PJ Media Symposium: Will Ted Cruz Be a Plus or Minus for Republicans in the Midterm Elections?
Find out what our columnists think about the Texas senator's campaign against establishment Republicans.
February 27, 2014 - 12:16 am
Several high-profile conservative columnists and pundits, including Thomas Sowell, Ann Coulter, and Kim Strassel, have openly questioned whether Ted Cruz is hurting Republican chances by attacking fellow GOP senators. Others, like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, are supporting the Texas senator’s campaign against establishment Republicans.
We asked several of our writers and columnists to answer the question: Will Ted Cruz be a plus or minus for Republicans in the midterm elections?
Is Ted Cruz helping or hurting Republicans? Probably, he is hurting them. But to me, a more interesting question is whether Ted Cruz is helping or hurting conservatives.
That question is more difficult to answer, I think, and teasing out the reasons may shed some light on the interesting (as in the old Chinese proverb) situation we find ourselves in. I have two main points. One is that the categories “Republican” and “conservative” are by no means coterminous, and I think that those, like myself, whose primary allegiance is to the latter should cleave staunchly to the distinction and not let the representatives of the establishment deter them from objecting to the big-government-business-as-usual crowd when it comes to important issues.
In this context, I think, Ted Cruz appears as a tonic figure: he is bright, articulate, and — this above all — independent-minded. That’s worth two and a half if not (quite) three cheers. But the party — I mean the discussion, not the partisan group — isn’t over. Rhetoric, as Aristotle pointed out, is the art of persuasion, which is why politics is above all a rhetorical art. The successful politician is successful because he is capable of persuading large numbers of people to think, or at least to vote, as he does.
More fundamentally, the successful politician has his finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist. Ted Cruz is conservative. But is he a persuasive conservative? I think the jury is still out on that. Certainly, he has demonstrated an ability to stir the pot and to infuriate all the right people (along with some of the wrong ones). To be candid, I find his exhibition of backbone exhilarating, not least because watching most politicians, Republicans as well as Democrats, reminds me of that great zoological classic by Ralph Buchsbaum, Animals Without Backbones.
Still, I wonder about Ted Cruz. Being persuasive is not only an intellectual art. There is also an emotional component to it, as well as a hard-to-define component that I aggregate under the imprecise but also indispensable category “prudence” — another good Aristotelean category. We want our politicians to be prudent, which does not mean without principle. On the contrary, it means being able to act in such a way that is consistent with one’s principles and also in a way that is effective. The pained yelps that have greeted many of Senator Cruz’s forays into the spotlight make me wonder whether he possess the requisite prudence to succeed. I do not assert that he doesn’t, only mention that I wonder. Nothing he has done in recent months has made me leave off wondering.
In addition to his work at PJ Media and The New Criterion, Roger Kimball is the publisher of Encounter Books, a purveyor of serious non-fiction titles from a broadly construed conservative perspective. He also writes criticism for many outlets here and in England. He blogs at Roger’s Rules.
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J. Christian Adams
Modern elections are all about energy. Energy wins. Period.
The left has developed an election data tool called Catalist. The GOP has no functioning counterpart. This database allows leftist groups, the DNC, and the Obama campaign to activate the far left base in ways that were never before possible.
How do they do it? They collect massive amounts of data about everybody. What you read, what car you drive, what you said in a poll, everything. A consortium of leftist users pump data in, and a consortium of left-wing customers extract data.
The data about Democrat voters allow institutions to flip a switch and ensure a massive base vote.
So what does this have to do with Ted Cruz?
Democrats have realized that modern elections are won or lost by mobilizing the base, period. Remember the treasured independent middle? Bah. Romney won them overwhelmingly but still lost the election.
The left swamped Romney using Catalist. Romney’s counterpart base mobilizer, “Orca,” crashed and burned on election day – literally. While Romney was spending one dollar to win one vote in the middle, Obama (using Catalist data) was spending a dime to get one vote in the base.
Ted Cruz is the closest thing to a base-mobilization tool the GOP has. He is the right’s catalyst to voting. And that makes Ted Cruz more than just a net positive for the GOP; that makes Ted Cruz existentially important.
Without energy, the GOP will die. When it becomes a party composed of operatives unable to craft a competing narrative, it will die. When the Republican Party response to a left-wing narrative is to capitulate because the left-wing base is mobilized by that narrative, it will die. When the Republican Party turns to the pages of the New York Times for affirmation, it is dead.
Ted Cruz is the Red Bull of the GOP. He is a net positive, and necessary for survival.
Why even ask the question? How absurd in hindsight is it to question Ronald Reagan’s criticism of Gerald Ford? Reagan was right. That’s all that mattered.
Ted Cruz is right, and he’s got the energy to mobilize the base. After two failed presidential elections with pundits telling us we need someone to appeal to the middle, now is the time for energy.
An election lawyer who served in the Voting Rights Section at the U.S. Department of Justice, J. Christian Adams is part of the rare brotherhood of uniquely American heroes: the whistleblowers. He has helped expose the Department of Justice’s failure to prosecute the radical New Black Panthers group, and he co-authored PJ Media’s “Every Single One” series that revealed the politicized hiring practices of the Obama Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
Christian continues to write about the Department of Justice and other legal matters on his PJ Media blog, “Rule of Law.” His experience working at the DOJ gives him intimate knowledge of his area of focus: elections. On his blog, Christian decodes the “system” for people unfamiliar with it by providing keen insight into what is happening. He blogs at Rule of Law.
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No matter how much those on the Left and some on the Right wish it were so, the 2014 election is not about Ted Cruz. It’s about the necessity of recapturing the Senate – with the right kind of senators. To pack the upper chamber with a bunch of Mitch McConnell clones, in the end, does the GOP no good, since neither McConnell nor his House counterpart, the lamentable speaker John Boehner, has any serious objection to the Democrats’ ethos of more and ever-bigger government. Charged with fiscal stewardship and put into power by the Tea Party, Boehner has shamefully abdicated his fiduciary duty toward his party, his constituents, and his country, while McConnell sits in the enviably corrupt position of pretending to Fight the Man while enjoying the perquisites of power and none of the responsibility.
So what does it profit an allegedly conservative party to have Republicans like McConnell take over the Senate if absolutely nothing in the way of meaningful rollback will occur over the next two years? And if more frustration leads to the election of another Democrat president in 2016? The leaderless and rudderless Tea Party is finally coming to the realization that it’s been had, but there isn’t much it can do about it, short of finding an actual leader and a coherent media strategy. Men like Cruz and his amigos Rand Paul and Mike Lee at least offer some hope that things might change, that the new boss won’t be the same as the old boss, and that the voice of the people might actually get a hearing in Washington.
But under the “leadership” of the Washington Generals – designated losers who nevertheless make a handsome living out of their ineptitude – the party of Lincoln has degenerated into the party of the Midwestern Rotary Club, nice guys who observe all the proper pieties and finish last. Since Reagan, the GOP has been afflicted by such souls, including both Bushes and the faint-hearted, failed candidacy of Mitt Romney. (No one would ever accuse John McCain< of being a nice guy, just another loser.) Does anyone doubt that “Jeb ‘16” is in the works?
Cruz has become the object of hatred on the Left – par for the course for anyone who threatens them – and yet, curiously, a figure of derision among the establishment GOP and its media spokesmen, who regard the brash Texan as rude and guilty, apparently, of capital lèse-majesté regarding the senior statesmen of his party – when in fact his only real crime is offending the mainstream media/Beltway’s sense of propriety. The GOP needs more Ted Cruzes, not fewer.
The real question is: does it have enough time? The battle is now joined: either Cruz and his fellow upstarts will conquer the Rotary Republicans, or they will be conquered and the Tea Party’s signal grassroots accomplishments tossed in the ashcan of history as an aberration. The party in D.C. will go on, spending like there’s no tomorrow because, in fact, there is no tomorrow. And then it will stop.
Journalist, author and screenwriter Michael Walsh joined PJ Media as a columnist in June 2012. His blog, Unexamined Premises, is devoted to deconstructing and exposing the way the Left thinks, especially its reliance on claiming a bogus “moral high ground.”
With six critically acclaimed novels as well as a hit TV movie, journalist, author and screenwriter Michael Walsh has achieved the writer’s trifecta: two New York Times best-sellers, a major literary award winner and the co-writer of the Disney Channel’s then-highest-rated show.
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Thomas Sowell, Ann Coulter, and Kim Strassel all took exception last week to the conservative movement — nominally led by Ted Cruz – which intends to primary GOP incumbents who do not align as strongly as Cruz does with conservatism. This appears to be, or at least felt like, the first such anti-conservative stance taken by Sowell, making it the most jarring of the three. Wrote Sowell:
The basic, brutal reality is that the federal government can do whatever it wants to do, if nobody stops it. The Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision shows that we cannot depend on it to protect our freedom. Nor will Congress, as long as the Democrats control the Senate.
The most charitable interpretation of Ted Cruz and his supporters is that they are willing to see the Republican party weakened in the short run, in hopes that they will be able to take it over in the long run, and set it on a different path as a more purified conservative party.
Neglecting the remainder of the passage for the moment, note that Sowell’s first sentence above is factually correct, and is also the pivotal information required for this debate. The sentence is not Sowell’s opinion, but a truth about men governing men: no document and no legislature can ever function as a fail-safe defense of the individual’s rights. Whether in the “state of nature” or under a “consent of the governed” state, one group of folks can always do “whatever it wants to do if nobody stops it.” Your best hope, the strongest safeguard of your rights — superseding even the bearing of arms — that could ever exist falls to the culture you live within. If the citizens report being ever-ready to “stop it,” your rights stand a better chance of remaining secured.
Presently, the United States does not have a strong enough culture to uphold the individual’s life, liberty, and property as the highest feature of government. The decline of America — economically, and in regards to respect for the rule of law as based on the individual’s rights — has occurred because the countrymen allowed for a decline.
The citizens are not producing the pressure necessary for a turnaround. Yet the establishment GOP’s strategy for returning the country to prosperity is to work with the culture as it is. This path relies on a boggling number of troubling or irrational assumptions, considering the confidence with which its advocates present their arguments.
If the GOP members being primaried are uncomfortable being associated with Ted Cruz, presumably they are comfortable being considered less conservative than Cruz. These incumbents may be hiding their conservatism based on some calculation only they understand, and surely a legislator who consistently measures how close he can safely stand to the Constitution is not someone committed to the rule of law. On the other hand, these incumbents may honestly believe in maintaining a distance from conservatism, and thus are comfortable with the current culture which has led us to a potential American nadir.
They are a lose-lose, and that’s before taking a measure of the opponent. Eric Holder has on more than one occasion instructed state attorneys general to ignore the law. The president has unilaterally changed Obamacare eighteen times. When the adversary is lawless, a GOP-controlled Senate of the calculating or the less-adhered to the Constitution is just another bump in the road. Sowell, Strassel, and Coulter, as pessimistic as they all might be regarding the country’s odds for recovery, are still irrationally positive on the nation’s prospects without a slate of constitutionally committed oath-takers.
I wish the national resurrection were as simple as “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.” But culture trumps legislature.
Whether the GOP claims a Senate majority or continues as a minority, trusting the zeitgeist that distances itself from the Constitution to produce change is not simply a questionable strategy, it is an illogical, self-negating one. What reason exists for harboring any expectations of rapidly shrinking deficits, a restored commitment to the individual, and a sane foreign policy without a dispatching of the culture that diminished all of this?
Further, the acceptance that our culture cannot grow fonder of the Constitution and must be dealt with “as is” represents a new iteration of “the bigotry of soft expectations.” Americans can reject incorrect assumptions and embrace reason, just like anybody else.
Sowell was wrong in his assessment of Cruz’s supporters: we do not want to temporarily weaken the party with purposes of purifying it, we want to immediately strengthen both the party and the country by reestablishing the culture’s commitment to individual rights.
If America does not grow more comfortable with conservatism, the decline will continue.
David Steinberg came into political writing via time spent working in production and development in Hollywood. His biggest influences now include talk show host Mark Levin, economist Thomas Sowell, and Fox’s Megyn Kelly. In his own words, these are people who “simply do not lose arguments because they only present inarguable truth.” His new PJ Media blog is Self-Evident.
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Let’s stipulate that Sen. Ted Cruz left quite an impression on the Senate during his first year in office. Anyone who can unite in animus such disparate characters as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John McCain, not to mention the entire Democratic caucus, certainly bears notice.
But, frankly, Cruz will wind up being neither a plus nor a minus for the GOP in the upcoming midterm elections. His appeal, or lack thereof, won’t affect the outcome of a single campaign. His presence will carry all the influence that a mosquito has on the sunrise or, if you’re a true conservative, all the sway man has on global climate change.
There exists a temptation to overstate Sen. Cruz’ political clout at this early stage. Many observers credit him with wielding as much influence as the senator seems to attribute to himself. But it’s unlikely Cruz will swing a single vote one way or another.
Think about it rationally for a moment. How many voters are likely to step into a booth next November and ask themselves, “Whom would Sen. Cruz want me to vote for?’’ It’s much more likely they will be asking themselves, “Who is Ted Cruz and why in the world am I thinking about him?’’
Most voters – check that, almost all voters – have no idea who Sen. Ted Cruz is or what he stands for. The exception would be Texas and there it’s already pretty clear that Sen. John Cornyn is breezing toward re-election despite an ill-advised primary challenge from Rep. Steve Stockman, who attempted to pick up and immediately fumbled the Tea Party banner. And can anyone tell me who the Democrats are running?
Cruz may perform some of the tasks many politicians perform at this time of year – attend a fundraiser or two, make an appropriately supportive speech, shake hands in front of the cameras. But in no instance will he affect the outcome. People at this stage are not voting for a Cruz surrogate in either the primary or general election.
Take Kentucky, my old stomping grounds, a state drawing a lot of attention this year. McConnell has drawn opposition from Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, brandishing the Tea Party flag. Despite reports that the primary is close, McConnell maintains a substantial lead. Ted Cruz has nothing to do with it – McConnell is simply viewed as the godfather of the Kentucky Republican Party.
The general election could – and I stress could – be tighter, with the GOP leader facing Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Bluegrass secretary of state. Cruz won’t win or lose that election. It will be close because, to be honest, while many people have voted for McConnell in the past, very few folks actually like him, and Cruz has nothing to do with it.
So, while it’s easy to portray Cruz as an outsized, John Wayne-type figure in Election 2014, voters in states like South Dakota, Colorado and North Carolina really don’t give a rat’s behind who he supports.
Now 2016? That could be another matter.
Bill Straub is PJ Media’s Washington correspondent and is a former White House correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service.