Rab­ble-rous­ing se­na­tor from Texas pits up­starts vs. es­tab­lish­ment

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY RALPH Z. HAL­LOW

When Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell bumped into Repub­li­can Party Chair­man Reince Priebus near Capi­tol Hill re­cently, the dis­cus­sion turned to the man who has be­come the undis­puted pub­lic face of the gov­ern­ment shut­down: Repub­li­can Ted Cruz.

The Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee staff was about to send an email blast urg­ing the party faith­ful, and their wal­lets, to stand be­hind Mr. Cruz in his bat­tle against Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat. No one in­side the RNC ex­pected a back­lash. Af­ter all, Mr. Cruz had be­come a hot com­mod­ity since his all-night fil­i­buster on the Se­nate floor, and Mr. Reid has long been a fa­vorite in­spi­ra­tion for Repub­li­can donors.

But Mr. McCon­nell po­litely cau­tioned Mr. Priebus at their chance en­counter, sug­gest­ing that the party chief should not look like he was tak­ing sides in the tac­ti­cal dis­pute be­tween Mr. Cruz or other mem­bers of the GOP’s rau­cous tea party fac­tion and the party’s con­gres­sional lead­ers. Mr. Priebus coun­tered that he saw him­self as chair­man of the en­tire party and would sup­port any Repub­li­can, in­clud­ing Mr. Cruz, in bat­tling Democrats.

The RNC sent an un­equiv­o­cal email soon af­ter­ward, un­der Mr. Priebus’ name: “In a fight be­tween Harry Reid and Ted Cruz, I will stand with Ted Cruz any day,” he said in the mes­sage, ex­tolling Mr. Cruz’s anti-Oba­macare ef­forts. “As Repub­li­cans, we must re­main true to our prin­ci­ples and fight to pro­tect the Amer­i­can peo­ple from this reck­less law.”

Soon, es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans who had chafed for months about the ego, tac­tics and stri­dent fo­cus of the ju­nior se­na­tor from Texas were on the phone to staff. They com­plained that the RNC was pick­ing sides in an in­tra­party strug­gle be­tween es­tab­lish­ment lead­ers and a new gen­er­a­tion of head­strong con­ser­va­tives epit­o­mized by Mr. Cruz.

The anec­dote, re­lated by mul­ti­ple Repub­li­can in­sid­ers, of­fers the best ev­i­dence yet that the im­pact of the tea party wing on Wash­ing­ton goes be­yond the fed­eral shut­down, and in­creas­ingly is be­ing felt be­hind closed doors, where strug­gle for con­trol of the GOP has in­ten­si­fied. Mr. McCon­nell’s of­fice said it dis­puted some as­pects of the ac­count, though it de­clined to be spe­cific.

The up­starts

Un­like House Speaker John A. Boehner, an Ohio Repub­li­can who has of­ten bent to con­ser­va­tive wishes un­der pres­sure, Mr. McCon­nell of Ken­tucky has strug­gled to harness a rau­cous wing of about 20 Repub­li­can se­na­tors and sev­eral dozen House mem­bers aligned with lib­er­tar­ian or tea party sym­pa­thies.

The wing’s de-facto lead­ers are three rel­a­tive new­com­ers — Mr. Cruz, Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Mike Lee — and it has con­founded po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tion by re­lent­lessly seek­ing to end Oba­macare, even if it means de­fault­ing on the na­tion’s debt — or hy­per­in­flat­ing the dol­lar — by fail­ing to raise the debt ceil­ing.

To the horror of mod­er­ates and party lead­ers, this new gen­er­a­tion of con­ser­va­tives seems im­per­vi­ous to ar­gu­ments that their cam­paign will set back GOP elec­toral am­bi­tions in 2014, 2016 and be­yond.

Jim DeMint, a for­mer se­na­tor who now runs the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, knows the type. He him­self was one of the stub­born rab­ble-rousers when he served along­side Mr. Paul and Mr. Lee in the Se­nate, be­fore step­ping down.

“I would rather have 30 Repub­li­cans in the Se­nate who be­lieve in prin­ci­ples of free­dom than 60 who don’t,” Mr. DeMint said on leav­ing the Se­nate for Her­itage.

Just how do party lead­ers con­front such reck­less aban­don? The an­swer so far is: They don’t know. And it may be partly be­cause tra­di­tional Repub­li­cans haven’t fig­ured out what makes this new breed of con­ser­va­tive tick or what, if any­thing, can make them wa­ver or re­lent.

A new star

Mr. Cruz has cap­tured the hearts of many con­ser­va­tive ide­o­logues with his re­lent­less cam­paign to de­fund Oba­macare. They say his do-or-die tac­tics have en­sured that the health care law will be the 2014 elec­tions’ cen­ter­piece and that Repub­li­can can­di­dates will have to stiffen their spines and cam­paign on re­peal.

On the flip side, some Repub­li­cans ques­tion some of Mr. Cruz’s tac­tics as di­vi­sive, or play­ing into the hands of Demo­cratic stereo­types. For in­stance, the Texas Repub­li­can has sup­ported a TV ad cam­paign that threw stones at some fel­low GOP se­na­tors and that pumped up Mr. Cruz’s own im­age.

Mr. Cruz also high­lights what he says are some of the last Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s lapses from con­ser­va­tive val­ues, in par­tic­u­lar its ex­pan­sion of the Medi­care en­ti­tle­ment pro­gram. But Mr. Cruz was on Mr. Bush’s pol­icy ad­vi­sory team in the 2000 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and

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