The Blundering Mr. Cruz

Ted Cruz (Jeff Malet)

Did you do the assignment I gave you yesterday?

I didn’t think so. Anyway…

The last couple days I’ve been responding to what people I respect are writing about Scott Walker.

It’s obvious the guy’s a winner. And I think he would be a great president.

But he’s still my number two choice.

Today, as time allows, I want to bring in to the conversation a couple of analyses/reactions that I think bring an important perspective we’ve been missing as most of my friends talk about Ted Cruz.

In two of the Walker-as-winner analyses I discussed yesterday, John Dickerson and Matt Lewis both put Cruz in the losers’ column (Matt, most emphatically).

Personally, I don’t buy it. In explaining why, though, it’s difficult to put the perspective into terms that make sense to those embracing the dominant narrative.

Which is that you should only fight the battles you have a reasonable chance of winning.

Clearly, Ted Cruz doesn’t operate within that narrative.

As I wrote yesterday,

I’ve gone round and round with more than a few fellow conservatives about this—including Matt. So far, nobody’s been able to get anyone else to budge.

My perspective is that losing battles that nevertheless serve as platforms for future success isn’t losing, and the guys who fight those battles aren’t losers.

The other day I ran across a piece that—to me anyway—made Cruz’s thinking much clearer. According to this analysis, he’s operating according to a radically different paradigm than the usual Washington Republican thinking.

Glenn Garvin, Reason:  Ted Cruz: Loose Cannon or Libertarian Reformer?

Two and a half years ago, before Ted Cruz had even been elected to the Senate-when he was still just a couple of months past being, as he likes to joke, a candidate with 2 percent of the vote in polls with a 3 percent margin of error-the Republican strategist Mark McKinnon wrote an extraordinarily prescient piece calling Cruz “the Republican Barack Obama.”

“A young, Harvard-educated lawyer, an intellectual with a compelling life story, the son of an American mother and an immigrant father, a practiced orator thrust into the national political spotlight, and buoyed by a cult of personality,” McKinnon described him, hitting only one wrong note: “He’ll have to pivot a bit to the middle while not stepping on the toes of those who brung ’em to the dance.”

If Cruz pivoted, it was on an arc so tiny that it exists only in theoretical physics. More than a month before he took his seat, he was already squaring off against the Senate’s Republican establishment and winning. Invited to a Senate Republican caucus lunch, he was dismayed to learn the party was going to back the U.N. Treaty on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the behest of tribal elders such as Bob Dole and Richard Thornburgh.

Wow, said Cruz, voters hate it when they think U.S. laws are going to be usurped by meddling U.N. bureaucrats, especially on stuff like abortion and homeschooling. He got to work. By the time dessert came around, party leaders were being confronted with mass defections, the treaty was headed for defeat, and Cruz had earned the undying enmity of much of the Republican leadership-most notably John McCain, who would later label Cruz a “wacko bird.” Which, apparently, is the PG version of the epithets McCain uses in private. “He [f__k]ing hates Cruz,” a McCain aide later told GQ.

I didn’t know about this incident. To me, it explains a lot.

And reveals something important about Cruz.

“He can seem a little crazy,” says one former senior official in the Bush administration, a Texan himself. “Frankly, I had an unfavorable impression of him personally. You read the stuff he says and he can seem a little grating. He comes across as shrill in large public settings.

“But now I’ve had some personal meetings with him and I’ve totally revised my opinion. One on one, he’s personable, he’s intelligent, and he’s very, very genuine. I still disagree with him on some of his political positions and a lot of his strategy and tactics. But I have developed a lot of respect for him. He is definitely no yahoo.”

But what about all those losing fights Cruz picks to the supposed detriment of his party?

[A]n even bigger component of the [wacko bird] perception is that he spends too much time tilting furiously at windmills. The best example was his campaign in late 2013 to block a continuing budget resolution unless Democrats agreed to delay or defund Obamacare, spearheaded by Cruz’s 21-hour filibuster (which included readings from a pair of unlikely soulmates, Ayn Rand and Dr. Seuss).

Cruz’s efforts led to a 16-day government shutdown before Republican leaders-many of whom hadn’t wanted a showdown in the first place-blinked.

I remember that time, and I remember all the circular discussions I had with establishment friends (and even a few not-establishment friends).

One of the complaints I heard over and over was that the difference between Cruz and leadership was over tactics, not convictions.

And what I kept saying back, over and over, was that the establishment was limiting its focus to tactics, while Cruz was thinking strategically.

During a later tilt-at-windmills controversy, I expressed my own take with this tweet:

The Washington consensus was that the shutdown was pointless, that Obama would have admitted to being a Kenyan-born Muslim terrorist before giving up the prize legislative achievement of his presidency.

That argument, however, supposes that Cruz became a senator to broker conciliation and compile an impressive legislative box score. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the senator’s strategic goals.

What are those goals?

“He believes that mobilizing the public and doing symbolic things that help let the public know he and the party are trying to advance a conservative agenda are as important, maybe more important, than behind-the-scenes dealing on Capitol Hill,” says another former Bush administration official who observes Cruz closely. “If you look at his record, he’s clearly more interested in political organizing than trying to rack up a big score of bills passed.”

Or, as Cruz often says, quoting Margaret Thatcher: “First you win the argument, then you win the vote.”

Cruz is building a movement.

Battering rams don’t always knock the door down right away. Their force has to be applied over and over before success is achieved. I think that’s one key way Cruz views all these supposedly wasted efforts. Keep applying force and Obamacare will eventually cave.

I also think he’s building a foundation.

First, building enthusiasm in the base (building the movement) and then winning allegiances in the Congress (building the leaders), by getting them elected and galvanizing them for action.

And he’s also getting folks in leadership who aren’t committed to restoring the government to its people to self-identify. Trolling, in effect. Showing us who we can’t count on.

For Cruz, it’s all about the future.

And it’s not about gaining (or keeping) power.

It’s about using that power to accomplish great things.

I’ve run out of time for the other piece.

Maybe later today?

Seeya.

Photo Credit: Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com

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