We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: One-party rule means the Republican base—that fulminating coil of paranoia and resentment—decides elections in Texas. And The Base, last night, plunged Texas further into extremism by electing Ted Cruz, who’s all but certain to beat Democrat Paul Sadler in November.
Cruz’s victory over David Dewhurst has been described—no more than by Cruz himself—as a triumph of the tea party grassroots over The Establishment. Now, I don’t know about you, but a soft-handed millionaire Harvard lawyer who clerked for Chief Justice Chief Rehnquist doesn’t strike me as particularly anti-Establishment, nor very typically Texan. Over at the American Prospect, my friend Abby Rapoport makes a convincing case that the dominant narrative of a tea party victory is false.
All things considered, it’s hard to argue that this political drama marks an ideological revolution. Cruz and Dewhurst are both tied to different establishments—but they agreed on almost every issue, down to the syllable. It wasn’t a victory for the right wing, even though everyone—including NPR—is trumpeting it that way today.
Dave Mann, editor of the Observer, takes a similar line. “I don’t see any larger political trends behind Cruz’s win.” Cruz, he writes, “was simply the better candidate.”
I’m not sure this is correct. While Dewhurst and Cruz agree on plenty—for example, they’re both bravely against providing in-state tuition to high-achieving young people who made the mistake of allowing their parents to give birth to them in a furrin’ land—they don’t occupy the same space on the political spectrum.
Ideologically and rhetorically Cruz passes the tea party screen test: He’s paranoid and conspiratorial, whispering nonsense about Shariah law and Agenda 21. Cruz routinely calls President Obama “the most radical president this country has ever seen.” During the last debate, Cruz challenged Dewhurst about his views on socialized medicine. To me, this was an obscure, but defining moment for these two men. Dewhurst is very conservative but he still has an attachment to objective reality and is unwilling to just lie through his teeth to indulge the worst tendencies of The Base. Cruz, despite his coronation as a “tea party intellectual,” is a thoroughbred wingnut.
CRUZ: “It’s a quote on the record in the paper. Did you or did you not tell a reporter that in your judgment the health care outcomes in the United States are inferior to those in Europe?”
DEW: “What I did say and you’re absolutely right the fact is that in a lot of areas our health care outcomes—it’s a fact—are inferior. infant mortality rates, things of this nature. Now we’ve got the best doctors and the best hosptials in the world right here in Texas and the United States. But, Ted, 45 percent of our American doctors don’t follow best practices. We can do better.”
CRUZ: “He’s right. There are studies from the World Health Organization, there are studies from left-leaning organizations that measure health care outcomes. And they conclude that socialized medicine is better because what they measure is subjectively whether everyone’s covered. [crosstalk] If you look to objective statistics such as the rate of recovery from specified disease the United States has the best health care in the world. And it’s because we have a free market system instead of government control.”
Dewhurst, despite his rouged cheeks, comes across as sputtering, insincere and most of all insufficiently conservative. More than a contest between Tea Party and Establishment, this was about the merely conservative vs. the hard-liner. In Dewhurst, despite his conservative record, the base saw softness and the scent of compromise.
Now centrist pundits like Paul Burka are already airing their moderation fantasies for Cruz.
He has the potential to be a great United States senator. My first reaction was that he is an ideologue, but I don’t think he’ll remain one for long. He’s going to figure out the Senate and his role in it.
I don’t think we’ll have to worry about Cruz not carrying water for the corporate special interests. That’s page 1 of the tea party playbook. But if Cruz drifts too far from the party line, he’d better watch it. His fans have a way of eating their own. Just ask Rick Perry.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Ted Cruz will end up being Kay Bailey Hutchison in a suit. But I doubt it.