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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Instead of his usual stump speech, Bernie Sanders tonight threw his support behind Hillary Clinton, providing a clear contrast between Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump on the many issues he used to discuss in his campaign stump speeches. Sanders spoke glowingly about the presumptive Democratic nominee, lauding her work as first lady and as a strong advocate for women and the poor. “We need leadership in this country which will improve the lives of working families, the children, the elderly, the sick and the poor,” he said. “Hillary Clinton will make a great president, and I am proud to stand with her tonight."
In a stark contrast from Michelle Obama's uplifting speech, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke about the rigged system plaguing Americans before launching into a full-throated rebuke of GOP nominee Donald Trump. Trump is "a man who has never sacrificed anything for anyone," she claimed, before saying he "must never be president of the United States." She called him divisive and selfish, and said the American people won't accept his "hate-filled America." In addition to Trump, Warren went after the Republican Party as a whole. "To Republicans in Congress who said no, this November the American people are coming for you," she said.
"In this election, and every election, it's about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives," Michelle Obama said. "There is only one person who I trust with that responsibility … and that is our friend Hillary Clinton." In a personal and emotional speech, Michelle Obama spoke about the effect that angry oppositional rhetoric had on her children and how she chose to raise them. "When they go low, we go high," Obama said she told her children about dealing with bullies. Obama stayed mostly positive, but still offered a firm rebuke of Donald Trump, despite never once uttering his name. "The issues a president faces cannot be boiled down to 140 characters," she said.
Many Bernie Sanders delegates have spent much of the first day of the Democratic National Convention resisting unity, booing at mentions of Hillary Clinton and often chanting "Bernie! Bernie!" Well, one of the most outspoken Bernie Sanders supporters just told them to take a seat. "To the Bernie-or-bust people: You're being ridiculous," said comedian Sarah Silverman in a brief appearance at the Convention, minutes after saying that she would proudly support Hillary Clinton for president.
The Democratic National Committee issued a formal apology to Bernie Sanders today, after leaked emails showed staffers trying to sabotage his presidential bid. "On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic Party for the inexcusable remarks made over email," DNC officials said in the statement. "These comments do not reflect the values of the DNC or our steadfast commitment to neutrality during the nominating process. The DNC does not—and will not—tolerate disrespectful language exhibited toward our candidates."