Ted Cruz Is Almost Famous. That Doesn’t Mean He’s Almost President.

The young, Hispanic, Texas firebrand is a conservative idol, but that only gets him so far.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 25: U.S Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (C) speaks to members of the media as he comes out from the Senate Chamber after he spoke on the floor for more than 21 hours September 25, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Sen. Cruz ended his marathon speech against the Obamacare at noon on Wednesday. 
National Journal
Oct. 9, 2013, 2:26 a.m.

Love Ted Cruz or hate him, you most likely know who he is. That’s the Texas Re­pub­lic­an’s great achieve­ment in his first nine months as a sen­at­or, and also the reas­on he may nev­er make it to the White House.

Cruz is rev­el­ing in his role as a dis­rupt­ive force, as­sert­ing re­peatedly that he is do­ing what Amer­ic­ans want des­pite mul­tiple polls sug­gest­ing oth­er­wise. His lead­er­ship status among tea party House mem­bers and his 21-hour floor speech de­noun­cing Obama­care made him the face of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment shut­down. Now, as he calls for health law changes and oth­er con­di­tions as re­quire­ments for rais­ing the debt ceil­ing, he’s in con­ten­tion to be the face of a dev­ast­at­ing de­fault.

What with the Ca­na­dian-born Cruz’s in­sist­ence that he’s eli­gible to be pres­id­ent and his steps to re­nounce his Ca­na­dian cit­izen­ship, there’s little doubt he’s in­ter­ested in the pres­id­ency. An­oth­er clue is his dis­reg­ard for Sen­ate niceties. He’s not ex­actly cul­tiv­at­ing his col­leagues or study­ing pro­ced­ur­al ins and outs.

There are many celebrit­ies who take a listen-and-learn ap­proach at the start of their Sen­ate ca­reers, among them Hil­lary Clin­ton, Al Franken, Eliza­beth War­ren, and, yes, Barack Obama, who worked with Re­pub­lic­an part­ners on dry is­sues like gov­ern­ment trans­par­ency and nuc­le­ar pro­lif­er­a­tion. Cruz is on a re­verse tra­ject­ory — rush­ing head­long to­ward celebrity with a con­front­a­tion­al style that’s more com­mon in the House and on the cam­paign trail than in what is of­ten called, some­times even ser­i­ously, the world’s greatest de­lib­er­at­ive body.

The founders in­ten­ded the Sen­ate to serve as a “ne­ces­sary fence” against “the ‘fickle­ness and pas­sion’ that drives pop­u­lar pres­sure for hasty and ill-con­sidered law­mak­ing,” as re­tired Sen­ate his­tor­i­an Richard A. Baker and the late Neil MacNeil put it in their book, The Amer­ic­an Sen­ate. George Wash­ing­ton called the Sen­ate the sau­cer in which hot cof­fee from the House would cool. GOP Sen. Lamar Al­ex­an­der says it is the brake on the freight trains that bar­rel over from the House.

Con­found­ing tra­di­tion, Cruz is the en­gin­eer on one of those freight trains — the de facto ringlead­er of the GOP House cru­sade to tie gov­ern­ment fund­ing to the de­mise of Obama­care. It was al­ways a fu­tile en­deavor. As far back as mid-sum­mer, Cruz and like-minded col­leagues faced ques­tions about their en­dgame, giv­en the real­it­ies of a Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate and pres­id­ent. They said the House would be the tip of the spear and give them lever­age. Ex­actly what kind of lever­age, and why they ex­pec­ted Pres­id­ent Obama and his party to sign away a leg­acy sought for dec­ades, they nev­er ex­plained. “You in­cite the cav­alry, but then you don’t lead the charge any­where,” as one Re­pub­lic­an put it to me.

Angry Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans are now won­der­ing how to es­cape their box canyon, their cul-de-sac, pick any no-exit meta­phor. A frus­trated Haley Bar­bour used three with­in seconds in an in­ter­view this week. “His tac­tics and strategy have led to a dead-end street,” said the former Mis­sis­sippi gov­ernor and na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Party chair­man. “It’s very bad le­gis­lat­ive strategy. It’s a blind al­ley. It’s a brick wall. And it’s suc­ceeded in tak­ing Obama’s fail­ures out of the pub­lic con­scious­ness.”

The ire of the GOP es­tab­lish­ment is a polit­ic­al boon for Cruz at the mo­ment. There is an in­verse re­la­tion­ship between his pop­ular­ity with­in the Sen­ate club and his hero status among pop­u­list con­ser­vat­ives. Yet that iden­tity could be lim­it­ing even in the GOP primary pro­cess. Par­tic­u­larly as it moves to large, di­verse states like Flor­ida, can­did­ates are in­creas­ingly called on to win both base con­ser­vat­ives and more mod­er­ate, more es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­ans. “That’s the elect­ab­il­ity primary. Right now that’s his big chal­lenge,” GOP strategist Kev­in Mad­den, a former Mitt Rom­ney ad­viser, says of Cruz. In his view, it’s also the most im­port­ant part of the equa­tion — who can best unite all fac­tions of the party and at­tract in­de­pend­ents and even some Demo­crats in the gen­er­al elec­tion.

The risks of the Cruz way are already on dis­play in Vir­gin­ia, which is heav­ily re­li­ant on fed­er­al jobs and fed­er­al con­tract­ors and where Re­pub­lic­an gubernat­ori­al can­did­ate Ken Cuc­cinelli has dropped in polls since the shut­down star­ted. Cu­cinelli, him­self a tea party fa­vor­ite, made a point of leav­ing a week­end event be­fore Cruz spoke on the same stage. That didn’t stop Cruz from gush­ing about Cuc­cinelli as smart, prin­cipled, and fear­less and call­ing him “my friend.” A clip of the ap­pear­ance has already made its way in­to an on­line Demo­crat­ic at­tack ad, part of the party’s “Cuc­cinelli-Cruz Al­li­ance” theme.

Cruz could be a cham­pi­on fun­draiser for the GOP next year. But if Vir­gin­ia is any in­dic­a­tion, he may not be wel­come on the cam­paign trail in purple states or dis­tricts — the very places where pres­id­en­cies are won and lost.

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