Politics

10.18.13

The Ted Cruz Armageddon Is Coming

A new Pew poll shows Tea Partiers’ devotion to the otherwise divisive senator. Can the Republican establishment stop him before it’s 2016? By Michael Tomasky.

Did you catch Ted Cruz’s numbers in that Pew poll that came out this week? You may not have, because there were a few other things going on. So take a guess as to his favorable ratings among Tea Party people. I can tell you that 18 percent expressed no opinion, so the numbers add up to 82. So, 65-17, 68-14? Could he possibly have topped 70?

He sure could have. It was 74-8. Eight! It used to be 47-10 in a prior poll. In other words, a lot of people who weren’t able to form an opinion of him now can, and it’s swooning. Among non-Tea Party Republicans, as you’d imagine, a rather different story: It’s 56-44 (everyone has an opinion!). That’s favorable, but it ain’t 74-8. And in these numbers, among dozens of other auguries, we see the Armageddon that’s coming in the GOP between now and 2016. What on earth are the establishment Republicans going to do about this man?

Examine with me a few more numbers, from an earlier Pew survey taken over the summer. That one found that while Tea Party people make up 40 percent of Republican voters, they make up 49 percent, or roughly half, of those who vote in every primary. Got that? OK.

So now put the two surveys together: Half of the most loyal Republican voters approve of Cruz at 90-percent levels (74 is nine-tenths of 82). Still think he couldn’t win the nomination?

You better believe he can. The chance that he could win a presidential election is as close to zero as any plausible candidate’s chance could be. I think he tops out at around 180 electoral votes. But the nomination? Not. Impossible. At. All.

So I ask again: What are the establishmentarians going to do? What, for example, can Mitch McConnell do? Not a whole lot. Individual senators are pretty autonomous. Remember when liberals were screaming during the health-care debate, “Why doesn’t Obama give Ben Nelson the Johnson Treatment?” Because the Johnson Treatment doesn’t work anymore, least of all on the serenely messianic, of which Cruz is definitely one.

Can a group of establishment senators break him, as a previous cohort, led by Margaret Chase Smith, broke Joe McCarthy? They can try, and that might make some difference. Their success will depend to a great extent on where the right-wing media decide to land. Will Roger Ailes and the rest of them do what’s right for the party and the country, or for the ratings and the bottom line? Why do I not want to know the answer to that question?

This will be a war. And it just might be a war the extremists will win.

Much will hinge on what happens in 2014, in the coming crisis negotiations and then in the elections. If Cruz overreaches in January, they’ll polish him off. He is presumably smart enough to know that he’s on probation. So my guess is that as the January deadline approaches, Eddie Haskell will start bringing the teacher some apples. He’ll behave. Oh, he’ll mis-behave just enough to signal to the peanut gallery that he’s still Eddie Haskell; the world’s Eddie Haskells can’t help themselves. But he’ll keep it in line. And if he’s very smart, he’ll do those little, sugary things that senators value so much—the hand-written note when the wife’s checked into the hospital, that sort of thing.

He’ll spend the rest of 2014 guiding the Tea Party like Columbus on the Santa Maria. Rand Paul will be back there on the Niña, and farther back, Marco Rubio on the Pinta, straining to catch enough wind to keep up. But everyone will know who’s holding the compass.

The elections will be crucial. If the GOP loses control of the House because of perceived Tea Party looniness, Cruz will be blamed and held accountable. As for the Senate, it’ll be just slightly more nuanced. We’re seeing now that all these Tea Party people are going to challenge establishment Republicans. If some of them win their primaries but lose the general to a Democrat—if, say, Nancy Mace, the Citadel grad, beats Lindsey Graham but then loses in the general, giving South Carolina its first non-racist Democratic senator since Fritz Hollings, who’s probably the only non-racist Democratic senator the state has ever had—Cruz will, again, be blamed and held accountable. But say Mace wins, and a few others do too, even if the GOP doesn’t take control of the Senate. And say the Republicans hold the House. That’s a slightly ambiguous result. But any ambiguous result is easy for a demagogue to spin into a great victory. It’s precisely the kind of thing demagogues do best.

If the results a year from now don’t give the establishment the excuse it needs to bury him, Cruz will be off to the races. And then, Armageddon will come. To whom will the establishment hand the silver cross and vial of holy water? Chris Christie? Jeb Bush? South Dakota Senator John Thune, who offends no one (not yet, anyway) and who quietly voted for the deal to reopen the government and avoid default?

This will be a war. And it just might be a war the extremists will win. Establishments have power and money, and it is true that Republican voters have typically, after all the noise, gone in the establishment direction (McCain, Romney). But the insurgents have been advancing the beachhead, and unless they’re pushed back once and for all, it’s only a matter of time. But an epic battle looms. I cry for what these maniacs are doing to my country, but at the same time I plan on enjoying every minute of it.