Either I’m dead right, or I’m crazy!—Jefferson Smith, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
If you haven’t heard, Senator-elect Ted Cruz is kind of a big deal in Washington. And he hasn’t even done anything outside of getting himself elected. But that hasn’t stopped folks from calling him a rising star in the party and the next Jim DeMint, which is apparently a compliment in Crazytown. DeMint’s the senator from South Carolina who gave up his seat to go run the conservative Heritage Foundation. He was also the founder of the Senate’s tea party caucus and a big supporter of Cruz, being one of the first national politicians to endorse him.
You can probably see where this is going.
Yes, a coveted leadership post in the tea party has opened up and Cruz is most likely salivating at the chance to prove that the uber-conservative wing of the Republican Party will like him just as much—if not more!—than his accomplished predecessor.
In a statement, Cruz said, “Jim DeMint is a friend and hero, and a patriot. In the modern era, no other person has had a greater impact reshaping the U.S. Senate, helping bring Republicans back to our conservative roots.” (Yes, this is a eulogy of sorts.) He went on to say that DeMint’s move to Heritage “confirms that Heritage will remain an intellectual powerhouse for decades to come.” Or, at the very least, a place where like-minded extremists can hold support group meetings.
Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post posited that the three most likely candidates to fill DeMint’s critical self-designated role as chief conservative are Cruz, Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Rand Paul, but considering his ambitions Cruz may want to be cautious.
When your stock is so high everyone wants to be your friend. And if Cruz wants to leave the possibility of higher office open—something he might be well-positioned for in the coming years — he’d be well-served not to make any early enemies in the party.
So what’s a conservative hero to do, if not lead the tea party express even further into obscurity? How about being made vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee? As Politico noted, “It’s a high-wire act for the political neophyte. As an NRSC deputy, he’ll have to balance the political pragmatism of a quintessential inside-the-Beltway institution without tarnishing his brand as an anti-establishment constitutional conservative.” That is a rather delicate balance—sucking up to the establishment while reassuring the army of ideologues that he’s still one of them.
Here’s another balancing act to consider: How to play like a senator even though what you really want is to be president. He could take some tips from fellow Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who ran as a tea party candidate only to show up as a relative moderate, especially on issues such as immigration.
Keeping a high profile is key. Last month Cruz spoke at the conservative American Principles Project dinner declaring that the Republican party should rebrand itself under the banner of “Opportunity Conservatism,” which was immediately hailed as a brilliant successor banner to “Compassionate Conservatism.” (Meanwhile Josh Barro of Bloomberg ripped Cruz’s speech as “bonkers” and criticized his policy recommendations as “old conservative hobby horses” wrapped in shiny political marketing.)
But if the past is any indication Ted Cruz could be the perfect candidate to represent the Republican Party on the national stage. He certainly seems to think so.