Ted Cruz is toast: It's not just that he won't be president -- his days in the Senate are numbered, too

Rand Paul is right: Cruz's career in the Senate is "done for." Once he leaves, he can become a full-time grifter

Published September 30, 2015 6:23PM (EDT)

  (AP/Alex Brandon)
(AP/Alex Brandon)

I’m not sure when it started, but at some point the Republican Party ceded the business of governance to the Democrats. Maybe it began with the Tea Party movement or Fox News or the larger conservative media-industrial complex – I honestly don’t know. But it’s clear now that the GOP is no longer a legitimate governing party. A party that allows rank neophytes like Herman Cain and Donald Trump and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina to run for the highest office in the country has lost its way.

If you look at how the Republican Party operates today, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that governing just isn’t a priority – or internal pressures within the party make it impossible. Instead, the GOP has become what I previously called a self-perpetuating hype machine for conservative political entrepreneurs. Particularly at the national level, Republican candidates and legislators (many of them, at least) show no interest in compromise or serious policymaking, which is what you’d expect from a party of and for purists.

While the new GOP has been bad for the country, it’s been great for political celebrities, people looking to promote their personal brands. Ted Cruz is the most recent and obvious example of this approach to politics. Cruz has been a remarkably ineffective Senator. He has done nothing but bloviate and showboat on the Senate floor. He’s accomplished zero legislatively. His only practical contribution has been to obstruct and draw attention to his martyrdom (read: presidential) campaign.

Ted Cruz will never be elected president. If he manages to win the Republican nomination, he’ll lose in a landslide to a Democrat, whoever that happens to be. And because he’s so eagerly made a spectacle of himself in the Senate, he’s alienated all but the tiniest segment of his own party. Which means he has no political capital in Congress – hardly a concern for someone uninterested in legislating, however.

Cruz’s latest squabble with Rand Paul helps to illustrate Cruz’s intentions. In an interview with Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade, Paul basically wrote Cruz’s political obituary:

Ted has chosen to make this really personal and chosen to call people dishonest in leadership and call them names which really goes against the decorum and also against the rules of the senate, and as a consequence he can’t get anything done legislatively. He is pretty much done for and stifled and it’s really because of personal relationships, or lack of personal relationships, and it is a problem. I approach things a little different, I am still just as hardcore in saying what we are doing , I just chose not to call people liars on the Senate floor and it’s just a matter of different perspectives on how best to get to the end result.

Paul is right, of course, but he omits an essential point: Cruz has been ineffective by design. Managing relationships and respecting decorum only matter to people trying to accomplish things in the Senate – that’s not what Cruz is up to. Like the fanatical Tea Party wing of the House, Cruz is there to obstruct and self-promote. In all likelihood, Cruz will retire after a single term in the Senate. Now that he’s boosted his national profile and endeared himself to the insurgent elements of the base, he can pivot to the private sector and make more money as a professional conservative activist – as, for example, Jim DeMint did in 2012.

Cruz ought to be seen as the grifter that he is. It was never about policy for him. When he leaves the Senate, he’ll be a hero to the fringe right. He’ll make a fortune on the conservative lecture circuit, telling rapturous audiences about his willingness to challenge the “Washington cartel.” It won’t matter that he accomplished nothing, changed nothing – it’ll be enough that he pretended to while he was there.

The same is true of Carson and Trump and Fiorina and even politicians like Huckabee and Jindal: None of them will be president, but their over-the-top activism will ensure them a profitable career after politics. And that, I assume, is the whole point. The Democrats have their share of bad politicians, but you don’t see this kind of faux activism and exploitation in their party.

This is a uniquely Republican problem.

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By Sean Illing

Sean Illing is a USAF veteran who previously taught philosophy and politics at Loyola and LSU. He is currently Salon's politics writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Read his blog here. Email at silling@salon.com.

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2016 Elections Aol_on Conservative Movement Rand Paul Republican Party Ted Cruz The Right