on Day One in the White House. They will screw the environment the way it's never been screwed before, for capitalistic profits. They will singlehandedly save the culture from its uninterrupted, thousand-year descent into neon pornographic toilet water. In a way that no other candidate can.

After listing every blowhard, self-aggrandizing position that each and every speaker will take, Cruz added: "But when have you stood up and fought?" The idea being that only Ted Cruz, Senate martyr, is the only one who's actually taken individual action to push back against the damning onslaught of liberalism -- and worse, moderate Republicanism. Cruz mentioned that everyone can claim they've fought Democrats. But "when have you been willing to stand up to Republicans?"

It's a message that will win Cruz a fair, hard-right slice of the Republican primary electorate -- albeit one with a low ceiling.

It also doesn't make a whole lot of sense for Ted Cruz to claim that he is the best, most proven "fighter" in the party. He may well be the best showman, or pretend-fighter, in the party, who ultimately ends up making things worse for the party but better for himself. Because what accomplishments does he have to show for his efforts? Did his charge to cut off Obamacare through the appropriations process cut off Obamacare? Have his efforts to nix President Obama's executive actions on immigration through the appropriations process gotten Obama's executive actions on immigration nixed? No, because these were losing battles from the start. He knew this. And he knew that, as soon as GOP leaders had to cave, as they did have to, all the better for Ted Cruz as a way to position himself among conservatives.

Ted Cruz certainly "fights," but he always picks losing fights that help him while discrediting the party. But hey, as his continued conservative popularity proves, there always will be people out there waiting to be duped. He ended his speech by telling attendees to text "Constitution" to the a five-digit number -- to get them on a campaign spamming list -- and some people even did it.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

MORE FROM Jim Newell