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.”