Between his 21-hour non-filibuster to halt Obamacare, his impassioned, hard-line speech at the right-wing Values Voters Summit, and his meeting with House Republicans at the mediocre Mexican joint, Tortilla Coast, it’s clear Ted Cruz is still conducting the shutdown train, even as the country heads into default and his party heads over a cliff. Just about every write-up of the man portrays a smart and opportunistic political mind, eager to be, as The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith puts it, “the Tea Party’s one true standard-bearer.” But is his strategy just crazy?
Just about every national pundit has the same take on Ted Cruz's victory in Texas's Senate primary: Another Tea Party triumph! It's just like Florida in 2010, where "moderate" Governor Charlie Crist lost to insurgent Marco Rubio, or Indiana earlier this year, where "moderate" Senator Richard Lugar was dethroned by Tea Partier Richard Mourdock. The establishment loses again, and the new wave of the GOP continues its takeover of the party.
Texas Governor Rick Perry is famous for delivering negative ads that send his opponents' campaigns reeling; they tend to contain such wild, over-the-top accusations that responding to them is tricky business. In the 2002 gubernatorial race, when he was fending off Democratic billionaire Tony Sanchez, the governor pulled out a last-minute ad that basically accused the candidate of laundering money for drug cartels.
It wasn't supposed to work this way. Much as Mitt Romney was supposed to cruise into the GOP presidential nomination, Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst was supposed to have an easy path to the U.S. Senate. Dewhurst, after all, has a been a loyal soldier to Governor Rick Perry for the better part of nine years. He's toed the party line, pushing the state Senate chamber into ever more conservative territory, and he had a limitless campaign fund from his own personal wealth. Now, state insiders assumed, was his time to move up the ladder.
Ted Cruz, who managed to force a run-off election with current Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, deserved his victory party Tuesday night. He had a strong showing despite being outspent by a considerable margin by his rival. Towards the end, Cruz benefitted from national attention as Sarah Palin and Tea Party groups pushed his candidacy. Support from the Club for Growth and Senator Jim DeMint also helped.
Last year, during the biennial legislative session, Texas House Republicans approved a budget with a crippling $10 billion in cuts to public schools over the next two years—this despite warnings from educators that the results would be catastrophic. Several state senators fought to make the cuts only harmful rather than damning. In the end, Texas public schools lost $5.4 billion in the two-year budget, an unprecedented cut that's left districts and classrooms struggling to provide basic services.
In a state as red as Texas, general elections are mostly formalities; GOP primaries are the main events. That’s one explanation for the national focus on Tuesday’s U.S. Senate primary, where Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst faces a field led by former Solicitor General Ted Cruz in a quest to replace retiring Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. As the name indicates, Cruz is far from a traditional Republican candidate—which is the main reason the right has been buzzing about this race for months. He’s not only the son of a Cuban-American father, he’s also a darling of the Tea Party, with Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum’s stamps of approval.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. Texas was supposed to have its primaries done long ago, when the GOP's presidential candidate was still in contention. In that scenario, the Senate seat Kay Bailey Hutchison held for two decades would then go to Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. Dewhurst has for the most part been a loyal soldier to Governor Rick Perry and, with his millions in personal wealth, he could run a strong campaign while everyone else would be drowned out by presidential politics. Alas, the state's redistricting debacle meant the primaries were pushed back months.