Washington Bureau

12.10.13

Is GOP Sen. John Cornyn a Liberal?

His Republican primary opponent is trying to label the Texas senator ‘Harry Reid’s Republican.’ But left-leaning activists disagree.

In a scathing campaign annoucement, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) kicked off his primary challenge against Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the U.S. Senate, by calling Cornyn a “liberal” roughly once a paragraph. Stockman, an outspoken conservative, described his opponent as “Harry Reid’s Republican” and claimed that “Liberal John Cornyn wakes up every morning and works to make the Senate a more liberal place.” But left-leaning groups aren’t rallying behind Cornyn, who was ranked the second most conservative member of the U.S. Senate by National Journal.

Josh Orton of Progressives United, a liberal group founded by former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) said he was flabbergasted by Stockman’s claim. “I guess if by ‘liberal’ Stockman means Cornyn is not an alien flesh-eating lizard from outer space, then sure, Cornyn’s a liberal,” said Orton. “If Stockman means anything else, then no, Cornyn is not a liberal.”

Orton’s comments were echoed by Jeff Hauser of the AFL-CIO, who told The Daily Beast: “Fortunately, working people have a large and growing cast of Senate crusaders for social justice, and so we don’t have to pay much attention to the made-up world in which John Cornyn is anything other than a stooge for the 1 percent. In fact, the extreme conservatism of both John Cornyn and Ted Cruz is hastening the day in which Texas is a purple and then blue state.”

Still, Stockman did receive at least some help from a liberal group. Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which is trying to draft Elizabeth Warren to run for president in 2016, seems as contemptous of Cornyn as Stockman, but for different reasons. “John Cornyn consistently doles out corporate welfare, supports the government snooping in our emails and phone calls, and supports cutting Social Security benefits for Republican grandparents and veterans across Texas,” said Green. “If that outrages Republican voters, they should by all means vote against him. And Steve Stockman should feel free to liberally use this quote in campaign materials.”

Needless to say, it’s unlikely that Stockman will use Green’s comment. But it does offer a hint at what might be a more productive line of attack for the Texas congressman. After all, Cornyn has a pretty solid conservative résumé. He been endorsed by anti-abortion rights groups and received an A rating from the NRA. But the Texas senator is still an establishment Republican with no ties to the libertarian wing of the party, and his political career is rooted in the George W. Bush era of the Texas GOP. Attacking Cornyn on “corporate welfare” and “government snooping” could be successful, but attacking him as a liberal will likely be a stretch. Then again, calling Cornyn a liberal is still more likely to succeed than running attack ads labelling the Texas senator “a flesh-eating lizard from outer space.”