Driving on Cruz Control?

There's an old saw about how a prestigious member of a community received a phone call from the leader of a local organization and asked if he believed in free speech.  The personage quickly answered, "Of course I do," whereupon the caller said, "Well, good.  Come on down here next Saturday and give one."

Leading up to the 2016 election, there will be plenty of "free speech" coming from a slew of candidates, all but one of them Republicans.  Among them will be Ted Cruz, who from the inception of his political career a dozen years ago has used his rhetorical wits to establish himself as a true conservative.  The result is that the junior senator from Texas has become the darling of the GOP's right flank, many of whom are enthusiastic about the idea of electing him our next president.  I'm not one of them. 

It works to a political speaker's favor to tell his audience what they want to hear.  Cruz was a champion debater in college, so he knows how to score points with the judges.  Certainly he feels comfortable in his conservative shoes.  But of late, Ted Cruz has tweaked this comfort zone a few notches to a rather self-serving, holier-than-thou assumption that he is the only viable Republican presidential candidate who holds consistently to conservative beliefs.

At the recent Iowa Freedom Summit, attended by some GOP wannabes, Ted Cruz took to the stage in a show of forensic flamboyance and warned:

In a Republican primary, every candidate is going to come in front of you and say 'I'm the most conservative guy that ever lived.'  You know what?  Talk is cheap!  Look every candidate in the eye, and say, 'Don't talk; show me!'

Cruz is right.  Talk is cheap.  And it is generally cheapest for those who risk the fewest political consequences as a result of speaking out.  When a politician like Cruz comes from a "safe" state like Texas and isn't going to be challenged for his seat any time soon, there's hardly a political price to pay for a show of bravado.  It's a win-win situation for Ted Cruz to stalk the stage, saw the air with his long arms, and suggest that he deserves an endorsement for his uncompromising fealty to the principles of the Founding Fathers.

Some have gently suggested that Cruz's time to campaign for president has not yet come – that he needs a little more seasoning to run for the highest office of the land.  After all, he burst on the political scene in a meteoric rise not unlike that of Barack Obama.  Though they are political opposites, Cruz, like the man in the White House, was educated at Ivy League schools, served on his college's law review, began his political career on the state level, caught his party's eye, and moved quickly to become a U.S. senator.  While Cruz is not exactly what one would call "charismatic," there's little doubt that he is well-educated and very bright.  Still, his work resume, like Obama's going in, is rather thin compared to the competition.     

In a way, this makes it easier for him to stand in good stead with the base of his party, because the longer a political figure serves, and the more challenging the job and the harder it is for him or her to slip the bonds of compromise.  On the other hand, the more entrenched a politician's reputation becomes as a philosophical die-hard, the less appeal he has to the general electorate. 

Perhaps Ted Cruz is best remembered for his much-publicized twenty-one-hour filibuster on the floor of the Senate in September 2013.  He famously promised that he would "speak in support of defunding Obamacare until I am no longer able to stand."  He threw in some Dr. Seuss and other tidbits for good measure. 

But how good was the measure of his effort?  He lobbied to tie the funding for government programs to the defunding of the Affordable Care Act.  When this ploy imploded, the government was shut down.  A last-minute flurry by Republicans to pass small spending bills financing services like the Veterans Administration and the national parks went nowhere in the Democrat-controlled Senate.  Justified or otherwise, the albatross of a government shutdown was hung around the neck of the GOP, and it has become a liberal rallying cry ever since.   

Ted Cruz was complicit in that action.  Yet rather than pay a political price, he is still regarded by many in the Tea Party as a man who bravely stuck to principle.  As luck would have it, voters in the 2014 midterm election had largely forgotten about the government shutdown in the face of more pressing problems.  But depend upon the marginalized opposition to resurrect it as a scare tactic whenever possible.

Contrast Cruz's showy, short-lived filibuster with, say, the long, tough, principled road taken by Scott Walker in his battle against abuses by powerful labor unions opposed to his sound fiscal policies.  He faced an ordeal by fire in his battle to beat back a recall challenge, survive a trumped up "scandal," and then get re-elected for a second term as governor of Wisconsin.  John Kasich, Chris Christie, and Bobby Jindal have also overcome formidable opposition in governing their states – not only surviving, but thriving.  They put their reputations where their mouths are in applying conservative principles of governance in states that Obama won. 

Still, Ted Cruz views himself as the ideal Republican to offer a clear contrast with the Democrat candidate by, in his words, "painting in bold colors, not pastels."  That's a fanciful analogy, but it fails to recognize the unbridgeable difference between, say, an American electorate seeing red as opposed to one that votes red on Election Day 2016.