Ted Cruz Is Calling Time-Out on His Role at NRSC — For Now

The Texas Republican wants to steer clear of primaries.

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - MARCH 06: Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at the CPAC Conference, on March 6, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland. The American Conservative Union (CPAC) held its 41st annual Conservative Political conference at the Gaylord International Hotel.
National Journal
Michael Catalini
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Michael Catalini
March 10, 2014, 5:28 p.m.

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers can avoid awk­ward small talk with Ted Cruz at fun­draisers for GOP in­cum­bents this primary sea­son. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, he won’t be there.

The way Cruz sees it, there’s just no way he can, in good con­science, get in­volved in Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an primar­ies. To get in­volved is to side with in­cum­bents, and to side with in­cum­bents is to back Wash­ing­ton’s elite. It could anoint elect­able can­did­ates, but not al­ways the most con­ser­vat­ive ones.

“If it were up to Wash­ing­ton in­siders, Charlie Crist would be in the U.S. Sen­ate in­stead of Marco Ru­bio,” Cruz said.

“If it were up to Wash­ing­ton in­siders, Ar­len Specter would be in the U.S. Sen­ate in­stead of Pat Toomey. Rand Paul wouldn’t be here. Mike Lee wouldn’t be here.”

As Re­pub­lic­ans fight to cap­ture con­trol of the cham­ber in Novem­ber, Cruz is emer­ging — again — as a voice of dis­sent in his party, boldly re­new­ing ob­jec­tions to the GOP’s in­volve­ment in primar­ies and say­ing he won’t fa­cil­it­ate such ef­forts.

This time GOP lead­ers are hes­it­ant to cri­ti­cize him, sug­gest­ing both how Cruz has las­soed the con­ser­vat­ive tea-party wing of his party and how much in­flu­ence — if not out­right lever­age — that seg­ment could ex­ert in the elec­tion.

Cruz’s ap­proach might be ex­cused, giv­en his polit­ics, ex­cept that the Texas Re­pub­lic­an serves as the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee’s vice chair­man for grass­roots out­reach. On the NR­SC web­site, his mug shot floats along­side those of Chair­man Jerry Mor­an of Kan­sas and Vice Chair­man Rob Port­man of Ohio.

But a united tri­um­vir­ate, this is not.

In their ef­fort to win a ma­jor­ity in the Sen­ate, es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­ans are fo­cused on reelect­ing long­time mem­bers such as Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell of Ken­tucky, Pat Roberts of Kan­sas, and Thad Co­chran of Mis­sis­sippi, all of whom face primary chal­lenges. Cruz’s de­cision not to en­dorse in primar­ies mat­ters be­cause his back­ing would carry sig­ni­fic­ant tea-party heft.

“The goal and the real­ity is that when he star­ted, he had just come through a cam­paign in which the grass­roots — the tea-party as­pect of the Re­pub­lic­an Party — had been in­volved in his cam­paign,” Mor­an said. “We wanted his ex­pert­ise and ad­vice as to how we func­tion as a broad party de­signed to win elec­tions, and that’s what he’s provided.”

But Cruz is cut­ting that ex­pert­ise off, at least for now.

“When I signed on to be vice chair­man of the NR­SC, I made it very ex­pli­cit that I don’t be­lieve the NR­SC should be in­volved in primar­ies, that its ap­pro­pri­ate role is to help elect Re­pub­lic­ans in gen­er­al elec­tions,” he said. “Sub­sequent to that time, the NR­SC made a dif­fer­ent de­cision, to get act­ively in­volved in primar­ies. I don’t agree with that.”

Asked why he doesn’t resign from his NR­SC post, Cruz said he still wants to see Re­pub­lic­ans win in Novem­ber.

“I sup­port the ul­ti­mate ob­ject­ive of help­ing elect Re­pub­lic­ans in gen­er­al elec­tions,” he said. “But at this point, I dis­agree with the ap­proach they’ve taken, and so I don’t in­tend to fa­cil­it­ate that ap­proach.”

Cruz’s abil­ity to frus­trate his fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans is no secret.

Dur­ing the Oc­to­ber gov­ern­ment shut­down, he pushed the de­fund-Obama­care le­gis­lat­ive strategy that ul­ti­mately failed and cost the party in the polls. Re­cently, he forced a dif­fi­cult clo­ture vote on rais­ing the debt ceil­ing — something the GOP-con­trolled House passed over­whelm­ingly — and per­haps most galling, he has in the past sup­por­ted con­ser­vat­ive groups that tar­geted Re­pub­lic­an in­cum­bents, though Cruz has since agreed to hold his fire dur­ing primar­ies.

For their part, though, Mor­an and Port­man de­scribe their work­ing re­la­tion­ship with Cruz pos­it­ively, if not in great de­tail.

“We work to­geth­er,” Port­man said, de­clin­ing to elab­or­ate, be­fore high­light­ing the com­mit­tee’s can­did­ate re­cruit­ment and fun­drais­ing. “We have great can­did­ates, and we just had our best month ever.”

Ad­ded Mor­an, “He is help­ful on spe­cif­ic pro­jects [when] asked to be en­gaged in.”

How is that go­ing?

“It’s go­ing fine,” Mor­an said. “He’s been help­ful.”

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