Even in Defeat, Cruz Elevates Status With the Right

Even in Defeat, Cruz Elevates Status With the Right

By Scott Conroy - October 16, 2013

In announcing Wednesday that he would not delay a Senate vote on a budget deal to avoid financial default and reopen the government, Ted Cruz was loath to admit defeat.

The conservative Texan cited the “remarkable thing” of “millions upon millions of Americans rising up” to express their opposition to Obamacare and the House’s “courageous stand” to attempt to defund it.

But even the typically buoyant Cruz could not act as if things turned out the way he had vowed they would.

“Had Senate Republicans united and supported House Republicans, the outcome of this, I believe, would have been very, very different,” he said. “I wish that had happened, but it did not.”

The looming conclusion to the budget impasse is one that the freshman senator for months insisted could be resisted by sheer willpower. Back in August, Cruz laid out his case for why House Republicans should pass a Continuing Resolution to defund Obamacare and dig in for a long battle.

“President Obama and Harry Reid will scream and yell that the mean, nasty Republicans are threatening to shut down the government,” he said on Aug. 2. “And I would suggest to you that’s the time when we’ve got to do something that we don’t always do as well as we should, which is stand up and fight and win the argument.”

But after a chaotic 10 weeks in Washington that included Cruz’s 21-hour speech on the Senate floor, private and public pushback among some of his GOP Senate colleagues, and a melodramatic march by veterans on the closed World War II Memorial, standing and fighting was not enough to win the argument in the end.

Obamacare remains funded, and public opinion polls have been unanimous in showing that Republicans -- the Cruz-aligned Tea Party caucus in particular -- have taken the biggest hit for the state of affairs in Washington.

And Cruz’s doomed crusade appears by some measures to have been nothing short of a public relations disaster. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week showed just 14 percent of respondents had a favorable view of him, while 28 percent had an unfavorable view.

Not any more encouraging for Cruz were the results of a recent Gallup poll, which showed that his favorability rating had gone from plus-6 in June (24 percent to 18 percent) to minus-10 in October (26 percent to 36 percent).

And on Wednesday, the Houston Chronicle twisted the knife by running what amounted to an un-endorsement of the Texas lawmaker, whom the paper had backed in last November’s election.

But despite his legislative failure this week and the severe damage done to his brand of politics among the wider electorate, Cruz apparently has not suffered one iota among the grassroots conservatives who got him elected to the Senate.

In fact, by virtue of “standing and fighting,” he has firmed up his base and put himself in an even better position to make noise in a widely expected 2016 presidential.

Last weekend, Cruz was the runaway winner of a presidential straw poll conducted at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. He earned 42 percent of the ballots cast, more than tripling the total of his next closest competitors.

The 317 votes that he won won’t mean much in the grand scheme of 2016 politics, but they are the latest evidence that Cruz is inspiring real enthusiasm on the right.

In a quotation-filled story, the Iowa Republican (an online news outlet in the nation’s first voting state) reported the extent to which Cruz’s hardball tactics had won plaudits among a slew of conservative activists who hold sway over the Hawkeye State’s caucuses.

Cruz’s name continues to be the first to roll off the tongues of many conservative activists and early-state GOP operatives when asked how the race for the Republican nomination is beginning to take shape. And in conversations this week with national-level Tea Party powerbrokers, the affinity expressed for Cruz seemed stronger than ever.

“The conservative movement has yearned for a fighter to take on the failed Washington, D.C., establishment for years,” said David Bossie, president of Citizens United, whose PAC was an early booster of Cruz’s 2012 Senate campaign. “Senator Cruz stepped up and has filled that void by fighting Obamacare on every front and he is not concerned by snapshot public opinion polls.”

Amy Kremer of The Tea Party Express, which hosted a rally last weekend for Sarah Palin and New Jersey Senate candidate Steve Lonegan, said Cruz has galvanized the Republican base to an extent that “no one expected” and she argued that the strongest opposition to him was coming from an out-of-touch Washington establishment.

“When he was campaigning across Texas, he said, ‘I’m not going to Washington to become part of the good ol’ boy network -- I’m going to kick down the door, tear down the drapes and auction off the silver and china,” Kremer said. “Ted didn’t come here to have high approval ratings. He came to actually get something done and work for the American public.”

That Cruz has fallen short of achieving his goal of defunding Obamacare appears to mean little to his staunchest backers. For them, it is enough that he is trying -- and sticking a needle in the eye of official Washington while he’s at it.

During an appearance on “Morning Joe” earlier this week, NBC News’ Chuck Todd appeared almost at a loss to explain Cruz’s posturing, alluding to the “echo chamber problem” on the right that is causing Tea Party politicians to fall further out of favor among the broader electorate.

But it is that very echo chamber that has elevated Cruz to his current position as the de factor leader of the Tea Party and an undisputed force to be reckoned with in the 2016 Republican presidential campaign. 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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