Say you’re Ted Cruz. You’ve been sent to Washington by pissed-off Tea Party revolutionaries to blow up the system. Thus far, you’ve pursued your mission with gusto, refusing to compromise ideological purity for the sake of getting stuff done, no matter how nicely/rudely/plaintively members of your own team ask. As a result, in a town dominated by a yawning red-blue chasm, you have emerged, with impressive speed, as a rare object of bipartisan agreement: everyone hates you. Most consider you an arrogant, short-sighted, self-promoting jackass. Some suspect that you may be genuinely crazy. Forget the Democratic opposition: Fellow Republicans are sending oppo research on you to the media. To Fox News, no less! When you have drifted so far out on the right fringe that Fox News is no longer a reliably safe harbor, where can you turn? What friendly port remains?
Well, duh. Talk radio, of course.
It is one of the quaint political ironies of our time that, for all of Republicans’ whinging about liberal media bias, few places give right-wing rigidity greater voice and encouragement than the rowdy land of talk radio. And why not? Demagogues like Rush and Mark Levin aren’t worried about trivial matters like governance. Their job is to fuel a galvanizing blend of fear and outrage among listeners. They aren’t even that interested in getting ideological compadres elected to office. After all, ragemongering bomb throwers thrive best when the oh-so-loathsome enemy is in power.
Unsurprisingly, the junior senator from Texas is manna to talk-radio warriors. Like them, he doesn’t care a whit about governance or repairing his party’s damaged brand or much of anything beyond showing himself to be the manliest, least-squishy conservative ass kicker around. And so, the more that Republican lawmakers, pollsters, strategists, and fundraisers voice distress and dismay at Cruz’s crusade to shut down the government before allowing further funding of Obamacare, the more fiercely the talk-radio brigade defends him.
It will surprise no one that Rushbo has Cruz’s back. In one of last week’s broadcasts, Limbaugh offered his take on “the spat now between the House and the Senate, House Republicans and Ted Cruz on the defund Obamacare thing.” In a nutshell: all those House Republicans miffed at Cruz for making them pass a bill he knew he couldn’t get through the Senate were whiners who failed to recognize Cruz’s outside-the-box genius:
He never misled anybody in the House. Now, you're gonna see stories of House Republicans feeling betrayed by Cruz because he made ’em go take this vote and make this statement on Obamacare with no backup in the Senate. All Cruz ever said was that he was trying to create a massive groundswell of action on behalf of the American people that would then influence elected officials.
Sean Hannity, on his Monday radio show, tsk-tsked Republicans for lashing out at Cruz and accused them of being more interested in power than principle:
“Look, here’s just a fact, and I understand—I’m not a Republican,” Hannity said. “I’m a conservative. And they are unfortunately—both parties are guilty of this, most of them care about their power. They like being called ‘Senator.’ They like being called ‘Congressman,’ ‘Governor,’ and unfortunately they forget what it means to serve you. They forget campaign promises. They’re only words. They don’t come from the heart. They’re not backed by commitment and real action. What Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Marco [Rubio] are doing here is they are calling on the better side of Republicans to be a bold contrasting party ..."
For good measure, Hannity bestowed upon Cruz the ultimate compliment by comparing his rabble-rousing ways to those of ... who else? ... Ronald Reagan.
In his Monday broadcast, meanwhile, Mark Levin was less delicate in championing Cruz’s abandoned plan to seriously (as opposed to symbolically) filibuster the entire House funding bill rather than allow the Senate to strip out the defund-Obamacare piece and pass the rest. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to rally the troops to Cruz’s cause prompted Levin to sneer, “The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, just stabbed Ted Cruz and Mike Lee in the back.” After slapping at the nay-saying House leadership and “their disciples all over TV,” Levin slammed McConnell for supporting Obamacare and huffed, “All the Repubics”—no, that is not a typo: “Re-pubics.” Get it?—“are lining up in that position. Amazing isn’t it? Absolutely amazing.”
Ultimately, none of what Cruz is doing is especially amazing when you consider the context. For years, the GOP was content to sit back while demagogues like Rush and Levin and Mark Steyn and countless others kept the base whipped up with overheated anti-government, anti-establishment, insider-versus-outsider rhetoric. Now, Ted Cruz is simply bringing that overwrought, purity-obsessed, compromise-phobic, who-cares-what-this-does-to-the-party-or-the-nation approach to the Senate. Apparently, it’s an approach that Cruz’s colleagues find much less appealing close up.