This critique of Ted Cruz in Think Progress is devastating, VIEWPOINT: How A Very Smart Senator Showed Us Everything Wrong With The Modern GOP In One Week. The article is largely about the mistruths Ted Cruz used in two Senate hearings last week (one on guns and the other for Chuck Hagel).
Judged kindly, Cruz’ performance in each of these two hearings was aggressively inaccurate. Judged more harshly (and accurately), it was mendacious demagoguery at its finest.
The broader point I got from it is that Cruz may just be playing a part. That he’s too smart to actually believe what he’s saying, but it’s what got him elected so he’s just going to keep doing it.
It shouldn’t have been this way.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is an undeniably smart man. Cruz is by all accounts a brilliant litigator, one talented enough in the courtroom to clerk for a Supreme Court justice and win a number of difficult cases as Texas’ Solicitor General. It wouldn’t have been crazy to expect that Cruz would bring a degree of argumentative rigor into the Senate after his victory in the 2012 election.
Well, Cruz had two golden opportunities to showcase his keen analytical mind, as he sits on both Senate committees that held high profile hearings last week, one on gun violence prevention, the other on Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE)’s nomination to be Secretary of Defense. And Cruz distinguished himself alright. Just not in the way one might have hoped.
Guns and Israel are two issues of paramount importance to staple GOP voting blocs. These voters don’t want mealy-mouthed, hedged defenses of their positions — as evidenced by the Great RINO Purge of the past few election cycles. Rather, these voters want Republicans who see the world as they do: President Obama and the Democrats are attempting to attack their fundamental liberties and eliminate America’s “exceptional” global role, most prominently by “throwing Israel under the bus.” For these voters, the Assault Weapons Ban isn’t just bad policy; it’s a nefarious, unconstitutional gun grab that strikes at the heart of American liberty. Chuck Hagel hasn’t been more qualified in his support for Israel than Republicans would like; he’s an anti-Semite.
Cruz rode this apocalyptic mood to power, pairing a worldview extreme enough to please the base with packaging just well enough to make him acceptable to more establishment folks. As Mother Jones‘ Tim Murphy writes in a profile of the Senator, “Cruz’s greatest asset is that he lives in both worlds;” he’s “an intellectual face on a movement and ideology that have long simmered beneath the Republican mainstream.” Cruz pioneered a marriage between extreme ideas with a manner of expression that allows the party’s “respectable” thought leaders to support it.
Understanding the central dynamic of Cruz’ political strategy is the key to unlocking his intellectually abysmal outings at the Senate last week. His base wants the fireworks, but straight-up calling Hagel an anti-Semite on the Senate floor might be a bit much. So Cruz wraps up more extreme versions of his arguments in intellectual-sounding garb, citing studies and TV clips that are just good enough to justify his firebreathing.
This adulation illustrates just how deeply rooted GOP dysfunction is. The Republican base elects someone like Cruz, who’s extreme enough to have suggested the United Nations was coming for America’s golf courses. Cruz, who’s not only a ideological member of the base but beholden to it, brings its unsupportable ideas and implacably hostile attitude to the center of the Republican party. And he’s rewarded not just by adulation from his supporters, but widespread praise from the ostensibly serious conservative commentariat. There’s just no incentive for any Republican to speak out against the party’s descent into paranoia, and every reason to believe you’ll be rewarded by giving into it.
So if you want to know why the Republican Party will remain broken for the foreseeable future, go watch the Ted Cruz game tape from this week. And try to think how it could have been otherwise.
What the national media doesn’t understand in a story like this is that, at least for now, Texas is different. Cruz is setting quite a standard so far in his short career time in the Senate. What Ted Cruz is doing shouldn’t surprise anyone, this is exactly why Karl Rove is starting a new front group to, as Digby says, kill the Frankenmonster.