Where to start with the irony that Ted Cruz, the most hated man in the Republican-led Senate, is now the last best hope for the GOP to maintain control of the chamber?
Cruz’s presidential campaign is premised on throwing out the “Washington cartel,” but even the cartel is ready to get behind him if it means keeping the Republican nomination from Donald Trump at this point. Mitt Romney is voting for Cruz. Nikki Haley is praying for him. And Sen. Lindsey Graham, who became visibly giddy last month in describing Cruz’s hypothetical murder on the Senate floor, will raise money for his colleague this week.
Graham won’t be the last senator or high-profile Republican to back the acerbic lawmaker from Texas in a last ditch bid to stop Trump from taking over their party and possibly their country. The new line from conservatives backing Cruz, including Graham, is that they never really doubted his conservative beliefs, they just objected to his tactics. But Cruz’s tactics during his last three years in the Senate were about much more than just whether to take up a second-degree amendment or hold out for a cloture vote.
In the fall of 2013, months after Cruz arrived as a tea party darling, he went on a fundraising tear for the Senate Conservatives Fund, the interest group founded by former Sen. Jim DeMint, to push the Senate to defund Obamacare. But instead of using the money to attack Democrats, who controlled the Senate, the group attacked Cruz’s fellow Republicans, including running radio ads against seven of them in their home states. They included Graham, Lamar Alexander, Richard Burr and Mitch McConnell, now the majority leader.
Cruz made more enemies in 2014 when he helped to raise millions more for the conservatives fund and the Madison Project, another conservative interest group, to dump hundreds of thousands of dollars into tea party challenges against McConnell, Thad Cochran, and Pat Roberts.
Beyond his tactics, Cruz seemed to his fellow senators to be grandstanding and bomb throwing for the sole purpose of making himself look good. He lectured veteran Sen. Dianne Feinstein about constitutional law, to which she replied “I am not a sixth grader.” Even worse, in a legislative body bound by tradition and decorum, during an argument over arcane Senate rules, Cruz accused McConnell of a “flat out lie” on the Senate floor, with the rhetorical flourish of a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman.
Not only did Cruz break every rule of civility, none of his tactics worked all that well. The incumbent senators Cruz’s tea party allies challenged eventually won their elections, but only after having to spend millions in their primaries. The Obamacare showdown Cruz spearheaded in 2013 ended with the government shutting down, congressional Republicans getting the blame and Obamacare continuing on. Even his filibuster didn’t filibuster any bill. It’s not hard to see why other senators hated him at the time.
But when violence broke out at a Trump rally in Chicago and Trump’s only response was to deny his responsibility for any of it, Senate Republicans’ resistance to Cruz began to noticeably take a turn and so did Cruz himself.
Talking to reporters that night, Cruz said Trump did bear some of the responsibility for what happened at his rally. “When the candidate urges supporters to engage in physical violence, to punch people in the face, the predictable consequence of that is that it escalates,” Cruz said. “And today is unlikely to be the last such instance.”
He added, “America’s better than this.” And for once, many if not all of Ted Cruz’s Senate colleagues agreed with him.
Improbably, Ted Cruz is now Mitch McConnell’s best hope for remaining majority leader. If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, the chances of Republicans losing the Senate rise exponentially. But with Trump’s commanding delegate lead, Cruz’s only path to victory is likely a contested convention, complete with all of the cronyism and horse trading that McConnell excels at and that Cruz has said is so awful for so long.
New willingness by Republicans to rally around Cruz is either enlightened self-interest, naked hypocrisy or the shared opinion that a man like Donald Trump would not only be bad for business, he would be truly dangerous as a leader of the country. Despite all of my cynicism, I’m leaning toward the latter as their motivation, which means we’re all Cruzians now.
Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for the Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill Bureau Chief for Politics Daily and the founder and editor of Citizen Jane.
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