A few months back, I wrote a post with the whimsically counterintuitive title "Rand Paul Is a Genius," about how Paul had managed to garner a huge (if temporary) amount of media attention with a couple of clever moves, the most important of which was staging a real talking filibuster of the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director. For a couple of days there, all anybody could talk about was Rand Paul. Today, Cruz is the Newz; in the last 24 hours, Politico has run more than 30 articles on Ted Cruz and his speech, examining the topic from every possible angle. You can bet that his staff, once they're done responding to media requests, will raise a glass in salute to the most exciting day in their boss's short Senate career. But if you're a senator with national ambitions, where does this momentary prominence leave you?
As Alex Pareene says, "Cruz managed to turn a humiliating defeat for his party into a huge personal branding moment." Which is true. The defeat is still inevitable one way or the other—either the government will not shut down, in which case Republicans will be treated to a whole new round of accusations of treason and threats of primary challenges from their right-wing base, or the government will shut down, in which case the country will blame them and it'll be a political disaster. Yet Cruz probably doubled the number of Americans who have heard of him, and as Dave Weigel notes, "When Cruz walks into future conservative movement gatherings, he'll be welcomed like Jesus riding the donkey into Jerusalem. When other Republicans head home, they will be asked whether they Stood With Cruz, and pilloried if they didn't."
Fair enough. But you know who else gets welcomed into those gatherings like Jesus? Sarah Palin. Michele Bachmann. Rick Santorum. Cruz's ambitions are bigger than that, but most people who are not Republican activists/primary voters will within a few weeks forget what this whole thing was about. They'll remember that that guy Cruz got up and talked for a long time, and it had something to do with Obamacare. And that's about it.
If you try hard enough, you can certainly game out scenarios whereby Cruz becomes the Republican presidential nominee in 2016 or at some later date, which everyone assumes is his ultimate goal. But barring a run by the reanimated corpse of John C. Calhoun, Cruz is going to be the most conservative Republican running. And for all the talk of the power of the base, when was the last time the GOP nomination was won by the most conservative candidate in the race? You have to go all the way back to 1980 and Ronald Reagan. Ever since, Republican primary voters have ultimately gone with somebody who was conservative enough—not the most doctrinaire, not the most confrontational, but the one who assured them he'd be with them when it counted, but also assured them he could win. Ted Cruz will not be that candidate.
So he's got his moment in the sun now, but turning it into something more lasting is going to be very difficult indeed.
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